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From Etching Press to Collage

As part of my latest body of work, I wanted to revisit art making processes that I haven't used for a while.

And no, I haven’t fallen out of love with colour, I’m just having a little wander!

Years ago a printmaker friend sold me little old table top press. And it’s gathered dust and got a bit rusty but whilst I was cleaning up for open studios it seemed to be the one thing that I just kept moving from place to place, with no real idea where to put it.

It’s kind of awkward with a big handle and it’s quite heavy. And then it dawned on me why it just seemed to be in the way all the time. I’m not a woo-woo kind of person, but it felt like a sign that I should do something productive with it rather than just shuffle it around the studio.

So, rather than just keep tripping over it, I bolted it to the bench......

Meanwhile, I’d been mulling over how to approach my next project, as I’m taking part in a small group show early next year with a ceramicist and another painter and we’ve called it ‘Earthly Nuances’. My overarching concept was to make work about a place I've lived close to and visited regularly over the years I've lived on the Sunshine Coast; it's a place that has become imbued with memories for me.

Instead of making each painting about a singular story (which is my usual) I’ve been thinking about what a body of work would look like if all the pieces of work told just one story, but from lots of different perspectives and in lots of different ways.

Monoprinting (without the gelli plate) is something I'd done a little of over the years, but accessing equipment has always been a challenge as I've moved around a lot and never been anywhere long enough to join a printmakers group or studio. Needless to say my knowledge of the process is pretty basic, but that wasn't going to stop me diving in and doing some experiments!

Having a go with my little etching press seemed a good way to launch into my new work and get me started. I just used a small perspex plate, water based block printing ink, a roller and a couple of tools. I found that smooth heavy weight drawing paper - slightly dampened, gave me the best results.

It didn't take long for the juxtaposition of light and dark shapes to become a fascination.

Making little A5 sized monoprints, just using black ink, were instantly appealing to my love of contrast; this seems to be a thing for me with or without colour. Dramatic and atmospheric landscapes which for me captured the essence of the site began to emerge, using very simple techniques and tools - a small wire brush and tissue paper to left ink off sections of the plate were all I needed.

And as a bonus, I realised there were plenty of interesting marks on the dump sheets I'd used to protect the table top. I'd created marks where the roller ran off the edge of the plate and where residual ink from the wire brush caught the paper underneath the inked plate.

I’m not a tidy printmaker so there was fair bit of ink all over the table, but maybe it doesn’t pay to be too tidy in these circumstances! A kind of transference of the story and the process had been happening without me even thinking about it. I loved the accidental creation of a secondary part of the story.

When I looked closely at these sheets of accidental marks, I could see so many little worlds and far away places, lots of landscape references were jumping out at me.

All these leftover papers, including tissue paper, were just begging to be included in a collage and I decided to use a sheet of aluminium as a support; it's been lurking in the corner of the studio for a while. I wanted to try and work with a more stable alternative to paper for bigger collages, but something that was still thin enough to be framed. So this was another experiment…….

I used mat gel to stick the pieces down and the aluminium seems happy with that. I didn't sand or gesso it or prep it at all. I love working on paper and this felt just like that but without the wrinkles and bobbles that I seem to get even if I use a really heavy paper as a support.

I began thinking about how well glazes would sit over this collage, and pondering a coat of a gloss gel or medium next so I could float glazes over the top without losing too much of what’s happening underneath.

Looking at the collage alongside some drawings I did whilst out on site, I saw there was a striking and lovely contrast between the hand drawn charcoal lines and the defined printed pieces. I also noticed that some of the print marks left by the roller echoed some of the marks in the drawings. There was something there…. but I wasn't sure what...Patterns and shapes…….? Overlays? Cut outs? More collage? Fat paint, thin paint?

The large collage piece is currently a work in progress, but some of my initial monoprints feel perfect just as they are. I'll select a handful for the exhibition and the rest? Well - you know where they'll end up - in my collage box!

Merging all these different aspects of the story of this site is feeling good and I'm feeling a real sense of positive energy as I explore different ways to describe this place. It's really free-ing to let go of the idea that I must just be a 'painter' as that's what I've been doing for many years, and that it's ok to explore and embrace other ways of art making and telling my stories.

Watch this space!

Monoprint - Etching Press
Monoprint - Etching Press

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