Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Visit to London - part 1

I was in London for a few days, just over a week ago. First I spent a couple of days in Surbiton (just outside London) with my cousin and her partner. Back in 1981, my cousin was visiting Toronto (where I originate) and I gave her a couple of monoprints before she returned home to Ireland.

My cousin moved to England in the late 1980s and took the prints with her. I am happy to say that she got them framed and they have been hanging in her home ever since. I remember that these monoprints were part of a series of abstracted flower prints, but I am pretty sure they are the only ones left in existence now, thanks to my cousin who really liked them.

While in Surbiton, we took a cab to Kingston-on-Thames to enjoy a bbq dinner and evening of live music at the Ram Jam blues club. It was an excellent night, and I was especially impressed by the young double bass player - she was amazing!

Last Monday we took the train into the city. It was a very roundabout route as there had been a train derailment the night before that was still causing schedule disruptions. Despite this, we got to our hotel near Earlscourt in good time and walked over to the Natural History Museum. When we had been there a few years ago, a lot of the museum was closed for renovation, so it was delightful to walk around in the late afternoon, and revisit the beautiful halls.

The architecture in the great hall is stunning!

Actually, the architectural details in the whole museum is quite breathtaking. Both the old sections and the contemporary sections have amazing details. Though I have no pictures of the contemporary areas, I do recommend the environmental display areas, and my favourite -- the big earth ball installation near the side entrance that an escalator will facilitate a journey through.

It was dark when we left the museum, and all the trees were decorated with fairy lights - showing off nature's architecture!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Sticks - accordion book

I conceived of "Sticks" as a simple accordion book for a single, long format intaglio print with ceramic covers. The print is a horizontal image of sticks based on some sketches I had done of wood debris floating in the Glencullen River in Knocksink Wood.

I had created a unique protype, "Shinrinyoku", of this image as an accordion book in June. I made the prototype to figure out how an accordion book could work, using handmade paper for the drawing and for the covers.

Because I wanted the front cover of the "Sticks" book to have some relationship to the future intaglio print, I created a bark stamp that could be pressed into the clay slabs that would be my book's front covers

The stamp itself was simply made from some scrap wood and the bark affixed to the front of the stamp with pva glue.

Although I coated the entire stamp to seal it, when using it on the clay it worked better to have a layer of cling film (Saran wrap) between the stamp and the clay slab. For the back covers, I simply used a rubber stamp kit to press my name in the clay slabs.

I was doing an edition of ten books, so needed 10 final intaglio prints of the image. I have detailed how I converted a pasta machine into a flatbed press in a previous blog (here). The small prints created using this press are only limited in size in one direction (in this case the length is shorter than the width). The prints are on Khadi 100% acid free handmade Indian rag paper.

When the prints were ready I did a general layout of how I would like the completely open book to appear, with both the front and back covers visible. This would give me an idea of how to fold the book.

Or rather, giving my trusty assistant the idea of how to make the folds (I fully recognise that my husband tends to measure more accurately than I!).

The prints were affixed to the background of Fabriano with pva, along the top only, prior to making the folds.

Components ready to be turned into books!

A view of the back of the accordion book.

A view of the front of "Sticks".

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ghost - accordion book

I conceived of the book Ghost as a complex accordion book vehicle for a series of  prints that utilised the blind embossing print technique (i.e., embossing with no ink or colour added). I have shown images of this technique and the prints on a previous blog a few weeks ago (Oct 4 2017) and full details of how to convert a pasta machine to a small printing press on Sept 20 2017. The main  thing was to methodically go through all the steps in creating the book once I had the prints done. I started with the cover, which is made from heavy weight 100% acid free blotting paper with the title stitched using white embroidery thread (6 strand cotton).

After designing the lettering I used a heavy card template, first poking the holes in it, and then poking through those holes to the blotting paper cover below. Pre-holing the covers made for easy stitching.

Here are several of the covers prior to stitching.

As there were five prints to accommodate, my book required a long background page for folding. I realised I needed to glue two pieces of the Fabriano paper together to create the required length.

Lots of measuring and use of my trusty bone folder!

An accordion page.

I made a clear general layout before going near any pva glue!

I had already glued (pva) squares of thin acid free paper to the front and back covers and weighted them overnight so that they were affixed firmly. I wasn't taking any chances with trying to glue my accordion page to blotting paper covers. The half ends of the accordion page were firmly affixed to the covers via the paper already on the cover.

The Fabriano paper has a front and a back, so where the company sticker was already on the back I left it and marked other pages lightly with a soft pencil. When the book was complete I removed all stickers and gently erased all markings.

Here the books are all together, with the blind embossed prints waiting to be affixed to their ordered part of the accordion.

The finished book with all the prints affixed to their pages.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Versatile Muffin/Cake Recipe

I always make muffins at Hallowe'en for either (sometimes both) my daughter's class or troop at Girl Guides. I know I have posted this recipe before, but I don't think I ever mentioned that it is the same versatile recipe that I have used for other occasions, just changing the ingredients slightly. So here I am stating the other possible ingredients!

3 cups flour [I usually do approx 2 cups white & 1 cup coarse ground]
2 tsp baking soda [same as bread soda]
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
4 eggs
2 cups sugar [I usually mix brown & white]
1 ½ cups sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla
**2 cups {approx} grated carrot OR crushed pineapple OR smushed banana OR apple sauce OR pumpkin mush [OR combination, for instance when making “Hawaiian” I whiz up 1 can of pineapple with 2 mushed bananas and infuse the cake with some rum before frosting!]

OPTIONAL:  walnuts, pecans, raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C
2. In a large bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, & spices
3. In another large bowl beat together eggs & sugar; then beat in oil & vanilla.  Slowly stir in dry ingredients, then fold in fruit or veg mush.  Add nuts or raisins last, if using.
4. Grease & flour bundt cake tin, or other large tin IF making a cake.  If making muffins, put muffin cases in deep muffin tin.  For cake bake approx 1 hr 10 mins or until tester comes out dry; for muffins the time is between 15 –  20 mins depending on the size of the muffin tin.

NB this is a large recipe, for 1 large cake (like a bundt), a sandwich cake or about 5 dozen standard size muffins (less if making large muffins, more if making small muffins!).

For cakes I tend to make a butter frosting (butter, icing sugar, small amount boiled water, vanilla, food coluring) but for muffins it is simple enough to frost with a glace frosting (small amount of boiled water, icing sugar, vanilla, food colouring). I don't have a cake decorating kit, but a zip-lock bag with a cut corner serves as a squeezy sack for coloured frosting to decorate (the smaller the cut corner, the finer the decorative line).

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Holding it Together

Following the death of my mother after a short but intense illness in August 2016, my life irrevocably changed. I became the counsellor’s phrase: “an adult orphan”.

In order to channel my grief creatively, I threw myself into making work; this was my coping response. In answer to an open call from Temple Bar Gallery & Studios for a curated section of artist books in the Dublin Art Book Fair, I had the idea that I could combine my relatively new re-interest in printmaking with my skills in bookbinding. Through a course I had been taking, I found myself giving woodblock demonstrations at the Irish Museum of Modern Art the previous February. I hadn’t done much printmaking work for years, and I had so enjoyed the woodblock printing that I knew that I was going to love a further re-exploration of print media.

Complete immersion in my art was the context needed to help me to deal with the new order of things: I no longer had a mother; an integral part of my family life was now gone. I needed to create something to counteract this immense loss, which I was reminded of in every daily act. I felt the need to have some purpose, a specific project, to prevent me from otherwise being overwhelmed by despair. I needed to create in order to feel buoyant. I had a husband and child who were also grieving and I refused to let myself sink.

Until this illness, my vibrant mother had been in exceptional good health for the entirety of her ninety-something years. She celebrated joy. My mother was active in local social clubs, she loved singing and dancing, and had close friends of all ages. The fatal diagnosis in June 2016 was a shock alternating between disbelief and despair by her ten children, yet my Mum received the news with outrageous good humour. In her last months she repeatedly sang “I’m heading for the last roundup”, the refrain to a song by her hero Gene Autry. Her great age had no bearing on the unfairness of my mother’s diagnosis; she was not ready to depart this earth and the many who loved her were not yet ready to let her go.

After a number of sketches and design plans, my work began with a series of lino prints. I would bind these prints into several book editions, a different language for each edition. I chose three languages – English, Irish and Spanish – as a starting point, with the possibility that I might create future editions in other languages. This was the first time I used my bookbinding skills in an art book context. I have been hand-binding books for over twenty five years to use as sketchbooks, notebooks, photo albums and scrapbooks, but to bind books as part of an art work is a new development for me. Literally, it was a way for me to hold things together.

Each book contains five small lino prints. My prints are straightforward: a mundane greeting to start the day (good morning / maidín mhaigh / buenos dias) and its follow up query (how are you? / conas atá tú? / ¿cómo estás?) enclosing three simple images (an egg in egg cup, two mugs, a teapot). The images are printed in black ink. Clarity. Simplicity. These are images of sustenance, companionship and comfort. This is what I need. What I hope for. These are existential books that allow me to negotiate the circumstances of overwhelming loss: coming to terms with the banality of living while facing the abyss. Since August 25th 2016 my mother is only fully alive in my memory of her.

In November 2016, five copies of each of my books were included on the curated table of the Dublin Art Book Fair. To me, this opportunity provided a quiet memorial to my mother.

I am not religious yet I am not atheist. I believe in humanity as an entity of good, despite so much evidence to the contrary. There is much suffering both on a global and a personal level. But I have encountered kindness in strangers, selflessness in friends, willingness to share and care in unexpected places. These experiences allow me to fly. I keep faith with the unknown. Although I mourn, the best way for me to honour my mother’s spirit is to celebrate it through my artmaking. This helps me to remain unwaveringly hopeful.

I am still coping with the loss of my mother. I am still creating artwork. I am currently working on another group of books and whether they will be accepted for inclusion in the Dublin Art Book Fair 2017 remains to be seen. Whether they are accepted or not doesn’t matter. Fundamentally they are serving a greater purpose: they are holding me together.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Lithography workshop

It is probably becoming fairly obvious that my interest in printmaking techniques has become very pronounced over the past two years. When I heard about a weekend lithography workshop at Blackchurch Print Studio in Dublin, about two months ago, I was quick to sign up for it. Lo and behold, the time flew and the workshop, led by Alison Pilkington, took place last weekend. 

There were only four of us taking the workshop, so it was quite intense. I had brought some sketches of things I had been working on, and spent Saturday morning developing these sketches on a larger scale.

I had another look at my branches images, but decided on beachstones for the litho stone.

Saturday afternoon was spent drawing on the litho stone with a variety of litho crayons and then painting on tucshe in specific areas. For the small stones, I applied the tusche by flicking so that their texture would be totally different from the surrounding linework. Unfortunately I was too busy working, and did not have a camera with me anyhow, to take pictures of the stone in progress. On Sunday morning there were a few applications of nitric acid in gum arabic on the tusche areas and in the afternoon I printed up an edition of four on beautiful Fabriano paper. It was an exhausting but invigorating day!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Blind embossing

 I had an idea for a handmade book, "Ghost", where the images would be blind emossed prints. These would be small prints, facilitated by my pasta machine press. The plates are 800 micron acetate, each plate being a tiny 9 cm square. The printed pages are a whopping 12.5 x 15 cm, and they will be affixed to an accordion book 16.5 cm vertically; the covers are 17 cm square. All these figures are important and should be worked out in advance, when creating a book, so that finally putting it all together goes smoothly.

I had an idea of the images I would use, a hand as a metonym for the whole body. I had not done blind embossing on my pasta press before, so I began by testing some materials. Below is an image cut from oilcloth, using the smooth side up.

 I also tried the heaviest grade of sandpaper I could find.

This is the same sandpaper grade as above, but is the environment around the image.

 I did some tests on Fabriano paper. The heaviest grade sandpaper was very difficult to work with.

Although I liked the embossed imprint of the heavy grade sandpaper, I had to fight with my press to get the print! When embossing a thin tissue is placed over the plate so that the paper stays clean, yet I was finding that the tissue was becoming embedded in the print, and could not even be removed when dry.

I tried using completely dry paper, and even though I had some good results, I still had to fight with my press to get a print. So I abandoned the idea of using the heaviest sandpaper grade for my plates.

I also started using oilcloth in lieu of felts with my prints, as it is thin, yet has more weight to it than the thin felt I was using.

Here is a another sample of a plate with heavy grade sandpaper. Though not as heavy as the black sandpaper, there were still some difficulties with the prints.

I had decided I would probably use two hands in each image, the final image (of five) being two hands together emulating a bird in flight. The plate below shows the reverse side of oilcloth, which has a textured pattern.

Still using thin Fabriano for tests, I wanted to see how the oilcloth faired under the press. I was surprised that the pasta machine was sensitive enough to pick up the area where the two hands met. For the oilcloth tests I used two layers of oilcloth in lieu of felts. One must remember to have the smooth side of the oilcloth lying next to the paper, so as not to have any additional unplanned embossing.

My final tests were on the Khadi Indian rag handmade paper. The prints are subtle, but this is in keeping with the point of my book "Ghost".

 My final decision was to use the same grade of sandpaper for all five images, representing the environment rather than the hands.

The last step was printing out each plate. The book will be in an edition of ten, so I needed ten prints for each plate. I finished all the printing last week, and now I am working on putting the books together.