Studio updates and articles


Inktober

8 October 2021

Inktober is a worldwide event that artists have always participated in since 2009. Artists use it as a challenge to improve their inking skills and develop positive drawing habits.

So for all of October the challenge is to make a drawing in response to a prompt word. The list of prompts is published in advance.

It is a great way of exploring new ideas and moving your practice forward.

I have been wanting to try to combine drawing with my cyanotypes for a while but have never made the time to experiment so I am treating this challenge as my ideal opportunity. Some things work, some don’t but that’s fine – it’s how things develop and new ideas and concepts emerge.

Check it out on instagram, here’s a link to inktober2021 where you can see some amazing drawings and illustrations in all sorts of styles.

Here’s a link to my instagram page if you want to follow my progress

And maybe I’ve inspired you to have a go yourself?

Here’s a list of this years prompts and some of my drawings so far:

World Cyanotype Day 25th September 2021

25 September 2021

I thought I’d write about the cyanotype process again as today is World Cyanotype Day!

The cyanotype process is a photographic printing technique that does not use a camera and was introduced in 1842 by John Herschel. A year later Anna Atkins created a series of books using the cyanotype process to document plants.

The cyanotype image is made by applying ultraviolet sensitive chemicals to paper. This is exposed to sunlight to develop and then washed in running water to fix the image.

There are various formulas for creating the cyanotype solution but they all involve mixing various quantities of two chemicals: ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. These are in powder form and prepared by combining with distilled water and storing away from light. I use a formula at the moment from my go to reference book which is called Cyanotype. The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice by Christina Z. Anderson

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Cyanotype.html?id=sRaGDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y – v=onepage&q&f=false

I apply the combined chemicals to alkaline free watercolour paper – I use either  Fabriano Artistico 300 gsm watercolour paper, Arches 300 gsm watercolour paper or Hannamuhle cotton rag paper. I always use hot pressed paper as I like a very smooth surface but a lot of people use a textured surface – just depends on your personal preference.  Once coated the paper has to dry in a darkened room before it is ready to use.

To create the imagery I use a combination of digitally prepared and printed transparencies of vintage sundial diagrams, birds and insects. I then place this transparency onto the prepared paper and add real flowers or plants.

I place this on a flat surface outside in the sun and put a piece of glass on top to hold everything firmly in place.

Anything that stops the light reaching the sensitised paper will appear white when developed and everything else will be blue.

The sun provides a convenient source of UV (ultraviolet) light and exposure times vary according to intensity and orientation of the sun, amount of cloud and ambient temperature.  Exposure times can vary from 15 mins upwards. This can be calculated scientifically using a stepwedge test but you soon get a good idea of timings comes with practise using a particular combination of chemical formula and paper.

Once it has been in the sun for the required amount of time the image is developed by holding the paper under running water for at least 6 minutes. It is a great feeling to see the image appear. It takes up to 24 hours for the paper to dry completely and only then can I add the gold or copper metal leaf detail or draw with ink.

I apply the metal leaf detail by hand. It’s a delicate process which involves applying a water based glue which dries until tacky – approximately 10 minutes and before applying the metal leaf, rubbing away any excess. I then apply a clear shellac varnish to prevent the metal tarnishing.

I love this technique as there is a certain amount of serendipity about the process so you never quite know what to expect. Sometimes the resultant image is no good at all but that’s just how it goes- and of course with so many stages there is opportunity to ruin the image at any point!

 

The resultant image is typically blue and white but the colour can be changed to various tones of sepia by using tannin based organic washes such as tea, coffee and red wine. This involves waiting until the cyanotype is dry before bleaching it in a solution of soda crystals before leaving it in a solution containing the toner. I have only used tea so far and it results in a very different image.

If you want any more details about how I make the work just contact me and I’ll try and help!

The Waggle Dance

18 August 2021

Honey bees communicate in many different ways. The waggle dance is the name given to their method of communicating to each other where there is a good source of pollen, nectar and or water.

 

A foraging bee that has successfully found any of these performs the waggle dance when she returns to the hive in order to provide information on the presence, type, direction and distance of the source thus enabling the other foragers to find it.

 

The direction of the food source is shown by the angle of the dance vertically down the comb face. This angle indicates the bearing from the direction of the sun that should be followed to find the forage. They even change this angle as the day progresses as the sun moves across the sky.

 

The distance is conveyed by the duration of the waggle dance. The longer it takes the further away the source is. The quality of the food source is shown by the vigour and speed of the dance.

 

Bees never cease to amaze me.

 

If you want to learn more about the waggle dance and who and how it was decoded I recommend reading this blog post by The Apiarist

The waggle dance

Red listed birds in the UK – Art and a Book

9 August 2021

Did you know that 67 birds in the UK are currently on the Red List for Conservation Concern? That’s 1 in 4 birds and includes birds that were widespread and abundant such as house sparrows, starlings and cuckoos that are now endangered.

I can’t remember when exactly I found this fact out but it is something I keep coming back to in my art practice. I guess I just can’t believe it. It seems to be down to many factors but sadly and predictably they are all to do with mankind and how we treat the environment.

When I first saw the list of birds I was drawn to the passerine or songbirds that were on the list – birds that we associate with seeing in our gardens and surrounding countryside. I identified 33 songbirds on the red list and have made pieces of work to highlight the plight of these 33 birds.

Bear the Scar features cyanotypes of 33 silhouettes of birds on a vintage opera score. The title is from 3 words in the opera that can be read in one of the silhouettes.

I also used the cyanotype process on wood to create 33 individual works, each depicting one songbird. I used wood as I wanted to reflect their environment and I like the way the image is almost but not quite there – are they disappearing or reappearing? It’s up to us.

The Lightness of Being is about all 67 birds. It is a cyanotype of 67 feathers divided into 4 sections to represent the fact that 1 in 4 birds are endangered and on the red list. The title reflects the precariousness of the situation these birds are in.

sixty seven white feathers on a blue background

I have since discovered an amazing book called Red Sixty Seven ‘A collection of words and art inspired by Britain’s most vulnerable birds’ curated by Kit Jewitt. It is a collaboration between 67 authors and 67 artists to raise funds to support conservation work to reverse the decline of these red listed birds. If you are interested in art, conservation, birds and/or writing then this book is an absolute must– even, as it says on the back cover, that it should not exist. Find out more about this book from the British Trust for Ornithology.

 

The Shaggy Furrow Bee – The Fifty Bees Project

2 July 2021

As you probably realise by now one of the things I am really interested in is pollinators – especially bees- so I was delighted to be selected to make a piece of work about a British bee.

The Fifty Bees Project is initiated and organised by artist and curator, Lydia Needle. This is the fifth Fifty Bees exhibition (I participated in the 4th one too) which aims to show how diverse our British bee population is and how endangered and pivotal they are to our ecosystem. Lydia creates fifty bees for each exhibition from wool and stitch and asks 50 collaborators (visual artists, makers, writers and musicians to join her in the project. To each one she allocates a specific bee and asks for a companion piece of work that relates to, but is not of, that bee.

I have been allocated Lasioglossum villosulum also known as the Shaggy Furrow bee.  The exhibition isn’t until 2022 so I have plenty of time to do my research and create a piece of work.

The best starting point for any bee related research is a wild life guide called Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk. I have listened to him give a talk on bees and he is very knowledgeable and entertaining. You can follow him on twitter and see his fantastic photographs on flickr.

book cover field guide to bees

I have been looking for the Shaggy Furrow on my daily walks as it is fairly common and visits flowers that are in bloom at the moment such as cat’s ear, hawk’s-beards and buttercups and umbellifers – and there is so much cow parsley out at the moment. Anyway, I haven’t spotted one yet but I am collecting and pressing these flowers.

You can find out more about the Fifty Bees project on Facebook and Instagram

For the Love of Insects

22 June 2021

It is Insect Week this week 21-27 June 2021. It is an initiative to help us understand the importance of insects by The Royal Entomological Society

I love insects, always have done. One of my first books was The Observer’s Book of Common Insects and Spiders and my copy was published in 1966.

It is interesting to read it again now as it shows how some species have declined rapidly over a 50 year period. In the section on Woodland butterflies it states ‘The High Brown Fritillary also flies in woods during July, and in the heat of the day likes to haunt open clearings where thistles are in flower’

It was very common then but is now classed as Critically Endangered on the Butterfly Red List for Great Britain

Much of my artwork has a backstory and sometimes that relates to insects. Some insect species have evolved so that their larvae emerge at the same time as the plants they feed on. Because of changes in environmental and farming practices these are increasingly becoming out of sync so when the larvae emerge there is no food for them, and this has knock on effects up the food chain.

For example this year 24% of blue tit clutches failed due to weather conditions which meant that the oak tree budded later than usual so the winter moth caterpillars had nothing to feed on and so the blue tits had no caterpillars to feed themselves or their young.

One million species of insects have been identified worldwide but it is estimated that there could be 10 million different species in total. They are the largest and most diverse group of animals on earth and are responsible for pollinating plants and crops, they are food for other animals and they also feed on animals and plants and some are scavengers breaking down waste such as dead animals and plants.

My favourite insects have to be bees, I keep honey bees and I have learned about many other species of bee too. Can’t live without them…..none of us can.

Find out more about insect week here and maybe you can give them some love too.


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