Hand made digitally: digitally hand made
by Ruth Lee
Images still to be uploaded.
Moving on from the large scale digitally-printed textiles this new body of work sets out to explore further whether the concept of digitally handmade is a contradiction in terms or simply the best of all worlds.
Combining the digital and the handmade is an exciting prospect. Learning how to use image-making software has allowed me to take advantage of the powerful technologies available to the contemporary artist/designer, while retaining and adding to my signature style. At the same time I am intrigued by finding ways of subverting the, sometimes, slick and impersonal image making of the digital world by making evident the maker’s hand in the creative process.
Currently based in printmaking at The University of Central Lancashire with courtesy of the aa2a scheme this welcome opportunity has enabled me to clarify my future direction, bringing together seemingly disparate yet related elements of past and current work.
For this project I set out to create a body of experimental visual studies through hands-on printmaking; the main focus being an open-ended investigation as to just what is possible in terms of cross referencing traditional printmaking methods with digital technologies, and also how visual information is processed using certain tools, machinery and technology.
As a way into the project ,and getting used to new surroundings, I opted to continue with the theme of migrating birds, taking existing images in my digital sketchbook to through into traditional screen-printing. Working with acrylic printing inks and the vacuum print bed was a new experience, which took some time to get used to. The challenge was to unlearn textile screen-printing working methods, which though similar, are not the same.
Initial experiments involved printing onto lightweight papers, which were strong to use yet fragile in appearance, including Tissutex paper and Gampi: the latter is a beautiful paper, which has a sheen not unlike silk.
Further experiments with overprinting transparent colours and layering the prints began to suggest a sense of space and distance; a metaphor for migratory birds. Colours related to Portuguese blue tiles, and images referenced the migratory journey swallows take from Africa through to northern Europe.
Combining laser cut layers with screen printing.
A chance experiment with laser cutting to find a way of making shaped frames to house these delicate prints kick started the project into action. A prototype for a shaped frame (which was eventually cut from clear acrylic), and based on the bird silhouettes, was cut in Gampi paper. Overlaid on top of the screen prints, the latter added depth and a subtle texture to the work.
Work is now ongoing to make a series of small tiles constructed from layers of prints sandwiched together with laser cut acrylic frames cut to the same designs as the Gampi prototype.
Laser Cut Wooden Printing Blocks
Noting that it was possible to etch into wood using the laser cutter, I was curious to try the same technique as a way of producing relief-printing blocks as a side project to my stated aim of working in screen printing. Having the chance to explore a completely new working method in relief print making was the shot in the arm this project needed. I loved the tactile nature of the relief-printing block, the viscosity of the oil based printing inks and the way in which it is possible to build layer on layer of colour onto the printing blocks, colour which I learned to mix from first principles. It is here that I felt the connection between the ancient with the modern in terms of printing technologies: something that greatly appealed to me.
Working with technologies spanning nearly 156 years, the laser cut wooden printing blocks have been printed onto variety of paper surfaces using a magnificent cast-iron Columbian relief printing press dated 1856.
Some of the imagery was developed from digital photographs taken of Roman tiles in Portugal. Others, such as the birds, were hand-cut stencils which were scanned into the computer or created to give the appearance of being stitched. For the latter I used the Bernina image-making software usually used with a digital embroidery computer.
Designed in grey scale and then converted into suitable files for the digitally-controlled laser cutter to read, the wooden blocks were laser-etched in relief onto pine and plywood. The areas of the design that are either light or dark in tone relate to the areas which are cut away or left standing proud of the wood block. It is the latter which are then rolled up with ink and printed. It is or course possible to invert the light and dark tones at the design stage, making it possible to produce two printing blocks of the design in negative and positive format.
The small pine printing blocks showed the grain lines of the wood most successfully and in doing so created imagery that retained a hand drawn quality. The larger plywood blocks (30cm by 30cm) were less successful. Good quality ply is too hard for the laser beam to cut through to the depth needed for relief printing and cheap plywood disintegrates on the top layer after just a few prints have been made.
Another first for me was to mix my oil-based inks from scratch. I am very particular about colour mixing, and like to have complete control of the base colours used in the mixing process. To do this, colour in powder form is mixed with copper plate oil and blended together on a stone slab. A time-consuming process, but well worth the effort to produce an individual colour palette in the colours you really want.
The oil-based printing inks were hand rolled onto the wooden printing blocks, making the new prints similar to each other but not identical. This is very apparent with prints made onto lightweight Japanese papers such as Kozo and Gampi, or long fibre abaca paper, each with their own discreet texture. Further experiments were tried on thin wood veneers and silk papers. It is in the latter that the individuality of each print is clearest, due to the uneven nature of the hand-made printing surface
The next step in the process is to introduce hand-stitching or other textile processes into the equation. Current thinking is to substitute areas of print with digitally stitched panels.
Digital Sketch Books
Keeping a digital sketch book alongside hands-on practice is a useful method for exploring, for example, changes of scale, adding and subtracting motifs and text, trying a variety of effects and layouts, or changing the tonal balance of any given image.
A really useful practical application for this body of work was working back and forth between digitally-created and hand-printed imagery, visualising various juxtapositions and combinations of colour derived from the colour palette designed for the large scale textile pieces. Adding or subtracting colours to my stored, custom-made, digital colour palette quickly suggested many possible variations on the original colour story.
Much needed technical know-how has dominated my working practice for the last two years or more. Ideas now seem to be flowing freely again: the hard slog to understand the potential of new technologies as simply another tool is beginning to pay dividends.
As a maker, there is no real substitute for hands-on practice and working with actual materials. Revisiting and adding to my understanding of traditional printmaking techniques have begun to square the equation and balance the new technologies which so excite me. Who knows what the future holds? There is still much to explore and experiment in this regeneration of my working practice. It can be seen as an incredibly exciting yet daunting prospect for a mature artist.
Ruth Lee May 2012
...a Belper girl, that's a good starting point. So I took my camera for a walk concentrating in the area in which she grew up, but I had very little success. What was I hoping to achieve?
I referred back to my little pink book and for one reason or another, three things seemed to be continually jumping out at me.
I have a list of places all of which are important to her, but these have no real meaning to me. What if we were to select one from that list and visit together?
While it may raise questions for others in similar circumstances, my friend has drawn comfort and support through her strong religious beliefs, although she does admit her prayers have usually been for others rather than herself. In what way can my work reflect this?
As a form of personal therapy, my friend had been writing some wonderful poetry during her treatment. I was surprised, I didn't know. How do I decide on the text now?
Where do I go from here?
As you know, my original idea was to combine text with photographs of the Derbyshire landscape. I had always wanted this project to have a real positive feel to it, but the more I listened to my friend, the more my thoughts about this changed. I was confused but gradually everything started to become very much clearer to me.
The work should be as true a reflection of her feelings, not mine. This was important, the illness is real, it's happening to her...
I have never stopped learning since I graduated, and when I knew I had been accepted for this programme I saw it as an opportunity not only to work on my project, but also to experiment. I decided I wanted to get my hands dirty and try out some alternative printmaking for the first time.
This was a good decision, as although time was limited, it was well spent both in the print room at Brit Mill getting a taste for Intaglio, as well as the more familiar darkroom environment at Markeaton Street.
Photograms, collographs, embossing, drypoint and solarplate printing. Exciting, beautiful, creative...I can and will apply most of these newly acquired skills to future work, with practice of course.
Anyway, in between work, experimentation, and with the prospect of an exhibition looming, I had a very important date.
Hi AA2A Artists,
Last chance to vote!
If you are still working or exhibiting in your AA2A college please could you encourage students to vote? Direct them to this site and every artists page has 'vote for this artist'. They can vote for any artist on the scheme this year; you don't have to ask them to vote for you - although you can if you want! Students who vote have the opportunity to sign up to our mailing list so it really helps us spread the word about the scheme.
The Public vote is also still open - don't forget you can vote for other artists too and you're welcome to tell people about that too/promote on your facebook page/your blog/twitter etc.
When I started this project I knew it would be very challenging for me as it is so very different to anything I have done before. Usually I go out with my camera and make work purely from my own response to something I might see in passing, and so it begins. This time my friend is my work.
You think you know someone, and yet I have seen a very different side to her over these last two years. As we have spent time together, particularly for this project, I have listened, and tried to understand, but how could I possibly express through my photographs what she is thinking and feeling?
I did spend a lot of time in the library, as it was important for me to research other artists. (Do I mention names here I wonder? I am not sure, but if you are interested please do get in touch, I am happy to help).
Having made countless notes, I had to begin narrowing it all down in some way. What was helping my friend get through this? Was there anything she kept returning to in our conversations? Glad I have my little pink book, I will need to refer back...
from an end becomes a beginning.
i'm sure that's a quote and it would be a little unfair to attribute it as so many have said it to me. however i will say thank you to alison for being the latest to say it to me in our last aa2a session. in preparing for that session, i rather went through a lot as suddenly there was a need to contemplate something 'to show' for what i've been doing. i feel this is a social convention that i applied to myself, instead of it being integral to the aa2a process that i embarked on.
so i've reflected upon this. i put myself through a tough process of 'making something' as it was too easy and unfulfilling to do nothing to mark the end of a period of time. in that period of time i was quite literally free to play. this has been a very valuable experience as i see now that in my professional career to date i have never been able to play and explore with no outcome preprescribed by the process about to happen.
last week i freaked out rather, describing the whole thing as a succesful failure. it's not a failure as i am informed by what i've been through and in a position to consider a further line of study that i was not considering at the beginning of the residency.
as a result of the residency i have alot of 'made things' that i can take with me into the next phase of development of a work that is still in development.
as i am reflecting and finishing i would like to take a moment to thank the staff and artists involved in this process. susan, thank you for your support and and insight. robert, thank you for our conversations and space to play. alison, thank you for your insight, bredth of knowledge and for listening. claire, my best wishes for the nottingham project and i look forward to reading about your future endeavours. lorenza, thank you for the opportunity to share and discuss about your work and all the debate that it brought about. madelaine, thank you for listening and debating and i look forward to seeing the results of your playtime.
it's taken me a while to process about this experience. it's been about getting somewhere that is beyond this point and this point serves as a marker to that point.
i feel centred and at peace with myself.
I am hopefully going to be doing another project with VISUALISE at the Cambridge Observatory, so please have a look at my tumblr blog to see progress about the project. The project should be a really interesting concept and follows on from the talk I went to a while back at Anglia Ruskin about the link between science and perception. In particular astronomy and perception. Perception is a topic that runs through all of my art works, so I hope I can produce something really great for this show.
The talk I went to the other week really made me realise how I have been affected by an injury to my eye when I was a teenager. Although it could be seen as being detrimental to my art work to have poor vision in one eye, I think it has been fundamental to forming my artistic style. I am now much more sensitive to light and much more aware of form, colour and light as I cannot see detail very well in one eye. When I am drawing I can close one eye to only see tone and form. I think this has helped me to apreciate minimalism and to become drawn to light as a medium for art.
I hope I can express these sentiments in my future work for VISUALISE.
I have been so inspired by my time at Anglia and the architecture on the campus that I have sent a proposal to the University to ask if I can create some sculptural works for the campus. So fingers crossed that they like my ideas. I will continue to blog about any future projects on my own blog.
Please keep following me at http:/
Here is the proposal I sent to Anglia.
My work and research explores space, light, perspective and form. Predominantly the focus is on how the viewer experiences space. My work investigates how impact can be created and aims to become a physical and psychological experience for the viewer. In order for my work to become psychological, the way the spectator perceives the space alongside the physical negotiation of the space is also considered and controlled. To enable the audience to be able to form a relationship to the work, scale becomes important. The work uses scale that is recognisable to the viewer, making work that evokes the feeling of architecture but to a smaller scale, so the space becomes more intimate or intrusive.
Proposal for Anglia Ruskin
Having spent a lot of time at Anglia Ruskin over the last few months, my work has been strongly influenced by the architecture of the space. Using these influences I have developed a body of work and I am proposing two pieces to be made in order to develop these works, to enhance some of the architecture and to use some of the spaces that are not already being used on the campus. I would like to propose that the pieces would be commissioned on a long term loan basis and as suggested in a previous meeting, the university may consider contributing towards the material costs only. My motivation behind putting forward this proposal is that I feel that my work would suit the campus very well. It would also offer a way for me to conclude my AA2A scheme and the opportunity to expand my portfolio and my experience while at the same time giving something back to the university and giving the opportunity for students to get involved to help me with the install and other parts of the proposal. Any publicity I do regarding the project would help to promote the AA2A scheme, the art school and university.
Chosen site- Raised courtyard area of the new Lord Ashcroft building.
I have chosen this site because of its position. Being surrounded by the interesting and modern architecture of the courtyard I feel that the sculptural impact would be maximised. I have chosen to use smoked glass to create the piece and the glass will reflect the architecture into it, making the viewer more aware of the interesting space that they are in.
I am proposing an exterior piece to be placed around the raised seating areas in the courtyard. The piece would be made of aluminium and toughened and polished glass so that it will be long lasting outside. It would be fixed to the wood with minimal fixings and would be strong and secure. This piece would be a direct scale up a model that I made during my time at Anglia Ruskin, so would distinctly reference my artistic experience at ARU. The chosen site would work well with the scale of the piece. The work would be impacting but not overshadowed by the space that it is in.
I have chosen a site that is at the moment fairly empty and almost a non space. I like to work in corridors for this reason. My work can be viewed and experienced while the viewer passes through the space. The work will alter the viewer’s experience of a space they use on a day to day basis for functional reasons. In this corridor the ceiling is low so the scale of this piece would fit perfectly and the choice of space would mean the sculpture can be viewed inside and out. I hope this piece would draw connections between the art school and the rest of the university. The piece would again be a development from a piece I began to work on during my AA2A scheme. It would reflect the architecture around it and would change constantly due to the lighting changing outside. The piece would be made out of Perspex and steel and would be secured to the floor to ensure maximum safety using a visibly unobtrusive method.
The images from the proposal will be uploaded to my site specific proposal album.
i met with the other artists yesterday for the last time under the umbrella of aa2a 2011/2012. in our group discussions there was again much heated debate and conversation, that we all really enjoyed.
i've certainly enjoyed the time and space to play on aa2a.
my play has given me these:
I really enjoyed my AA2A scheme and felt that it has helped me at this point in my career. It has been great to be back in an art institution working alongside other people and to have access to facilities such as the welder, plasma cutter and laser cutter. I have produced a lot of new work which I will use to apply for new projects and to think through future ideas. I am also hoping to show the work as a body of work in an exhibition in the future. I especially enjoyed attending talks like the VISUALISE talk on art and perception. This really inspired me to make new work and confirmed that my interests are something that is the topic of research for people working in different dicsiplines. Such as other artists, curators and scientists. I found it very interesting giving talks and tutorials to students. I also gave a practical welding demonstration. By giving talks and taking questions I was able to clarify ideas I have been thinking about and to really reflect on my own work. I have been inspired by the studetns work and discussions that I have had with them and hope that they have found my work inspiring and that I will be able to maintain links with the University and the students. I would like to say thank you to all the staff who have helped me during my time at Anglia Ruskin. Their kindness and knowledge has been above and beyond what I could have hoped for.