Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Adventures in printmaking - and a challenge

This week is my 'making week' - something I try to schedule in monthly. It's not necessarily about producing work I can then sell; it also gives me the opportunity to experiment with new ideas, techniques and materials.

Apologies for the quality of the photographs in this post. After several days of glorious sunshine we're back to rain and grey skies. Not the best when you're taking pictures indoors.

I've been using colour. Mixing inks (I only have black, white, blue, red, green and yellow, and the colours straight from the tube are very bright).

Indigo is one of my favourite colours. So I played with blue and black and tried a bit of monoprinting.

I really loved how the shades came out. A bit of very dark navy, areas of brighter blue.

The framed fern print (second photo) is something I just put on the mantel for now. I was given a bag of ugly old frames, so I sanded this one down from orange pine then distressed it a bit and waxed it. You can get frames like this for next to nothing at car boot sales and in charity shops. I might get some mounts made for the bigger ones once I've sanded them back.

Because I was using last year's ferns, they's become quite brittle and actually disintegrated after this session so I've since been and collected more.

I also had a play with shades of green. The print's not perfect by any means but I do quite like the colour. Again, a charity shop frame. I've got a bigger one too, and thought they'd be useful for product photography.

The 'ghost prints' look as though they were made with oil pastel. Again, I really like the effect.

Some of the prints were made using my new handmade papers. They took some getting used to, as they're very thick and textured compared to the papers I usually use. So I had to apply a lot of ink and some are still drying. They'll need flattening too as they've buckled a bit.

But they suit those glass frames as you can see the torn edges of the paper. And they have a bold, graphic quality which is quite different to my usual detailed and intricate prints.

Finally: my new sketchbook. I sat down this afternoon and spent maybe fifteen minutes just drawing. No rubbing out or trying to get a perfect likeness. Pen, not pencil. Just putting down the lines and not thinking about it too much. I'm determined to be able to sketch 'on the hoof' and capture what I see without getting annoyed with myself for not getting it just right...

Monday, 20 March 2017

Lakeland inspiration

This past weekend, had a child-free (!) trip to Grasmere. It had been planned since the New Year, and as we rarely (never) go away without Joe, we decided on the Lakes as it isn't too far away and we'd rather spend our time relaxing than driving.

Typically, it rained. A lot. But we're used to that. And we'd agreed that, as we would be staying in a lovely hotel, we'd simply lounge around in the sauna/jacuzzi/actual lounge and just unwind.

But of course, we soon got the urge to get outside. With such spectacular surroundings it would be sad not to. So we pulled on the wellies and grabbed our umbrellas and headed out into the weather. I wanted to get plenty of photographs for my next Creative Countryside article, and perhaps some inspiration for printmaking.

I was most impressed with this place (above): somewhere for the hotel staff to take it easy, perhaps? Note the chimneys. I'd love a cabin just like it. Wood burning stove, rocking chair, studio space...

 The rain did actually clear for a couple of hours so we set took a walk just outside the village.

Of course, at this time of year there are daffodils aplenty (and yes, we did visit Wordsworth's grave and saw Dove Cottage). But there was also Forsythia in the gardens and ferns and hellebores.

Our walk didn't take us too far out. We didn't fancy getting stuck up a mountain in a deluge.

It took us through some woods to a National Trust property, Allan Bank. I looked it up later: apparently it's not yet restored inside but visitors can still look around and eat in there too. The Wordsworths lived there for a time.

If you look here, you can see the interior. The idea is that visitors have a say in how the house will look once it's finished.

I like the idea of it being a work in progress, and that there's a sense of decay to it. Peeling paintwork and cracked plaster. Unfortunately, the last admission time was gone when we arrived but you still got a feel for the place.

 The setting was beautiful too.

 I was quite taken with a Gothic-looking building: the old billiard room. It's also due for renovation. 

If you're considering writing a novel, you could do a lot worse than sitting in the grounds here (or in the house itself). A truly inspiring spot.

Speaking of inspiration: The Heaton Cooper Studio is one of my absolute favourite galleries to visit. The watercolours, the carefully-chosen books, the beautiful ceramics...

I could spend hours in there. And a lot of money, even though I'm just a poor artist!

I did make a few purchases though. Some handmade paper for printmaking (I'm planning on starting some new designs this week) and a little sketchbook.

The sketchbook is for my daily drawing: something quick and simple, in pen. No pencil, no rubbing out or agonising over perspective or detail or photographic accuracy. It'll be an exercise in Loosening Up and fighting my perfectionist tendencies.

The staff in the gallery are really helpful and friendly, too. You're left alone to browse (and sigh over everything you wish you could take home). But if you need advice on materials they're happy to assist.

I wish we had a place like this nearby...

 Jay was very patient during both my visits. Art isn't really his thing but he's very understanding!

So, after I took lots of photos for this blog post (yesterday), we splashed back through Grasmere to the car and headed home to an equally wet Lancashire. It was a relaxing break which inevitably seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye.

But we arrived feeling rested, refreshed and - in my case - ready to make some art.

I'll be sharing some work on here shortly...

Friday, 10 March 2017


...Is almost here. Just a few more weeks to go. And I've been (nearly) as busy as all those nest-building birds. Not in a domestic sense, though - in a creative one.

I recently opened an Etsy shop, and listing everything took a while. But there was (and still is) even more. So I decided to add the cards I've made lately.

Of course, with product listings comes product photography. I really dislike product photography.

This may seem odd coming from someone who loves taking pictures. But I think it's because, when you're having to be technical and keep things uniform, it sucks the joy out of the whole process. I have to use a tripod. I have to consider lighting more than I usually would.

And with this house often being devoid of light during the winter months, setting up for a photo shoot can be a bit of a headache.


I read around a bit. I procured this lovely backdrop. I even made a reflector using tin foil and a piece of plywood. 

Even better, on Thursday I went straight from dropping Joe at school to collecting some scraps of foliage from the hedgerows nearby. It turned into a bit of a walk, but the sun was out so I make no apologies for that :)

And when I got home I just played with set-ups and had a good old faff. I poked around the house looking for little things to use as props (you can see more in the photos here) and just generally got on with it.

And I surprise myself even now by admitting that I actually enjoyed it.

Of course, the lighting was still far from perfect - especially as the clouds kept covering the sun then disappearing again, making consistency a bit difficult - but once I'd cleared everything away from inquisitive little hands, I managed to get some editing done before school pick up time.

I've put some pictures in from a walk we took at the weekend. Even though this blog's mainly about my work and my creative process, family life is part of that. I get ideas and take pictures while we're out and about, and Joe learns about nature and the seasons.

There's colour appearing here and there. Our garden is primarily still brown and sleeping, but there are splashes of pink from the hellebores and bright yellow from the miniature daffodils. Perhaps a hellebore lino print is in the pipeline...

I've pencilled in a 'Week of Making' which starts on 27th March. I tend to work best if there's some kind of schedule. This is particularly true if there are lots of projects on the go; otherwise I end up doing a bit of this and a bit of that and nothing ever gets finished.

Still, I can cross the shop update off my list. As the weather gets brighter (and there have been a few lovely blue March days so far) I'll be getting outside more and more, looking for inspiration. I'm also hoping to do a sketch a day to maintain my creativity and my drawing skills. Just simple line drawings. And maybe I'll share my sketchbooks here when there's something to show!

P.S. The photos at the top and bottom of this post were just taken for practice. I have a lot to learn when it comes to flat lay styling...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Late February in the work room...

Just a post-half term catch-up... And a chance to share a recent commission for a personalised painting (for a new baby).

Of course, I can't share any of this kind of work until I know it's gone to the recipient and they've opened it. Because usually, these commissioned pieces are given as gifts.

Half term was good fun: walking, playing at the park, meeting up with friends... And then Joe stayed with his grandparents for a few days. That gave me the opportunity to get ready for a small craft fair (which turned out to be beyond dismal - there's a good reason I don't usually do these things, and Saturday evening's experience only made me more resolute to avoid them).

But I did make some lovely cards and a few more prints. I might add some to my shop later this week.

The plan for the rest of February (and much of March) is to start looking at new stockists and approaching them. Not something I enjoy, being a bit of an introvert, but you often find that many people are nice. Even if the answer's a no, they're often willing to try and help in some way. You do get the odd one who's a bit rude but I suppose that's just how some people are...

It's all about finding the right shop, gallery, town. And thinking about commission, how much stock you can actually provide and whether people want an 'exclusive' on your work within a certain geographical area.

Also, whether you want to sell the same items you have on your website. Because if you're factoring in the usual 30% - 50% commission, you need to consider prices. A shop won't want a print you're selling commission-free online for £15 if you're asking them for more than that; customers can just buy directly from the maker.

And there's also the question of sale or return. Do you sell your stock upfront to the stockist, or do they simply pay you as and when each item sells?

Lots to think about. And lots to ask other artists and makers. Because that's the good thing about small creative business owners: they're always happy to share advice and give others a leg up.

Right, I'm off to try and get my business head on. Time for some research!

And perhaps a snack to get me going.

Monday, 6 February 2017

February: New ideas and a new approach

When you work for yourself, from home, there are various pitfalls. Like straying from the task in hand to tidy the kitchen/run errands/look random things up online. 

At other times you might work for hours and forget to eat lunch because you're so engrossed in what you're doing. I spent most of Saturday printmaking and photographing my work whilst Jay did things with Joe. I really need to work out my work and family time boundaries.

It's also easy to sit at the computer for hours and hours without taking any kind of break.

So on Friday I went out for a walk with the camera. I do try and get out most days - the school run doesn't really count as it takes us roughly two minutes on foot door to door. But Friday was sunny(ish) and I just felt the urge to go and get some green therapy.

It helps that one of my favourite walks is nearby. It's somewhere I played when I was little and escaped to as a teenager. You walk through a field by the river then follow it into the woods. 

It gets a bit muddy.

But my work is inspired by nature and the seasons, so it makes perfect sense to get outside and look for ideas.

There was definitely a sense of spring approaching. The birds were busy and there are buds coming through everywhere. When the clouds parted it actually felt warm. The sun's still low in the sky but it felt good to get some light and fresh air. 

There was nobody about. Perhaps it was a bit early in the day. I do like being out alone though.

And when I got home I thought about my way of working. My artistic style, to be more exact.

I remember my art teacher at school trying to encourage me to be bolder and more free with the way I draw. My illustrative work is very neat, detailed and precise. I'm a perfectionist in many ways - not that that's necessarily a good thing - and the work I produce is always crisp and defined. Lino and monoprints are carefully, painstakingly positioned and pulled.

But recently I was watching a programme about architecture, of all things. The architect was somewhere in the Scottish Highlands and he went out with a sketchbook and made rough pencil drawings of tumbledown buildings. It really appealed to me. I decided I need to get out and sketch too.

It doesn't matter if those sketches are prefect or not, if the perspective's a bit off or they're smudged here and there. It's about confidence and experimentation.

With this new, bold outlook I had a go at monotype printing. It is, by nature, a bit messy. It works best (in my opinion) with very simple drawings. I'm dying to try it again, and plan to work on some line drawings to use.

Sometimes imperfection is even better than perfection. Which is why I always keep these reverse prints (above), part of the monoprinting process. In some ways I actually prefer them to the clean, sharp final print. I don't know whether people would buy them. But to me, they have a modern look and I like the rough, charcoal effect.

So far February's been good to me. A new writing opportunity with Creative Countryside, and the urge to try new ideas and break out of my comfort zone. I've even booked a table at a fair in a few weeks. I don't do many but if they're near home, and the fee is reasonable, I go along. Meeting new people is always worthwhile.

I'm even toying with the idea of doing one of these... Maybe.

P.S. The fabric in the background of the pictures is actually my work apron, hence the marks and stains!