Viv Martin: studio work











Flower Power: Phase 4

Mid November – early December 2009: Completion of Project?

Summary of reflection from Phase 3

During Phase 3 I began to have concerns about whether it was a good thing to give myself project objectives that set out ways of exploring the image in different media and sizes. It was helpful in setting direction and in providing an agenda when one piece was finished and it was difficult to move on, particularly with frequent interim shows and the feedback resulting from them. I’m certainly feeling that I need more time for reflection and fewer deadlines to show work (or perhaps less frequent ones). This approach has, however, focused on what can only be discovered through studio practice. I have made work that I would not have done through my previous approach, where work was initiated by having a new idea or subject much more often than making a different interpretation of an existing one.

I have been thinking about whether this approach is a good example of art as research, or not. My research or inquiry questions were vague and I hadn’t considered how I would analyse or interpret the results. I had only set out to use an image in a variety of ways, but I could be more ambitious than that, particularly in aiming to produce more meaningful work. I think I should consider what success would be – in this project, success would probably be making a range of work reflecting the objectives set. So next time, I should set objectives that require more than quantity and propose criteria of quality.

Also concerned about how and when to write about the studio process and the decision making (and how much it matters). I have always kept studio notes of printmaking, noting for each plate how it was made and then how it was printed. This is fairly traditional in printmaking and it enables me to look back when making something new and remind myself what works well. At the printing stage, it enables me to edition prints in a way that keeps them very similar. These notes are always made very soon after plate making and printing and they include notes about anything that didn’t work.

During this project, I’ve continued to make those notes but have also made similar notes in this project file. Because this project has extended my use of printmaking, I’ve sometimes kept the notes in this project file rather than in my normal printmaking notebooks, which have been about different media (etching, relief and screenprint) but not about mixed media – so perhaps I have to change my record keeping arrangements. I have also realised that as an artist it is difficult and perhaps not helpful to try to keep detailed records about ideas that were fleeting and quickly discarded when it is hard enough to keep the fragile but possibly important ideas intact – although as a researcher I would want to keep notes about all of these. Notemaking as a researcher feels as though it is distorting my practice as an artist. I wonder how much these issues can be addressed directly by leaving the evidence trail somehow encapsulated within the art object. I wondered whether I could bring my left and right brain activities together better by being more focused on developing work that truly reflected my own view of the world and view of how we learn to know about the world.

Feedback about my images was interesting as people picked up aspects that had not been apparent to me as well as ones that had. The idea of the screenprint being dynamic and in a state of flux was interesting and made me wonder if some prints were too static. Comments about colour helped me to realise that although being literal was a way of starting to address colour decisions, more consideration needs to be made of the contribution of colour and its place in developing tone.

I had realised the links of these images to the mandala and the constant meditative journey, but liked the idea of visual bounce and circularity of imagery. I’m rather more bothered about ambiguity as I have always felt that I should be working towards making my statement, nailing my point, ‘sitting’ on the work. Is this one of the Modernist ideals that has been or might be discarded now – or is it part of the rigour and integrity that I do want to strive for?

I received a very strong message to keep working in this direction, not to change imagery or subject matter very much. To keep pushing on and developing in this way because it is taking me over thresholds, developing in a meaningful way. I was struck by the comment that my earlier work was about lots of subjects and ideas and instead of trying to find one iconic image to try to use several different images to address an idea – to bring together a body of work in which each piece references others. In addition, consider printing onto different surfaces, try to respond to the changing nature of the mark and to try sometimes taking away rather than adding.

Although the immediate need is to complete work for the end of this project, there are many issues to consider in framing a future direction.

Planning for Phase 4

1) Flower Power Cluster (the canvas)
The cluster needs to be arranged more carefully, including the presentation of any background and the nature of the edge of the image.

I still need to find a way of mounting the cluster and ensuring that the separate flower heads are glued on smoothly.

2) Composite Flower Cluster (the large paper print)
This still needs mounting to avoid the paper background and edges.

3) Flower Etching
I need to experiment a bit more with ways of printing this plate. I want to explore less obvious colours that bring out the tonal variations and keep the detail of the line, perhaps without using black.

I would like to make another version of this plate, using more skeletal and wintry flowers, but I’m not sure that there will be time before the final show for this project. The earlier idea of reflecting the progression of seasons might be taken forward into the next project.

4) Towards 3D – Relief
I have made a plaster relief block from the woodcut but it needs finishing once it’s dried more thoroughly. The edge is important to consider and the hanging system needs completing. I want this to be white but the plaster might have discoloured and not dry completely white, so I might need to paint the surface.

5) Towards 3D – Sphere
This work is completed now, except for deciding what sort of base it needs. It looked slightly too low placed on the floor and the black base was more prominent than I had expected, so alternatives need to be considered.

6) Multiple flower head
This idea had limited success but is complete in this form. If I develop this approach in a further project, the interaction of the layers and the differences in marks need to be considered more carefully. In this print, the edge became much more prominent than I had expected and gave much too strong a frame. Also, the colours did not work as well together as I had expected from the trial swatches.

Making in Phase 4

1) Flower Power Cluster (the canvas)
I completed cutting the additional pieces to make a layer behind the edge ones, making the edge of the image more circular but still with distinct flower edges curving. I then finalised the arrangement, moving the alignment of each flower head to emphasise the movement of the orange drawings and to create a tighter bunching that eliminated any sense of background.

I tried using an additional colour to link the orange and violet marks of the flower heads. Although I had thought that this would be helpful, I found that it confused the print and reduced the impact. I think that the prints on paper look a little too spare because of the smoothness of the paper and that those on canvas benefit from the texture of the canvas. So I think that I need to experiment with printing onto different papers (the current prints are all on heavy cartridge), but that the canvas prints just need to be tidied up where there are some smudges.

I took all the flower heads off the backing canvas and worked over them, strengthening the violet and the white, where it needed to be cleaner and sharper. I then lay the backing canvas on the ground and rearranged all of the flower heads on it in the new tighter format.

It was difficult to stick, because the image was formed as layers from the edge towards the centre, so the edges needed to be glued first but were underneath the other layers. I also wanted the glue to be more permanent than before and to hold the flower heads flat on the backing, even when they overlay the previous layer. I took time to do this and used weights to hold the edges of each flower head down until the glue (PVA) dried. This worked well and I hung the canvas again once the glue was dry so that the hang of the canvas stayed smoother.

I want to present this as a shaped canvas but I’m still not completely sure how to do this. I think I will cut out the shape and cut out a similar shape in hardboard, probably four pieces, so that the hardboard can be attached to a wall and the canvas to the board with Velcro.

2) Composite Flower Cluster (the large paper print)
I’m not sure now that this needs mounting. I think it should be presented as a paper image, cut out and attached directly to the wall or to a support. This retains its qualities completely, showing it as a paper piece.

3) Flower Etching
I was happy with the marks made by printing the plate, but wanted to experiment with the inks and options in printing. I tried using Prussian blue instead of black to keep the strength of the tonal contrast, but this had rather a blurring effect across the whole image, partly in having less tonal differentiation in the lines but also in leaving plate tone. I thought about using the surface to print as a relief at the same time as printing the lines as intaglio and tried this with Prussian blue as the intaglio and ultramarine blue rolled over the surface as a relief print. This gave an interesting print, keeping the contrast well around the edges but not in the centre, although I found that I could blot out some of the ultramarine to increase the definition in the centre. The Prussian blue was also still having a more dominant effect than I liked. I tried again, using ultramarine to ink up as intaglio and then a lighter and more turquoise mid blue to roll on as a relief. I also blotted this a little in the centre before printing.

This worked very well and moves the print away from being so directly representational in colour. It also has a strong impact as an image from a distance, before you see the detail which only works close up.

I recently revisited some notes that I made some time ago about hydrangeas and found that in some parts of the world the plant is smoked, but this is very dangerous because this process can make cyanide. This frisson of danger and the cyan-like colour the print has now become, led to its new title of Cyanidea.

4) Towards 3D – Relief
As the plaster hardened, I worked around the edge, removing the strong shadow that had developed from use of the collar for pouring the plaster. This gave a softer edge, but the side of the relief still kept the characteristics of the card collar more than those of the woodcut. I had to decide whether to keep a smooth side elevation or work it to reflect the edges of the surface relief – or perhaps to frame the relief so that there is a consistent edge and the focus is clearly on the relief surface. I also need to consider the colour of the dried plaster and whether to paint the surface.

5) Towards 3D – Sphere
The sphere is complete, but the base needs attention. I tried it on different heights and shapes, finding that I preferred a cube or box shape over a cylindrical one because the rounded lines of the cylinder appeared too much to be an extension of the sphere. Black worked much better than white, for similar reasons, so I had to make a low, black box-shaped plinth.

6) Multiple flower head
These prints are completed now. The idea of building overlapping layers is one I would like to use again, but I need to develop a way of trying these out and being able to revise both marks and colours. I didn’t do enough of the first layer to try many variations of this group.

Foyer exhibition

These works were all exhibited in the foyer of artOne at Chichester University in mid December 2009. The show looked a little lost in that very high space and the light was rather grey, not flattering. It really needed some sort of spotlight on the individual pieces.

It was the first time that I'd seen the canvas cluster cut out from the backing canvas and mounted using velcro onto a hardboard backing. It seemed to float, as I'd hoped, almost throbbing in its own space. The edge became much more significant and took some attention away from the separate flower heads and the flowers that made them up.



I had planned to show the plaster relief hung on the wall, but the light didn't catch it at all and the relief could hardly be seen. Instead, I put it on a low plinth against a foam rubber sheet cut to the size of the plinth top. This worked much better, but I think this piece now needs a different type of base made to support it.

This phase was not as cleanly separated from the previous one as they had been before and it also felt much shorter and more about finishing things than developing them. There are, however, many thoughts in the reflection from the last phase and from previous ones that I need to reconsider before setting out proposals for further studio work.

There are a few thoughts that I don’t want to lose from Phase 3:
- The development of the canvas piece from individual elements with a special relationship to one bunched image that creates its own position in space, much as each of the individual ones did; I now think that this project is not specifically about special relationships but that this is one of the formal values that is important alongside others.
-  The medium is important, not only in the making but particularly in the identity and presentation of the object. I’m only having problems over the large paper work because I’m concerned about showing it and want it to be more permanent than a paper piece – if it was smaller I’d definitely frame it. So why make it in paper? Why not print onto wood or canvas?
- The use of flowers directly in the making of the etching has left a trail of evidence that contributes considerably to the work. The use of colour, however, was far less successful when literal than it is when the colour was chosen to enhance the other qualities of the print.
- The relief in plaster is of the one original flower head woodcut – I wonder if that could be built into a bush rather like the canvas heads have been, but to create something more compelling as a relief sculpture. Maybe using a previous idea of supporting images on a ‘bush’ made of batons.
- The sphere has developed into an entity that has a poise and equilibrium of its own. It would be interesting to attempt this on a larger scale.

I’ve realised that I’ve learnt a lot through this project. I’m conscious of having become aware of a framework of criteria for making judgements about my work that I either hadn’t had before or hadn’t been able to make explicit. Since my first art college days I have been explicit in using formal values to make decisions about my work, but now I have other values to add. As with formal values, the challenge is always to achieve a balance that’s appropriate for the piece and that doesn’t upset the balance achieved on all the other scales. So the new ones I can add now are:
- a whole achieved through layers which remain evident; layers of depth, of overlap and relationships, layers of meaning, cross-referencing and reflecting;
- referencing, references that position the work in its context, both physically and in meaning making, also in relation to other works in its particular body of work;
- authenticity – the tracing through the work of its essential authentic core;
- the evidence trail of idea, process and medium – a rather richer idea than truth to materials but with some basis in that;
- a sense of time and tracking of time relevant to the idea and the making;
- making meaning is more important than making things – the making is about making visible (although in other contexts, making meaning would be achieved through language, through sharing of experiential learning and interpretation, perhaps not so different);
- this links with demonstrating in the work an ‘undercurrent of intent’, seeding or sedimenting the work with evidence of the intention in it’s making;
- some ambiguity is often more interesting for the audience than having things spelt out (although there is a tension with ensuring that the work makes a statement). Perhaps another way of looking at this is ambiguity that allows for revisiting and reconsideration, provision of a temporary balance rather than a definitive and lasting statement?
- a body of work with interrelationships can be more interesting than a single piece that attempts to encapsulate all aspects.
I shall reflect on the extent to which it now shapes my practice.

Further reflection led me to realise that many people had not seen the individual flower elements as part of the whole image and that an important layer of meaning was not being communicated effectively. This led me to continue with the project a little longer, into a short phase 5.

go to Phase 5

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