Testing out hanging of Trace Drawing.

In discussions around my Trace Drawings and their potential as Performative pieces- the making and showing as part of the exhibiting, M. and I spoke about how to take it from the making to the showing. How would it be shown? On the ground? On the wall? As a film piece? My feeling is still that it could be made in a space and then hung straight onto the wall- this would cut out the potential for damage to the integrity of what is a very delicate surface. In a way this remains speculative as I have yet to secure an exhibition space, but I set out to show that it could be achieved.

The size of the pieces I have made, 150 x 150 cms, is in part the main challenge, but also using  paper from a roll that tends to roll back up. I knew it would need weighting down in some way so that it hung flat. I can’t quite recall how I came to my idea, but long flat pieces of wood and bulldog clips came to mind. And I had spotted a place on the outside of our conservatory with hooks already in place to try out hanging. I used the large sheet of paper with the aperture cut out (the one used for the trace drawings) which is the same size to test out hanging.

I was really pleased that this seems to have worked well. It has reassured me that it is possible. Inside it was stopped hanging straight down because of the log-burner behind, but I would aim to avoid log-burners and water butts in my selection of gallery space. It also showed me that it would work with hooks or screws, if I had to worry about such things, and there is flexibility in that the bulldog clips can be moved along the wood if required to accommodate fixtures. A useful exercise.

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Making final selection for series.

Using the techniques previously described (in planning towards a series of works and working on a series of works) I finally made 17 paintings. From these I wanted to select 11 for my work that I have decided to call, ‘That’s just how it is’. My intention has been that there should be one work relating to each of the group of 8 willow sculptures, along with the 3 older willows that I have worked from too. Spreading them out was also the first opportunity to properly assess whether the re- sanding of some of the paintings had brought about the uniformity of surface that I was after, so quite pleased with that really. But also this highlights again this odd sense of the conflicting thoughts in trying to embrace ‘wrongness’, but at the same time finding elements that seem ‘too wrong’.

I was aware, as I have previously mentioned, their were a couple of the earlier paintings that just didn’t sit comfortably, mostly for the finish achieved, and I had only made one work relating to some of the willows- so I am pleased that I have been able to select 11 that adhere to my original intention.

Photo Collage of paintings selected for my work ‘That’s just how it is’.

Photo Collage of paintings selected for my work ‘That’s just how it is’.

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Revisiting Sequel II

Making this piece was a way of testing out that a work of this scale could be completed with a similar result. I had hoped to make more spheres, but felt the charcoal sticks and larger sphere would make a slight difference from the previous work. It is clearly a process full of uncertainties (see lessons learned below), and time heavy, but with interesting results.

Sequel II Revisited Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand. Floor Based work 60 x 60 cms

Sequel II Revisited
Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand.
Floor Based work
60 x 60 cms

Trace Drawing made from Sequel II Revisited. Charcoal Dust on Paper. 150 x 150 cms (detail)

Trace Drawing made from Sequel II Revisited.
Charcoal Dust on Paper.
150 x 150 cms

Obviously works of this nature are very fragile to store- a danger of disturbing the surface by rolling and quite large to store or transport flat. I have used a fixative on them and rolled them due to limited storage space. I have spoken with M. about the idea of making work such as this in the gallery where it could be hung after the making and so maintain the integrity of the surface. We spoke about Dieter Roth who would include elements of the making into his exhibitions. He created mixed media installations where assistants would create casts of Roth’s famous chocolate and sugar self- portrait busts. As I still have to work towards the Professional Practice element and do not yet have a venue for exhibition it does add to the difficulty of making decisions about how and what I can do.

I started to look back at some of the earlier trace drawings I have made as I consider how it might best shared in a gallery (or other chosen venue).

In many ways these were the first few ‘accidents’ that set me on this path of recording and capturing something of the end of the process of the making of charcoal. These were made on A2 sized paper, and made me think about using larger sheets for future batches of charcoal.

These were both made on A1, and still capture the energy of that moment. Even these smaller pieces have an equally delicate surface to the larger works which would make them difficult to transport- clearly an issue for assessment, but also for showing.

Seeing the documentation of Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Connecting across country with a line’ at Doug Aitkin’s ‘Station to Station- a 30 day happening’ in London recently did make me think about the possibilities of showing a number of smaller works, along with a film of the process. This may be a suitable way to show the work for assessment, but then for exhibition a studio space could be set up to show the various stages of the process – the making of the spheres, the packing of tins and willow forms with sand, etc. This aspect would clearly depend on the space acquired for exhibition, and negotiation with that space.

Last night I managed to fire some more charcoal tins. I have a few more prepared ready to go and am starting to wonder if I should use these to make a number of smaller works that might be submitted (with care!) for assessment, and hope they travel well, or make another larger work so that I have made 3 works 150 x 150 cms, but submit photographic documentation of these. I am finding this quite a hard decision to make. I will dwell on this as I prepare some more charcoal, and think a little more about how a ‘studio’ scenario might unfold as part of the exhibition.


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Remember to test your process!

The film is in a light hearted way a reminder that it is important to test your process. I was revisiting Sequel II to test out that repeating the process was possible to make a large ‘Trace drawing’, and as a way of considering aspects in terms of its potential as a performance piece. I was being filmed in order to gather evidence when it became apparent that the lid had fused to the tin, probably in the charcoal making process. So clearly important to make sure the lid is loose before filming or performing! Equally, I suppose is checking all the aspects that you are intending to show.

The other notable thing that came out of this session was the cost of trying to get around the process. The making of willow spheres and the charcoal making process are quite lengthy, particularly with a reluctance to light the log burner on hot summer days. So I decided to try and make some drawings by packing tins with previously made charcoal and previously used sand- I’m not sure I should be admitting to this!- and the results were interesting because it just didn’t work- obvious you might think!

Trace drawing made with charcoal and tired sand- not really good result.

Trace drawing made with charcoal and tired sand- not really good result.

It was as though any charcoal dust on the sand had previously been used up, just putting the charcoal in with it didn’t make a difference. So, important lesson- the actual charcoal making process with the sand is a crucial part of the process of making a trace drawing with the charcoal dust.

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Working on Series of Paintings.

This follows on from ‘Planning towards a series of works‘.

I used the opportunity of a hot, dry day to prime the canvas boards with 4 layers of gesso primer- the limitations of my indoor space would only allow for me to do 3 at a time, so saving a lot of time. The greenhouse was a sheltered place for them to fully dry.

DSC_2620Once inside I could only work on 3 pieces at a time. My first task to sand each board before giving each a further 2 coats of gesso- I knew they would need a substantial base as my intentions included a certain amount of sanding back later in the process.


DSC_2621I started each piece with the photoshop ‘stamp’ image and the original photo of the shadow I was working from, along with charcoal I have made myself.


DSC_2622Working with these sketchbook images, I trans-scribed them onto the prepared canvas board in charcoal. As it is a multi-stage process it has been useful to be able to work on 3 at a time.


DSC_2646This detail shows how in making the lines the charcoal is liable to fracture leaving splinters and dust on the surface- this illustrates the uncertainty that is part of this making.


DSC_2649In order to fix the charcoal I have used an acrylic medium that I have diluted in water so that it can be sprayed through a small spray bottle (available at chemists or supermarkets). I use this to spray along the lines, which also spreads some of the dust, and goes some way to capture the moment. This is then left to dry for at least 24 hours.

DSC_2639These works are about absence-in the next part of the process I use sand paper to rub back the surface. The very nature of charcoal makes it quite textural, particularly once fixed with the medium, so I wanted to take away part of what one might expect. Again the nature of this process is full of uncertainties which is something ‘absence’ brings with it.

DSC_2652Whilst gradually working on other pieces that would make up the series, I lay them out to consider how they might appear together. I soon realized that the 2 previous works that had been part of my initial idea (at the bottom of the photo) and that I had intended to be part of the series did actually have a very different finished surface. It’s funny really because part of the idea was that there would be a sense of ‘wrongness’ about the work, but some how this felt too wrong. I decided I would go back and look at my archive relating to the willow sculptures that these 2 were based on and select other images. It did produce what seemed an interesting dilemma.

DSC_2659Another thing that I noticed was that by working on 3 at a time, each set I had finished to a differing degree which was very noticeable once they were side by side. The more I worked, the more I sanded back- I can remember thinking about the idea of charcoal being an embodiment of ‘absence’ through the way it is formed, and in some ways I was trying to remove the ‘absence’. There were moments when this made me quite emotional- the idea of physically acting out what is inside. However, this recognition made me think that I need to return to some of the earlier works and sand them further so that, what might be construed as expressive marks disappeared. It was this attention to the surface that also made me decide to order some more boards and make a selection of further works- there were one or two where the acrylic medium had pooled and despite sanding left marks that didn’t sit comfortably. I could then make the final selection of 11 paintings from these.

DSC_2668When I had 12 pieces (not all completed, I have to add) I laid them out as best I could to give an impression of how the grid might appear. I asked my 18yr old son to look at them- his comment was ‘is it a puzzle, do you have to match them up?’ I found this quite interesting in the light of my idea to make a work that has a sense of ‘wrongness’ about it, the fact that his immediate response was to sense that there was something that wasn’t quite right, but surly there must be some way to make things right. ( Do we all have an intrinsic need to create order?) My response was, ‘no, that’s just how it is’. I asked him what he thought of it- he said ‘I have no strong opinion, its art, it is what it is’.

From this little encounter I decided that the series would be called, ‘That’s just how it is’, which in many ways relates to our lives too. I still have to go through all the works, recording them individually and making my final selection for the series, but currently feeling satisfied with what I have done.

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Working with Nature.

One of the things that came out of my research for my Contextual Review was recognition of the idea of working with uncertainty, and this is certainly something that rings true in my work with willow, in particular the living willow. Earlier this week I noticed that a number of specimens in my ‘plantation’ have been attacked by what I later discovered to be sawfly larvae. A few of the plants have been virtually stripped of their leaves. I set about removing the culprits by hand and making a note to remain vigilant. This incident though set me of a path to check all my other willows where I came across a variety of other small creatures, though none creating the same damage. I photographed them and later identified them as a Dark Dagger Moth caterpillar, a Vapourer Moth caterpillar, a ladybird larvae and a number of colonies of the black willow aphid. It was fascinating to see on one willow ants appearing to farm the aphids, whilst on another there was a ladybird feasting on the aphids. It’s fascinating to see these mini-worlds playing out and a reminder of the place the willow takes in the wider eco-system. And, in relation to my work, these incidents can impact on the nature of the growth of the willow: attacks to terminal growth can cause more branching, which will impact on the nature of the form I am able to create at the end of the growth year.

Wildlife Insight– a good site for identifying Butterflies, Moths and Caterpillars.

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Part of the journey.

It was the conversation with M. about the possibilities of making books as a way of collating the amount and diversity in my work that set me thinking also about my sketch/note books and how they, and in particular my A3 books, are a depository of words, drawings, notes, ideas, scribbles, tests, cuttings, post-it notes, that chart part of the journey. I have made a brief video that just gives some idea of the nature of them. They along with a number of larger sketchbooks will form part of my final submission.

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