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

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

starting the chapbook mock-up

I have been working away at the chapbook, sorting and shortlisting poems, making decisions regarding the cover (a lino print), etc. -- more details are in previous posts, which can be found here. In researching a poetry chapbook format, I realised I must create a mock-up chapbook in order to finalise what goes where! For instance, I need to allocate pages for acknowledgements, contents, press information, author information, interior title page, any blank pages and a page for the edition number with press logo. This will be a 32 page A5 chapbook, so the first thing to do was get 4 sheets of A4 paper and fold them in half (utilising both sides, each A4 page is equal to 4 pages).

Because I plan to do a 3-hole traditional chapbook binding, the folded pages fit inside each other.

The binding will be visible on the exterior and at the centre of the chapbook, where the binding knot will be tied at the interior centre.

The cover, here represented by grey card, is sligtly bigger than A5 as it must wrap around and enclose all the chapbook pages.

This means that the page itself is slightly larger than A4. With this measurement, I can now cut the paper for printing the lino. I am planning to finish the lino block and have the printing of the cover completed in July.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Grasp the Arts!

I came across the #GRASPTHEARTS campaign a few weeks ago, and have been thinking and talking about it since. In a nutshell, it is a "participation and support campaign in solidarity for Ireland's prolific creative industries across all genres, during the COVID-19 pandemic". Personally I think the campaign is a good one regardless of the pandemic, but coronavirus provided the impetus. For further information on the campaign have a look at this. Essentially, artists in any genre create a sculptural "grasp" and share a photograph of it on social media, along with a series of hashtags. It can be seen by wide participation just how large and varied the cultural industry is.

COVID-19 has certainly made more people realise how important the arts are as entertainment of all sorts (music events,visual arts exhibitions, theatres, cinemas) has been shut down or postponed. Lots of events have gone online - music gigs on facebook, free theatre on youtube, poetry readings on instagram, and visual art exhibitions, talks, and workshops - and most are freely available. Artists have been stepping up to keep people busy and sane during lockdown. I finally dedicated some time to participate in this project. I decided I would use salt dough to make my "grasp" and a simple recipe for salt dough is given here. It takes all of about five minutes to make and form a hand-sized tube.

I took the plunge and grabbed the dough firmly.

Following instructions, I placed the "grasp" on a parchment-covered cookie sheet.

I almost forgot to pierce holes at top and bottom of the "grasp". One hole is for a tag label and though I wasn't sure what the second hole was for, I did it anyway! The recommendation is to bake in an oven on its lowest setting for about an hour and a half. Admittedly, mine seemed a bit moist still so I microwaved it for a few minutes more, again on the lowest setting.

 Since I had used self-raising flour, I thought my "grasp" strongly resembled a loaf of bread. The socialist in me immediately thought of the phrase "bread & roses" and I decided to take my photo in the front yard with a wild rose in bloom. I think this is appropriate to the campaign too - the necessities of life are thought to be food, shelter and clothing but these are not enough to sustain the soul. Art is a necessity to life.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

raspberry smash cocktail

I have long since considered raspberries as the quintessential fruit of the gods, so they are always welcome! The beautiful and delicious berries herald the summer and I especially adore the ones from our nearby grower in July. But until then, I will enjoy the imports from Spain and Portugal at every opportunity.

It was recently my child's 18th birthday and cocktails were requested to celebrate! We complied with raspberry smashes one day and mojitos for the virtual picnic party. A lot of cocktails require a sugar syrup, so it is best make this in advance and have ready in the fridge.

Just over a week from my child's birthday, was the 18th birthday of my friend's daughter. A request was made for the rasberry smash recipe - I had already planned the gift of ingredients and recipe card, so this was an easy wish to grant.

I made a recipe card:

I am not sure about my friend's daughter, but my 18 year old prefers the non-alcoholic cocktail, where ginger ale replaces the gin. The carbonation of the ginger ale makes it look a little different (the drink on the right); regardless, these cocktails are extremely delicious and summery...

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

preparing aubergine deliciously!

I seem to know a lot of people who don't like eggplant/aubergine/melanzane (your choice of word!) but I have always enjoyed this vegetable as a real treat. I have several specific recipes where it is the key ingredient - my recipe for Imam Bayildi is here - and I always try Melanzane alla Parmigiana when given the opportunity in a restaurant (like in Rome or an Italian restaurant in Barelona...) to see if my version is authentic (it is). But aubergines are fabulous also when they are simply prepared and fried or grilled and eaten with some crusty bread, olive oil, and some cheese. The first time I went to Rome, every morning for breakfast I enjoyed an omelette, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese & a slice of melanzane all jammed and heated deliciously in a panini. As you might expect, this kept me fortified for intensive site-seeing for 5 days in this magnificent city!

To prepare the aubergines, top and tail, and then slice lenthways as if slicing a loaf of bread (I always prepare 2 at the same time). Place in layers in a collander, salting each layer before adding another layer. Leave to drain for at least 5 minutes.

Rinse well, and then pat dry, gently on a clean dish towel.

Put some flower on a plate and coat the aubergine on both sides.

Add coated aubergines to a hot, oiled pan. They will cook fairly quickly, which is obvious as they start to brown. They can be eaten hot or cold, or used as the basis for Melanzane alla Parmigiana (put in layers with a simple tomato sauce and cheeses - a method similar to a lasagne but there is no pasta in the dish). I think these would be lovely grilled on the bbq too, and must try this over the al fresco season!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Knockeen - preparations for new large painting

I am getting ready to embark on another large painting for the Memory Is My Homeland series. After moving to Ireland in the winter of 1993, we moved to Kerry early in the new year of 1994. We rented a house at Darby's Bridge and got married the following year. I think our landlord was very worried that we were getting too ensconced in our little village (the whole village celebrated our wedding, both before and on the day!) and pulled the rug out from under our rental. As we were not ready to leave Kerry just yet, we had a fair bit of help (both human and supernatural!) in finding another place to live. Knockeen, just outside Portmagee, was our rural home for the next year and a half. It is representative of the huge part of my life as an emigrant, getting settled, living rurally, being married, and continuing with my creative life. My Dad also died in 1995, which precipitated my return to civilisation the following year. But in the meantime, there was so much that I remember about this place: the brisk swims in Portmagee Channel (behind our house), the most amazing blackberries from our own boreen, the fuchsia hedges on the roadside, the brilliant red-orange montbretia and wild roses winding and beneath those hedges, the ubiquitous and mischievious cows, the smell and look of grassy wedges of unprocessed turf, the phenomenal night sky with no light pollution - perfect views of the river of the Milky Way and Comet Hyakutake, and so much more. Of course, even for a large painting I have to pick and choose what concepts will be represented.  I sketched the composition I had in my head. I inluded blackberries, calla lillies (I saw these for the first time in rural Kerry gardens and used them in an installation tribute to my Dad; I blog about that here), fuschia, wild roses, the buildings of the house, sheds, and ruins, the gate that led to the field at the front of the house, the night sky, and of course several cows.

I envisage this as mostly a daylight painting, but insist that Comet Hyakutake and the night sky must make an appearance. When I was in Venice last October, I visited the Peggy Guggenheim collection and this Magritte painting, Empire of Light, has night and day together, so my painting won't be the first to introduce such an anomaly. Whereas Magritte's painting is disturbing and somewhat menacing, I am adding the night sky in recognition of it's magnificence - the feeling of natural awe.

As everything is blooming at the moment, it was easy enough for me to simply go outside and sketch some of the foliage from the wild rose in the front yard. It is the same plant that was across the road from our house in Darby's Bridge, which we brought with us when we moved to Knockeen and planted beside the gate, then uprooted it again to bring with us when we moved back to Bray in 1996.

There is a wild fuschia hedge in the front yard too. The wild cuttings overtook the garden varieties when we planted them outside the current house when we moved here nearly 18 years ago. Each year the hedge grows to a massive size, which the bees love, and gets cut back in the winter.

I did a colour composition sketch that has all the elements and general placements that will appear in the final painting. I was looking at some previous work I have done related to Knockeen here and here. In the earlier image of the comet, it appeared in the sky at a different angle so I will probably be changing that in the final painting. A few more research drawings and I'll be ready to start!

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Home Sweet Home Goodbye - chapbook

In a previous post I spoke about founding a press to produce my first chapbook (info here) and in another post I spoke about the card I made my Grandmother in 1969 (info here), which has inspired the title and cover design for this first chapbook of poems. To get a better idea of lino design, I used a black marker to create sketches for the cover design sketches. This allowed me to immediately see what changes I needed to make before proceeding.

In a later sketch I also used a white pen to make contrast more apparent.

To transfer the design onto the lino block, I used the simple, old-fashioned technique involving tracing paper

and graphite.

Once the tracing paper was ready, it was affixed to the lino block using masking tape (ie, the tracing paper was taped down on the other side of the lino block).

This picture shows the ready-for-cutting lino block beside the template sketch.

This picture shows that I have started cutting into the lino! NB the picture was taken at an angle in order to see the groove marks that cutting makes.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Last year, shortly after I started the Home Project, the beginnings of which you can see here and here, I stretched several small pieces of canvas on wood with the intention of doing more oilstick drawings. I got sidetracked by deciding to work on a large painting, rather than work small again, which resulted in the large painting of the main house of my formative years, Kingswood. I have since entitled this body of work Memory is My Homeland. 

After stretching the canvas on the wood, I gave it several coats of gesso. This is especially important as the media I was planning to use was oilstick.

For many years now I have painted a ground coat on a gessoed canvas in quinacridone violet. I think there is a luminescence to this colour and I don't mind if it shows through in a finished work, so I can leave edges rough if needs be.

In my current series my desire is to show more than simply the architecture of a place where I lived, but things associated with those places. Over the year that I haven't worked on the small canvases, I have kept them in mind. When I came across a Polaroid of an oil portrait I had painted of a woman who was briefly my room-mate in a shared flat in 1981, I thought to take that memory and do something with it. I have previously spoken of this place and its relation to the series here.  The Polaroid of the painting is all that exists of the portrait of a room-mate whose name eludes me, though I remember quite a few things about her with fondness.

Room-Mate, oilstick on unstretched canvas, 41 cm x 34.5 cm, 2020