Wednesday, 5 August 2020

life during lockdown... Part 1

My teenager keeps saying to me "nothing has really changed for you" as I have generally continued with my my work in"business as usual" mode during this entire period of lockdown. Although I have missed the more social aspects of my life especially friends and my time at the weekly ceramics workshop at Signal Arts Centre, I have found myself to be continuously busy with my art & writing, keeping in touch with people by telephone, Zoom, letter, email, Whatsapp and Skype. Perhaps I could even be accused of being more diligent at maintaining social contacts!

But shortly after lockdown started in March, I finally decided it was a good time to self-publish my first chapbook of poems. The first step to doing this was the founding of Precariat Press. After a brainstorming session, my husband, artist James Hayes designed a logo for me. And so it began! I have blogged about this previously here.


In April, I was inspired by Austin Kleon's Instagram account; he was making daily zines and I wanted to know how to make them. Kleon and a number of other bookbinders who have posted on YouTube have given really simple instructions for zines that can be made, with folding and tearing (or cutting) from a standard page. I did my own experiments with larger pages and heavier materials and blogged about it here. For a zine with more pages, simply glue two or more together!


Every year I participate in the annual incognito fundraiser for the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation. Due to Covid19 this year, the fundraiser was solely online. Normally images are made available for perusal on the incognito website, and then they are shown over a 3 day period at a Dublin gallery in April. This year there was also going to be an exhibition at a Cork gallery in May. Instead, a way to both see and buy the work online was made available. The artworks are all postcard sized and cost the same amount (€50) with the name of the artist only being revealed to the buyer after payment is made. I think the Dublin offering sold out within 15 minutes. I had two pieces in the Dublin exhibition (a detail of one being on the farthest left row, second from top).


One of my pieces (I donated three) was in the Cork show, which I believe also sold out quite quickly. My collage is second from left, second row down. I have blogged about previous incognito fundraisers here, here, here, and here.


In May I did the compositional sketch, which I will have as a reference when working on another large painting, Knockeen, as part of my current series Memory Is My Homeland. I have blogged about the origins and previous work in this series here, here, here, here, here,  and here.


I was, of course, simultaneously working on the lino design for the cover of my poetry chapbook, which would be titled Home Sweet Home Goodbye. The design is based on a childhood farewell card I made for my grandparents when they were returning to Ireland after their first visit to Canada (where I was born and grew up). I did several blogs about the design origins and progress of the linoprint here, here and here.


While in lockdown, as well as making work, I continued to browse for "virtual" opportunities. I found it quite interesting that submitting images to exhibitions taking place on the likes of Instagram made it possible to submit internationally. I submitted an image of Room Mate, a recent work from the Memory Is My Homeland series to an Instagram exhibition open call for work created during lockdown which responded to certain words. I have blogged about this oilstick drawing here and here. It will be featured in the Do It Yourway Instagram exhibition on August 14. The words that I feel the work responds to are "hard", "soft", and "reflect". Certainly my reasons for those words are apparent when I blogged about the piece here.


I have also continued to submit written work in answer to specific calls or open reading periods. Dwell Time is a mental health organisation in the UK and they put out a call for written and/or visual work in response to the lockdown. As I had specifically written several poems on this theme, I fired them off and they were published both on the Dwell Time website and its FaceBook page. I subsequently posted them on my own social media pages. Here is one of the three.


In addition to writing, making artwork, virtually socialising and reading I have been totally enjoying virtual music gigs (John Otway, Josh Ritter, Lisa Hannigan), concert film streaming premieres (Iggy Pop, New Order, Nick Cave), poetry readings (Hollie McNish), theatre (The National Theatre UK, The Druid Theatre IRL, The Abbey IRL, and Stratford Festival Canada) and opera (The Met NYC). Early on in lockdown a friend sent me a link to someone who had posted links to education, sports, business resources, health and entertainment. This was extremely helpful and alerted me to many things which are being made available, at no charge, to help keep people sane during this trying time. That is how I was alerted to free streams of first-class theatre and opera. For me the most amazing event I was lucky to see was The Met's production of Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten. It was phenomenal and indescribable and for me, something that I never would have had the chance to experience if there hadn't been this lockdown!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

printing chapbook covers

A lot of work went on before I was ready to print the chapbook covers, which you can see in previous blogs here (the initial sketch & press founding), here (the design origin story), here (design, lino-cutting & first test print), and here (creating the chapbook mock-up).

Last fall, I had mixed up a really nice colour using a bright pink ink and a blue ink from Speedball and tested the colour on another lino block, so I had a fair idea that I wanted to use this purply colour for my chapbook covers. Just as I was pulling out the inks and a jar to mix up a large batch, I found that I had already ordered a violet ink. When I looked at the ink I realised I did not have to do any mixing as this was indeed the colour I had in mind!


As I knew from last year's linoprinting, a heavy card "window" had to be custom made in order to facilitate relief printing on a regular flatbed press. In addition, the "window" was made to the size of the paper I was going to use for the covers so registration is automatic!


I was thrilled to start printing, and though my enthusiasm led to over-inking on the first print, everything else was going according to plan.


This is the first batch of prints drying on a blanket on the living room floor. I have borrowed an ancient book press from another artist friend and will flatten the covers when they have dried.


This is the third batch of prints, and I am quite happy with the results. My living room is fairly small, and the drying area takes up all the floor space, so with this in mind I have a schedule of printing in batches every couple of days.


Wednesday, 22 July 2020

silk fibre papermaking - zoom workshop

I signed up for a papermaking workshop, which took place by Zoom two Saturday mornings in June. I was really excited by this for several reasons: to see if one could do a workshop over the internet (having never done this before), to learn a new process, to see if this process would feed into my own artmaking. Although I have made paper before, by hand, I was completely unfamiliar with silk fibre as a material, and as the tutor explained to me by email, this was a different process than making paper with wood pulp. The artist facilitator Tunde Toth, was based in another county to me, so I would not have signed up for the workshop had it been live at her studio. I was quite excited when the parcel of materials arrived in the post: two types of silk fibre, two packages of dye, two cards of different coloured threads, a sample paper decoration and some sheets of of parchment paper. 


The items I needed to have available for the course included an iron, a spritzer bottle of water, a small paintbrush, some paper or card, and a table cloth covered workspace. I knew I would be working in the kitchen, and the first Sat morning, set up my workspace appropriately.


On the first morning, Toth went over the basics and we made a sample decoration. On the second morning we were shown how to use the dyes in this process, again making a small decoration: with a dry brush dye was sprinkled before the piece was spritzed and ironed between parchment pages.


We then experimented with different types of "inclusions", i.e., items sandwiched between silk fibres (which contain a natural glue). First I used something natural - a very dry mini daffodil. Please note, it is important when using plant inclusions that they be completely dry. I used two dyes in small amounts. Since one is gently flicking the dried dye powder onto the silk prior to spritzing and ironing, the result is random (including mixing of dyes) and one just let's go of any ideas of control. I really enjoy this!


I had some small strips of Fabriano paper, so for another inclusion test I decided to rip them into smaller bits and keep the white-on-white look.


I had a tube of tiny coloured acetate star sequins so made a test piece with this non-natural material and I flicked a fair amount of the pink dye on for a more intense look.


I really enjoyed using silk fibres to make paper and the process is very simple to master. With that in mind, I immediately ordered a larger starter kit (containing more dyes, extra inclusions and larger amounts of the two types of raw silk). Although I am busy with other projects at the moment, I have ideas for making unique silk fibre papers this autumn.


Wednesday, 15 July 2020

tulip vase

As I realised my time at the ceramics workshops at Signal Arts Centre was coming to an end (I have many other projects that are now taking priority attention, although I foresee returning to ceramics sometime in the future), there was still the matter of the disastrous vase I glaze-painted three years ago. I described full details of this spectacular failure here. However, the vase was sanded and scoured and sitting in a corner periodically beckoning to me. Luckily I actually did return to it in February and worked on re-glazepainting before lockdown.


I still wanted to glaze the vase using the original tulip design, and I still have that design as I had been using it as reference for the tulip patterns on my terracotta dinnerware set (I blogged about the bowls here, and that post contains all the links to other parts of the set). I simply applied graphite to the reverse side of the design and traced the floral outlines,


transferring the pattern to the vase.


Then I began, colour by colour, to paint in the design with glaze.


As can be seen here, it wasn't possible to remove all the debris from the initial disaster, so I resolved to simply take the chance on re-glazing and see if these blemishes added an interesting effect to the final vase.


The underlying vase is a pale colour but I decided NOT to glaze paint any outlines on the design this time round. Though the lines between colours appear quite strong in this picture, I expected that it would be more subtle in the firing.


After the disaster of three years ago, I liked the look of the melted blue glass so did not have it removed with the other detritus. I hoped the second attempt at firing the vase would not be unkind to this effect.


I was pleased with the final results.


Signs of the first firing are random and not particularly intrusive (for instance the interior spot visible on the right side in this picture) .


Another view of the fired vase.


This view shows that the stained glass was happy enough with the second firing, showing off it's mix of several colours of blue.


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

draped slab dish - crackle white

Last week I blogged about the draped slab dish I had made and decided to glaze with a glaze I hadn't used before "crackle white". That blog can be seen here. When the dish came out of the kiln, it simply looked like it was glazed with solid white glaze (the underside had a clear glaze, so the terracotta clay showed through, as it does on the edges as can be seen in this photo).


To complete the crackle effect, some India ink and a paintbrush are necessary.


The ink is painted on the plate.


Make sure the whole plate is covered,


Using a damp cloth, wipe the plate



but if any spots are missed, the process can just be repeated.


The finished plate has a lovely crackle effect on the white glaze.


Here is a detail of the crackle white on this dish!


Wednesday, 1 July 2020

draped slab dish - glazing

Of course it was all so long ago that I was at the ceramics workshop. Everything went into lockdown in March and while workshops haven't yet resumed, the facilitator returned, with other staff, to prepare the building for a return to activities in the coming weeks. This enabled loading the kiln a few times to fire pots that had been languishing on shelves for the past three months, including some of mine! 

For these terracotta draped slab dishes, I decided I would glaze the undersides with a clear glaze so that handling the finished dishes would not be a rough sensation.


I hadn't tried the crackle white glaze before but decided it was high time that I did! This glaze is a two-parter: the pot is glazed solidly with the one colour and then after firing India ink is rubbed in to produce the crackle effect.


It is not apparent, when the dishes are fired, that there is anything special about the glaze - it will just look white. This is the view from the kiln of one of the dishes.


The clear glaze on the underside makes for a smooth finish. Next week I will show what happens with the India ink and the crackle white glaze.


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Kingswood Iris

In February 2019, I started preparing some canvas pieces with a view to creating some smaller works in the Memory Is My Homeland series. Further details and images related to this series, including additional links, can be found here.


As usual, I applied a ground coat of quinacridone violet acrylic paint. My plans were to do a piece using oilstick & graphite, so while ensuring that the canvas ground was protected with gesso, I also expected some colour may show through and I wanted colour as opposed to white.


This particular canvas piece was long and narrow and I knew the finished work would be vertical rather than horizontal. After finishing the large painting, Kingswood, I was leaning towards making hollyhocks my subject. However, other flowers in that painting, which are meaningful to me, are the purple iris, a clump of which were situated by the steps at the front of the house for the duration of my growing-up years. This summer my daily coronavirus short walks take me past some beautiful iris in my current neighbourhood and I decided that I preferred to make them my subject again (iris have appeared in MANY works over the years).


Work-in-progress in the studio.


Kingswood Iris
oilstick & graphite on unstretched canvas
approx 87 cm x 30 cm
2020