So this is the right time to say a very heartfelt thankyou to everyone who made this possible: all at AA2A; Kit, Natalie and Iain from the staff at Lancaster; and the Fine Art students, who taught me a lot.
The main intention for the set of big eight-colour prints was to use them as part of a multi-media installation in St. Andrew's Church, Sedbergh:
I have continued to look for things to do with them, and I'm very happy to say that print no. 4 (my favourite) was accepted for the ‘Open Up North’ exhibition in Kendal in autumn 2011. Here is it on display in the cafe at Abbot Hall.
Having chosen my colours, my paper, etc. etc. etc. all I had to do was print the eight-colour prints. I thought I could afford enough paper and paint to do two sets; I hoped that I would be able to print accurately enough to get one usable set of prints, anyway (I didn't manage, but it wasn't too sloppy).
I took photos of the strips of colour once I was reasonably happy with the arrangements, then tightened everything up on the computer. Then I made some sheets of newsprint the same size as the paper I'd be printing on and drew everything out.
The technique for lining everything up that I was shown involved a big piece of transparent plastic; I printed on to it, lined up one of the newsprint guides underneath ...
... and marked the edges of the newsprint. Then I replaced the newsprint with the real paper, lined it up to the marks, put the plastic over it again and made adjustments. Then, having switched on the big vacuum pump under the printing table and muttered a prayer to the squeegee gods, I could at last print a stripe.
And then just do it again, and again, and again. Oh, and did I mention cleaning the screen and plastic every time I had printed a stripe of the current width and colour on two pieces of paper? It took six sessions at the University. I enjoyed it! There was a nice movement from concentration to relaxation and back and all that focusing really settles the mind.
At last the prints were complete:
Okay, the thing I like about abstract/concrete art is that you're free to play about in a system of relations – my personality makes me like to have a system, I guess others are happy working intuitively but I feel better if I remove some freedom from a situation. The only snag is that you have to come up with a system to work within.
Having made decisions about the widths of the coloured strips in the prints I am planning, and what the colours will be, I thought for a bit and came up with a scheme to work with: each print will have eight strips of colour, one of each colour and one of each width. Over the eight prints the widths will vary relative to the colours by cycling through – say you have green, blue, orange ... for the first print, from the widest strip towards the narrowest, which is red; then the next print will have red as widest, then green next widest, blue ...
So now my task was to compose the prints. I had cut up some of my lovely A3 flat-colour pieces into strips in the appropriate proportions; now for each design I took the correct set of strips and whacked them down on a piece of paper fairly loosely and intuitively:
Then I started to work on the arrangements. I moved some strips around, then tightened up the spaces in between. In the end, all the designs had a strip right at the top and right at the bottom - this should give an overall shape to the set of prints when they’re displayed together – and I managed to get all eight colours in a bottom stripe and a top stripe. Here are a couple:
As you can see, I occasionally allowed myself to slant some of the stripes. It was an exciting moment, I can tell you. I think it will give an energy to the narrow white spaces between stripes that I really liked in the curve-based jazz festival design I mentioned in the previous post.
AA2A are keen, I think, for artists on the scheme to find ways of opening up what they’re doing to the staff and students in the institutions where they are working. When I’ve managed to corner people, I’ve engaged people in conversation about what I’m up to and tried to find out a bit about their work, but the teachers in the department and I thought it would be a good idea to give a more formal talk. So on 2 March, I did the whole bit - standing at the front of a classroom, PowerPoint slides, questions afterwards.
I had assumed that no-one much was going to be there since it was reading week and no-one had to come in to the department, so I was touched that enough people came to fill a not particularly small room. I think I gave a good account of myself; I talked about what I’ve done in the past, my working life, what I’ve done here so far and what I’m trying at the moment.
I tried hard to give the 35-minute talk a good soundtrack, and that seemed to go okay. The moment that worked best was when I linked sound and image by playing a short piece called ‘Tonic’ (which you can hear at this webpage) at the same time as I showed a photo of the print-drying rack in the studio - ‘Tonic’ starts with the crash of the rack’s shelves being dropped and morphs into a chord of simple tones extracted from the rack’s basic resonance.
Kit Abraham, the course leader at the department, picked up on this and asked if I’d thought of doing film as it seemed to work to join sound and vision. My answer, of course, was that I’d love to but thought I would probably disappear into the editing suite and never come out …
My thanks go to everyone who sat through the talk and made interesting comments at the end.
I have been thinking more about a set of stripe-based prints as a more expansive project for the rest of my time on the AA2A scheme. I know I don’t want to use Adobe Illustrator to do the layout, as it was my plan for AA2A to get away from the computer as much as I could. This means, I think, that I can’t really use curves as I can’t really think how to work out the compositions in any sensible amount of time …
So rectangles it is.
There’s an old piano here in the art department that people sit and plunk at when they need to distract themselves for a bit, and I have spent a bit of time plunking myself. I had the idea of finding a chord on the piano that made me happy and translating it into a set of widths for stripes using frequency ratios.
It goes like this: a note on the piano, let’s say middle C, has a frequency associated with it. A note an octave higher, i.e. the next C to the right on the keyboard, will have a frequency twice as much as the first one. The frequencies of two notes a fifth apart will be in the ratio 3:2, a fourth apart 4:3 and so on. So having found my chord, and chosen a size for the lowest note/widest stripe, I have the widths of all the stripes.
I have been continuing to work on the colours for the prints. I’ve got a set that work together well, I hope (worked out on the computer! curses!) and I’ve been experimenting with the recipes to get the paints to give me as close as I can get to those colours. Now I’ve started printing A3 sized areas of flat colour to cut up into stripes the right size and start working out the compositions.
I love all those colours. Actually, if you gave me a piece of A3 paper with a big strong area of almost any colour, I would love it. You can see also that I have been playing about with the shapes of the areas of colour:
This is just fun, but it’s also being filed away in the part of my mind that’s thinking ahead to maybe doing more printing once this residency is over, and also looking for a Plan B for these prints in case what I’m developing doesn’t work well enough. It’s also very easy - just using some parcel tape to mask off bits of the screen.
While I have been coming down to Lancaster and having fun in the print studio, paid work has continued … One of my long-term graphic design clients has been Manchester Jazz Festival. They’ve been good people to work for and I think I’ve done some of my most interesting work for them.
I was particularly happy with my design for last year’s Festival:
I have to admit to some borrowing for this from the work of a French painter and printmaker called Philippe Morisson, whose stuff I like a lot, along with other ‘stripy’ painters like Bridget Riley and Gene Davis. Here is a print of Morisson’s:
Anyway, I began to think I could do something for AA2A with some sort of stripes and then started to think about producing a set of prints big enough to go in the church in Sedbergh along with a sound installation I have been working on for the 2010 Sedbergh Music Festival. This will be based on 8s, basically, since it uses bell ringing - and there are 8 bells at the church - and will be 8-channel sound, so I think I want to do something with 8 colours. Luckily the Jazz Festival idea, and the 2010 Sedbergh Music Festival publicity, give a good strong set of colours that I already know work.
I’ve worked hard on the prints that abstract the pattern of dry stone walls to make ‘glyphs’ but I don’t think what I’ve done so far is very strong. I think the idea in itself is okay, but when I’ve used it before for graphic design I was working from images of the Mancunian Way - an overhead motorway that runs south of Manchester city centre and gives you some very strong images of slip roads, flyovers and so on to work with that I thought were easy to read as well. These dry stone wall images aren’t quite strong enough (or readable enough) for me.
I had a think about what I could do to make a better print out of the idea. The first thing that occurred to me was that I didn’t really like the textured backgrounds and didn’t feel I had any good ideas for them. What has been making me happy during the project has been stuff like this:
I really like the flatness of the areas of colour. I think I’d been trying to get texture in because I thought it was what other people would expect. When I look at my graphic design work I can see that I don’t have many ways of texturing things up and I don’t really seem to care - but there, you’ve got an extra layer because you have the client’s message on top of what you do.
The calligraphic forms taken from the dry stone walls were too fussy, as well, so I found another photo with a bit less in it to work with. Back to Illustrator to work out crops, positioning and so on, and in today’s session I got some finished prints:
I’m still not 100% convinced, and my emotional reaction to some of the silhouette is mixed, but I think this is much more satisfying overall.
Today I finished prints of the two designs I have been working on. I was a lot happier once they looked a bit more like something. The various experiments in colour scheme weren't too illuminating; overall I think I prefer them plainer, certainly I don't think the texturing I was getting on the foreground shape did much. I need to do some more really ...
Another quite frustrating session today - I am finding it hard to work towards a design I already have in mind because of my low level of skill and experience at this. It seemed easier and more fun just letting the images come out of playing with techniques.
Anyway ... today I was doing some second colours on backgrounds for the dry stone wall images. I wanted to put some texture in and I used something I did the last time I worked on this idea - doing a wax rubbing onto the silk screen from a load of string stuck to a piece of card. It gives a kind of ploughed field effect which is quite nice.
This is the sort of thing you get - I tried various methods of doing the rubbing, using harder and softer pressure, covering the string with stuff, and so on. Here is a selection of results:
I want to work on a set of compositions abstracted from the patterns of dry-stone walls in the fields around where I live. I hope I can work towards some nice 'come to Sedbergh' poster designs from it - Sedbergh, where I live, needs a steady stream of tourists visiting ... This is the first version of one of the compositions:
You will notice that the register is off, ink has bled under the stencil on the black, and so on - it was a test piece when I was re-learning how to screenprint to get ready for this placement.
I had already done the basic composition on the computer, sad to say. I spent half the day working out colour combinations to try, making notes, etc.:
I am enjoying filling notebooks with mad scribbles - it's not my usual way of working, but I hope I keep on with it after this scheme has finished.
I began printing in the afternoon, and got the first colour down for both compositions. As you can see, these prints won't all be green ...