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Flower Power Project: Phase 1

Phase 1: June – end of July 2009: Project Development

Review of progress

This phase was initially guided by the studio practice before I decided to shape my work in a project format based on only one of the woodcut images.

Planning and Making

1) Carnac
I wanted to bring more movement and variety into the marks on this woodcut. I cut more marks around the stone shapes and I changed the inking, using a more varied main colour that was more translucent and using a chine colle across the whole plate but inking parts of it lightly in grey before printing the main plate. I printed several of this and exhibited in an Open Studios event in July.

2) Whispers in the palms
I changed the inking of this to use more chine colle and drawing, to put two shadows in and to echo the colour on the left. This print is still not in a final form.

3) Walking through walls
This plate had not worked well as a fragment of a wall, which is what I’d intended, because the shape read more like a map of Africa. The collage pieces I’d used on the print to refer to the Spanish town and it’s history didn’t work either. So I cut the plate in half and used wood filler to replace some of the cut areas to create more even rectangular shapes. Instead of collaged pieces, I cut another slimmer rectangle using patterns from Spanish paving. I printed all three plates together in black and terracotta on a deep cream paper and showed this in the open studios in July.

4) Rockpool prints
I developed the rockpool etching by printing it in black, which made the contrasts and detail stronger, and using watercolour to brush over transparent colour. The plate still needs to be shaped more to make the curves smoother.

I made a screenprint version of this theme in two colours, partly to re-learn screenprinting as I hadn’t done any since my first degree and partly to develop a more freely drawn version of the rockpool.

..................

etching ........................screenprint

5) Flower Power
I exhibited the Flower Power woodcut in its first form at Brighton Independent Printmaking during Brighton Festival in May. It was printed in ultramarine blue, which was what I had originally intended. The cutting had worked as intended in creating a lighter centre and darker edge, but the blue was not a strong enough tone to make this contrast as strong as I’d wanted. Also, the centre looked rather empty and the image unfinished. I thought it needed some different marks and a contrasting colour in the central part, so used crayon to build in a lighter blue and some orange. My own observations and feedback from the audience there confirmed that the image was strong but not entirely compelling and that the orange was particularly helpful in giving the image some dissonance and tension.

I decided to try to increase the tonal variation by printing in a much darker colour, violet. This was successful in making the 3D effect much stronger and it also increased the extent to which the image appeared to float in its own space. I also tried it with a lighter blue centre, but there was still a strong feeling that another element was needed to bring more interest, contrast and tension into the image.

In June, I returned to the crayoned line that I had used in the blue image and developed a loose line drawing that fitted into the central area of the image. I developed this as a screenprint and printed some in orange on a large enough sheet of cartridge that allowed me to print the woodcut over it. I completed a few of these in time to show them in an Open Studios exhibition in July.

Review, selection and discarding

Feedback from colleagues in May had left me with several important things to consider. I had been working on five woodcuts, each with distinctly different subjects, but there was a striking similarity between them at that point. Were they a body of work and, if so, what was it about? What is my project? What about the paintings and etchings that I’d been doing previously – how do they fit in? What impact will reviving my ability to silkscreen print have? How might I work larger – or if I make prints am I condemned to work on a moderate scale? What sort of artist am I and what do I want to be? What audience do I want and where will I show? I need to position myself more clearly and be confident about my choices.

I realised I’d been working in a more experimental and risky way than in previous years – rather shocked to discover in May that none of my work was ‘finished’ as usually I’d have lots of new work to show each year. With a studio show coming up in July, I had to develop each print to a point where I could show it as an artist’s proof – but in doing this it was clear that there could be many ways to develop each image and that these resolutions were probably temporary.

I was committed to showing my work in an open studios event in July – our house was part of a new ‘trail’ in Worthing. Although we had shown previously with some of the artists nearby, this was the first attempt at a fairly large artist-run open house event here although we had been founder members of the very successful Fiveways Artists Group in Brighton. I was wary of the size of the group that had developed, but not surprised because the only criterion for inclusion was geographic – we had to be near enough each other to draw a ‘trail’ map. So 20 houses were involved and the range of art and craft on show was very wide. There was a benefit in increasing the number of visitors – our own mailing list usually brought 50 – 100 people each day, but this much larger event brought over 400 each day – almost a problem in terms of managing this number of people walking through house and studios. Interestingly, sales levels were not very different – so increased numbers do not necessarily mean increased sales.

I showed all the ‘work in progress’ woodcuts, etchings and silkscreen prints. I would usually develop a print to a point where I’m happy to start to edition it to sell – this year I only did that with the few recent etchings, and one screenprint, but several people asked to be advised when the woodcuts were available. The Power Flower print attracted a lot of attention with comments about it being meditative, like a mandala, like something from space, intriguing and a bit frightening.

I reviewed my notes from discussions and thought about the ‘undercurrent of intent’ running through a body of work – so what is it? What am I struggling to achieve and how will I know when I get there?

Moving from one printmaking medium to another has emphasised the importance I place on keeping evidence in the work of how it was made – the process of becoming visible, the signifier of ‘made by hand’ rather than by mechanical reproduction. I’m also considering whether it is important to keep evidence of the life history of the piece as part of its emerging form, all of its phases that contribute to it coming to its resolution.

I showed a range of other prints at the Fishing Museum in Brighton in June and discussed woodcuts and mixing print media with other BIP artists. Good discussion about large-scale woodcuts and ways of both carving and printing.

Early in July I saw Howard Hodgkin’s large etchings at Alan Cristea. The latest ones were very large – approx twenty feet by nine, assembled from five large prints on paper, mounted loosely on board. These had enormous impact but also had tiny, complex detail. The colours and tones were very strong. Realised that both large prints were from the same plates but inked up in different colours. Also realised that there was a mix of hand painted, etched and carborundum marks. The studio details given in the catalogue set out the process, pigments and paper used, but it was clear that there were considerable technical difficulties in achieving these prints and that Jack Sherrif’s expertise and workshop facilities had been crucial. I discussed the mounting with the exhibition curator who said that they had left the mounts temporary and unglazed because Hodgkin had preferred that, but that she would expect that any longer term care of the prints would need both more permanent mounting and glass protection. Even the smaller prints, large themselves at five feet by three or more, were shown without glass although all on paper. I wondered if some sort of varnishing might work instead of glass.

Our open studio show was during the last two weeks of July. We’d joined with other artists in Worthing to develop a much larger group than in previous years and we published a brochure and map, also available as a website and shown as a trail to encourage visitors to go from house to house. There were twenty houses open, each with resident and guest artists and very different in range, amount and types of work. The trail attracted considerable interest and we had more than 400 visitors each day, approaching 1,000 people each weekend! In previous similar shows we’ve had more like 200 each day. Although people were very interested and many stayed for some time and had long discussions, sales were very similar to those in previous years. Feedback was interesting for all the artists in our show. I was surprised at the interest in my more recent work, particularly that so many people noticed what was changing and wanted to discuss why and how. I’ve often sold older work more frequently than new work, but this time I also sold two of my recent print, ‘Goodbye and thanks for the fish’ which was a plate that I’d cut into four pieces and re-assembled with the addition of three collaged fish shapes. There were also several people who asked when my large woodcuts would be available for sale. This was all very encouraging!

Seeing the woodcuts together and framed made me realise that although there were similarities in the way they had been developed, each had potential to develop much further and it felt as though I was only scraping the surface. I started to work out what to do with each and became a bit overwhelmed by the size of the task. One of the significant factors was realizing that only two of the images were not viewed through a traditional picture frame, the flower cluster and the rock pools. These had more of a sense of shaping their own space whereas the others existed in different types of pictorial space. The rock pools had potential to be developed in layers as they included reflection and transparency, but had also included narrative elements. The flower cluster seemed to hover in its own space without concerns of perspective or framing and I had begun to develop some drawings exploring how it might be worked up into a large composite print. This image, ‘Flower Power’, seemed to have potential to develop in a range of different ways.

Revised plan

At this point I decided to develop the Flower Power image as a project, setting objectives that would encourage me to explore a range of directions that I would not have been likely to explore without this type of framework. I set the aims and objectives, framing objectives that ask ‘What if?’ types of question rather than defining specific intentions or processes. These are set out as the project plan. I also began a project journal in which I have recorded detailed notes of my studio practice through this period and I have kept a photographic record of work in different stages.

go to Phase 2

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