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Flower Power Project: Phase 2

End of July – mid September 2009: Project Development

Planning and making

1) Flower Power Cluster
I had made a number of small digital prints of the Flower Power print and had tried various ways of clustering them to create a large composite image. These had an ‘op art’ effect in causing the viewer to see different combinations as clusters of three or four and something of a meditative mandala feel. I decided to make a large version and worked out that it would have to be more than two metres in each dimension to include enough separate flower clusters to be interesting as a composite image. I thought that this would be very difficult to manage as paper, so decided to try it with canvas and to approach it something like making a large painting.

I ordered a large roll of primed canvas, choosing a smooth surface to take the print and a lightweight general purpose canvas to keep the overall weight down. At first, I thought I would use the process that I had used for the Flower Power print, making a silkscreen print in acrylic and overprinting with the woodcut relief using an oil-based ink. I was worried on several counts; firstly that the oil-based ink takes some time to dry and I didn’t want to use a water-based ink on the wood block in case it warped, secondly that the relief print is quite time- consuming to ink and print, and thirdly that I didn’t know if screenprint would work on primed canvas in a similar way to printing on paper. From the small scale trials I knew that I would need at least 19 prints.

I decided to make them as screenprints so that the image would be in acrylic on canvas, allowing me to paint over or around if I wanted to later, and also because it should be quicker to achieve. So I cut the canvas into squares big enough for the full size print. I found the canvas rather fragile, with a tendency to crease easily. I made a relief print from the wooden plate in oil-based black ink onto transparent acetate and left it to dry, ready to prepare a screen using the photopolymer.

Using the same screen and ink as I’d used for the Flower Power print, I tested screenprinting on an off-cut of canvas and found it took it well but the canvas had a tendency to stick to the screen, so needed the vacuum on. Then I printed 21 orange line drawings and laid each flat to dry – I needed the whole print room to myself to have space! I prepared the screen for the larger woodcut image – it fitted on the screen with about an inch clear on each side, so I thought it would be alright. In practice, I found that the edges close to the frame tended to blur and sometimes flooded onto the print. This might have been because the pressure of the blade was slightly less at the sides, or because the screen made contact less successfully there – anyway, I kept printing and cleaning up the screen to do all 21, although two were quite badly damaged. I thought that much of the damage would be lost in cutting out the print, which I intended to do to mount it onto a large sheet of canvas. This all took several days, but once dried, I cut out the prints and laid them onto a large sheet of canvas on the studio floor.

I had cut the canvas backing and stapled a deep hem at top and bottom, so that there would be room to slot in a pole to hang it all up like a banner. I used the acrylic printing ink to touch up areas of the print that had smudged a bit, but quite liked the irregularity and unevenness in each image. I found that it was important to turn each round a little when laying them against each other, because it read as a repetitive pattern rather than a counterpoint of different types of relationships, which was much more interesting. If they all touched each other there was also a rather mechanical pattern, but with each print not touching another there was a much more interesting networking relationship. I worried a bit about what sort of impact the weave of the canvas might have.

I stuck the prints onto the large canvas with Unibond, a fairly fast-drying PVA glue that bonds an absorbent surface to an unabsorbent one. Did a few trials and found that I had to apply the glue to the primed surface rather than the unprimed back of the prints because that caused them to curl up very quickly, so I had to mark out the edges of each print before applying glue. I decided to only glue a few at a time in case the wetness warped the canvas. It did. I also found that I had to put weights on the prints to keep them flat on the canvas backing, which probably caused more pulling on the canvas as the glue dried. I found that once the glue had dried, the canvas returned quite well, although there was some distortion – it proves how essential stretchers are! Once all the prints were attached, I allowed the canvas to dry again and then hung it on the studio wall (which wasn’t quite high enough). I also noticed that the wooden pole had a tendency to droop in the centre, which will cause the canvas to drape rather than fall straight.

2) Composite flower cluster
This piece was an attempt to create a large print by using a small print block repeatedly, rather than cutting a large block. I used an easily cut rubber to make a small block with three different flower heads, touching each other.

I then tried this out as a print on A2 paper, starting with a light tone in the centre and working it darker towards the edges, without trying to arrive at a circular image. This worked quite well, but lacked the variety of marks that were in the Flower Power print because of the use of a line drawing overprinted by larger block cut marks. I drew a line drawing over and between the print marks, which created more interest. I liked the red line and edges, but not the pink in the centre. I decided to make the large print in black and grey tones over a red line drawing.

I then cut a piece of large paper (which I’d ordered with the canvas roll) and hung it on the wall to work on. I measured out and lightly marked a circle 1 metre in circumference. My first problem was making a line drawing working vertically, but I found that a round glass pen held a lot of ink and worked at that angle. Once the line was dry, I began to build up the print, working from the centre out and from light tone to dark. It was difficult to work an even transition of tones and there was rather too strong a jump in tones near the centre, so I overprinted a few marks to even it out.

This was successful in producing a large print from a small plate. I’m not sure how I will mount the print as it seems too large to frame under glass without it becoming very heavy.

The line drawing breaks through interestingly and I like the red against the grey tones, but I would like to try something similar with less representational shapes as the flowers are quite prominent.

3) Flower etching
This is an attempt to make a very representational image but to use strong form to contain and boundary, perhaps causing a tension between representation and abstraction. I wondered if I could use the flowers very directly to make a plate to print from. I decided not to try to do this as a collagraph, because the flowers were so fragile that I thought it would need a lot of PVA to support them and that detail would be lost. So I decided to try impressing the flowers directly into a soft etching ground and biting the image into the plate.

I had to order zinc plate to make this, planning to make the largest circle that I could work with on my press. I had cut some hydrangea heads in late July when I began to think about making this and pressed them so that they would dry flat and retain the individual flower head detail. When I began to prepare the plate in late August, I realised that I had not pressed enough flowers to cover the plate, but the plants were beginning to harden off and the flowers were withering. I cut some more flower heads and found that they had gained a fibrous strength and were not yet too brittle to press, so left these pressing for a few days while I cut and shaped the plate.

I applied a soft ground, let it cool and began to lay the first group of dried flowers in the centre. These were quite brittle and flat, but I’d pressed them as whole flower heads, so they had arranged themselves in layers which I had to separate and rearrange. The more recently pressed flowers were easier to lay on the ground because they were less brittle and I’d cut them into smaller groups, so they had begun to flatten as a single layer. I laid them so that they touched each other, right to the edge of the circular plate.

I covered them with acetate and rolled hard with a pin roller, because this would not weaken the ground as much as the full pressure of the etching press would. I tested a small area, but the impression was not strong enough and hadn’t broken through the ground sufficiently to bite. So I put the whole thing through the etching press with a layer of tissue between the flowers and the acetate to help to absorb any ground that squeezed out. This made a good impression (and produced interesting marks on the tissue which I’ve kept to think about using). It took ages to lift the flowers from the wax ground and some petal edges were so tightly impressed that I decided to leave them to increase the resist during biting. I would not normally have done this because the debris would gradually lift into the acid, but soft ground can give too grey an overall result if there’s not enough resist and I was worried that the ground was quite thin in places. I also re-varnished the bevelled edges of the plate, both to save the blankets from damage and to retain the circular form which I thought might be lost if the plate bit strongly around the edges.

I bit the plate in copper sulphate for three minutes, then ten minutes and then a total of 20 minutes. I feathered and lifted off some petals as the acid worked. Many of the petals had stayed on the plate and when I lifted them, the ground came off with them, which kept a lot of detail that I had hoped for. Where I had lifted the petals, flowers and twigs, there had been a clear impression in the ground that had bitten well into the plate. I noticed that the plate with the ground and flowers at each stage looked very beautiful, particularly with the colours of fading petals and the dark wax ground. This might be something to return to in developing and printing the image.

I printed the first proofs in black on BKF Rives paper. The detail is good and the overall shape retained well, but the tone needs to be stronger, so will need another sequence of biting with some drawing and marks in hard ground to strengthen the tone.

4) Towards 3D
I had thought that the woodcut block for Flower Power looked interesting as a relief sculpture and wanted to make a cast from it in plaster as a white relief. I wanted to make a mould that would not damage the plate, because I want to make a small edition of Flower Power. All the mould-making techniques I’m experienced with would damage the wood – a clay impression or a plaster waste mould would be wet and there would be a danger of warping the wood and a hot rubber mould would burn it. I thought of trying to make a vacuum mould, but learnt that the plate is probably too big for a vacuum to work to mould the centre. I thought that cold rubber was probably the best approach to try, but I’m not sure if a putty type of mix would be better than a liquid. I considered trying beeswax, but thought that it might be hard to separate from the wood. I then tried plasticine and found that it took an impression of small areas of the plate but I couldn’t release it from a larger area. It also was hard to remove from the wood and I had to clean the plate with a turps substitute. So these approaches have not worked so far and I’ll plan for this in the next phase.

Review, selection and discarding

I’ve been worried about how to transport these works in progress and how to show them once I’ve got them to the foyer exhibition space. I would prefer to make them in less fragile medium, but I will have to roll or fold them to get them in my car. I worry that this will damage them or that finding ways of hanging them temporarily will damage them. I have prepared ways that work in my studio, but they will not be very resistant if there are rushes of wind through the foyer as the doors open. I’ll try to find a way of strengthening them once they are in situ. I’m also worried about leaving the work up in artOne for long, because I don’t want to lose the thread of thinking and connection with them until I’m ready to move on to other things. Or might the period of distance from them help me to reflect?

Well – the transport and hanging worked fine, although it was obvious that the hanging was a temporary arrangement (and, as someone commented, not up to my usual standard). I wasn’t happy about showing work so publically when it is still in progress because people might think that it’s finished. I worried that comments might interrupt trains of thought in a destructive rather than helpful way – but that didn’t happen.

I found that the thread of thinking about the work on show moved into a sort of poised space where I simply noted my own comments and those offered by others. I was disorientated by finding my studio empty of all the main work in progress, so my attention moved to other work that had begun to emerge. The work on these appears in the planning section following the Phase 2 reflection.

Reflection following interim set up of work, September 09.

The data collected in response to the show included:

My own notes - Sept 9:
– the big canvas did not crease in transport but some canvas flower prints came loose at their edges. The metal pole held the work so that the canvas hung quite flat, much better than the wood one. The whole thing looked a bit ‘thinner’ on the wall than it had in my studio, also the white looked more grey in that light. The rectangle of the canvas support effectively provided a rectangular frame, which I didn’t want and hadn’t anticipated happening. The op art effect was stronger than the sense of flowers clustering and this distracted from the sense of clustered form that I want to create.
- the large paper work travelled well and unrolled quickly, although it was hard to keep it flat on the wall and I had to tape the sides and bottom. Again, the edges of the paper made a rectangular frame, but the image had a strong enough boundary that it read as a circle.
- the etching looked a bit light against the other work, but its detail was interesting and it worked much better from a closer focal range than the other work. The tonal variation is not very wide and it might benefit from use of colour.
- the other work shown was the original Flower Power print which I consider finished and will probably produce more of as an edition and the initial red print that tested the composite approach for the large paper work – I have discarded both of these in terms of further development in this experimental project.

From others on Sept 9:
- more interesting when its not symmetrical
- ambivalence in large paper print and etching/ shadows/ alternative readings/ not sure what you’re seeing
- some areas begin to build in importance
- some images are so clear cut that there’s no room for doubt or exporation
- canvas looks like a virus jumping around
- looks 3D then you get closer and see patterns
Also lots of questions about how they were made.

My immediate reaction was to want to make changes, particularly to the canvas work. I couldn’t do this until I could get it back into the studio in about two weeks. I would have worked on the etching, but the feedback had caused me not to take the steps I’d intended to strengthen the tone, because I didn’t want to lose the ambivalence and delicacy of marks. So I decided not to develop any of the work until I had had feedback from the wider group and thought a little more myself.

Feedback from the wider group, Sept 17th

Canvas (Flower Power Cluster)
– looks like a molecule diagram – lines in background (which I’d mentioned because I’d tried them in a drawing) might make it more so;
- they’re trying to get out of the ‘frame’;
- sense of the flowers floating;
- could they be arranged in a more random way?
Also suggestions about trying out arrangements with images projected in light, using a large pale one as background, taking the separate flowers off and mounting them differently.
This confirmed my earlier thoughts and my main decision was that I needed to find a way of mounting the cluster that did not create a rectangular frame. I wondered whether there was a need for ‘background’ if the work was about clustering and whether I would lose the tension of each flower head interacting spacially and the 3D effect if I clustered them more closely – all things that could only be discovered by trying it out. I was sure that there was nothing to lose as the current arrangement did not work well.

Large paper print
- the structural spiral is very evident (I had thought that I’d obscured it)
- the red/black works well and the tonal grading – perhaps more like that;
- there is integrity like painting within the image (and that of the etching) and perhaps I could use colour as a concern and be more painterly.

This confirmed my feeling that this work is complete except for needing to be mounted in a way that reduces the rectangular frame. I do want to do more work that uses the red/grey /black combination but also to explore colour more.

Etching
- obviously like the moon
- softness, shapes breaking down, tenuous, slight but solidity of the plate is clear.
- integrity, like painting, could use colour as a concern.

I was glad that I hadn’t worked further on the etching as my immediate reaction to improve the tonal contrast a lot, but maybe this could be done in a very subtle way. Realised that at the moment the plate demonstrates the process of the image being made visible – I’d like to keep that quality.

General comments
- several of the works have an op art effect;
- some earlier ideas are coming back (the flower head, mixed media, sculpture);
- focus seems different in each work;
- take risks now and make big changes;
- are they all about space and scale?
- are they about how we see and engage with the image?
- see this experimentation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

There was also some general encouragement to continue to experiment and to follow this project plan.

I do find it difficult to accept that I might invest a lot of time and work in something that doesn’t end up as something to keep and learn from/live with or that is complete enough to sell.

I wonder if they are particularly about space and scale – that’s certainly a part of it but probably not all. I suppose they must be at least partially about how we engage with the image – I know I want people to see the flower references and the marks that suggest them as well as the circles and spheres. The focus is different in each work to the extent that I’m trying to explore a range of different objectives, but is there more than that?

Revisited the discussion in the print room some months ago:
- demonstrating an undercurrent of intention
- embodying the process of being made visible
- the distinction of authenticity
- with integrity of practice it becomes clear what is the right setting and audience for the work.

I feel that working in this project format builds the potential to show an undercurrent of intention and all of the work has been made with a conscious intention to embody the process of being made visible. I hadn’t realised how much the making of the etching plate encompassed this process though and I’m glad that I didn’t over-ride it immediately as I would have done without this rather enforced reflection period. A definite learning point is to stop and reflect more thoroughly before taking the next action. Also to be sure to choose the next action rather than following old rules in my head about how to develop and improve work.

I don’t really feel any closer to being able to determine the right setting and audience for the work – I still feel that I have several different types of work and different audiences for them.

Also revisited feedback and noted:
- ‘allow yourself to respond immediately to visual, spatial and contextual stimuli through the work itself, avoiding your tendency to process these responses into visual narratives.’
- ‘Continue to analyse how refining the print process itself can carry and develop conceptual meaning.’
- ‘awareness of research methodologies within and associated with visual art but at times seem reluctant to translate and explore this knowledge more fulsomely within your practical work.’

Summary of reflection
- notice and allow response to visual/spacial/contextual stimuli directly in the work rather than through words (so is keeping a journal of this nature unhelpful rather than helpful?) and choose subsequent actions in response to development of each work rather than trad rules
- develop conceptual meaning through the print process (how it carries evidence of its making, maybe through choice of processes, sometimes through direct engagement with the ‘subject’ of the image created)
- explore whether I am reluctant to translate and explore knowledge of visual research methods within my practical work
- consider whether different aspect of my work has different audiences and, if so, what the implications are; how concerned am I about how the viewer engages with an image?
- is the work about space and scale? To what extent does it embody painterly concerns for structure and integrity, including colour?
- to what extent am I still concerned with avoiding the rectangular frame?

I have felt that by pursuing a set of questions about whether I can develop particular tensions using the Flower Power image I’m in danger of losing meaning rather than making it – my concerns have become more formal and practical and less about representing in a way that evokes or encapsulates an emotional reaction. From the FAM 4 comments, another question arises about whether the process itself can create the meaning rather than my making work to illustrate a meaning. This thought reminds me of Marshall McLuhan and the meaning being in the message – and tao with the journey having prime importance rather than arrival at a destination. I’ve always struggled with both of these, although recognising a truth in them. I try to deal with my struggle by setting ‘milestone’ aims rather than final destinations, but I am sure that I need to set a direction to be able to move confidently at all. I don’t mind reviewing it and changing it, but I do need a plan.

Plan for Phase 3

This must pick up the reflection on development of the three pieces in the interim show because there is still work to do on each of them.

It must also pick up the new work I started while that work was in the show and set that new work in relation to the overall project objectives.

It must be realistic about timescales because there is not long before the next reflective period in November.

go to Phase 3

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