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This is not really what you want to see when you peel a print back from the press…

blank plate.JPGOops! Practically a blank page.

The plate had been inked and wiped, rolled with a second colour and fine paper cut and glued for chine collé… and yet for some reason the glue didn’t take and the paper didn’t stick. Not exactly the result I was hoping for!

And yet anything experimental has a degree of failure. If we know the end result before we begin then we are just going through the motions. I don’t wish to work to a tried and tested formula.

This is the hardest thing about art. For it to be exciting and rewarding, you always need to be pushing the boundaries of what you already know.

On Mondays I try and work through my domestic tick list. Pre-determined jobs with a defind outcome; change the dentist appointment, sort out an online bill payment, change the sheets. Tick, tick, tick. Easy.

But ask me to write a list of what I am going to tackle in the studio this week? I still find this very hard to do. I can promise to turn up, but I can’t promise what the result will be.

I give you:

“I am trying to work with the same plate to get different results each time. Some elements are the same, but other things shift. How much is pre-planned and how much is left to chance? Does the planning help the journey towards the end result or take away the joy of creating? Control and freedom and how do these things fit…?”

Not exactly precise is it?

Because there is no pre-determined, defined outcome.

I’m not sure if anyone gets to this stage with art. Maybe that’s what I’m searching for when I talk to other artists or read their biographies… Does anyone really know what they are doing? Or is it just me who has doubts?

Moving past the blank page I kept going.

Alice Sheridan 365create_Day 94 monoprints.JPGAnd the next prints ‘worked’.

Things stayed stuck – in a good way! Something about the structure was right. There is enough variation to be interesting.

My Dad will still look at them quizzically and try and find something nice to say but for me they feel ‘right’.

I’m not alone in this – last week I went to the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy – he was always searching for ‘rightness’. Not the easiest thing to determine, especially if we can’t really put our finger on what we are searching for.

So I’m celebrating blank pages. In fact I may even pin this up on my wall; a small reminder that the ones that go wrong often lead to the ones that go right. Even if we don’t quite know what direction we are going in.

Maybe especially then.

 

 

 

 

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.

Vistors to Alice Sheridan open studio having a go at drypointAdmittedly 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’.

wiping the inked up plate

wiping the inked up plate

me printing the plates

me running the inked plates through the press in the studio, and yes, it is hard work turning that wheel!

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.

Plate 1

Plate 1

Plate 2

Plate 2

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!