Wednesday, 12 May 2021

old notebook pages

While I was recently sorting through several large correspondence boxes (organising/ culling/ amalgamating) I came across an envelope full of pages from small (only about 5 inches x 3 inches) notebooks I kept in 1981, after I finished art school. I had obviously already culled them at some previous date, only keeping pages that I thought were interesting. I know that these pages came from several different notebooks as there were two back pages in the envelope. One of the back pages, along with doodles, has an advert for a storefront for rent. I never lived in or rented a shop but I must have been thinking of it as an option in my early Toronto days. One of the doodles represents an image of an egg and its shadows that I had previously created as a large silkscreen print in my 2nd year of art school, so obviously the image stayed with me.

I would have had the notebooks in my handbag or pocket with me at all times, and used them constantly, especially if my normal sketchbook was too big to carry around. These are some idea sketches for paintings; my work with flowers was very abstracted at the time.

I actually remember being fascinated by the red ash berries in front of the white brick walls at one section of Ontario Hydro where I was working at the time. I know I did some larger works on paper, based on this image, but they probably were binned at the time of my first great purge in 1988.

I was often doodling this insecure selfie image, which first made an appearance in a sketch I made in NYC on my second visit there, on an art school trip in the spring of 1981.

I also did sketches where ever I was. This is whatever was on the table while waiting to be served in a greasy spoon restaurant.

I imagine I was waiting for someone to get out of the loo, so I just doodled a selfie in a restaurant.

Again the abstract flower motif and a little bit of writing that didn't get obliterated in the initial cull of this notebook.

Thinking of the brick wall and ash motif. The rest of that writing starts on the previous page and refers to a series of nightmares the night before, most especially that there was something wrong with my hands and I was afraid I'd never paint again.

Again, here are some idea sketches for future abstract flower paintings. I remember doing one similar to the top sketch but in a vertical format. Two red "tulips" on a primarily turquoise background, with a pale blue underpainting. 

This is  a series of doodles on top of "requirements" for something -- of what I have no idea! The phrase "2 or 3 essays" is identifiable. I did start York University the following year, but essays were not part of the admittance requirement for the BFA course...

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

writing & publishing

Along with numerous writers world wide, I spent the month of April partipating in Na/GloPoWriMo (National/Global Poetry Writing Month) as I have done for the past five years. The premise is to write a poem daily based on a specific (optinal) prompt. In addition, there are links to both live and pre-recorded poetry readings, which are amazing to follow; not all live events work with the differences in time zones, but some do. These are great introductions to the work of other poets that may have been previously unknown to you, or even reminders to listen to known poets. Following the prompts has led to writing unexpected poems and learning about other poem forms. Some of the poems written during NaPoWriMo I have continued to work on, revising and tweaking, and eventually publishing. Although I began taking part in 2017, during several non-April months, I have looked back at the archive and worked on prompts for several previous years (working backwards I have one more year, 2013, to finish, which I plan to complete by the end of this year).

Last week an email interview that I undertook with Elizabeth Challinor of Orbit Magazine was published. I thought it was very appropriate to the month that was in it, as the focus of the interview was the founding of Precariat Press last year, which I blogged about here. The full interview can be read here.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Incognito 2021 complete!

Every year, I think since 2013, I have taken part in the Incognito fundraiser for the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation. This foundation provides in-home and respite care for young children with neuro-developmental issues and their families. The premise of the fundraiser is that the artist creates up to three images on specific sized cards and only signs the back of the card; all cards have the same price-tag, regardless of who created them (well-known artists and public personalities take part, as well as lesser-known people!); the identity of the maker is only revealed when the sale is done.

This is the second year, because of covid19, that the fundraiser was an online affair. Works were available to preview for several weeks before the sale and potential buyers would register in advance to take part in the sale.

Leading up to the sale, there was a fair bit of online promotional activity, and I also took part in this by posting screenshots of some of the pages that included my work.

I tend to either use print proofs or painting sketches of whatever I happen to be working on at the time.
This past year I have been working on a number of prints related to my body of work, Memory Is My Homeland, so it was a simple enough matter for me to affix several tests of my linoprints onto the Incognito cards. If you are familiar with my work, follow this blog, or follow me on other social media, you will easily pick out my black and white linoprint tests in these three screenshots.

At this point, the artist names have all been revealed on the website. The exhibition sold out and raised €188,000 for Jack & Jill which is the value of 11,000 nursing hours to ill children! Congratulations everyone! 

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Portraiture workshops

In February I had taken a free portrait drawing workshop from Raw Umber Studios and greatly enjoyed it. I blogged about it here. A few friends had also taken the workshop at the same time and we posted (via whatsapp) pictures to each other, after which we decided we would do something similar again. With some simple google research I found that there were various drawing workshops available online and even Raw Umber Studios had its own YouTube channel where they posted some previous portrait drawing workshops. So another session was planned with my friends, where we all watched the same video. Although the format was exactly the same, with workshop facilitation by instructor Lizet Dingemans, there was not the livestream capability of having real-time questions answered. This, however, was not a huge deterrent for any of us, as we weren't availing of the question and answer facility anyway. We decided on the model "Heather" and got to work. As with the previous workshop, there were three "poses" (well-lit photographs) starting with a basic ten minute pose.

I had previously found that the charcoal I was using was harder than I wanted, so I simply used a black pastel, which was easy to smudge. This is the twenty minute pose.

For the thirty minute pose I decided to use black and white conté on grey paper.

At the end of March I found out that another free workshop was available (I have since discovered that during the pandemic Raw Umber is providing a monthly free workshop) and the group of us signed up for it again. I decided that working on the flat table led to a few foreshortening difficulties for me, so I decided to set up my easel. This is my workshop set-up in the kitchen.

The model "Arnie" had a great head of hair, dreadlocks pulled back in the ten minute pose, so I decided to work horizontally.

I seem to enjoy the shorter poses the best. This is another ten minute pose, "Raveena", which was part of a YouTube recording that I availed of recently. There will be another free workshop at the end of the month, which I plan to sign up for. The workshops for me are just an excuse to "get together" with friends and enjoy a Sunday afternoon doing something that we all like doing.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Pluid Project

I can't remember how I heard about this project, but after reading about it, I decided to take part. "Pluid" means "comfort blanket" in Irish, and the point of the call-out was to think of ways we, as individuals, have found solace in this past year of covid lockdowns and isolation/separation from our usual life interactions.

I have actually not seen any major disruption to my work - in fact over the past year I have been inspired by so many things which I normally did not have access to. I have attended various artistic workshops & weekly artist talks through zoom and I have had the time and inclination to found Precariat Press, which I have blogged about here. In addition, I have been working on painting and printmaking for an upcoming exhibition next year, so I have been quite busy professionally. I have of course missed out on being able to meet up with friends physically and some major travel plans were cancelled last year (and I am not making any travel plans for this year). But I have been enjoying a lot of remote international entertainment - archaeology and music podcasts, theatre, opera, poetry readings, literary events, and music - and quite a lot of this I would have been unable to attend in person if there was no pandemic!

So essentially I would say that I found solace through activity!  I decided to make images inspired by my daily park walks and continuued my experiments with contact printmaking, after taking the Graphic Studio Dublin zoom workshop (facilitated by Clare Henderson) a awhile ago. I created several pieces in the format required by Pluid. Rosehips, ink on kozo paper (contact print), 15cm x 15cm, 2021.

Wild Rose, ink on kozo paper (contact print), 15cm x 15cm, 2021.

I was happy with two of the prints, so packaged them off and sent to Pluid to be included in the national comfort blanket exhibition. I am also happy if these prints help raise some funds for Piéta House, which I think is an amazing charity.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Open Fragment

In the past year especially, I have seen quite a lot of open calls for online opportunities. As I had recently dealt with destroying a large oilstick work from 1989 but couldn't part (yet) with a number of elements from the painting/drawing (I blogged about it here) the open call for "Open Fragment" was serendipitous! As recent work was requested I wrote to the curators for clarification - while the original work was created in 1989, the fragments created by destroying Sea of Roses could be seen as new works from 2021. 

The curators wrote back to me and encouraged me to make a submission and it was a simple enough process, so I did.

The online exhibition was organised by Pragmata Collective, a UK-based artist/curator duo (Adele Lazzeri and Toby Kidd) who are interested in an experimental approach to curation, which they fully outline in the exhibition statement.

I submitted an image of my piece along with a short statement about it. The various artist statements were submitted to an electronic device which randomly read out parts of statements during the online launch of the exhibition. It was very interesting to hear this electronic mash-up of words, though my computer could not handle the TWITCH site for the duration of the launch.

I retitled this fragment from Sea of Roses as Jetsam. I thought the definition of jetsam as "unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore, especially material that has been discarded to lighten the vessel" was appropriate to my destruction of the original 1989 work and personally lightening my load...

It took me awhile to figure out the numbering system, but that is because I was randomly clicking on the numbers on the site rather than simply looking up the list of artists which was provided.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Contact Printing

 A couple of weeks ago I was excited to take part in a Zoom workshop on contact printing, a simple and straightforward technique of making monoprints that has somehow managed to elude me. The workshop was put on by Graphic Studio Dublin (which has also been hosting fabulous artist talks every Friday morning) and facilitated by artist Clare Henderson who had sent out materials packs in advance of the workshop. Although I had tried this technique before, I was never able to get good results so was really looking forward to actual instruction to help me come to grips with it. As with other remote workshops that I have taken over lockdown, I commandeered the kitchen for a workspace. 

The materials pack included a new roller, azua ink, magneisum powder, spreaders, an acetate plate and sheets of newsprint as well as various sheets of fine Japanese printing paper. Participants were asked to bring rags, bowl of water, a variety of mark-making tools and masking tape.

The instructions were clear and straightforward: attach the fine paper to the acetate, cover with the newsprint, roll out azua ink on the acetate plate, fold the paper over the ink, cover with the newsprint and make marks on the newsprint. The pressure marks made on the newsprint would lift the ink from the acetate plate to create the monoprint. There was a beautiful additional light background texture that the paper would pick up from the rolled ink where pressure hadn't been applied. This is my first test print.

For my second test print I worked larger and only used a few mark-making tools (pencil and some stamps)/

I couldn't believe how quickly the time went by, but I definitely got an understanding of the process. Here is my workspace towards the end of the workshop. I didn't need to use the magnesium powder but Clare Henderson went over its use and demonstrated how to mix it with the azua if the ink was not viscous enough.

Clare Henderson specifically recommended azua inks when I asked about using other water-based inks. However, I did not want to go out and buy a new set of inks when I already have large tubs of Speedball ink, which I use for lino and wood block prints. I have found Speedball inks infinitely superior to other lino inks that I have attempted to use so I wanted to try them out on contact prints. Here is the contact print I made using Speedball ink and I am very happy with the results! I used a pencil and a hard eraser to make the marks.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021


I am working slowly but steadily on the large painting, Knockeen, which is based on my memories of the place and events of my time at the second house I lived in, in Kerry, from the spring of 1995 to the fall of '96 (when I returned to Bray). To bring you up to speed, I previously blogged about starting this painting here and its very early stages here. In the last week of February it looked like this.

I started adding some darker blue into the night section of the sky, several of the calla lilies (from a dream), the blue glass ball on the gate, and I used blue to start the delineation of the animals (cows and people). Several years ago, I posted pictures of a couple of works on paper that are relevant to this painting, their subject matters being the Kerry night sky and Comet Hyakutake in one, and the field gate and ruin in the other. You can check out those images and that post here.

Here is a close-up of the blocked-in callalilies. I had never seen so many callalilies till I moved to Kerry. Huge bunches of the white flowers graced country lawns, but when I dreamt of them they were pink and blue.

I knew I wanted a deeper green around the flowers than I had first blocked in, so I mixed a different colour. This also added a more definite shape to the flowers.

Here is a more detailed picture of the figures and cows being delineated by blue.

I added in some more purple (dioxazine violet) as my preferred stand-in for black, delineating the ruins, the two outbuildings, and some of the clothing on the figures.

No, I did not use brown for hair or an outbuilding - this is a mix of dioxazine violet, cadmium red medium and a smidgen of cadmium yellow light! Another shade of green can be seen in the bush here too. I also used some titanium white on the cows and t-shirt of the woman, plus some pale pink for the snouts of the beasts. Coming along nicely!

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Lá Fhéile Padraig!

Since my child was very little, we marked each month with seasonal decorations, so there was always something to look forward to. Many of the decorations are homemade and used every year, stored for annual use. I made paper shamrocks of varying sizes which could be blue-tacked up in any number of configurations. Here are some shamrocks with the LED lights on the glass bricks in the kitchen.

Decorations made in school have also been kept. This little decoration always hangs on the kitchen door at this time of year. Judging by the scribbles of colour and the pre-made regularity of the shapes, I think this decoration is very early in the primary years!

More shamrocks take up space on the other side of the glass bricks, in the entrance hallway opposite the coat rack.

The hallway is also the home to bunting, flags, more shamrocks, and a pendant on the door leading to the living room.

St Patrick's Day is Ireland's national holiday and this is the second year that live national festivities have been cancelled due to covid. It will still be celebrated in my house, however, with a festive meal and some Irish coffee. Abarta Heritage did a very interesting podcast, in their Amplify Archaeology series, that gives further information on the historical figure who was St Patrick; have a listen to it here

Lá Fhéile Padraig!