Wednesday, 26 February 2014

squashes & squares

two squashes on my kitchen shelf
© Teresa Newham
For much of the winter I had two squashes from my Riverford organic veg box sitting on a plastic tray on the shelf in my kitchen.  And, given the premise that if it sits still long enough I'll either sketch it, paint it, or turn it into a linocut, it should come as no surprise that when I was casting round for a subject on which to try out a new linocut technique, these squashes sprang immediately to mind.

original sketch for the print, with some workings-out
© Teresa Newham
 Action follows thought; so I grabbed the nearest sketchbook to hand and jotted down a design, annotating it as I did so to show the colours.  The idea was to create three printing plates - one for each colour - rather than employing the reduction method I used on the seahorses.   Three plates would produce more than three colours: because the Caligo Safewash inks are transparent, I could print yellow over blue to create green, for example.

the adjusted sketch on tracing paper, transferred to the three plates
© Teresa Newham
As ever, I mulled over the design before going any further, and decided to make it small (for ease of cutting, and to minimise any waste if the new technique didn't work out) and square.  So when I traced the image, I adjusted the position of each squash in relation to the tray.  Then I transferred the design to each block - or at least, the part of it I needed for that particular colour.

the blue plate, printed
© Teresa Newham
To get the effect I wanted, I realised I would have to print the darkest colours first.  This goes against almost everything I had originally read about producing linocut prints; but a couple of summers ago, Gail Brodholt (one of my printmaking heroes) exhibited some plates alongside some part-printed and completed linocut prints in an exhibition at the Bankside Gallery.  And she prints her plates in whichever order she needs to.  All of which had led indirectly to my trying out this technique in the first place!

the red plate, printed on top of the blue
© Teresa Newham
So the blue plate went down first, followed by the red (which was actually more of a dark orange).  These two colours did not overlap, and they did not quite register either, but that was not a problem as far as I was concerned; this was an experiment and any slight imperfections would add to the character of the finished piece.

the yellow plate, printed last of all - the colour was adjusted for the three in the bottom row
© Teresa Newham
The yellow plate was printed last, and pulled the whole thing together.  After the first three prints I realised that I had not made the yellow quite transparent enough; and was able to add enough extender to get the correct colours on the next three.  And, if I should decide I want to make some more - perhaps using a different set of colours - I have the three plates, intact, ready and waiting!!

the three plates, cleaned of ink (more or less)
© Teresa Newham
Another bonus: because the three plates were prepared at the same time, I was able to ink, print, clean and ink again; the whole printing process was extremely quick and because the colour layers had not dried out, they blended well together where they did overlap.

two squashes
© Teresa Newham
I'm looking forward to trying this technique out again some time - I can think of several sorts of design which would work well - but in the meantime I'm enjoying my jolly squashes!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

to be a pilgrim

"Not all those who wander are lost" - J R R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When I saw the itinerary for the parish pilgrimage to Lourdes I knew this would be no ordinary trip.  Pilgrims are not tourists; and although I took my camera - and a sketchbook just in case (which stayed in my case for the whole trip) - the main focus of this journey was not going to be about art or photos!

the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto
© Teresa Newham
Having arrived just in time for dinner, we ate our first meal together as a group - around twenty-five of us: four men (including Monsignor) and the rest almost exclusively ladies of a certain age, with varying degrees of mobility.  Then straight out to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes for the torchlight procession alongside the River Gave to the Basilica of the Rosary.  As we walked we prayed the rosary in at least half a dozen languages, and despite the cold and the wind (which blew out my candle) the procession was a big one.  Walking round the corner to the Grotto, we queued up to touch the rock which the Lourdes water springs from. The Grotto had a crowd of people in front of it, venerating Our Lady. Once we got up close, it simply wasn't appropriate to take a photo.  Besides, I was too absorbed in the moment!  We were carrying our parish banner which had been paraded in the procession, and it was much admired; some people even came over to kiss it.

Harpenden Parish banner
© Teresa Newham
The second day was wet and cold but it didn't matter;  half a dozen of the more intrepid of  us were off to the baths, and would be wet and cold anyway soon enough!  we waited for around an hour, praying the rosary with those around us as we did so.   I was very apprehensive but the nuns who help with the baths were lovely - and the water (which is traditionally held not to be wet) really did dry off incredibly quickly.  Soon I was tingling all over despite the rain!  We then walked the Stations of the Cross, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Basilica of the Rosary.

the Basilica of the Rosary
© Teresa Newham
The afternoon was spent on a walking tour of the town itself, focussing on places where St Bernadette had lived or which she knew.   This included a visit to the new parish church, where some wonderful music was being sung.  As each venue required quite a trek to the next one, by the time we reached the chapel where we were to attend Mass we were absolutely drenched!  Making my way back to the hotel after Mass, I spotted this bin near the Basilica.  Clearly the rain and wind had taken effect:

abandoned brollies
© Teresa Newham

We thought that the torchlight procession might be called off that evening because of the weather - in the event a few hardy souls processed with the statue of Our Lady while the rest of us huddled under any shelter we could find to recite our prayers, before heading back to the hotel for a nightcap in the bar!

The following day (11th February) was the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes - the reason why we were making our pilgrimage now instead of later in the year.  We left the hotel early to bag our seats for the feast day Mass, which was being held in the underground Basilica of Pius X, happily reopened after last summer's flooding.  This basilica is the world's largest underground church , holding around 25,000 people.  And it was full . . .

inside the basilica of Pius X
© Teresa Newham
This basilica was hung with many banners depicting various saints, and before the Mass began, each pilgrim group's banner (around thirty in total) was paraded around the central sanctuary, including our own.  The Mass - conducted in several languages - was relayed to the vast congregation on large video screens throughout the basilica.  When we returned later that afternoon for the Eucharistic adoration, I took the opportunity for a closer look at the beautiful crucifix on the sanctuary:

crucifix at the basilica of Pius X
© Teresa Newham

We had a little time after lunch - some took the opportunity to look inside the Basilica of the Rosary, or to light a candle at the Grotto.  But I had gifts to buy, and was hoping to find a statuette of Our Lady of Lourdes for my bedroom - so a few of us went shopping.  A chance conversation with a shopkeeper led us to a factory which made church statues, and we visited their exhibition.

the exhibition of statues
© Teresa Newham
Now that would be souvenir, I thought:  so it was probably just as well that EasyJet restrict your baggage allowance.  Mind you, I would have had difficulty choosing which statue to bring home:  Our Lady herself?  St Joseph, to whom my several-greats grandfather dedicated the church he built in Gibraltar? or St Teresa of Avila, that dedicated nun with a wonderful sense of humour, who played a big part in bringing me into the Catholic church?

statue of St Joseph
© Teresa Newham
There are many, many shops in Lourdes selling all sorts of souvenirs - some more tasteful than others.  We managed to find everything we were looking for, and stopped at the Grotto to fill up our bottles with Lourdes water before heading back to the hotel to dry off yet again.  I should say that the food at the Hotel Stella (we were full board) was simple and plentiful, and the staff couldn't have been more helpful. The hotels open for just these three days at this time of year: then they shut until the main season starts at Easter.

statue of St Teresa of Avila - my patron saint
© Teresa Newham

The rain held off for most of the final - and largest - torchlight procession.  It was huge - we had to wait some time just to join on the end of it. It's difficult to describe what it feels like to recite prayers alongside several thousand others, of various nationalities.  By the end of the pilgrimage I was familiar with the prayers in Latin, French and Italian!

the torchlight procession on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes
© Teresa Newham

All in all this pilgrimage was a profound experience, with a great bunch of fellow travellers.  I suspect that it's influence will be felt across all aspects of my life and will most certainly emerge  in some way in the art I create.  I hope to visit Lourdes again . . .

Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!