Now that I have reached the last assignment, the one that involves drawing together what has been learnt and done over the course, it’s fitting to start by taking stock of what that is.
A quick brainstorm of headings first:
Monotone and colour
Drawing skills: stylisation and technical drawing, gestural marks
Different surfaces for relief printmaking: texture and hardness
Different mark-making tools
Laid colour- print surface and collage/ chine colle
Printing surfaces (paper types)
Registering print layers
Hand printing and pressing
These are the techniques I’ve experienced. I have practised some things until I feel reasonably competent, but am far from being skilled. On this course, I’m really conscious of the lack of tuition and would have appreciated the chance to attend workshops. I think my progress has been slow and hesitant some of the time, simply because of not having practical guidance.
As always, the biggest issue is choice of subject matter. At least it is for me. This leaves me paralysed with indecision. Throughout this course I have chosen to portray subjects in my immediate environment : fruit, trees, still life, figures, landscape, my handbag, my dogs… Convenient, and with personal import. I have used sketches drawn on travels- fresh subject matter, and the process of making art enhances the experience- Spanish landscapes, Chinese landscapes and figures. I’ve also taken designs from other artists, Paul Serusier, Picasso (bulls), Gauguin (Yellow Christ and Still Life with Apples, Pears and Jug, Self Portrait, among others). At times, I’ve made images that came from intuition or dreams, subjects which seemed to have a symbolic meaning (Bonfire of the Vanities). There was an activity just making marks and then seeing what they looked like (that was a process that I was initially most resistant to, but which was surprisingly fruitful). I’ve been concerned though, to come up with images that did more than describe, and perhaps this has been the reason for going so slowly. A recurring theme has been symbols and icons – Standing Stones, Christ, Hitler. I engaged in a thought process involving talking through marks, starting with runes and ending up with typeface, going via stages in the English language, but again related to the image of a crucifixion. Latterly, I’ve been trying to incorporate sketches of figures- these come from life-drawing sessions- and I’m interested in their emotional content. These are generally individual female figures. I’ve done some more personal work recently too which I wonder about trying to translate into prints- a self-portrait, sketches of my mother…
The point here, I feel, is that when you start with a sketch, a subject that interests you, you have to work towards making that printable and often the subject matter seems on the face of it not to “lend itself” to printing, or at least not easily. If one worked the other way, from the material and the techniques first, the results would probably be different, privileging skills over subject matter. That process would most likely involve more learning from others- copying the techniques and thereby imbibing the style of someone else.
I’m always torn by which way to work. If this were described as a craft, the way to go would be to copy. On the other hand, we have professionals in the art world (as well as several wannabes studying in OCA) saying that skills are not so important. I don’t agree, but know that my life is probably too short now, and my eyesight too bad, to develop, part-time, very high levels of technical skills. The danger is, though, trying to work from scratch, being driven by the “what” of the work, rather than the “how”, and without a proper “apprenticeship”, that one tries to achieve effects in the wrong way or with the wrong medium, like trying to achieve fine lines with an oversized crayon.
On the other hand, by focussing on the “what”, (how many hands is that now? If I really had this many, printing would be easy!) there’s more chance of producing something original. (Although influences are hard to avoid, as was the case when I found I had made a design that I thought was original but had actually been channelled from the work of someone else.) If I were to ask for advice on this, I would no doubt be told that it should be a bit of both, studying the work of others, and developing your own sketchbook work. But that’s just shorthand, and doesn’t address or analyse exactly how these different activities support/ undermine each other.