Sunday 28 February 2010

Coming Unstuck

New Year Lilies
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

No, this isn't a reference to collage (although if you read the last post you could be forgiven for thinking that it was!), but to the fact that for several weeks I had a painting on the go which I couldn't finish - no, let's be absolutely clear here - I could barely start. Back in January I was given some beautiful lilies which sat in a vase on my windowsill looking like the perfect subject for a painting, with the wintry light slanting through the window behind. I was too busy to get the paints out then and there, so took some photos, put them on my inspirations board and let them simmer for a bit.

My first dilemma was the composition. Did I want to paint a vase of lilies? one lily? abstract lilies? portrait or landscape? I'm not used to being that indecisive. Eventually I decided on a landscape format - no vase - and found enough time to lay down the background wash. The colours I could see through the window were blue, yellow and green so I used ultramarine and indian yellow and lots of water so they ran into each other, and left it to see how things would turn out (see above pic) . When it dried I put in the slanting light with a sponge.

And then - nothing. A fortnight passed with no inkling of what to do next. Eventually in desperation I decided to treat it as though I were on a life painting course (the one where my tutor told me I was using watercolour like pastels), and blocked in the lilies with alizarin crimson, adding highlights of titanium white.

So far, so good. I added some leaves and stems and stamens but it wasn't right; I'd forgotten the shadows. I still didn't like it, so I painted over the background with an ultramarine wash and - hey presto! - it came together. I could even see the slanting light through the wash.

In summary, then: time spent thinking about painting: four weeks; time spent looking glumly at the background wash: two weeks; time spent completing the painting: 90 minutes. It's a funny old world . . .!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Close Encounters with Collagraph

Recently I attended a two-session workshop on collagraph at the Harpenden Arts Club, led by Lilley-based artist Kim Major-George. It had been billed as a demo one week and a workshop the next - in hindsight completely unfeasible as the first session was about creating the plate and the second one about printing from it. So Kim had to give her demo to a largely unprepared audience! She'd brought along various bits and pieces from which to make a collage - pieces of mountboard to use as the starting point; she showed us how to cut away layers to get specific effects: if we preferred we could glue interesting pieces of textured wallpaper and found objects to the surface of the board instead. Most of us hadn't brought along a craft knife so opted for the wallpaper option.

the assembled plate - five pieces of wallpaper, two bits of scrim and some twigs and moss!
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

I hadn't prepared anything at all; but this turned out to be a blessing as if I had, I would probably have attempted something far too ambitious. Far easier to rip up some pieces of wallpaper, inspired by their various textures to create a riverside scene! I glued them to my mountboard using washable PVA glue, added some found items (bits of leaves and moss) and some scraps of printmaker's scrim for good measure, and checked with Kim that I hadn't produced something unfeasible. She removed a couple of harder bits of twiggy material (which the press would have struggled with) and gave it the thumbs-up.

collagraph plate, sealed with two layers of diluted PVA
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

Back at home, we had been instructed to seal the plate with two layers of watered-down PVA. At 50:50 my first layer was a little too watered-down; it took ages to dry and I couldn't see much difference. I did the second layer at 70:30 and it worked much better. I couldn't wait to get to the printing stage!

the inked plate after printing - a work of art in itself!
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

At the second session a week later, Kim showed us how to ink the plate using water-soluble inks and dollies made from J-cloths. It's important not to use too much ink and we were encouraged to burnish back some areas using tracing paper to create a variety of tone throughout the piece. But first we had to tear our paper to size and soak it. At this point I discovered that my plate was quite a large one, which was brought home to me as I struggled to ink it. Luckily Kim had encouraged us to wear rubber gloves and old clothes!

the first print from my collagraph plate - a little too heavy round that tree!
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

We queued up to use the press she'd brought with her (her husband makes them). Some prints came out great the first time, but many of us (including me) had over-inked the plate or done something else which needed to be corrected for the second printing. I left the over-inked areas of my plate untouched and inked up the other bits, and joined the queue again. Kim helped everybody print their plates for the second time, encouraging us by holding up the best ones. Some people had done cut-away mountboard plates at home during the week, which turned out beautifully. I was happy with my second print which came out lighter than the first one.

the second print from my re-inked plate
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010

I love printmaking and want to do more. Some day I will have one of those presses for my own; but for now I'd better dig out the linocutting equipment and get cutting and burnishing by hand!