25 August 2016

Poetry Thursday - The Bright Field by RS Thomas

The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
- R S Thomas (1913-2000)
Heard this on the radio, with Thomas himself reading it. If you can listen to BBC Radio 3 on the iplayer, it comes quite near the end of  Private Passions with Anna Pavord. The programme is downloadable as a podcast.
The picture is a different sort of bright field, a field of flowers by the riverside, and another field of brightness beyond the trees, embroidered as a memory of my first trip on the narrowboat Forget-me-not.

23 August 2016

Drawing Tuesday - thinking about charcoal

Last Tuesday I was drawing to make monoprints in the drawing-painting-printmaking class, and others in the group had other plans, so there are no group pictures to show.

Instead, some thoughts about charcoal. Some people are averse to how messy it is, and hate to use it. It's a choice, fine; best not to moan and groan about it. 

Consider the origin of the material: burnt wood. Carefully burnt wood, driving out the impurities, to leave carbon that can then be burnt to produce high temperatures. Modern industry depended on charcoal in its development, to make the steel that made the machines that revolutionised industry. 

"Historically, charcoal was produced by piling wood in a cone-shaped mound and covering it with dirt, turf, or ashes, leaving air intake holes around the bottom of the pile and a chimney port at the top. The wood was set afire and allowed to burn slowly; then the air holes were covered so the pile would cool slowly.

This method of charcoal production generates a significant amount of smoke. In fact, changes in the color of the smoke signal transitions to different stages of the process. Initially, its whitish hue indicates the presence of steam, as water vapors are driven out of the wood. As other wood components such as resins and sugars burn, the smoke becomes yellowish. Finally the smoke changes to a wispy blue, indicating that charring is complete; this is the appropriate time to smother the fire and let the kiln's contents cool. " (from here)
What about artists' charcoal? You can make your own - here's a video showing how, and there are many other instructions.

"The type of wood material and preparation method allows different variation of charcoal to be produced" says wikipedia, which - in an article that needs some editing - also explains the difference between compressed, vine, and pencil charcoal - gum or wax binder for compressed; traditional burning for vine, and enclosure in wood for pencil. 
"Willow charcoal is soft and forgiving, and yet strong and powerful. It creates velvety rich blacks and a wealth of atmospheric greys from smudging and blending." says this specialist maker.

As for charcoal drawings themselves - the one that inspired this post is by Judith Holt, shown in 2011 in the "Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze" exhibition -
Also I fell in love with the charcoal drawings of ceramicist Gordon Baldwin [and with his pots] when by chance I first came across them -
(via) click to enlarge
Gordon Baldwin's studio in 2005 (via)
"A Peripheral Vision", his drawings from 2015, are here.

Julia Polonski's large drawings, seen at Art in Action some years ago, are done in charcoal (and graphite). Here's "Seam" -
William Kentridge uses charcoal for his animations and for drawings, such as these -
He says: "Drawing is a non-verbal thinking process. One of the things about charcoal drawing is that it is instantly alterable - you can change it as quickly as you can think. One wipe of a cloth and the image disappears or is smudged and you can rethink it. The flexibility of drawing is important. There's an immediacy of drawing, of thinking in drawing, which is vital for me."

Probably most artists have done their share of charcoal drawings, and a few get exhibited. David Hockney, for example -
And then there's charcoal drawing as a performance -
Heather Hansen (via)

22 August 2016

Who's a copy cat?

First of all, where did the phrase "copy cat" come from ... how do cats copy, is it because when they have a hissing, fur-on-end standoff situation one tends to mimic the actions of the other?

No, it seems that cat has been a derogative term since the middle ages, and according to this etymological history, the term means a jerk prone to imitation. Or, the expression may have originated from observing the habits of kittens that learned by imitating the behaviour of their mother. We don't know for sure ... and does it matter where it came from if we all agree on how to use it?

But I digress. I wanted to think about the value of copying in art practice. There's been a lot of it done, over the years. Back in the day when painters started as apprentices, after they'd learned how to grind the pigments they were set to copying the master's drawings on their slates, to develop proficiency. Or they might copy from the workshop's model book, a valuable reference tool compiled by the master and sometimes added to over the generations. Its poses of people and animals were used again and again in paintings. Drawing from direct observation of nature wasn't something everyone did.
Pages from the Vienna Album, 1400-25 (via)
As art became more creative, rather than a matter of working within rigid patterns or to the constraints of a patron, these model books evolved to hold new, personal ideas - what we now call "intellectual property" and strive to own - and those painters too wanted to keep hold of their own ideas, they didn't want them copied. Copyright disputes go right back to 1511, in the case of Durer v Raimondi. When is a copy a forgery? Have a listen to the 15-minute podcast on Copying Art here (10 June 2016).

By the time of Pisanello, model-books were becoming sketchbooks
Drawings by Pisanello (1395-1455) 
"Pisanello's animal figures are descendants of medieval patterns, but they have progressed far beyond their ancestors, both in their function and in their appearance. However important an element drawing had been in a work of art, it was only at this time that it began to be a direct and personal expression of the artist's creative imagination."

Zoom forward to the present day, and the people we know who are trying to learn how to draw, how to express our creative imagination. "Draw what you see", we are told. We try. We look at the drawings of the masters, just as the medieval apprentices did. We can learn from copying them - and better, we can try, by replicating their marks and gestures, get a feeling for their individual style and for their approach to a subject. 

These copies are not going to be put for sale as, er, forgeries - they are for our private use, to develop skill or to develop, through "taking it further", work of our own. They are a starting point. And sometimes it's getting started that's the hardest thing. Why not let the masters help us along?

Copying isn't a crime; here's one persons story. "Safe at home with my comic books ... I just kept on doodling, never worrying about having anything to say. I was content to copy, and in copying I soaked up valuable lessons—about hard work, about art, and about my own limitations. "

Or is it that copying feels "amateur" rather than "real art"?
"A lady copying at a drawing table" by Paul Sandby, 1765 (via)

21 August 2016

Visible progress on the flat

The task was to "hang a few pictures" - and to clear the bed for use.

Tom was finishing off the floor in his room; it needed a few boards, carefully cut to size, around the edges -
A mere five hours later, it was ready, with all the tools that were on the premises gathered in one place -
and living space (the chairs will go back to the living room someday, and the door needs re-hanging) -
The pictures were hung, and with a few further relocations, the room looks very different -
There's still that hidden corner to sort out. And the relocations - the piles of books - will be further relocated once the shelves in the living room are built. Meanwhile ...

There might be room for more shelves around the window.

It's the downstairs rooms that are the stumbling blocks. Of the studio, the less said the better. For the living room (currently used as site workshop), proper flooring is needed, but meanwhile the gold underlay looks very dramatic -

20 August 2016

Drawing, painting, printmaking - final day

I didn't expect to be working with orange -
It started out with mixing up a bit of leftover red and yellow - too much red and instead of a cheery gold you get - orange. Never mind, it's a nice orange.... Those monoprint marks were an attempt to tame the plate and make it interesting for subsequent use with the press.

Sue did several demos - first, inking up grainy wood for texture, to be used in combination with other things (the tissue paper is to protect the back of the print, and the baren, when doing the rubbing) -
 The grey print is of crumpled paper put through the press -
 Gum arabic transfer - paint gum arabic onto the front and back of a laser-printed image, roll the ink on then sponge the excess off. Ink sticks to the printed ink, as in lithography -
 The print can be printed onto another paper, as in offset printing -
 ... which is useful for printing text right way round -
Back in the Land of Orange, I messed about with this'n'that, even getting as far as adding paper stencils -
 One result -
 Trying to figure out how the masking would actually work -
 ... and the result, combining monoprint with painting -
At the end of the day we laid out our work and said a few words about it - here's part of the room -
 My favourites -
and the very favourite -
Quite an exhausting week. At the end of it all, I'm starting to find my way with monoprinting, have a new subject of "kettles and their interactions" (aren't all objects just stand-ins for people?), and am looking forward to having my studio clear enough to be able to get paper and ink and get going.

This summer the linocut course and this course have given me quite a lot of input. How to keep the inspiration alive till I can actually do some more work along these lines? My aim, along with economy of means, is simplicity that still has a richness.

19 August 2016

Drawing, painting, printmaking - continuation

The previouspost ended with this image - the plate in place for overprinting yellow onto a red print. The shapes are stencils that had already been printed by being part of a red plate. Confused? I was, and am!
 Here's how it came out, once the stencils were removed -
 My other monoprints from Day Two -
 The one at top left had had some bits of paper on the plate that blocked out printing (ie, stencils), which left "interesting" gaps ... so I couldn't resist trying out various types of stitching to fill in those gaps. The couching, on the right, works best ... but you do have to be careful not to put creases in the rather thin paper -
First item on the Day Three agenda was a slide show of various painters whose practice and output included prints - Edvard Munch, Joseph Albers, Picasso, Jim Dine's tools, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Lucien Freud, Glenn Brown, Sean Scully, Mimmo Paladino, Barbara Rae, Anselm Keifer, Howard Hodgkin, Ian McKeever, Hughie O'Donoghue, Andrzej Jackowski, Peter Doig, Stephen Chambers, and these -

 The painters among us happily set up easels and got on with it, whereas I am always at a loss for "how to start painting" ... so I drew some more kettles ...
 ... and then tried painting them - not a pretty sight, not an enjoyable task -
 Sue suggested treating the task of painting like doing a drawing, using very dilute paint and replaying some of the drawing exercises we did yesterday, eg holding the brush in different ways or, as she demonstrated on the left, flooding areas and then adding a bit darker paint that would spread through the water -
 I found it really helpful to see someone actually do it, rather than just explain what to do.

By the end of the day I had met my self-imposed quota of 12 paintings, plus used up some yellow paint very quickly, which made the whole thing much more cheerful -

 During this exercise I discovered The Joy of Kettle Reflections -
Here's a closeup ... there are reflections within reflections ...
Elsewhere in the room -
 During the slideshow the RA Summer Show was mentioned and after class I went along to spend half an hour there, looking at a few prints, like this one, which I hadn't noticed before and which doesn't much appeal to me, but I feel I have some insight now into how it came about -
 Day Four - We started with a demo of how screenprinting can be painterly. A revelation.
 As well as screens on boards with added bits of card to give "snap", the supplies consist of inks that are half acrylic paint and half acrylic printing medium (bottom right), which can be further extended with more medium, and squeegees for adding swathes of colour(s). And water soluble crayons, for lines.
 Results, layered up, can be surprising, and spectacular -
 I got back to my kettles, and monoprints, adding in some mugs as stencils -
The main kettle was printed over the painted one, and then the yellow plate was used to add background, with some inadvertent transfer of yellow in the middle, which actually works quite well -
Scrim was on hand and I printed some over the mug stencils (resulting paper print is top left; note the missing corner of the fabric) -
and later, another piece printed by itself ... just look at that lovely torn edge -
 Plans for that print are to add some monoprint, perhaps like this mother-and-child kettle family -
 A prussian-blue plate, with the stencil printed while the plate was darkest, and then used on the black plate. On the right, it's about to be re-used -
 - and this is the result - fainter, but with some background embellishment -
 Stencils on top of stencils (the plate is on the right) -
and the printed scrim on top of the stencil print ... but you lose the scrim-texture of the blue background -
Finally, getting a ghost on the used plate (left), along with some spirally stencils, which seemed Too White, but were reused (right) to get one more print out of the plate, and to see what happened to the bits on ink (measles!) that were dotted on -
One more day of this roller-coaster ride ... the day when we "finish it all off". As if that were ever possible!