Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On the Need for Drawing

Yesterday evening, I took some Neocolor pastels and a sketchbook out onto the deck behind the apartment to draw for a while:


It dawned on me that I haven't sat down to draw for any length of time in more than a month, and that's too long for any artist of whatever stripe. Even if these drawings don't make it into any studio work, it's important to do it anyway, just to keep the hand and the eye working together. Here is the same drawing after working on it for a bit longer:


Clouds, light, and trees, in case you were wondering, using mainly lines rather than tone.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Visit to an Artist's Studio: Amy Crum


A few days ago, I visited the studio of artist Amy Crum, in her home near the Chicago River. We sat for over an hour next to a window with a view of treetops and plants, looking at her recent work spread out on the floor around us. She's recently returned to making art after a long break, and what she's been doing are collages with some ink and paint additions, all on letter-sized paper. The collage originates in vintage newspapers and magazines from Europe, which gives the overall tone of her pieces a subdued, cool, look. You can spot all kinds of individual objects and stylistic pattern in the source material (flowers, letters, clothes) but each piece is clearly about the abstract pattern of Amy's arrangement of these bits and pieces. They all occupy an elongated space in the middle of the paper, either vertically or horizontally, and the forms spiral out and back in on themselves repeatedly, no matter which side you see them from. It reminded me of looking at the patterns a skilled skater leaves in an ice rink after a performance.

Another impressive thing was that in less than six months, she's produced what art world people call a 'body of work' -- a group of pieces with a coherent set of themes and a commonality of execution. She's also produced them all in small spaces, at home, on table tops, proving that you can make good art anywhere.


You can get a closer look at her work here.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Restoring my big printing press

I am currently working on restoring my large Dickerson printing press to a working state. This mainly involves removing a heavy deposit of rust on the steel rollers, which built up as a result of the press lying in storage and not sufficiently protected from the elements. I've taken lots of advice and tried different cleaning agents and methods, including:

  • Going straight at the rust with steel wool.
  • Brushing on a combination of vinegar and lemon juice, then rubbing with steel wool.
  • Wrapping the rollers overnight in aloominum foil.
  • Coating the rollers in a strong rust removing agent.

None of these have really been satisfactory. The only thing that seems to have worked so far is to soak some rags in a mixture of distilled vinegar, mineral spirits, and baking soda, and wrapping the rollers in the rags for a few hours. I then use steel wool on the residue, which comes away pretty easily. You can see the difference in the following photos between the rusted and the cleaned parts:



The difference is particularly noticeable in the close-up.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Printing an edition

Yesterday in the studio I took one of the acrylic resist experiments and printed an edition from it. It's the 'Boxer and factory' image, on which I took an old copper plate, coated it with Lascaux hard resist, and did a mixture of carborundum/pastel ground collagraph, and drypoint:


I wanted to do an edition to see how well the material on the plate and the lines drawn into the resist would hold up to the pressure of a printing press. Below are six of the eight prints I took from it:


Two others were good prints, but the colour came out slightly different. My conclusion? I could probably get maybe ten uniform and good quality prints from the plate before the carborundum would start to be rubbed away. If I needed a big edition, I would probably have to look at sealing the surface of the plate more, but 6-10 prints is a good size for a small edition.

Now it's back to watching the World Cup...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Commemorating A Wartime Disaster



 
Peter Bolger, a friend whom I’ve known since we were both 11 years old, recently posted updates to a website he’s been adding to for a few years. The blog is NorthShields173.org, and it’s dedicated to the history of one night in the north of England during World War II. It’s a fascinating project and the site is worth visiting by anyone who’s interested in history, the second world war, and good use of the internet.

North Shields is a place on the banks of the River Tyne that was once a small fishing village. It’s about ten miles downriver from the city of Newcastle, the largest city in the northeast of England. Peter was born and raised in North Shields. I lived a few villages over, in a coal-mining area, but we went to the same high school in North Shields. I more or less moved away for good when I was 18, and I now live in the United States, while Peter still lives with his wife and son in North Shields. Peter’s deep roots in the area meshed with his professional life in library services in this project, which explores one night in 1941 when 107 people were killed by a single bomb that fell on an air-raid shelter. The shelter was located below a lemonade factory, whose telephone number was North Shields 173 (hence the name of the website). It was the single largest loss of life at one time in the north east of England during the whole war. The main purpose of the website is to explore all aspects of that night, from the names of every one of the victims, to details about the factory, local history, pictures of the gravestones that lie in local churchyards.

Peter and his co-sitemaster Peter Hepplewhite started the site with a grant from the English National Lottery back in 2000, which is a pretty big deal. They are still updating and adding to it, and as it says on the site’s “About” page, they get enquiries and leads all the time. The project was even featured in a BBC documentary a few years ago, called “How We Won the War.”

There are many things I could choose to illustrate how great a site this is, but I’m just going to pick out this one: a page of archive photos, and some contemporary film footage, showing the ruins of the factory after the air raid.

Go explore this website: you won’t be disappointed.

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