23 July 2017

Sunday morning

An early start to the planned tidying of bedroom and closet - with a diversion outdoors to clip some lavender to put among the clothes - and scarves, especially - that don't get used quite so often.
 Once the morning dew has dried, I'll run up some sachets (now that the sewing machine is accessible!).

Then a leisurely breakfast with leftover cake, lots of fruit, greek yogurt, and lots&lots of coffee (decaffienated) -
And now, off to socialise with lovely people. Never mind the impending rain...

22 July 2017

Japanese woodcut printing, part 2

Friday was all about printing, but at 6am my fourth block was still to be cut. I decided to use the lines - perhaps in nostalgia for my "travel lines".

At class, there was still much to be done before any printing could start. Registration lines to be added, edges of non-printing areas to be beveled, the blocks checked and generally tidied up, at which point I discovered an entire uncut corner of one of them ... hmm, how did that happen!

After an hour we were ready to run the block under the tap (right) and wrap it (left) in a damp teatowel and then plastic - it would have a couple of hours for the water to soak into the wood fibres -
Having folded sheets of newsprint into a book, we wet alternate pages (starting at the back) and wrapped them in plastic - this would be the damp pack for the printing paper -
The paper was cut to size to fit the area marked out on the blocks. Because it had deckle edges, one edge needed cutting off to give a basis for measuring our little sheets -
The sheets went into the damp pack, to be taken out as needed and returned between printings.

The nori (rice starch) paste needed thinning down, stirring with a chopstick as water was added little by little. The desired consistency is reached when it drops off the end of  the chopstick. Containers with lids keep the nori from drying and thickening -
Dabbing the nori onto the areas to be printed, after which a soft brush is used to smooth it out -
Then it's the turn of the pigment -
again with the brush -
Several applications of pigment may be needed, until the printing surface is properly covered.

The paper, lifted from the damp pack, is placed into the registration marks -
Being thin, it was covered with a sheet of baking paper to stop the baren rubbing loose the fibres -
Note the position for holding the baren.

Pigments: ordinary watercolours. First I wanted a pale grey for the background, the block with lines. A tube of Paynes Grey was available, and I also mixed up burnt umber with ultramarine (bottom), and viridian with alizarin crimson (top), but at the dilution I was using, you couldn't see much difference -

It was rather thrilling to see the layers building up, and to play with the colours -





A further step is to stretch the print - it dries, then is briefly dampened again, and placed on a surface (eg perspex) and taped round (in one direction, eg clockwise) with sellotape, which is rubbed onto the paper to hold it firm. When the tape is removed, it takes just a few of the fibres of the paper with it -

To my right, Mags was well away with beaches and groynes and beach huts -
An important thing is knowing how to sharpen the different tools. We were given a basic set of tools to use and keep, but even these work better if kept in good condition. So, find the bevel and first use the coarse stone
then remove the burr and finish off on the finer stone -
Here's a lovely bit of cutting - look at those thin lines! The block is a work of art in itself -
 -
Samples of the finished prints
After class I went along to Intaglio to get a few things (brushes paper, sharpening stone) so that I could finish up my set, and perhaps play with the blocks in different ways -
 When I took the prints out of my plastic folder, 24 hours after the class, they were still damp, hence the buckling. Back in a damp pack before further printing, they'll straighten out, and after printing there's the stretching process for the ones worth keeping.

The one at top right is the most complete, it has all four layers, but unfortunately it has unwanted inking -
 Perhaps I used too much nori and made the block too wet? After seeing that, I used a scrap of the absorbent paper to mop between the motifs, and that helped a bit -
The yellow and violet print over the grey areas quite well, but the green is wildly misregistered on the right side -
Possibly the paper was badly placed, but it's also likely that my tracing for the grey layer was inaccurate. There's a lot needs looking out for! It's a bit like learning how to drive - you have to practice and practice till things become automatic.

Next step, making more blocks, based on a photo I took on the way to Intaglio, as a result of an idea I'd had on the way to class. Something caught my eye that just seemed right - but I must reconsdier it away from the heat of the moment. I quite like it when things happen quickly, so that you're swept up with the enthusiasm and urgency of it all.

21 July 2017

Japanese woodblock printing, part 1

A two-day course at Morley College. Monday to learn how to cut the woodblocks, Friday to learn how to print them. In between we take wood and cutting tools home and finish the cutting. 

My first thoughts were to do "something based on Munakata" but looking at the books of traditional woodcuts as we waited for class to start both confused and excited me.
Two days, for beginners, obviously wasn't going to produce something resembling a Hokusai or Hiroshige - and besides, those prints were produced by a team of publisher, artist, carver, printer. (If you'd like to see how The Great Wave can be produced by one person, have a look at David Bull's series of videos, which has illuminating comparisons of the print in different museums, shows processes and technicalities - and his new workbench - and also the area around his shop in Tokyo.)

Our tutor, Carol, had had a residency learning traditional techniques in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Here are some prints made with watercolour inks built up from blocks of quite simple shapes -

 The blocks can look quite beautiful in themselves -
 I looked in my drawing-tuesday sketchbook and found some simple shapes which, rotated slightly and overlapped, filled the area
 Others had more pictorial, more traditional ideas -
 Carol demonstrated the tools, starting with kentoh, the chisel that makes the registration marks
 Other tools are hangi-toh, a knife with a bevel edge; maru-toh, a rounded gouge used to clear areas; hira-toh, a flat knife used to smooth ridges.

Coloured up, the design could be traced (with carbon paper) onto three sections of the wood, two on each side (finished size 15x10.5cm, with 1cm gutter and 1cm more for registration marks -
 The dispersal of the shapes meant that some "islands" could be added between them that wouldn't need cutting and would support the paper -
 We took our blocks (and the non-slip mats) home to finish the cutting before Friday's class.

As it happened, Drawing Tuesday was near Intaglio Printmakers, off Southwark Bridge Street, so some of us went to investigate
 I took rubbings to check what the block might look like. Seeing the lines in the background made me think about those big empty areas, especially centre bottom ... perhaps some sort of background pattern ...?
 I did some trial cutting on a scrap, then frottage, and couldn't decide which to use. The shapes are traced onto a bit of acetate (I like the results) -
 Yet more cutting and frottage - this could have other possibilities -
 To try to get a "real picture" of what might happen, I traced the darned thing again and yet again, and then went at it with a scalpel, opening windows of various sizes where the shapes overlapped, and then cutting out the background so it could be placed over various types of frottage to see what background design to cut in the fourth block, which would be printed first, and the others on top (well that's the plan) -

At the point of tracing the bottom image that I realised I'd made the classic beginner's mistake - forgetting to reverse the design before tracing it onto the block. Duh. Well, we'll see what it looks like, wrong way round...

More pressing was the choice of background - calming lines, or lively (and quicker to cut!) randomness? I decided to sleep on it, and get up early ... it's hard to imagine the result if you've not done the process yet! But by 9am Friday, that fourth block had to be cut...

Stay tuned for Part 2.

20 July 2017

Poetry Thursday - Nine Triangles (for Breon O'Casey) by Christopher Reid

Eyelight thrown
on a dark question
to darken it further,

Time to take in
the view, the entire
daily tablescape.

Earthenmost shades -
and yet the effect
is of airy redemption.

That pledge of mud
the soul needs
to make its abstract journey.

Shapes huddle
in improvised families
out of the storm of seeing.

Wedges, half-moons,
rough squares: a simple
bag of tricks.

But everything
is accounted for
by these economies.

The epicurean
saint attends
to his plot of paint.

The world beyond
staying just the same,
only more so.
(via)
Found via an obituary of Breon O'Casey: "Moving out of St Ives to the village of Paul in 1978, O’Casey developed his vocabulary of geometric forms, the world seen through a collection of circles, triangles and squares rather than fields, trees and skies. This unique pictorial language is celebrated in Christopher Reid’s poem, Nine Triangles (for Breon O’Casey)."

19 July 2017

Feminist textiles and embroidered hankies

The Cut Cloth exhibition, and its associated events, were what spurred my recent trip to Manchester. I got there on the last day of the exhibition, which was held in the amazing Portico Library, with its delightful "original features" dating back 200 years - the library was opened in 1806. The central exhibition space , which also functions as a cafe - is a modern intervention -
The "Polite Literature" category would include the literature that was read in the Polite Society of the Georgian era, the sort of literature deemed sufficiently suitable for a wife or servant. But these shelves also hold some risque novels and a few books on witchcraft and philosophical and theological arguments. (Read more about it here.)

We had a simple lunch on tablecloths rumoured to be by Alice Kettle (and indeed she and ceramicist Stephen Dixon are leaders of the Crafts Research Group, year-long artists in residence) -
In the vitrines, historic documents - The Subversive Stitch by Roszika Parker was published in 1984, and the Art Textiles exhibition, curated by Jennifer Harris  was held at the Whitworth in 2015
Textile art and contemporary feminism
(click on the image to enlarge,  for reading the text)
 A few of my favourite pieces -


 In one vitrine, historical textile production in Manchester, which in 1853 had over 100 cotton mills and until early this century produced "wax cloth" for export to Ghana, and also Shweshwe indigo fabric, "German print", which was exported to South Africa -
Some days later, "the hanky workshop", led by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective. She supplied a kit with hanky, thread, needle, instructions, a lovely woven label ... and there are other stitching-for-action kits on the Craftivist website -


Sarah's Little Book of Craftivism contains thoughtful, do-able projects that bring the political a bit closer to the personal -
I was also taken by the follow-the-dots stitching cards - Stitchable Changemakers
And being an embroiderer, I not only had to turn it over to see the back, but photograph it -
 Here we are, stitching away in the Portico Library - changing the world one stitch at a time!
The hanky, explained Sarah, is a way of gently confronting and connecting to "a powerholder" - onto which can be stitched not only your concerns about their actions and policies, but also encouragement for doing a better job in future ... with the added dimension that you'll be thinking about these topics and issues as you stitch. To me, that is much more sane than yelling angry slogans. But to whom, about what, would I write or give such an object?  When we said a few words about ourselves at the start of the workshop, I said I'd come because this was an area that I'd not been involved with yet in my life. And indeed, I felt very much out of my depth and hadn't thought who for, or about what, such a handkerchief missive might be.

At the end of the session I hadn't got very far ... and Sarah gave us an "extra length of encouragement" to take away - "little by little, we travel far"

Little by little I sorted out what to say, how to say it, and to whom. While I educate myself about "issues" that I might want to try to change, I'll focus on what I know: "the personal is political". Family politics; who holds what powers? So, first, the nearest and dearest ... what could I say to my son? His birthday was only a week away, so the text urgently needed writing, no time for dithering. It got done. The words had to be fitted into the space available, and the writing had to be a good size. That got sorted, and then I traced it onto the cloth with a black biro. 

After that bit of agony came the joy of stitching - with two strands of anchor cotton, or rather one strand doubled over through the needle, so the needle wouldn't get lost during stitching on public transport (the sturdy, reclosable envelope of the kit was very useful for carrying it around) -

 Finished -

 And the back .....