Wednesday, January 28, 2009

visual language - marks, colour, tone. speed and a bit of collage

Liquid, collage, hand made sketchbook experiment. Vivien Blackburn

I've been talking to friends and students about visual language a lot just lately.
Playing a Suzanne Vega CD in the car coming home, some of her lyrics echoed the conversations - so visual and expressive:

If language were liquid
It would be rushing in
Instead here we are
In a silence more eloquent
Than any word could ever be
These words are too solid
They don't move fast enough
To catch the blur in the brain
That flies by and is gone
Find the line,
find the shape
Through the grain
Find the outline,
things will
Tell you their name
Suzanne Vega, from Language and Night Vision

'too solid'
- 'don't move fast enough to catch the blur in the brain' before it's gone - yes that's sketching in the landscape with our changing English light. Fleeting flashes of sunlight or passing clouds on the sea or a hillside, pure drama . This is why so often I like to sketch in oils, it's possible to add the light back over darks, make major changes on the run. Trying to catch the blur in the brain.

Regular sketching plein air helps you build a visual vocabulary - a shorthand that helps you catch these things quickly - but never quickly enough!

Using a wide variety of marks makes the difference between the equivalent of cheapo Romantic Fiction and Literature. A varied language of marks in your head to draw on at need means it's easier to catch what interests you.

I encourage students to 'play' in sketchbooks trying out all sorts of ways of using their paints, combining them, mixing unusual combinations of media to see what happens, using tools other than paintbrushes like twigs, credit cards, the edges of card, spray bottles, combs, splattering, flicking paint, scratching through, pouring, adding collage, varying the speed at which marks are made - a mark made faster is freer than a slow and careful mark, experiment with this etc etc etc ...... once learned they can use these as appropriate (but never simply as gimmicks please! ).

And the silence so important - the quiet parts of a painting that allow the busier parts to shine. It's so easy to lose the quiet areas with overworking.

Painting and Drawing is a language like French or English - a vocabulary of marks, colour, tone, line, shape, balance, intervals , edges, mass, composition, surface ..... anything else? I'm sure there are things I haven't listed :>) The bigger your vocabulary to use at need the easier to express what you want :>)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Aylestone Meadows, Winter Sunlight

Aylestone Meadows, pollarded willow, detail
I did this mixed media sketch in the leather sketchbook, it's smaller than the one on Watermarks (link at end of post) It didn't photograph or scan very well on the hand made paper so I've shown a detail above which shows the glowing colours.
The late afternoon sun glowed amber on the pollarded willows but the surrounding landscape was all cold pale blue greys and dried reeds and grasses. It was a very cold day.

Pollarded Willow, Aylestone Meadows, Vivien Blackburn

I'm planning to revisit this area over the course of the year, looking at it as the seasons and light change.

I was sketching near these willows once when I saw a grass snake come swimming down towards me and come out just next to me through the reeds - he just slithered leisurely on his way, totally ignoring me.

There is a larger painting of the same trees on the Watermarks blog.

Do you revisit a place, studying it in different lights? Tina has written a good post on her interest in this on Watermarks today.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

back to the coast: the lavender marsh at Thornham

Old tree stumps and sea lavender at Thornham, North Norfolk, oil/mixed media, plein air, Vivien Blackburn

Whilst looking out a large sketchbook (A3) to work in this morning I came across this plein air painting I'd forgotten about.

This is the salt marsh at Thornham in Norfolk, when the sea lavender is in flower it creates this lovely mauve haze over the vegetation with its millions of tiny flowers. The tree stumps were once part of a wood that has been swamped by the sea and are worn, grooved and weathered to pale ghosts.

There is a salt marsh harbour here on the main creek accessible to boats only at high tide.

other paintings of Norfolk:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

linoprinting and personality tests

Sue at Ancient Artist put this fun quiz on her blog and of course I couldn't resist looking

This is my result

What Does Your Taste in Music Say About You?

Your musical tastes are reflective and complex. yes

You are intellectual to the point of being cerebral. mmmm friends would need to answer that, maybe (though no Einstein believe me!)

You are very open to new experiences, and even more open to new ideas and theories. Yes

Wisdom and personal accomplishment are important to you. yes

You are naturally sophisticated. errr....don't think so!

You are drawn to art, especially art by independent artists. yes

You are likely to be financially well off... and not because you were born that way. huh! I wish!

what's yours? click here to see

I did some 'proper' lino printing today and will scan them in a day or two. They are on the rack drying at the moment.

Monday, January 19, 2009

more linoprinting experimenting

Night Beach, Linoprint with coloured pencil, 6x10 inches, Vivien Blackburn

This linoprint was done with softer lino - much easier to cut. Again I inked it up with oil paint with a brush. I actually like the brush marks, though I do intend to do some 'proper' prints from it with lino ink, which will give a velvety matte monochrome print, not at all like this one. I have a feeling I'm going to prefer to work this way - it's more painterly and each print will be different.

Coloured pencils were worked over it to give more subtlety and mystery to the night beach - well that was the intention anyway! :>)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

expert linoprinting

NOT my work I'm afraid but a print I own, one of an edition of 6. It's a large linoprint about 18 inches tall by Sarah Kirby, a fellow member of the print workshop I used to attend. She's a really superb printmaker. This is above my TV and I never tire of it.

I think working on a larger scale is probably easier in lino as I find it isn't easy to get delicate lines on a small scale. Not so easy to get a good quality print without a press of course.

With lino the notion of 'notan' is important - the balance between dark and light and the counterchanges of light against dark and dark against light - I think this print shows this perfectly.

Do you like it?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

waterways project: aylestone meadows, winter

Aylestone Meadows, Winter, sketch, Vivien Blackburn, charcoal, watercolour and gouache on hand made paper 6x4 ish

A small sketch on hand made paper of the water meadows and the medieval packhorse bridge in the cold winter light. The light today is grey/white and leaches the colours, making the world almost monochrome. The bare branches make intricate lacy patterns.

It was done mostly in charcoal and charcoal pencil with a little watercolour, small touches of coloured pencil and white gouache on a pale beige paper.

You can see earlier work in the series here or here. At Watermarks, our group blog, some of us are going to revisit a place throughout the year as the light and seasons change, noting the changes in colour and mood with time. This is going to be 'my' place to revisit. It only takes about 15 minutes in the car and I like the area with its canal, stream and multiple bridges from the medieval through Victorian to modern.

This is to be part of a series on local waterways that I started some time back - it got put on a back burner due to circumstances outside my control - as politicians say - but I'm hoping to get back to it now, in between other work.

Are you working on a series? leave a link if you are?

Friday, January 09, 2009

doodling with collage

collage and mixed media, Vivien Blackburn

An experiment with collage. I had some lovely marbled paper that a gift had come in and decided to use it as the start of a small image in my little leather bound sketchbook with the hand made paper.

There are 2 pieces of marbled paper, selected for the shapes printed. I then used coloured pencils, felt pen and a little biro to match colours and extend the swirls, adapt them and add the rocks and sea - I may adjust it slightly yet,

You can see more collages of mine here.

A friend mentioned that it reminded her of those dress prints of the 1960s! it does have that feel doesn't it?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

linoprinting update

A linoprinting update: Experimenting

I've been experimenting with oil paint painted onto to the lino. It has an interesting texture from the brush marks and I think this is something I'll experiment further with,

On the left I worked into the print - done with pthalo blue oil paint - wetting the brush with turps to spread thinner paler areas of tone in some places such as the sky.

I scumbled coloured pencils over the cliffs to get the effect of the vegetation in shadow and the sand to get the grainy texture. It's made up of several colours overlaid loosely.

There is a little more variation of colour than shows here - some slightly greener areas of sea and those stylised clouds are a little paler.

This is all purely experimental, seeing what I can do with the lino, changing it, combining other media.
I don't think the stylised clouds look so good with the more painterly stuff elsewhere - I want to do some stylised prints and then I may cut the clouds out and cut some off the top of the lino and play with painterly effects.

With this one I may see how pastel pencils work - it needs to dry first though. I used the coloured pencils on wet oil paint.

It doesn't perhaps show clearly here but these made me think of the railway posters from the 30s? 40s? I really like those. Maybe at some time I could try a much larger lino and really go for that feel.

I was never particularly keen on linoprinting but these experiments - and some of the great tips on different approaches you've told me about - make me want to do some more :>)

So any further comments, crit, feedback welcome :>)

Monday, January 05, 2009


Over on our group Watermarks blog Lindsay has just done an interesting post on Kurt Jackson. Tomorrow I'm doing a follow up to it.

It made me digress into influences on our work and the importance of looking at other artists past and present, learning, but retaining our own 'voice'. We are all influenced, consciously or unconsciously by work we see. David Prentice quotes Rupert Bear (childrens books) as an influence with their aerial viewpoint in the illustrations. :>) His work has this wonderful feeling of flying slightly above the scene but isn't remotely illustrational.

I love marks - splatters and scratches and brushmarks and knife marks, drawing with a twig to get those lovely not-quite-predictable marks I also love colour and masses and line. I spent some time managing to work out how to unite my disparate interests into a cohesive image when I was at college.

Influences range from KJ to Monet, Turner, Gwen John, Joan Eardley, Egon Schiele (love his use of line), Cezanne, Ross Loveday, David Tress, Rembrandt, Aubrey Beardsley, Lucian Freud, Rothko, Pollock, Toulouse Lautrec ...... and so many more, elements of lots of people have influenced me - some seemingly incompatible - the incisive fluid lines of Schiele and the colour fields of Rothko - but hopefully that's what makes me, ME, managing to combine elements of influence but twisting them in my own way

image 1: Monotype - a one-off monoprint using oil paints, wet sand, shells and pebbles as the tide ebbs

Image 2: plein air oil painting on a winter day, wet sand and mud. where the creek meanders down to the sea in the evening light.

Do check in at Watermarks - there are some great people there and some lovely work and lively discussion :>)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

linoprinting 2

There were some really good tips in the comments on the last post on linoprinting, so I'm showing them here - I thought they were excellent and I don't suppose a lot of people read the comments on blogs unless they are commenting themselves?
Lindsay said...
Yes, I agree that printmaking is more process oriented. Sometimes the graphic quality really appeals to me. Very nice explaination here and I'd only add one hint that helped me with multiple prints. I made sure the basement laundry line was clear and readied with cloths pins. Hanging the prints up to dry insured that my flat surfaces in the studio did not get taken up for 24 hours with drying prints.

.... Amazing what some people can get with a spoon! I tried the water-based inks, but hate them! They dry too quickly and often don't roll evenly.I don't even use them for proofing (though schools are sticklers for the wretched stuff!) My advice to others is use good quality oil-based inks and el cheapo cooking oil for cleaning. As you say, kinder to the hands and the airways.And while lino prints are usually relief method, you can also print intaglio from lino.

Thank you for detailing your process Vivien. I did some collagraphs in 2007 using acrylic paints and we mixed them with Talens Thickening Medium to keep the paint workable. It worked quite well, you only need a little or it goes very thick. Also clean up with tissue paper to get rid of most of the residue as it goes all slimy if you add water. You can get a similar consistency to printing inks using this method, i.e. it has a 'sticky' texture.

Tina Mammoser
Nice to see your process with this. :) I really love linocuts, in fact they are appeal to my love of crisp line and edge which of course doesn't come through in my paintings.A couple other tips: a japenese brayer is definite a nice easy tool, japanese paper is also a great way to get an easy print. Much thinner so it picks up edges and detail much more easily. I've always printed my linocuts by hand, and dampen paper with a spray if needed. If you like a nice dark solid print sandpaper the surface of the lino lightly before carving. :)Lino is such a quick easy thing to start. If you're hardpressed, oil paints will do in a jiffy instead of ink.

Some food for thought there and things to experiment with :>)

I did learn to print intaglio lino but it needed a printing press and frankly I wasn't very good at it! With that process you can ink up the cutaway and raised parts and you get a bumpy print, fully coloured.

I shall have a go at sandpapering for sure as I do like the velvety solid colour of friends linoprints.

Hand made paper is lovely to print on I agree and has an interesting effect - I've used Indian hand made paper for this in the past.

The line is a very good idea as prints stacked everywhere for 24 hours isn't ideal.

Some of the alternative mediums are in the 'to try' list.

Any further tips are very welcome.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Linoprinting - with a bit of virtual linoprinting too


Linoprinting isn't my favourite form of printmaking but I felt like doing something different, something outside my comfort zone.

Lino creates clear sharp graphic images and I am more comfortable with more painterly printmaking methods, particularly collagraphs and etching with aquatint but they do need a printing press and lino doesn't.

This is the lino itself, I coloured the raised parts with waterproof ink to help me to see how the cut what going - the paler blues and mauves are actually cut away -that's just the remains of some acrylics that I tried that you can see.

Printmaking is quite time consuming - there's a lot of 'process' - but once the plate is made, a number of prints can be produced from it. The number depending on the fragility or not of the lino plate .

The idea is that you cut away any area you don't want to print. The areas you leave behind will be inked, usually in one solid colour but it is possible to do very effective gradients of colour with experience.

You can add other colours to the prints with a variety of media or leave it as a clear graphic image. If you produce a series that are all the same then the convention in printmaking is decide on an edition size and then number each one - if the edition size is to be 50 prints and you are printing number 4 it would be labelled 4/50. It isn't of course compulsory but gives buyers an idea of how many you intend to produce and how unique their image is.

If you hand colour parts of it and each one is different they become Monoprints - a unique image with part of it repeated and the rest unique. Monotypes are completely one-offs and unrepeatable.

The tools needed are here - I don't own expensive tools. I used this cheap cutter with the red handle and various blades. You will also need some printing ink and a roller to apply it. The roller is shown below the cutter in that link.

So, the basic requirements are :
  • a piece of lino
  • a set of lino cutters
  • a roller
  • some printing ink
  • something to roll the ink out onto - formica/glass/perspex or similar
  • paper to print onto - experiment, there are luscious printmaking papers but lots of papers you already have will produce interesting prints

It's quite possible to produce lino prints without a printing press (although you will get a much nicer print if you own an etching press or book press - you could even experiment with a flower press).

You will need something to roll your printing ink out onto, a piece of glass, perspex or formica is ideal, you need a thin film of it which coats the roller lightly, you then roll this across your lino which of course only puts ink onto the parts you haven't cut away. You then carefully lay your paper onto the inked lino plate and putting some strong paper on top to protect your finished work, you rub it firmly, transferring the colour to your paper. You can use your hand or a wooden spoon. If you have a press then you can damp the paper, which maks a better print.

I couldn't reach my inks (which have probably dried out from lack of use) because they are behind a stack of canvasses that I really didn't feel like moving! See new year resolutions about organising and tidying studio < sigh >

I kept the image graphic and stylised, it's loosely based on all those sketches and paintings of Mawgan Porth with the shallow stream winding to the sea and the light catching the wet sand.

I experimented with painting acrylic ink (so NOT designed for printmaking) onto the raised parts of the lino, working fast so that it wouldn't dry too quickly - a beautiful pearlescent lavender/purple - to see if it would print onto some hand made pale beige paper in a lovely leather-bound sketchbook I've just got*. It was half successful - not all of it printed but it came out better than I would have expected - acrylic paint dries too fast and the inks are too thin to coat areas evenly but it left enough colour to make it worthwhile.

The stylised clouds didn't print well and so I worked over them in this version, With proper printing inks everything would be clear and hard edged.

Printmaking inks can be oil or water based. Personally I don't like the water based ones even though cleaning up is easier - they just don't give such a good result. It's possible to start with buying just one colour. I'd go for a Prussian Blue or an Umber. Colour can then be added by hand, making each print unique. Oil based inks need to be left to dry overnight.

Cleaning up can be done with cheap cooking oil - more environmentally friendly - and skin friendly - than turps.

The acrylic ink print gave me an image that I could work into. I used pastel pencils, black biro and gel pen. They all worked pretty well on the hand made paper.

Here I turned the photograph of the printing plate into black and white in the computer - which shows the stylised shapes of the lino plate more clearly - and then added a gradient background.

It is possible with practice to print a background gradient like this with a blank, uncut piece of lino, then overprint when it is dry with your cut plate

Or you can simply paint the background in watercolour, acrylic - whatever you like - and then overprint.

Remember to reverse your image on the plate.

* the little leather bound book with hand made paper is too nice (and too small for me at 7x5 ins) to use for sketching - so I've decided to make it into a book of small finished works. I'll show you how it goes as I fill it.

So now I need to do a 'proper' print from this and see how it works with printmaking inks.

I know a few of you who read this are experienced printmakers and some do very successful linoprints - if you've got a step-by-step or tutorial on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments to help people make sense of my garbled explanations ! :>)

And any tips are welcome too. :>)

and I don't know what George Washington is doing on my cliff! I think I'll have to cut that a bit more and lose that if it shows on the actual plate and not just this computer version - very distracting!