Getting Ready to Go Beyond my Comfort
As you may or may not know, I am soon off to Japan! I’m going to be taking a Six Week Residency/ Beginner’s Course in Japanese Woodblock Printing.
This is an amazing opportunity for me! Not only will I be working with wood, carving knives and brushes (totally outside my previous artistic experience!) but I will be adding to my current repertoire of skills and techniques; as I understand it, the Japanese prints are created through layering colour, which is already central to my practice of making monotypes and carborundum prints.
So, despite the new territory – artistic and geographic! – I am really confident that all I will be able to learn there will only enhance my current practice. And I am sure it will leave me with a deep and lasting impression (!) and an unforgettable experience that I hope to document here as the weeks go by.
Luckily, I was able to put in some preparation for this adventure when I happened to run into the artist, Sara Lee. Her work, like mine, is exhibited at Eames Fine Art Gallery. Along with other fellow ‘Eames Exhibitors’, she and I had both been invited to create an artistic response to original engravings by Samuel Palmer. The artist, his etchings and the work they had inspired were part of an exhibition held at the start of the year. Meanwhile, this coincided with the screening of a bio- pic, named ‘Samuel Palmer and Me’, by its director Mike Southon. (To view this fabulous film yourself, follow this link! http://www.mikesouthon.biz/portfolio/palmer-me)
Following the screening - and over a very generously provided dinner at Mike’s house for those of us involved in the exhibition - Sara and I got chatting. I have admired Sara’s work for several years. I love her subtle, delicate use of colour. She is very sparing with her palette, working mainly in earthy, clean greys with hints of bright colour. I find her artwork very calming and thoughtful.
So when she then offered me the chance to visit her studio to observe her working method and techniques first hand, I jumped at the chance! Life being what it is, however, it was not until a few weeks ago that I was finally able to make the journey around the corner to her house in Greenwich! I am so glad that I did!
Tucked away at the bottom of Sara’s garden is her studio - clean, with white walls and lots of light. Sara showed me her tools and the blocks of wood she has carved into to create the plates to print from. I also got to watch her demonstrate cutting into the wood and removing areas of the plate that she didn’t want to print.
It was fantastic to see the way she developed an artwork! She showed me about 4 trial proofs of one of her artworks, the final version of which I had previously seen displayed in Eames Gallery. Each proof had slight variations in colour and composition. I think she had even sketched over the prints to decide how best to move forward with the piece. It’s always such a privilege to be able to get this kind of insight into how other artists go about their work. And very much in the spirit of Samuel Palmer, who elaborated his plates in successive stages, sometimes each work spanning several years of work.
However, unlike Samuel Palmer, who had the luxury of working very slowly, I will only have six weeks to get to grips with so much that is foreign and new to me! Even the names of the some of the tools used are ones I have never before encountered! I’ve discovered, for example, that a Baren is a disk wrapped in a bamboo sheath used for applying pressure to the back of the paper to transfer the pigment from the woodblock to the printing paper.
But I can’t wait to get started on the course at Mi-Lab. And as even the great Palmer himself only started engraving at the age of forty-five, I do feel I at least have some time on my side! Plus, I’ve now had the advantage of seeing one of my favourite contemporary artists at work. Now, thanks to Sara, I have a much better idea about what to expect.
Yep! Between Palmer and Sara I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be! See you soon, I hope, for the next installment… this time from Japan!