Photo Walk: In Search of Shape to Mono Print
It’s been a few weeks for me since making time for a photo walk – walks that have quickly taken hold in my art life. I walk all the time regardless of a camera. Since moving up to Scotland a couple of months back, it’s a new routine, to walk and talk on the phone, attempting to keep up with people I miss. But now, making time just to walk with no other purpose than to gather images, feels luxurious, even care free. I wrote about photo walks in a previous post last year and meant to return to the topic. This time, I’m intending to be a little more focused. I’ve set myself a mini challenge – to go in search of shape in my photo walk. Finding regular or irregular shapes in my environment that will go on to inspire a range of original mono prints.
Why mono prints? Because I love any excuse to return to this technique, always a key part of my practice and where I head in spite of any lost motivation. Through mono printing, my spark returns. I thought I’d carry out the challenge as a way of demonstrating how I source imagery for print making.
Quite a few years back I was invited to join an A Level art group on their trip to Paris with the role of artist in residence. It was magic. Fantastic staff and students from Chalfonts Community College who embraced the city like nothing else. I thought I was trigger happy on the camera – I met my match with these students who quickly clocked up thousands of images each in a matter of days. We careered around the city, swarming any local graffiti and artfully decaying walls and plonked down on dusty museum floors, sketching Rodin and Degas. I mention this trip because I learnt a lot through the student’s eyes, watching them take pictures on the street, intrigued by what intrigued them. One of their tasks was to find faces in the city – to find signs of life in the inanimate. It’s a game you’ve probably seen played out online. Last week The Guardian ran a photo feature about it, celebrating the photographer Justin Sutcliffe, turns out this game has a name – facial pareidolia. The idea was also brought to screen by new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker in the film Adult Life Skills (lovely film), whose character sees faces everywhere. Here’s my contribution to the game – from today’s photo walk on shape… I warn you, if you start playing too, you wont stop.
I found it really helpful to focus in on the singular theme of shape during the photo walk. Normally I’d be capturing all sorts of texture, colour and shadow, which can feel overwhelming to absorb all at once. Today was about an hour’s walk – I had intended only thirty minutes, but it’s addictive. I walked through the town and into some local countryside. I was a little pessimistic, feeling the familiar route would not offer much – and there was rain. As always on a photo walk, the permission to concentrate solely on photography soon opened up plenty to see. By focusing in further on the theme of shape, I stretched my comfort zone a little. Texture is king to me, colour it’s consort, so to ignore both was tricky. In the end I’d say it was freeing and helped me broaden out from my go-to photo walk subjects. I can now add drains, vents and road signage to my visual interests. My walk generated about eighty or so images which, through a quick edit, appeared to fall into four themes.
The Square and Rectangle
The square and rectangle were the two most dominant shapes out there on my walk. Whether that’s to do with my own conscious bias towards these shapes or a general theme of urban life, I can’t be sure. I focused in on details, often within the architecture, escape routes and airways, at eye level or ground. Curves cost more money to realise in construction so perhaps that’s why these right angles trickle down into smaller features of buildings. If I did a similar photo walk in Barcelona I wonder if squares would appear so often with architect Gaudi at the helm, who believed “the straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”
The curves seem to be additions to a scene rather than part of the furniture. Discarded objects, graffiti and fabric all loosely embed themselves into the environment. Within this group I notice a greater variety of material, rubbish being the common denominator. If I’d been more savvy I would have combined my walk with a litter pick – although breaking my ‘one purpose’ rule for a photo walk. I start to envisage my next school project, fusing photography and conservation, a team of ten year olds armed with cameras and black sacks!
I wonder if I’m stretching the boundary of the theme of shape with the inclusion of line. Shape and line are often listed separately as formal considerations in art and design. I’m using the term ‘line’ as a way of grouping these images together. Line is helpful to extract when thinking about printmaking. I’m seeking clear motifs to inform my print designs and these are a good source.
The Negative Space
Perhaps another personal preference here. I’m always drawn to areas of light or dark. I like the idea of shape consisting of space not form. The space created sucking in the light and offering a true black. Another great source of motif for printmaking. Clear and distinct shapes to copy onto the printing surface.
Preparing to Print
Before starting some mono printing, I prepare some textured backgrounds to print over. It’s a way of creating another layer in the print work and quickly removes the dreaded blank canvas worry. I’m using diluted black ink and play around with some mark making ideas using tools like brushes, rags, crumpled paper, stone and rope. I try to reference some of the textures and shapes within the photo walk images.
With my backgrounds prepared I sift through my photo walk images and select a handful to use as a focus in my mono printing. I view the work from my laptop although I prefer to use printouts of the images out and have them nearer to hand. For this session I’m using a glass panel as my printing surface, an ink roller and acrylic paint.
Once there’s an even layer of paint on the glass, I can start to add texture and line to the surface using a variety of tools to scratch away the paint…
The paper is layered over the top of the surface, even pressure applied and then slowly peeled back to reveal the mono print…`
The resulting prints can be seen as starting points, a way of understanding the original photographs. Like the practice of drawing, mono printing for me is about reducing an image to its bare bones. Extracting key shapes, textures and colours. With these ideas I can decide to be true to the composition and copy, or release the shapes and create new pattern and arrangement to lead into future designs or original artworks. In a another blog post, I’ll focus on collaging these mono prints together to create a larger scale, resolved piece. Along with a love of mono print, I really enjoy the combining, layering and patch working of prints together. Next time I’ll share ways to manage this by hand and by using digital tools.
The New Creative Sign Up
You may have heard me talk about The New Creative online course I am developing this year. To kick start the course and offer some tasters of the modules involved, I am going to launch a free mini course this September called The Eight Hour Creative.
The mini course will provide short modules about photo walks, experimental drawing, sculpting, mono printing and Adobe Photoshop. The Eight Hour Creative is designed to support each person to build their own collection of abstract imagery over eight hours – spread over a day, a weekend, a week or a month – you choose. By following a series of techniques and ideas I wanted to offer a ‘way in’ to being visually creative. This course aims to be both purposeful and accessible in terms of your time and resources.
If you like the sound of a mixed media approach, interested in abstraction, texture, colour and shape, then this is for you!
To get a feeling for some of the content, have a watch of my Photo Walk Introduction video. I use the idea of the Photo Walk as a starting point for creating original and personal imagery. A great warm up exercise for a new creative project.
To access the free mini course, sign up to The New Creative and you will receive automatic access when it’s ready and available in September this year.
Materials as Textiles: creating imagery from foil, concrete and paper
Materials have been a catalyst in all my work from day one. Whenever that was. Maybe it was watching my mum mix up flour, salt and water and turn it into salt dough. New matter created with these basic ingredients. It was as easy as that. Now I could be master of my own creative universe, what else could I transform? And so it continued many experiments later into A Level choices of science and art. For me, these two subjects asked the same question – what happens when…? My scientific education was always a little more laden with sheer fact over discovery and things became a bit static for me there, all that memory testing. So I ventured down the art road, hauling my science bag of tricks along with me.
I’ve always looked to artists working with non decorative materials. Anotonio Tapies, Eva Hesse, and Robert Rauschenberg are my heroes. Their use of plaster, rope, plastic, latex, glass, sheeting, cardboard, wood, sand and grit all signalled the power of art resting in the material itself. Their materials do the work while they, the artist play the supreme role of editing: gathering and arranging substances to be best seen and felt.
The scientist in me did want to intervene a little more, explore cause and effect, observe, transform and look again at materials. I learnt how to make paper, how to boil onion skins to make dye, I made paintings with mud and photocopied broken glass to make patterns. I froze objects in water to watch them thaw and ran car tyres over my ‘road’ textiles to make a ‘real’ mark. I read The Secret Life of Bees and promptly wanted to cover everything in honey – inspired by its imagery of the black Mary statue who was bathed in honey as worship. I still have the screen print on a swatch of cotton in my sketchbook, richly preserved in a honey layer – nine years on.
Starting C F McEwan was, I told myself, the respectable face for all this random experimenting. I was becoming overwhelmed by my imagery and was probably looking to give it a home. Five years later, combined with photography and some brilliant digital print technology, there are collections of scarf designs containing all this imagery, locked up in the print.
From these scarf collections I’m choosing to explore three pieces for this blog post, sharing some of the original imagery. Each design has a different material as their starting point – foil, concrete and paper. There are so many more materials from the archives to share with you, but maybe I’ll save those for another post, lest this one gets a little long!
This design is called Pi. Naming a design can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary. They are all abstract, I don’t always feel like it. But this one was different. Within the imagery sat a little sculpted piece of foil in a shape that reminded me of the symbol for Pi – π or Π, which stands for the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. I can thank my brother for that. Putting Pi on my radar forever as he strove to memorise Pi to sixty decimal places. Out done by my dad and little cousin, who later on, aimed for 100 decimal places – coz everything’s a competition.
Why foil? I’ve always liked using low tech, easy to find materials and foil has some terrific visual and tactile properties. I feel guilty using it in the kitchen, now I’m an ernest clip-lock Tupperware fan, but in the studio…well it would have a whole new purpose. I ransacked the kitchen drawer and started with some simple folding.
This is a small piece of folded foil, photographed on white paper in daylight. It’s a good place to start. I often begin my photography of objects on white paper. It allows me to see clearly, watch for shadows, find the interesting edges. But it still very much looks like foil and I wanted to transform the subject further. Sheets of foil allow for some instant movement between the 2d and 3d. I could use the foil as a surface and an object.
Here’s the same piece of folded foil, now sitting on a foil surface. Light fills and reflects off the sheeting, creating a darker and more dramatic foil object on top. This shot is still using daylight. I wanted to explore the lighting further, so I tried out some side lighting with an old disco light. I love how foil holds the memory of every action, every crease and fold. Light gets trapped in the crevices and creates great shapes and areas of light and dark. Here’s the shape that inspired the Pi name…
I begin sculpting with single objects, photographing one piece at a time. Next comes some repetition. How would these objects look in a group? Here’s a few swatches of foil before and after some sculpting.
As I created each new little shape, I varied the quality of the edge, moving between rolling and folding actions to create some strong contrast in shape and reflection. I realise the word sculpting may sound a bit fanciful, when I was doing nothing more than what a person does with an empty crisp packet in the pub – pre fidget spinners. Fair enough. I try to call to mind that artist (who was it?!) who talked about the best sculpture being that piece of paper you fold and place underneath a wobbly table. Its beauty residing in an elegant and efficient solution – and perhaps, also in the eye of the beholder! But I find this idea freeing, look closely enough and the starting points are all around us.
Pi, along with other textured scarf designs, form part of the Light collection which you can see more of here.
It is without doubt, the paintings of Spanish artist Antonio Tapies, which led to my interest in concrete. Yep, painting and concrete, or more accurately, ‘concrete on canvas’, being a typical caption next to his work. He scored marks using sticks in drying cement and embedded materials like rope and cloth into the surface, composing with the raw materials. It would take me another 15 years since first seeing his work before having a go, but the idea of concrete stayed, stored in my mental folder of must-trys. When I was considering themes for the Spring Summer 16 collection, concrete rose to the surface again, probably sparked by the industrial interiors trend emerging. I liked the idea of mixing silk scarves with the story of concrete.
Here’s my equipment, plastic lining a small wooden frame and an even layer of cement mix. I added water and stirred, the cement very quickly becoming gloopy and lumpy. I also layered clingfilm, cellotape and paper into the lining to create textures in the drying cement. Below is a concrete tile that shows the surface that was in contact with the plastic sheeting and the cling film – you can see the many creases. Where I’ve tried to remove the cling film, some of the concrete has chipped away creating holes within the tile.
With all these textures and uneven surfaces of the tiles, I thought I’d try some projection back onto the concrete surface. Here is a series of four tiles stacked up with some digital projection of various imagery. I love the gaps appearing between the tiles which seem to fall away into darkness – offering a new way of composing with the tiles as a group, focusing on the negative spaces.
I got out my trusty disco light to capture the surface of the concrete, using a side angle of light to accentuate the details. This provided some new sources of colour, great for developing some scarf designs later. The scarf design featured in this section, I would go on to call Disco.
I broke up the concrete tiles into fragments and photographed them in daylight and on a light box. I enjoyed arranging the pieces and started to look at the cross sections of the fragments. I use a lot of macro photography for close up work, ideal for these textures. Filling the camera frame with the surface detail means a small piece of concrete can evoke a whole landscape.
You can see the rest of the Concrete scarf collection here.
Paper, paper, paper, I’m obsessed with it. One of my early textile lessons at art college was to spend an hour creating as many new constructions or surface textures as possible – just using plain white paper and perhaps some scissors and cello tape to help us. I loved it. If this was textiles – I was hooked. I recommend this as any creative warm up activity. The simple act of moving 2d to 3d would become my ongoing inquiry. Paper is perfect for this exploration. Many years later, while brainstorming some workshop ideas for a year 12 class, I found an origami method on youtube. I wanted students to explore that move from working 2d to 3d. This mini video demonstrates how to make the box design. I explored a little mark making activity first with black pen and then went on to make the box.
For my Spring Summer 15 collection, I focused on paper, I called it my Out of the Fold collection. Everyone of the six or so designs were created using paper as a starting point. You can see the rest of the collection here. For the photo shoot, I returned to the origami box, this time scaling up the boxes in size to between 50-75cm in length. I varied the folding angles and made a series of irregular origami boxes to use a backdrop.
This scarf design, called Wall Cast was developed directly from this same origami box design. Back in my studio, while working on the paper collection, I folded fifty or so a4 sheets of paper into this box shape. I blu tac-ed them to the wall and lined them up in a group. I began to partly dismantle the folds and liked the ordered chaos ensuing. Here’s one of my only grainy pictures of that initial activity.
This became my wall of paper boxes, now simply paper folds, full of shadow and line. I needed some colour and went back to my digital projector to cast light and imagery onto the paper folds. The projection of imagery was interrupted by the various angles of paper and this in turn created an interesting new surface to capture. I photographed a series of different images projected onto paper folds – including the foil imagery. Here are a few examples from that series that were all combined to develop the Wall Cast scarf design.
That’s the three materials covered, foil, concrete and paper, forever to belong within my textile practice. I share these starting points with you as much to remind myself as well as inspire others to have a go. We are never far away from resources rich in potential. Even a paper clip can be deconstructed and photographed, probably looking futuristic and terrifying in the process! A good camera, thoughtful lighting and some experimental camera angles, this is my recipe for creating abstract imagery and moving materials into textiles.
Summer Events in Scotland
THE LIGHTHOUSE, GLASGOW, JULY 15TH – 16TH
The Lighthouse is Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture. This July, The Lighthouse and Granny Would Be Proud are coming together to launch The I.D. Pop-up Department Store.
Find C F McEwan scarves joining in the pop up – an alternative marketplace for the Glasgow High Street, where creatives of all different backgrounds gather to provide that unique cultural and shopping experience within one of Scotland’s most important design centres. 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU
SELVEDGE FAIR, EDINBURGH, 19TH AUGUST
The team behind the cult magazine Selvedge bring a curated collection of fifty merchants and makers to Edinburgh. The exhibitors sell a range of rare vintage fabrics, covetable haberdashery and skilfully handmade textile treasures. Find C F McEwan scarves here! Looking forward to joining in. Dovecot Tapestry Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT, 11am – 5pm.
Sensing Space – Interiors of Cambodia
It’s five months since my return from Cambodia and there remains a handful of memories of particular strength. What connects these memories quickly emerges – they are all about the use of interior space. Space which had been intruded, abandoned, emptied out or full of presence, of light and shape. Themes I might explore in my 2d, small scale work back home, but here, these themes are to be simply felt. Visually arresting for sure but also provoking a range of emotion and in doing so, strengthening my recall.
How does the use of a space and the resulting shapes create these responses? I doubt I’ll answer this in a hurry, but I am fascinated by the power these spaces can emit. What I noticed about my own response was a swiftness to connect to artworks stored away in my head, sculptural, visual works that may have provoked similar sensations, regardless of environment. Large scale works by artists like Kapoor, Whiteread and Turrell. And this becomes my self directed task, to share these spaces and attempt to draw lines between art and life.
Light and Shade
High up in the Bokor Mountains sits a collection of French Colonial buildings from the 1920’s. One of these is the Old Casino, now a hallowed-out shell of a building with mountain winds free to move through the glassless windows. With no way to reflect the sunlight, these spaces begin to describe the void, daring the visitor to enter the darkness within. Yes, my imagination ignited.
The interior is stripped bare, no furnishings to suggest a luxurious casino from the past. But plenty to remind as a last hide out for the Khmer Rouge. The cold concrete surfaces seem to suck in all moisture and air. People are free to wander among the rooms, hallways, multiple staircases and dead-ends. Without visual markings to define each space, the visitor is left muddled, left to get lost and found among the rooms. I move internally between a sense of repulsion and awe. The emptiness and history is unsettling but the aesthetic beautiful, perfect even. Watching the sunlight fold and fill sharply onto the floor, elegant geometry at play, light forming shape. In the shady interior the sunlight beams angles of momentary warmth. My notion to escape this building is interrupted by these slices of executed light. Back in the UK, I visit the exhibition of The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography collection by Sir Elton John at the Tate Modern. I find my mind wandering back to Bakor mountain as I view the work. Within the collection are reminders how light and shade have always been used as compositional tools. The photograms and angles of László Moholy-Nagy, architectural focus of Werner Mantz and atmospheric still life of Jaromir Funke.
With the concrete exposed, the building’s bones revealed and unadorned by past fashions, I think of works by Rachel Whiteread. Impressed upon by these volumes of concrete in the building, my eye seeks to invert the solid surroundings, turn them inside out, become disorientated by merges of volume and negative space. It feels similar to the uncanny of Whiteread’s house and stairs, the familiar and the alien at meeting point. I become aware of a certain grief, nausea or ache of something long gone. This place saw opulence, violence and lastly abandonment. A range of experience fixed in the walls. My feelings perhaps heightened by the altitude, the windswept walking and general fatigue. I roam to the top floor, seeking the more optimistic sunshine. There are no plaques or audio guides to navigate and ground the visitor. So we are left to project our own demons or dreams, beware your frame of mind entering this place. The effect here would be lessened in a grey, muted climate. It is the very physical movement between light and dark, the high contrasts that makes you dizzy. I blame too much Hitchcock and episodes of The Prisoner for my own fate here.
Occupation not by people, but by trees. Cambodia’s number one place of interest – the Angkor temples. The site is immense, set within forest land over 400 square km, temples are scattered throughout, all built between the 9th and 15th century during the Khmer Empire. Each temple is a record of design, craft and belief. Like many, top of my list of temples to visit were the tree filled Ta Prohm and Ta Som, made famous by films like Tomb Raider. Visitors line up and move slowly through the structures of creaking roots, trunks and stone combined. Time and climate have fused the textures here into one, as if always in co-existence. It is now too risky for the safety of the temple to have the trees removed, so here they remain.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temples were abandoned for centuries, leaving the trees free to invade, forever upsetting the order of inside and outside. What is this visceral reaction to a tree-engulfed wall? It seems to provoke such drama and unease, too easy to say creepy. I combine these feelings with those left at Bakor, what I know to be true is subverted, re-arranged in front of me. My security of how things should be is shaken. I feel naive here among the ancient temple and trees, insignificant in probably a healthy, very human way, whilst up against epic themes of nature and time passing. Here I am witness to time having past a great deal, way beyond my own meagre lifespan. Maybe its that. These unexpected shapes of tree and stone reminding me of my own mortality, to be quashed eventually just like these tree roots strangling the brickwork in its path.
Which artists come to mind among the trees? I think of artists working with land and nature, someone like Goldsworthy. I came across an image of Hanging Tree from his past exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture park. A stone wall built around a fallen tree. In opposition to Ta Prohm, the wall appears to act as protector/holder of the tree. Goldsworthy often uses the tree form as a starting point in his work – to weave and surround with willow or direct further stone paths through forest. Although with much artifice, Goldsworthy’s touch can remain light, and I think at its best when materials are free to suggest their own shapes and line. When his work is brought inside like Clay Room or Oak Room it takes on a new power, elevating the familiar and humble to something rarefied as in Ta Prohm.
I return to memories of Bakor mountain for this theme of presence. Another seemingly abandoned space, this time, the old Catholic Church along the road from the old casino. Although stripped of most furniture and decoration familiar to most Catholic Churches, a few symbolic touches remain. Amid the quiet are the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Who would not be saddened by their broken, absent faces, in sharp relief against the whitewashed wall. Their presence remaining strong, however threatened by graffiti and debris.
The familiar sense of stillness within a church is thrown out here. The interior has seen much action, a hold up during battles, its wounds seen in bullet-holed walls. Today, the scene feels at once barren and frenetic. Spirit and man circling the church, neither feeling finished as the wind continues to blow. There are many clues to detect the past and present life of this church, too enticing to ignore. Who supplies the bright-white altar cloth and burns the incense? Who wounds Mary, writes on the walls or eats their lunch off this stone floor? For all its isolation up on the mountain, it has its caretakers. It’s brighter than many a church I’ve entered, daylight pouring in from windows, now free of any adornment or obstruction. Where the old casino remained dark inside, here there is so much light. I feel a need to connect with the holy figures here, thankful for them in this worn out space, but forced to reflect back their pain. What remains feels a space both for sorrow and hope.
Connections to other artworks is more tricky, I’m drawn more to film rather than sculpture or photography to explore this sense of presence. Artists who might use long, still shots, textural composition and natural sound and I think of Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky, who talked about ‘sculpting in time’. ‘By using long takes and few cuts in his films, he aimed to give the viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another.’ I found Poetic Harmony a very helpful video essay about Tarkovsky and a good starting point for his work.
Of my most vivid memories of Cambodia, this theme remains top. My cycle through the salt fields of Kampot, right on the south coast of the country was a favourite day during my travels. That afternoon cemented once again my textile roots, where colour, shape and texture all combine along dusty roads of an extremely flat landscape. The terracotta sandy paths burnt into my mind, along with the contrasting grey salt fields and rusty coloured huts on the road to the sea. I never got to the sea, I was too slow before nightfall, distracted with photographs, meeting locals and exploring every hut in reach.
The odd gap in the wall of the huts meant I could peer inside. I saw mini landscapes of salt, mound after mound, from floor to ceiling. Piles of salt shaded from the sun, ready to be transported to factories for iodising. Along came that peculiar sensation in response to the disrupted space. These were interiors filled with one task, not at all domestic, no spaces or corners exposed to give shape to the room. How I ‘know’ a room was challenged again. The icy whites of the salt mounds made me think of snow peaks, a miniature mountain range held up by bamboo and iron.
I consider an artist who creates similar sensations with shape. I immediately think of Kapoor, sculpting with colour and material to make shapes you know and don’t know at once. Scale and perspective used as tools to fool and amaze the viewer of their position in a space.
The wind plays its role again, in my last theme, taking place back up on Bakor mountain. This time it’s the old villa where huge panoramic once-windows dominate the ground floor. It’s also an empty, abandoned shell, but this villa feels different to the church and casino. Rather than a focus on the interior, the position of wide windows steer the eye to the horizon. It’s the outside seen from within that is the film to watch here. The space is re-framed by these windows. I stand and watch my nature films play out, long grasses blowing in the wind, live TV of hurried movement out there, but still and quiet in here. This carefully selected view feels now elevated, merely by the suggestion of the interior frame.
I think of the light artist James Turrell, so practised at guiding and managing our view. I think of his Sky Spaces, ‘a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky.’ Or his mammoth undertaking of the Roden Crater – a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space, a controlled environment for the experiencing and contemplation of light.’ Turrell says “My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.” There’s no meddling with the content of what one might see, but carefully designed space to support the act of seeing – to affect the quality of our experience of seeing.
Through writing this I’ve been considering if there is a way to connect my experiences of these interiors. I don’t think it’s just about being in Cambodia. There are opportunities to explore provocative space wherever we are. I think it helps if the space is new to us, jolting us into being more aware. Cambodia was new for me, every day I was guaranteed to be surrounded by something new. That was my mission of travel, so it was inevitable I would collect sensations. When home, I think art plays its ultimate role – heightening our awareness wherever we seek it. Although sounding uncomfortable, I think it’s about the act of being displaced. Some might say art is about being transported, but I feel ‘displaced’ is closer to the bone – more realistic. The power of my response seems to lie in that dual presence of what I know and what I do not know – something disrupted, maybe it’s about drama. I always liked the elegant solution by artist Christo who ‘changed up’ familiar surroundings or ways of knowing a place. A gift to those who live nearby the artworks. He and his team famously wrapped up in cloth, landmarks like the Reichstag in Germany and the Pont Neuf in Paris. One of my favourites is The Valley Curtain in Colarado, where Christo altered the landscape on a huge scale with a piece of cloth. He altered the view for all those driving through the valley and in doing so, forever altered the experience for those on the road.
West Dean Arts and Craft Festival
Fast approaching is the West Dean Craft Festival on 2nd – 4th June 2017.
West Dean is the beautiful college in West Sussex, recognised for conservation and creative arts. The festival includes a vibrant mix of demonstrations, workshops, marketplace and print fair.
Meet Clare from C F McEwan and shop for scarves at the Print Fair hosted by the team from MADE during the festival.
10am – 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)Sign up for events during the festival here.
Meeting the Silk Worms
I’ve been trying to place my first memories of silk, before any awareness of it’s grandeur. When I first noticed the feel of it, the weave, the way it seemed to reflect light, so different to the flatness of cotton or itchiness of wool. I remember being obsessed with a certain satin edged blanket when I was really young, a woollen blanket with a silky trim, I loved the contrast of the fabrics, it was all plush and comfort combined. Fast forward to my teens – the joy of finding a Chinese silk blouse from a second hand shop in Glasgow’s West End, with intricate silk buttons and embroidered neckline. I hardly wore it, but loved it hanging there in my wardrobe, instantly lifting the standards among the battered cords and v-neck jumpers I otherwise wore to death. Its time would come.
For all my love of silk, I never really thought about its origin, it would be well into my twenties and a textile degree later to get more engaged. As a student and a new designer, I was always more devoted to the colour, the print, the design on the surface of a fabric. The printing base for me was about how to best show the imagery, the fabric was secondary. Strange now I come to think of this, as I was – and still am so fussy about the fibres I want to wear. Starting C F McEwan was entering new territory – I had to consider the wearability of my print, to shift from print designer to product designer, be my own customer and find the best fibre for the job. Printing my scarf designs onto silk for the first time in 2013, was a revelation. A lofty word to describe what was a lovely moment, how print and cloth can work so beautifully together, how they can compliment the other. The print was vibrant, the lustre and drape of the silk made the print seem fluid, as if in movement. Customers responded, they remarked on the softness. I watched children (with clean hands!) reach instinctively to feel the scarves at fairs, reminding me of the innate power behind our sense of touch.
I think any success of C F McEwan over the last few years is thanks to the quality of the silk. The print is enjoyed, but it is the wearability of the silk that lingers and I take no credit for that. It becomes clear it is the little creatures known as silk worms I must thank and my compulsion to meet them grows. The business, with all the people involved; weaver, printer, machinist, photographer, web developer, stockist and customer – their presence all hinges on the life force of the silk worm, with it’s quiet dedication to eat, sleep and grow pure protein and turn it into silk.
You might just get an inkling then, of my thrill to meet them. The main reason for visiting Vietnam was to find these silk worms and learn more about how silk is produced. China would be a more obvious place to start, the number one world leader of silk production and the origin of silk for my scarves. But it’s Vietnam at number six, that would finally sway me to get over to South East Asia, the landscape and colourful textiles following next on my list of reasons to go, and so I set off last November to explore.
Records show Vietnam has been producing silk for over 2000 years, originally a fibre reserved for Kings, Queens and mandarins. In 1000 – 1054, King Ly Thai Tong encouraged a big increase in silk production, boosting the country’s economy and eliminating the need to rely on Chinese merchants to get hold of silk. Silk villages sprung up around the country. More recently in 2015, Vietnam produced 420 metric tonnes to China’s 170000 tonnes (data from the International Sericultural Commission). It’s well regarded for its unbleached and natural quality, particularly for it’s raw silk.
And so to these silk worms…while in Hoi An, I went along to the Silk Village for a tour, a resort in the ancient town focused on conserving and celebrating the history of sericulture (rearing of silk worms for silk production). Staff are employed to look after the silk worms and demonstrate the stages of making silk. First stop – the room of the worms. I heard them before I saw them – munching on the mulberry leaves, hundreds of them…
I’ve put together a little video of my visit, a combination of silk in action in Vietnam and later on my trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where much is also being done to promote it’s production at Artisans Angkor. The video shows my own rough and ready footage of the stages towards a piece of woven silk fabric. I’ve also captured some examples of ikat silk weaving, just a few of the styles being produced daily in Siem Reap. The video soundtrack is a recording from a performance I saw while on a trip to the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam.
I’ve got a few new memories now to join my silk collection, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about the delight in meeting these creatures.
Scarves at Made in Clerkenwell
Meet Clare and scarves at Made in Clerkenwell this May 2017…
“A bi-annual celebration of Craft Central members. Held across two historic buildings, this is an opportunity for the public to go ‘behind the scenes’ and explore the studios of our renowned design community.” London
Mother’s Day Special
A very special offer for Mothers Day, 15% off small and large scarves on orders made between 14th – 24th March 2017. Scarves will be delivered First Class Recorded Delivery (free delivery on UK orders), wrapped in tissue, white gift box and ribbon. Gift tags included for your personal note.
Promotional code: MOTHER15
See all scarves available online here.
Mono Print round Laos
I think of Laos, I imagine orange, blue and green. Vibrant colours dominating the landscape. Clear skies and still air. I arrived in the city of Luang Prabang, surrounded by mountains and river ways. The airport appeared close to the city so I made the now barmy decision to walk with a rucksack, ignoring the taxis and keeping my umbrella up for shade. However hot and heavy, there was something quickly connecting about entering this place by foot. I would now, not be lost.
After 45 minutes the city starts to be revealed. I sit on a wall and rest, the weight of my rucksack released for a moment. I gulp water and watch the anonymous, robed monks walk by, captured here in the photo. Their orange fabric lit by the sun, in perfect contrast to the sky. Complimentary colours in action. Laos cast its spell and lingers still.
I share this beginning because it’s how I remember Laos, this high pitch of colour. Amid the quiet, spacious surrounding, it’s easy to absorb details here. Some of which I’ve been trying to translate through mono printing. I’m going to share three prints inspired by Laos imagery. It’s a challenge for me to resist pure abstraction and pattern which is my more comfortable place when printmaking.
Mono printing has been part of my creative practice since art college, falling in love with its direct approach to colour and texture. It was infectious to me, a way of building a body of work quickly and loosely. I made a little video to introduce the mono print, using a ceramic tile and acrylic paint…(refresh your browser if you can’t see the video below).
Mixing colours from Laos
I begin with an edit of my photographs, selecting a few images which might work as a mono print. I’m drawn to all the natural materials in Laos. Bamboo, indigo, drying chillies, baskets and building work. I’ll use the group below to extract a colour palette for my prints.
I start colour mixing with a binder, a white but translucent substance which I separate into a few bowls. The binder is normally used for printing onto fabric, but I tend to use it for paper too, it dries more slowly than acrylic paint, critical to give more time in print prep. I add highly concentrated pigment inks of primary colours and just a tiny drop at a time. I mix up my palette, gradually finding a group which correspond to the elements in the photographs. I add small amounts of the emerging colours to each other, a good way to unify a palette, each a part of the other. This always makes me think of sourdough bread! I prefer to colour mix in bulk, in advance of the printing stage so I can get into a flow without interruption.
I passed this house at the start of a waterfall trek up the mountain. Its in a village near Nong Kiaw on the banks of the Ou river, about four hours bus from Luang Prabang. Housing is in a variety of material here, some wood, some concrete. This house is a mixture of wood, bamboo, palm leaf and dried grasses. Drawn to the roof texture, I’m going to focus on this as a mono print.
I’m using a pane of glass about 45cm x 30cm as my printing surface. I apply the colours with various sized paintbrushes to recreate the shapes and textures in the image. Once the blocks of colour are on the glass, I fold a piece of paper to create a point, and draw/scratch into the surface of paint, removing lines of paint as I go. Changing the direction of the lines and the pressure I apply to the glass, I can create a variety of mark and feeling of direction.
A sheet of paper is laid on top of the painted glass and even pressure applied to transfer the paint to paper. I’ve been using a lovely Fabriano printmaking paper 285gsm which absorbs the ink well. For a successful print, it’s a combination of the right amount of ink (paint), clear, dynamic marks and the right amount of pressure for the paper/fabric being used. All this needs experimentation, lots of trial and error. The white areas in the print below suggests I could have added more ink or pressure to get a little more detail in the image. This print feels more like a suggestion of the straw roofed house rather than a direct representation.
Too much ink
I’m always interested in building work going on, wherever I am. I like seeing the materials ready to use, in bulk. Back in Luang Prabang I walked passed these tiles. I’m think they are for roofing, looking at the turned corners. I like the arrangement, the repetition of lines and also the unexpected colour provided by the plastic tape.
Here’s my pane of glass which I’ve marked with some purple tape so I know where the paper will sit. I use mixed sizes of paintbrush again, a rag to create some mottled texture and some scrap paper folded to a point to make the lines. I fold the paper various ways to achieve different line thickness.
My first print feels a bit cartoon like. All the lines exaggerated, not much delicate mark and texture. Too much ink has been applied which cancels out more gentle mark making and ‘noise’ in the paint surface. Looking at the remaining glass panel, I can see there’s plenty more ink to try a 2nd print, using up the remaining colour.
From the same painted glass surface, here’s the 2nd print below, a much finer texture although marks are more faint. I prefer this print, the colour looks more rich and I can see the ‘noise’ in the print, every brush mark. The quality of mark that tells you its a print.
Using Paper Stencils
The daily food market in Luang Prabang, an inscrutable variety on offer, I was feeling shy to photograph too much. But fish – I know fish and the stall holder wasn’t looking. I loved the careful display of size and shape of these little fishes. Their white-silver colours shining above the fresh green of the palm leaf where they lay.
With the white in mind, I’ve decided to use some paper stencils when tackling this print. Tearing and cutting pieces of paper to lay on the painted glass panel. The paper arranged to mimic the groups of fish seen in the photograph. The white paper acts a resist to the paint when the paper is applied.
I scratch into the paint, drawing around the paper stencils to add more detail. The paper applied and the resulting first print is shown below. The directional brush marks are showing up well, but the stencil shapes lack some definition. More pressure needs to be applied around stencilled areas to pick up enough of the paint.
Here’s a close up of the glass panel after the first print. Left over paint is very visible between the paper shapes telling me there’s opportunity to do a second print in these areas.
I decide to try some fabric for the second print. Sometimes fabric is more malleable and sensitive to a printed surface, absorbing more detail and less pressure needed.
What Next? Developing the Mono Prints Digitally…
What will I do with these prints? Always a dilemma in printmaking, pages of work can be produced rapidly. I will work into them with some drawing, and share again at a later stage. I’ve also photographed the prints close up, which can be used as a digital layer to combine with other imagery using Adobe Photoshop software. Below is the start of a few ‘merges’ of mono print and original photograph. It’s an approach I use a lot in my work, combining the digital and hand made together to achieve something new.
The first step is to superimpose the mono print photograph onto the original photograph in Photoshop (a copy and paste action). I then reduce the opacity (heading towards translucency) of the top layer to reveal the image below.
Adding the hand drawn element will be my next stage in building this imagery – watch out for future blog posts. Taking the original Laos photographs through a process. Dissected, re-arranged, flipped and disguised.