As I was preparing for the recent Open House event I knew that one of the things people enjoy about it is the chance to find out more about the way an artist approaches their work. I always have sketchbooks on show, this time I also wanted to show people how a print is made so they could get an understanding of the work that goes into the different stages.
I had my own plates and prints taken at different stages on show but I wanted to push people even more…
Some of the prints I have made have been done using a drypoint technique, where you use a sharp tool to scratch directly into a surface. The resulting furrowed line creates a burr which holds the ink. It is relatively quicker than etching, much more direct and gives a softer almost furry line. You can’t print that many copies as gradually, under the pressure of the press, the burr breaks away.
So it was perfect technique to let people have a go. I laid some plastic plates out, some tools and invited people to have a try. I had no idea what people would do, I just wanted to give them the chance to pick up a tool and see what it felt like.
Admittedly I may have had an ulterior motive and within the first few visitors these comments started…
“I don’t know what to do!”
You got it… it may look simple; this art business, but even just starting can be harder than you imagine. Blank paper syndrome!
“It’s harder than I thought – it won’t go the way I want!”
Slightly unfair this; everyone trying something for the first time has to work through the unfamiliarity of the technique. Often we expect things to be so straightforward and art can be swiftly dismissed as “just a few lines on a canvas”. Learning to master and develop any new technique is one of the challenges of art that gives som many people enjoyment – always something more to learn.
“But I’m not creative, I haven’t done art since school”
When I heard this I really encouraged them just to have a go; just make a mark, draw with their eyes closed, it didn’t have to be a masterpiece. No one would be judging and the idea was that all the marks would build up so their own contribution would be indistinguishable. Losing their fear of being judged or, in this case, even being able to see the end result immediately, gave people more freedom to have a go and just try it out
Most people were slightly nervous but you could also feel a slight excitement at trying something new. Some people lost themselves for a few minutes as they became lost in a complex doodle.
And almost everyone at some point smiled and pronounced “Oh that was fun!”
Two days later I printed up the plates and sent the resulting images out to everyone on my mailing list. I printed just two copies of each plate: one for myself and one up for grabs for the first to reply. Just moments later we had two happy ‘winners’.
So here are the plates – not what I would have predicted. I was expecting an almost black mass of overlapping lines and drawings but everyone was extremely polite and mainly tried to ‘fit in’ around what was already there. It has a sort of grafitti effect and you can clearly see the variation in natural shapes and styles you would expect of so many different hands.
I loved giving people the chance to do this. It was great to see people rise to the challenge and get involved. And exciting to create a work with such variety of input and no idea of what the outcome would be.
Perhaps I’ll try something similar again!