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Flower Power: Phase 3

Mid September – early November 2009: Continued Project Development

Summary of reflection from Phase 2


- notice and allow response to visual/spacial/contextual stimuli directly in the work rather than through words (so reflect on whether keeping a journal of this nature is 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 aspects 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.

Planning for Phase 3

1) Flower Power Cluster (the canvas)
I need to find a way of mounting the cluster that does not create a rectangular frame. Also re-consider the nature of the cluster and whether there should be any other elements in the image (background and edges are not neutral).

I will reconsider this as a bush, which was the original idea and which became a bit lost in developing the spacial relationships between the separate prints. The bush is a development of scale in both the physical object (flower made of clusters of individual flowers now clusters with others to make a much bigger bush) and scale in the sense of the individual element clustering and re-clustering to form different images.

2) Composite Flower Cluster (the large paper print)
This needs mounting to avoid the paper background frame with its edges.  It might be interesting to print something like this directly onto wood – perhaps working more greys into the transition from centre to edge – this would avoid all the problems of preserving and hanging paper and the object would retain its integrity from the beginning.

3) Flower Etching
This image has been very successful in retaining evidence of the flowers that made the marks on the plate. The printed image, however, is very grey and although there is an interesting smokey effect that makes parts of the image indistinct, I think it needs more contrast with denser black areas round the edges.
It also seems important to explore colour with this etching. During preparation of the plate, the petals on the wax gave subtle and interesting colour – could I build something like that into the print?

I noticed that some of the hydrangea flower heads had turned quite skeletal during the autumn although others had dried on the plant and kept their form much as in summer. I collected quite a few of those that have changed shape and a few of those simply drying, with the idea that I might make another etching similar to the first but as a winter version. This would mean that the marks, tone and colour would need to be considered in contrast to the first.

I also noticed that the michaelmas daisies were dying and that these might be used to make interesting marks on an etching plate. I collected some and have pressed them to try to preserve them until I have decided how to use them. I’m toying with the idea of a daisy chain that would use the spiralling structure that I’ve been using with the small relief prints to make larger images but would also be reminiscent of labyrinth meditative walks and the natural progression of seasons.

4) Towards 3D – Relief
This work is about making a relief image from the original woodcut; recreating the form of the woodcut in a form that avoids the colour and texture of the wood but retains and, I hope, emphasises the marks that cutting wood makes.

I think I need to buy some cold cure rubber moulding to try out the woodcut as a relief cast in plaster. Also need to buy plaster, find a storage container and sort out a place to make moulds and casts.

I have two ideas about how to support the casts to show them. The simplest is that a single white cast with a clean circle edge might work as a stand alone image, rather like an embossed print but with rather more dramatic depth than can be achieved with an etching plate.

The second idea is to create a framework of stick-like pieces, wood or metal, that can support several relief prints. Having made the canvas ‘bush’, I realise that this would be quite a significant project in itself and I might not have time to develop it within this module. That may or may not matter.

5) Towards 3D – Sphere
This work is a development of the large flower cluster on paper and takes the image into three dimensions to make a ‘bush’.

This work was started during the review period for Phase 2. I began to cover a large inflated rubber ball with papier mache, with the intention of making a hard enough shell to paint white as a ground to print onto.

6) Multiple flower head
This idea is to bring together several of the flower head images into a screenprint that presents them as layers, incorporating several different ways of seeing and making marks about the composite flower head of a hydrangea.

The tones and colours will be important if the marks are to work together instead of just becoming a muddle – to be successful it needs to read as related layers, each carrying a different interpretation of the flower head. It will probably need some transparency in the inks, particularly in the later layers.

Making in Phase 3

1) Flower Power Cluster (the canvas)
I decided that it didn’t work with the original layout and that there was nothing to lose by separating the flower heads again, either by pulling them off the base canvas if that was possible or by cutting them away and keeping them as a double layer. I found that I could pull the flower heads off the canvas backing without damaging either. I took them all off and began to rearrange them on the canvas with it hanging, reattaching them with masking tape because the glue had made them stiffer and they were much easier to handle than before the first glued lay-out.

I tried a much closer layout with very little space between the edges of flower heads but still with spaces where the curves made more distance. This had very similar problems to the first layout – there was still a sense of movement as they appeared to juggle for position against each other in space, but the space they were operating in was still contained within the rectangle of the canvas backing.

I took the flower heads off again and rearranged them as a much tighter overlapping cluster, so that no background could be seen. This worked much better as an image with its own boundaries, although the outer edge had very defined curves which I felt were distracting as they pulled the eye to the edge rather than drawing it into the image. I had made a few spare prints and I cut one up and tried a part of it between two of the edge curves to bring the outer edge closer to a smooth circle edge. This seemed to work much better, so I cut the others and taped them in place. The spare prints were all ones that were damaged in some way during printing, so they all need some reworking before they are attached more permanently.

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This does now feel like a good solution to the bush image, but I still have to decide how to show it. I do want to remove the canvas around the image and show it as a circle without any other backing, but I’m not sure how to support the circle. I think I could simply pin it to the wall, but suspect that the edges would need reinforcing. I’m not sure if that would give it too soft an edge – I like the hard edge that the etching has and its contrast with the soft and diffuse marks.

Now that I can see the whole bush, I’m worried about the ‘sameness’ of the images. In other images I have often made a different emphasis at the edges, giving a lighter centre and darker surround. This has taken the eye from centre to edge and back, giving some ambiguity and a suggestion of 3D form. The line drawing in other images has woven more with the other marks – in this work the orange and violet prints sit almost in different planes, layers rather than an integrated image. There is also a lot of white canvas, looking rather too much like background and not engaging with the other marks. So it needs some work to link the white ground with the orange line and the violet print. I made some digital prints to work on – tried blending a darker orange in with the edges then working a third layer of drawing in around the central image. I tried several colours and blue worked best, making a better transition from the orange to the violet and linked the marks when made as a stronger line than the orange. Now need to work this onto the canvas images. I will draw it this time, rather than printing, because there is a danger that the flower head images will look too repetitive. Drawing will bring much more variety, but maintain the composition as similar images clustering to create a new composite one.

I now think that I can support it on the wall using Velcro pads, if it isn’t too heavy. I might leave the canvas background complete while I finish the work on it in my studio and cut it out in time to take it to Chichester for the exhibition.

2) Composite Flower Cluster (the large paper print)
This needs mounting … I’m thinking of putting it onto a wood base and varnishing it – but also aware of the potential hazards of trying to glue it.  Maybe this one should live on as a paper image and I could make a new one on wood. All the decisions about how it looks were made from its appearance and behaviour as ink on paper – perhaps it should be shown in a way that respects its development. I’ve decided that this can now be cut out and mounted using Velcro to attach it directly to the wall. This retains its qualities completely, showing it as a paper piece.

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3) Flower Etching
The plate has been left for a few weeks now and there is some discolouration on an area of the back where the acid bit through the acrylic protection. I cleaned it and varnished the damaged areas, also varnishing the bevel edge again so that I can put on the transparent ground and work in additional marks to rebite. The transparent ground proved to be very difficult to apply – lumpy and so transparent that it was hard to see where it was, so I added some normal coloured ground. I matched the grounded plate with the proof and used a needle to rework the areas around the edges that I wanted to print blacker. Then bit again in copper sulphate, feathering it carefully to ensure that it didn’t break through and bite areas that I didn’t want to change.

I wanted to explore use of colour in the etching. I have often painted directly onto etchings, but this one is very large and I wanted to try to catch something of the range of petal like coloured marks that were left on the plate after impressing them in the ground and lifting off most of them. So some areas of the print needed to be left uncoloured. So I cut a small rubber block to print colour on in petal-like shapes. I tried with watercolour, but the rubber resisted the paint. I mixed some watercolour into screenprint medium – this kept the transparency but gave enough texture to allow the mix to be painted onto the block and applied as a print. I tried this on cartridge initially, using the colours from the flowers and the spiral printing method that retained the circular bands, this time in colour rather than tone. This had a lot of the character of the flowers, particularly in the way the texture of the medium and overlapping varied the degree of transparency and colour.

I tried this over the first etching proof, using slightly thinner colour because I wanted the etched marks to show through clearly. I think in this first one, the colours are a little too strong, particularly in the centre where the etched image is most slight. I am also concerned that these rather clear-cut block marks reduce the ambiguity that was interesting in the proof and that this image has become less interesting.

I tried another print using black as the first ink, cleaning the plate and then using both blue and pink inks, mixed with extender and applied a la poupee with most of the ink left on the surface.

This has produced a more ambiguous image with the centre having a blurred appearance, but the pink and blue are rather crude colours and don’t work well with the black. I will try this again with just blue and without using the extender – I’ll apply the blue a la poupee and wipe it gently. I might also try with raw sienna and blue working to violet at the edge.

4) Towards 3D – Relief
I thought I needed cold cure rubber moulding … but now I’m wondering if I could use clay to make a mould to try the idea out before making a mould that would potentially make lots of casts. If I soak the woodcut in oil it should protect it from the clay. Then I’ll need to push the clay into the marks and give it a fairly thick overall layer to hold it firmly together. I should be able to turn it over and build side walls, then take the woodcut out to leave the mould, ready to pour plaster in.

I bought some fresh dental plaster and found some clay that had quite a dry but sandy, soft texture. I oiled the plate and tried pushing clay into a small area to see if it would take the impression and lift off cleanly. It worked very well, so I worked clay into the relief over the whole surface of the woodcut block. Once I had covered the whole block with about half an inch of clay, I flattened the surface because that needed to sit flat so that the plaster could be poured evenly onto it. I then turned the whole thing over, so that the clay was on the bottom and the wooden block face down on top. I very gently lifted the wooden block to separate it from the clay and leave the impressed image. This worked very well, probably helped by the oil on the plate as there was no clay clinging to the wood and the image was very sharp and clear.

I made a collar from card, fixed it around the clay plate and filled the gaps with clay, so that the card would form smooth sides for the cast. Then I mixed and poured the plaster, using 3 kilos and four mixes to make a cast about an inch thick. I put scrim in the last two layers and worked in a small wood block to provide a way of fixing a ring to hang the piece once the plaster has dried. Once the plaster had dried enough to handle, I took off the card collar and carefully turned the whole piece over so that the clay could be removed. The clay also came away from the plaster very smoothly and I found I could roll it away in one complete piece with only crumbs of plaster sticking to it from around the edges where it had slightly broken through between the card and the clay. I very gently smoothed off the rough edges while the plaster was still very wet and left the piece to dry thoroughly.

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When it has dried more and is harder I will smooth the edges more – I don’t like the very dark edge that has developed where the relief is deeper at some points around the edge, but this will be clearer once the plaster is dry enough to hang. I need to see it with light coming from different angles – it needs side light.

5) Towards 3D – Sphere
I built about six layers of papier mache using torn newspapers and then a further three of plain newsprint. The plain paper was much harder to handle because it tended to disintegrate quickly – the print on the newspapers must have acted like a sort of varnish. The plain newsprint made a good surface but as this will form the background to the print, I didn’t want it to discolour, so I gave it two layers of white acrylic primer.

I don’t want to start drawing or printing on it until I have it fixed onto a firm base – at the moment it’s balanced on a flower pot. I’ve tried several different types of base – they need to be hollow to accommodate the nozzle that the ball is blown up by. The size and weight are quite important as it needs to sit securely. I looked at biscuit and chocolate boxes and found a small round wooden box that Turkish Delight came in. I attached this to the base of the sphere using brown paper tape and then more layers of papier mache. The whole thing now needs a further coat of white acrylic before printing.

I found it easy to draw on the sphere, using similar marks to those I had used on the large paper print. I used the glass pen, so that it would move in all directions and gave some variation to the line. I also used the same shellac based ink as before because it sometimes repelled the acrylic printing ink and emerged interestingly through the printed lines.

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The sphere was difficult to print. The rubber block was small enough and curved easily to work on the curved surface, but the difficulty was that it needs pressure to print and it only printed well when the pressure was directly over a part of the sphere where there was good support on the opposite side. So printing the top when it stood on the base was fine, but as soon as I tried to print at a slight angle down the slope away from the top, there was not enough resistance to stop the block from sliding and smudging. So I had to keep moving the sphere to keep it supported in a wide-topped bowl. As with the large paper version, the transition from light to dark was difficult to keep smooth and I reworked it several times, sometimes with a brush, until there was a more even transition of tone and some ambiguity about how much tonal variation was caused by the light source and how much by the printed tonal variations. I feel that the sphere has reached a stage of equilibrium and is poised in its own space.

6) Multiple flower head

I took three images and prepared screens with photopolymer. The first is of blocks of marks taken from the marks left on the covering paper when I put the flower covered soft ground on the etching plate through the press. The second was taken from the central screenprinted drawing used in the Flower Power woodcut and screenprint image. The third is a drawn image using line and tone placed in soft washes onto trugrain.
I printed each of these as separate images and tried layers with the block marks as the first layer in raw sienna, the line drawing as the next in flame red and the wash drawing as the third in violet, all on white cartridge. The raw sienna was too strong and opaque, but looked good with the red line. The violet was too washy and gave rather inconsistent blobs. The three images together looked too much like a decorated plate, because of the edges being concentric and too regular, but this improved a lot when I drew in violet to extend that layer to the edge of the raw sienna. These images and ink mixes all need work to make this print work in a more interesting way.

Reflection


Mid October and I’m beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea to set the project as exploring so many ways of working with the same basic image. It’s feeling like ‘100 things a girl can do with a flower head’ – but I feel compelled to press on, just to see if some of these open interesting directions. The pause in September was very difficult to recover from and although the feedback was important it tended to influence the flow of work too much and sent me back into writing about it rather than doing it.

It also led me to question what I’m doing before I’ve got far enough to address my original purpose of finding out what can only be found out through studio inquiry. I have begun to worry about an approach that attempts to make art as research, because I’m not sure that this helps either purpose. From a research perspective, my questions were vague and I had not set up any way of analysing results other than to see what happened. From an art perspective, I began to feel that I had set an agenda of using an image in a variety of ways, but that once I had started to work on some of the pieces, I would have preferred to develop a limited number of directions and not to pursue the original intentions of developing the range of sizes and uses of different media. Instead of creating more meaningful work, there is a danger of reducing the meaningfulness.

I am also worried about the connections I am making between writing and making art. I find it easy to record the practical details of making the work, but not to record the decision-making process, which is often achieved through fleeting moments of trying things out, where the less successful ideas are so swiftly discarded that they are quickly forgotten. Which is probably how it should be – so why would I want to record it? As a researcher I feel that I should, that it’s part of the studio process, but as an artist I feel that my studio practice is in danger of being distorted if I try to remember and record all the things that I consider and try and often discard, particularly when the direction and progress of developing an idea feels fragile and difficult to keep in focus.

I am, however, pleased that I’ve made two 3D pieces and I want to look at these away from the studio – there is an opportunity to show them at Chichester next week and to gain some feedback. I think both pieces are interesting, but in different ways. The sphere looks quite ethereal, quite poised in its space. I’m not sure yet about the plaster cast – I need to make its fixing and see it on the wall for the light to fall across the surface and animate it – it will be important to have a strong side light.

Another research concern that I have is that this attempt to link words with visual work is not working smoothly for either medium. I remember Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ (in 'Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man', published in 1964, Mentor NY) and wonder whether it is totally inappropriate to attempt to discuss visual images in words. This project has explored the use of different media in manifesting the original flower head subject and I need to reflect on the impact of the choice of medium. I don’t think that my decision making has been made through a verbal process in my head - the act of squeezing clay and pushing it into a relief surface to create an impression is quite complex but can be completely understood through the senses and the results appraised and appreciated visually.

A further research concern is that I could have asked better questions – the types of questions that I asked led me to focus on making a wide variety of pieces, but did not raise questions about how these might be judged as art objects or whether I was concerned with my own judgement or that of others.

I had some feedback in mid October that prompted some thoughts as this phase started. I realised that I still have a strong feeling of separation between my left brain activities (writing, education, etc) and my right brain (art) activities, but that these might be brought together by approaching art as reflecting, maybe evidencing, the way I see things, my view of life, my ontology and epistemology in research terms. Staying true to my own experience would ensure authenticity and reflecting on the studio processes and work emerging would link in the left brain types of thinking – which this project has demonstrated can work.

Of the three images that I showed to the MA group, there seemed to be most interest in the screenprint of the three layers – comments that it had the most energy, looked most 3D and that it might move if you touched it, embodying a state of flux. This was by far the most dynamic of the prints, although I don’t think it worked as well as it would with different colours and more attention to the edges of each layer. The other images were the two of the etching, one with the block print on top and one with circles of colour, a la poupee. The etching was seen as organic, a microscopic image seen through a lens, the clear edge like that of a petri dish. Suggestion that it was a bit too literal to use flower colours (and I felt the pink, in particular, was too soft and pretty).

There were also a bundle of ideas about the canvas cluster of flower heads, which I only showed as a photo of progress. The opportunity for ambiguity, like Escher, that it could be a work that attracts but also sets up questions about what it is. Also mention of mandala (which the prints also have) with symmetry, repetition, rhythm, circularity of imagery, visual bounce and a sense of constant journey.

At the end of this phase I had another interim show in the artOne foyer and feedback from the group and others passing by. Lots of people remarked on the sphere – it’s poise, the uneven marks of print and line within the rather pure shape of the sphere. There was a very strong message not to change direction now. Not to change imagery or subject matter very much, but to keep pushing on and developing as I’ve been doing. There was a suggestion that I’ve pushed through a threshold and am near another. The suggestion was made that this work explores the ‘importance of a slight encounter’ through almost obsessive plugging away, through which more meaningful work is developing. That my earlier work was about lots of subjects and ideas and that this work is the same idea explored in lots of ways. Instead of trying to find one iconic image this work uses several different images to address an idea – brings together a body of work. Suggestion made to revisit some earlier ideas, perhaps think about printing onto different surfaces. Also to respond and develop by starting with what it looks like now – the nature of the mark is changing. Also to consider what happens when you take away rather than add. Sometimes my work seems to others to be materials/techniques led, but the important thing is letting it happen. The directness of image is important – the flowers used directly in wax ground and developments from that. A fundamental shift is evident in this work and maybe there is another to come. This process has enabled the development of imagery – processing that makes you mentally and physically distant sometimes.

The next phase will be more about finishing the pieces in progress, but much of this feedback applies to future work and how to plan and carry out the next project.

go to Phase 4

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