This blog is a space for me to share my experiences as an MA student in Bristol. I’ll be documenting research and work related to my practice, tracking the developments and sharing my progress both in and out of university. I’d like to use this blog as another platform for building my creative network and welcome comment or feedback so please get in touch if you feel inclined!
The second year of my masters course at UWE started in September and I’ve been continuing the work that I began during the summer in Italy. The current module, ‘Developing Practice’, is a time for experimentation and exploring new ways of working or thinking and I’ve been using the sketchbook from Collemacchia as a jumping off point for achieving these aims.
There are a few processes that I’ve been keen to try for some time and I started with roller printing. I was introduced to this method of relief printing by my friend and course-mate Stephen Fowler (http://stephenfowler72.blogspot.com/). Before we started the MA, he taught a roller printing workshop for the students each year and since seeing the photographs on the MAMDP blog (https://mamdp.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/stephen-fowlers-roller-print-class/) I’ve wanted to give it a try. Stephen briefly talked me through the process and provided some of foam and I tested it out using elements of the small votive prints that I’ve been working on since July.
My first attempt is far from perfect but has given me some ideas to think about further. As the themes that I’m exploring are related to repetitive actions such as prayer or expressions of thanks through the ritual offering of votive objects, it seems fitting to incorporate repetition into my print work and roller printing could offer a way to do so quickly. I’m keen to try using lino and thin neoprene foam to try out other ways of roller printing and hopefully pick up a little more detail.
During this term I also want to make some 3D objects and step beyond my existing skillset. I don’t have a lot of experience working in 3D and as I’m researching a lot of votive objects that vary from crudely made to sophisticated interpretations of anatomical parts it feels like a natural step to try and make my own. Over the next few weeks I’ll be experimenting with different materials in the hope of making small anatomical inspired votives and figurative statues. During the past few days I’ve been experimenting with modelling clay and sponge to get a feel for sculpting and making using simple, cheap resources.
My final learning experience for ‘Developing Practice’ will involve printing on textiles. I’ve done a very small amount of textile printing in the past; simple, single-colour screen-printed tote bags and tea towels but I want to develop these skills and try something more complex. Working on textiles feels more permanent and functional than paper and there’s something that seems more substantial about it. I’m aiming to turn some of the drawings of vessels from the residency into a repeat pattern to screen-print by hand. The technical side of this: working out the repeat and how to print accurately will be a new challenge for me and I’ll be upping the scale of the repeat (possibly to A1!) to try and make it as impactful as possible. Once I’ve tried and tested this, I’ll begin to think about whether I want to use textiles further in my practice. Below are images of my digital experimentations with repeat pattern and some potential colour ways to try.
When choosing materials to take to Collemacchia I was limited by a number of factors; transportation, additional equipment, and practicality. I ended up with a selection of drawing materials (pencils, ink, pens, brushes, pastels), lino, block printing ink, and cyanotype. I chose to take cyanotype formula with me as I knew there would be strong sunlight; it was also an opportunity to try out something new.
I ended up making about 10 prints using cyanotype with varying levels of success; my first experiments were made using some found wire to block out the light. The wire was picked up close to a village farm during my first exploration of Collemacchia and I liked the formation of the overlapping lines; they reminded me of the knot and thread prints and drawings made by Anni Albers.
There wasn’t much of a relationship to my practice beyond this link and some of the linework that I have been making back in Bristol, but the wire stood out to me and felt like an appropriate way to begin experimentation. I wasn’t sure how the prints would turn out using the wire; a part of me hoped (or maybe naively expected) there to be crisp white lines in the shape of the knotted wire. The results were very different as the wire did not lie flat on the surface of the paper and the combination of this with the movement of the clouds led to ghostly, delicate lines that faded from light blue to white (shown in the final image). The results were interesting, more so than a clear representation of the wire would have been and the experiment provided an understanding of the unpredictable nature of using cyanotype with an uncontrolled UV source.
For the next experiments, I used acetate to create the negatives and blacked-out most of the A4 surface with a combination of painted ink and Posca pen (shown in photo 2). Using found string as a guide I left a thin line in the blacked-out surface to allow the sunlight to pass through to the cyanotype coated paper. Once again, the results were varied; due to the cockled cyanotype coated paper, one acetate blocked out most of the light creating a strong blue line alongside 2-3 lighter lines caused by shadows. The second print also featured a dark blue line however a lot of light had leaked through the blacked-out acetate because of the thinly applied ink and there were a number of blue marks on the paper because of this.
After experimenting with A4 sheets of paper I began to use smaller sections of the cyanotype sheets as a way of documenting some of the natural objects found during walks in the villages and along the mountain trails. I made a black papercut of the silhouette of each object adding some additional detail by cutting into the solid shape. I also made prints with the objects themselves applying them directly to the paper, the objects produced varied results, most impressions were unidentifiable shapes and further demonstrated the effects of using natural light to expose the cyanotype images.
The final work progressed from the acetate experiments, but the imagery was developed from drawings made at the archaeological museum in Venafro. I used the painted acetate sheets and cut out shapes of large pots that I had seen in the museum; the lines and marks in the ink mimicked some of the cracks and decorations that characterised the pots. These six acetate cut-outs were used as negatives creating white silhouettes of the pots with the cracks and detail in blue.
After visiting Venafro for a second time during the trip and taking photographs in the small agricultural museum I experimented further with acetate cut-outs. Rather than drawing and then recreating in print, I worked directly with the acetate, cutting out the vessels and equipment and adding further detail by scratching into the ink. The result was a collection of objects, I was pleased with this although I’m not sure if the medium was the most appropriate for the imagery. I think the drawings/cut-outs of the pots may work better with screen-print as positives as the blue doesn’t really add anything to the images.
I think it’s unlikely that I’ll use cyanotype further in my work, possibly as a process for creating shapes/marks to develop further but only as a developmental stage rather than a final output. For the residency it was a useful tool for bringing uniformity across the body of work; as I knew that I would be working with cyanotype and limited to the colour blue, I chose to only use blue, black and white throughout my sketchbook and the printed work made during the trip. This limitation was good for me as it allowed me to make quickly without feeling overwhelmed by colour or the need to interpret the colour immediately. It also created a strong identity for the work made during this research trip and clearly defines this stage of the project. The shades of blue also linked serendipitously with some of the reading material that I took with me to Collemacchia, particularly with Rebecca Solnit’s ‘A field guide to getting lost’ which heavily referenced the particular blue of distant mountains which I was able to experience first-hand in Italy alongside attempting to recreate in my work.
I want to share some of the drawings I produced while in Collemacchia and reflect on the experience I had making them. I’ve been struggling with drawing for a while, it’s a vital part of my practice; I feel comfortable with observation rather than working from memory or imagination and this is something that often frustrates me. I feel restricted by my reliance on real objects, people or places etc. for stimulus.
In 2016 while working on ‘Think, Question, Print’, a self-directed project exploring Nelson and Colne in Lancashire, I became disenchanted with observational drawing and felt uninspired. I pushed through this and my work changed direction; I began to select details of buildings, objects, people or spaces and distort them in my interpretation, I worked from memory and pieced these elements together to produce something closer to abstract imagery. I found this scary and liberating; I didn’t feel like I was able to make abstract work as I didn’t know how to talk about it or how to understand where it was coming from.
Since that project my drawing and print work has shifted between abstract mark-making driven by instinctive responses and imagery led by conventional, observational drawing. Sometimes I combine the two, but I find this even more challenging and struggle to unite the two styles of image production in a way that I feel satisfied with. This conflict has been made even more apparent in the past year; although I’ve been making work for the MA course, this has mainly been experimental, and the focus has been on trying out processes rather than focusing on a theme or project. I’ve lacked direction which has only heightened the discomfort that I have with drawing and my approach to it.
During my time in Collemacchia I made a concerted effort to try and move past this feeling; I went out most days with my sketchbook to draw and tried to worry less about how the outcome looked. Some days were difficult, and I felt like I was unable to make anything that I liked and other days I would fill 5 or 6 double pages. Having this time to make work on consecutive days and experience flurries and lulls in motivation and activity was really important; it helped me to understand my use of drawing in a better way. The abstract or loose marks became a sort of warm up for more detailed and focused studies and the two interpretations of the environment worked well in tandem; even overlapping sometimes.
The studies in my sketchbook will serve as a foundation for image-making rather than a collection of finished works. I took a lot of photos during the residency but in the past, I would have stopped there and waited until I was safely at my desk, with the photos on a screen, before beginning to draw. In Collemacchia I felt compelled to draw in-situ and this produced more interesting responses that went beyond simply recreating the visuals. This appreciation and understanding of the importance of allowing myself time to draw without expectation is a valuable lesson to take from the residency experience. By letting go of my concerns about what was driving the image-making and where it would lead to next, I was able to naturally find a route into a research topic that will provide context and direction for the making.
As mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Collemacchia and tried to refrain from researching too much before I arrived. One thing that I did find out about, prior to embarking on the residency, was the presence of votive shrines in the area.
I’ve been interested in votives for a while although I’ve never had the opportunity to research them thoroughly and my attraction to them has been based mainly on aesthetics. I’ve briefly researched images of ceramic or metal votives, crafted to represent specific body parts, and Mexican ex-votos and retablo. A number of things drew me to these items; their folk-art quality, the boxes or frames that the votive shrines are housed in, the scale of smaller shrines, the use of bright colours, patterns and symbols and the breakdown of the body or ideas into isolated objects (e.g. a single eye or hand). I’m not a religious person and because of this, I didn’t really think of the votives in terms of spirituality. I found it a struggle to connect with the idea of directing time, energy and belief towards these objects from a spiritual standpoint and chose to appreciate their qualities as objects and works of art.
When I found out there were votive shrines in Collemacchia, Filignano, and Venafro, I asked Tracy (one half of the Museum of Loss and Renewal and host of the residency) where the sites were but she only specified one which was situated on a path in the middle of a wooded area; difficult to find without direction. The rest of the 17 that I managed to find were displayed in villages and towns; mainly outside homes or churches. There were statues, usually housed in alcoves or small cabinets, and majolica tiles showcasing more flair and colour. The tiles were made in Naples by craftsmen and apparently, some of the text contains spelling mistakes where the text has been copied verbatim, from the request or commission, without making corrections.
I photographed all of the votive shrines I found and I’m researching further into the majolica tiles and the images adorning those. The statues that were housed in niches and cabinet structures have been a source of inspiration for a series of small lino cuts. I began working on these prints while in Collemacchia and have continued adding images to the collection since I’ve returned to the UK. As well as capturing the statues and votives I have also incorporated other niches that I found cut into walls in the villages. They contained weeds, pieces of old pipe, rags and other mundane items but I’m interested in the way their appearance and the framing of objects within the recesses mimics the aesthetic qualities of the structures housing the religious icons.
I’ve included some of the photos and images of my sketches and initial prints. This is an ongoing project and eventually, I’m aiming to build up a body of work around this subject, though there’s a lot of research to do.
In July I travelled to Collemacchia, a tiny village situated in the National Park of Abruzzo in the Molise region of Italy, to take part in an artist residency with The Museum of Loss and Renewal.
I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a residency before, the closest I’ve been previously was a couple of day trips to Nelson and Colne in Lancashire in 2016, so this was a fantastic new experience for me.
I entered into the situation with various to-do lists related to how I would structure my time and a vague plan to try cyanotype printing, due to the bright sunlight. I carried out very minimal research about the area and its history opting instead to enter the space quite blindly.
I had a naive idea that upon arriving in Italy, myself and my practice would transform into something else, more confident, experimental, intuitive. Even when I applied for and was offered the residency, I had outlined a proposal that involved interaction from the residents of the village, despite being unable to speak Italian and being quite a naturally introverted person.
This proposal gnawed slightly at the back of my mind in the run-up to and throughout the first few days of the residency and I felt an underlying sense of guilt that I had not prepared or even attempted to reach out to any of the residents. Thankfully I moved past this guilt (for the most part) and came to a point where I accepted what I made, observed, documented and noticed, as unique to myself and my outlook as an artist. The two weeks were important in offering consecutive days to make, think, read, draw and have demonstrated that this may be an important part of my process of making work although how I continue developing the work and expanding my research will also determine how useful the time was as a model for the future.
I’m aiming to slowly document my experiences in Collemacchia alongside the continuing explorations into themes and research topics that came out of the residency period. As I head into the second year of my MA I’ll be continuing to expand this body of work and this blog will accompany the progress.