In the Experimentation Zone

So, I’m telling you from the off that this post won’t be for everyone. It is really for my benefit to record the things I am learning as I work through my ‘Dora Maurer’ phase. I am not alone, but on Friday mornings spend happy hours peering at my plates and prints for particularly pleasing imprints, or happy accidents that I may wish to learn from and so need to remember. So thanks to my fellow explorers and printmakers Mary and Michele for their collaboration.

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The picture on the left shows my original tetrapak plate. I have used wire which I fixed into circles in an attempt to replicate Maurer’s image. Having really enjoyed using tape in previous prints because of the added interest they can give an image, I chose to stick them down with, variously, parcel tape, Scotch tape and masking tape. The initial image was not that interesting, but my interest was piqued when, as I released the wire I found myself with bits of tape with the wire imprinted on it, and areas of the plate untouched by the inking process.

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Sticking the affected tape back down and taking a ghost print yielded really interesting results (print on left, modified plate on right), from both the tape in its new position, and where it was lifted after the original print. I can’t remember how the wire created such a black imprint on this second image (which is why I need to record as I go along)…

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Following on from the first plate, I worked on replicating the effects by creating a simple image (plate one), printing it and then lifting the tape and wire to place in new positions. I didn’t bother to tape the wire down the second time, which made me realise this isn’t necessary (see below).

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Print from the first plate. There’s lots I love about this print. The tetrapak creases. Always. The tape on the right and the ink below the wire. There’s something pleasing about the wire too, but I can’t put my finger on why. Not convinced by the tape holding it in place.

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Pushing these new found techniques further – just to see what happens. Plate to the left and ghost print to the right (having over inked the first impression to allow a second print with moved elements.  Again, I like the lifted tape and the previously imprinted tape. New here is the wire (at the top) removed to create a gorgeous white whirl with a black  fuzzy edge. I like the embossed whirl (same wire moved to new position). The advantage of the paper being quite wet. Other new elements are the new ink whirl – which is quite punchy against the lighter grey, and the edge markings created with the edge of a spatula.

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Taken the process too far in this direction, but very happy with the ‘splashy’ ink effect.

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Ok so WordPress has defeated me on this blog. Note to self – follow the tutorial! So I’ll take the last five images together. Removing the tape is better I think. The image is less busy and allows the glorious texture of the Tetrapak to shine through. Which is the whole point really. With quite damp paper the embossed wire is a wonderful effect. By inking up the plate once the wire has gone through the press once (or multiple times) the remaining imprints can be inked up using the intaglio method which is really striking. Loving this journey!

Temple of Peace Zine

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I’m off to Wrexham today for the opening of Print International 2019. One of my Temple of Peace prints has been chosen for display and I am totally excited about it!

The print they have chosen is one of a series of four (see earlier blog) and on its own a bit devoid of context. I therefore decided to put together a zine putting together my four prints, together with archive material from the opening itself.

The Temple of Peace was opened on 24th November 1938, an irony not lost on us now, but also referred to at the time as the march to war was ramped up.

At a time of precarious peace, sandwiched between two massive conflicts, it seems entirely right to me that the focus was on the mothers who lost so many sons. Particularly poignant is the story of Minnie James “Wales’s most tragic mother” who lost three sons in the First World War. Her story talks of her remaining son, aged 27 in 1938, who wants to “do his bit” in the forthcoming war. As she says in the clip “I must not try to sway you. If it becomes a matter of honour or conscience and your country wants you, you must do as you think right and not mind me; I must suffer again. It is the lot of mothers the world over.”

I like to think we live in different times, and I left my sons in no doubt that if they so much as considered going into the army, I would kill them myself!

Given the focus on the mothers then, it is interesting that the print chosen for display is the one of three men who formed part of the audience for the inauguration ceremony. I am hoping to get a glimpse into why that print was chosen. Perhaps it will be for reasons I won’t have thought of…

All four prints are under the tab ‘Temple of Peace’ on this website. I am selling my zines for £4 including postage. If you would like one, e-mail me at jennyhowellphotography@gmail.com

Dora Maurer and the Art of Experimentation

C3156C9E-8FCE-4868-AD34-9BC38949D62B-1440x1417.jpegIn London a couple of weeks ago we spent a long afternoon at the Tate Modern. Well after our critical faculties were exhausted, and on our way for a cup of tea, we walked past an exhibition of Dora Maurer.

This Hungarian born artist was active behind the Iron Curtain from the 1960s and was a complete revelation to us. We bought her book and I have since spent many happy hours thumbing through it.

Her appeal, for me, is that she revelled in experimentation. It’s as if you can see her thought processes as she creates her work. Sometimes literally (scrawled pencil comments on photographs), and other times in the way that she starts with one medium and looks to recreate it with in another. (Sluices 3, A+B)

The photo above (Traces of a Circle 1974) had three of us peering at it for ages trying to work out how she did it. The book describes it as a drypoint, but we thought it looked like a collagraph. Whatever her technique, her work inspired me to play along.

With some slightly rusty wire, some tape, black ink and a base of Tetrapak, I got going. I won’t be exhibiting in the Tate anytime soon, but it’s going to be fun trying!!

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Monotypes and the World of Colour

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It won’t have escaped your notice that I am happiest working in black and white. However sometimes the need to break out overwhelms me. That is when I start playing with colour.

I don’t really know anything about colour, and I work at the basis of marvelling when, after a couple of hours of overlaying inks on top of each other, I find I have a series of gloriously happy accidents.

While my linocuts and photos take lots of consideration and time, I find the process of printing monotypes completely freeing – like being in primary school while being old enough to appreciate it.

I use the three process colours (Cyan, Yellow and Magenta) which on their own are very harsh. However as they overlay each other, some kind of magic happens and the colours take on a vibrancy and warmth which is really exciting.

I use old damaged rollers from the print workshop which have graced a thousand classes. The ones which are gummed up with glue, old paint, bits gouged out of them. The more damaged the better. This allows for a randomness in colour and texture which I love. The other thing I have learnt is to clean the rollers after each application, to prevent the colours very quickly turning to a muddy brown

I have been folding and tearing the prints to their final size rather than using a craft knife to continue the instant feel of the work.

So far, so much fun! However I have taken the prints one stage further by putting them onto brown craft card and selling them in the Cardiff Print Workshop. I sell my cards for £3 each (not bad for an original mono print). Two-thirds goes to me to cover my printing costs, and a third to the Workshop to help keep it going.

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One of the things exercising me has been the use of single plastic sleeves to keep them clean. I have decided to try and encourage customers to leave them in the shop so that I can re-use them. I’m not sure how it will go down, and doubt it will save the world, but every little helps!

Tetrapak – Environmental Menace or Printmaker’s Friend?

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I think the answer is ‘yes’ to the questions I pose above. Moving from dairy to plant based milks in our family has filled me with deep disquiet at the sudden increase of Tetrapak cartons needing disposal. I have been chucking them in our recycling for the past couple of years even though I know the Council don’t recycle them from the kerbside due to their material complexity. Apparently this form of ‘activism’ is known in the jargon as “Wishcycling” and is well known. The Council fish them out and incinerate them – so another solution was required. (For Cardiff locals who don’t make prints, Bessemer Road takes them…)

I have been experimenting with repurposing the Tetrapaks as base material for printmaking. The example above is for a French Exchange project we have been involved in at the Cardiff Print Workshop on the subject of ‘Inside Outside’. Florence (my exchange partner) and I have become quite into ‘eyes’ looking through some kind of portal. Possibly a dark subject, I’m not sure, but definitely a fab opportunity to have some fun creating an abstract ‘outer’ space.

The black of the face is created by cutting out the silver layer and using the absorbent cardboard below. The dark grey (mid tone if you like) is masking tape. The square of tape is sellotape, and the circle is created by using card on top of the Tetrapak to create a kind of blind embossing effect.

But the undoubted star of the show is the Tetrapak itself, with all its folds and creases creating this gorgeous texture which I just love! To be honest, I find intaglio processes a bit tedious and time consuming for my tastes, but sometimes the results are worth it!

 

Inspiring Lines

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Inspiring Lines was a collaboration between some members of the Cardiff Print Workshop and two poets, William Dean Ford and Hilary Griffiths. The idea originally came from Melanie Wotton at the HeARTh Gallery in Llandough who knew the poets because of their involvement with the mental health unit at the hospital. We invited Will and Hilary to meet us at Market Road, and over tea and biscuits they both read some of their work. It was a lovely evening, and they left us with more than enough words to respond to.

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The resulting exhibition was curated beautifully by Mel and hung in Llandough last September 2018. We have now moved some of the work to the Waterloo Tearooms in Wyndham Street Arcade where it is on display until early September.

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I produced four prints for this exhibition, all based on Will’s wonderful poem ‘In Difficult Times’. It is a source of wonder to me that in so few words he manages to convey such a strong message of hope.

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In addition to the poem itself, my further three images set out to illustrate small steps towards engaging with the outside world.

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Stepping Out #1

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Stepping Out #2

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Stepping Out #3

 

Returning to the Darkroom

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Yesterday I had my first session printing at the new Old Laundry Darkroom, a new community space run by Made in Roath.

When Ffotogallery moved from Chapter in February 2018, I found myself without dark room facilities for the first time since taking up photography again about four years ago. Thanks to friends, I was able to digitise the negatives I had, and continue to work on my photos using my computer. I also bought developing kit and continued to develop a few films at home. As the only place dark enough is the toilet at night time, this proves pretty challenging during the summer months.

Without a darkroom, I found that my enthusiasm for my photography waned, and the space was taken up with my Lino cut and silk screen projects which have been a great diversion and allowed me to work with wonderful people at both the Cardiff Print Workshop and Printhaus. Long may those associations continue.

However how did it feel getting back to dark room photography yesterday? It was a shock to realise how much I had missed it! The truth is that for all my conviction that losing these facilities enabled me to learn new digital skills, it is just NOT THE SAME!

There is a magic to being in a darkroom and seeing the prints appear out of the red gloom. It is a physical process – a slow one. In three hours I made four prints. It is more meditative – and in yesterday’s case – more collaborative. Instead of working privately at my computer, I was in a space with Mike – also printing his own work. We took to taking our test strips and prints into the light at the same time – and discussing the pros and cons of where to go next. Mike is clearly a more accomplished printer than me, and so I got to learn a couple of new things. However our work is very different and ultimately the artistic decisions we take are our own.

The prints are better too. I can’t put my finger on it, but the photos have more punch. The blacks are blacker and the pictures are less – well – flat. I didn’t realise that without the darkroom, I had stopped focussing on the changes at Central Square. Well now I’m back on track and can’t wait for my next session!

 

Temple of Peace Linocuts

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I have been printing this week in readiness for the forthcoming Penarth Print Fair this Saturday and Sunday in the Pavilion.

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The series that I have been working on are based on photographs from the Temple of Peace inauguration ceremony in 1938. Gentle/Radical reimagined this ceremony last November in an extraordinary event which I was proud to be involved in. http://gentleradical.org/projects/a-new-mecca/

I plan to create a zine using these prints, some of the original photos and some of the text written especially for last year’s event. Until I do so, suffice it to say that the images of mothers who had lost sons in the war, wearing their medals, are extraordinarily powerful.

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The printing of these plates should have been relatively simple, but I have learnt a few lessons nonetheless… Firstly there should have been five images. However one was ruined by a loss of concentration at a crucial point. I diligently cut out the wrong bits, resulting in a black face with white shadows which couldn’t be salvaged.

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Secondly, I used new paper – Fabriano – which was too thick for hand-pulling prints. As a result a friend of mine tried to set me up on the press which resulted in further prints slipping all over the place and a near nervous breakdown on Sunday! Reverting to the old standby of Seawhite paper and hand pulling the prints allowed peace to be restored today.

Back at The Printhaus

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I’ve just spent a couple of frenetic afternoons at The Printhaus doing 1-2-1 sessions with the ever patient Shaun. It was quite a task this time, squeezing five images into six hours of printing. The final bit – actually printing – takes seconds but the prep is something else!

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After exposing the screen, we removed the excess by pressure washing to reveal the image. Once the screen is dried, it needs oodles of tape on both sides to ensure that nothing is printed that we don’t want.

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Despite being pressed for time, Shaun did encourage me to print the image. It is not as easy as he makes it look, and given the scale of the images, the time constraints and the fact that I wanted good editions, I wimped out largely. However I did print two duds, and this lovely one. Very acceptable! Check out the box I’m standing on specifically designed for short people using the large press…

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Each image was printed in an edition of 10 (plus a couple of extras) before cleaning the image off the screen so it can be used again. During this process I spent my entire time soaked or covered in ink. Except for the half hour where I managed to be both. Practice makes perfect, and less mess …

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The half tone at 25 lpi (for printing geeks) gives gorgeous texture and an added abstraction which demands further attention. I’ll be cutting up my acetates now that the prints are finished, and look to playing with elements of the images, along with some funky colours. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Bauhaus Centenary – Alfred Ehrhardt

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In 1919, shortly after the horrors of the First World War, Walter Gropius founded a school with a modern vision, bridging the gap between art and industry by combining crafts and fine arts. The Bauhaus movement was formed. In Germany they are not letting this centenary go unmarked, and there are exhibitions, talks, ballets etc., across the nation revisiting this movement, its origins and its legacy. (https://www.bauhaus100.com for more info)

Squeezing in as many of the exhibitions as I could in Berlin recently (including a trip to the iconic Bauhaus buildings in Dessau), I met the work of Alfred Ehrhardt. The photographs in the exhibition focussed on his work in the early 1930s exploring the textures of the natural world. The photo I posted here is extraordinary. I can’t quite work out what kind of wind and/or water movements led to this formation. But equally as captivating is the way he has captures the holes left by tiny bubbles of air. A common feature of sand.

I spent some time a couple of years ago photographing the stones at Monknash which are gorgeous. However by the end of a long day, I felt drawn to the sand. I can see now that I barely scratched the surface, and will need to return!