Sunday, 29 May 2011

Laser wood engraving experiment

For the lats few weeks I’ve been taking slices of wood, sourced from Westonbirt Arboretum, into the lasercutting department at UWE where we’ve been trying to get a drawing engraved. There have been a couple of technical issues but we have now succeeded in creating a wood engraving.
the sycamore slice before engraving

First I created a drawing, below, then I scanned it and stitched it together on Photoshop using photomerge. The important thing here for me is the ability to turn a drawing into a multiple. There is no point for me in engraving an etching image because it already exists as a multiple, but the ability to reproduce drawings in a new medium is exciting.

I took this file to some very knowledgeable tutors who were able to set the lasercutter. It was important to experiment with both the speed and the power of the laser – too slow and too powerful and it will burn very darkly, too slow and less power may burn just as darkly depending on the wood as the laser is focused on one small part of the wood for too long.

cropped detail showing wood grain within image

These details show how the grain of the wood can be enhanced with areas of the image and how even subtle shapes like splashes of watercolour can be engraved to create interesting effects.

'Looking back', on sycamore

The final engraving has a reasonably good range of tones and makes an unusual art object, but there is room for a good deal of improvement. I like the effect of the natural shape of the wood as a support for the drawing. Having seen what is now possible I’ll make a new drawing which will use the marks and tones the laser engraving seem to like. I also have a nicer shaped piece of wood, Ash this time, a paler coloured wood which will give a different effect, could be interesting...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Westend Willow

I have been very enthusiastic about a new image over the last couple of weeks. Its been a bit frustrating as I wasn’t able to get a piece of copper big enough for a week or so, but now I’m underway and I can share the story so far.

It started with another drawing session in my village, in Westend. It was a lovely spring day and the light was bright, the sketch had some energy to it which suggested the potential.

Photograph taken in May, when the sketchbook work was done

Photograph taken in March

Photographs taken of the same tree a little earlier in the year, before the grasses were too long, showed good light and structure.

The photographs when edited held even more promise. The black and white contrast was very interesting; I could see that I could play with a wide variety of experimental etching marks that I had been exploring over the last few months, and that I could retain some compositional ‘free air’ in the image. I am often frustrated at how I fill my compositions, why can’t I leave well alone?

Drawing done in reverse to aid the drawing out on the etching plate

The drawing allowed me to get to know the image better, especially the movement within the tree and this time it was natural to achieve the composition I was after.

Etching from sugar lift, first stage 50x30cm

This is the first stage of the resulting etching, or should it be a final stage? I will take a few prints as it is, but I would still like the image to have more of an untidy new twig growth to it. I would also like to resolve the base of the tree, and enhance some darkness in the weight at the top of the tree. So one more stage at least...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Colour or monochrome?

Well this may be a bit of surprise for those of you who know my work well. I often say that I don’t know what to do with colour, and I may be about to prove that point!

I have a few small plates which I’ve worked on in a more instinctive and experimental way, and they look good without colour, but I felt that they would cope with an extra element. I’ve mulled over creating collagraph plates to print a base colour or another etched plate, but time is against me for these techniques. I decided instead to explore monoprint which I could work with in an intuitive way while I was printing the copper plate.

'...the far end'

The choice of colour came from a base colour that was in the landscape at the time that I originally made the image. This first image is of a part of the landscape which is muddy and soggy, hence the umber, mud coloured tones.

'worn out day'
The second image is of a stretch of brook lined with tall, dead grasses which had faded to a pale ochre colour.

As you can see my use of colour is still somewhat restrained, in fact it could be still referred to as monochrome, but I think stronger colours would have distracted from the original etching.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Looking through to Constantine Bay

I have worked up a large drawing from my sketchbook drawings and from a series of photographs I took on the day.

'Looking through to Constantine Bay' Graphite 50x70cm

There a number of things I was aiming to achieve with this drawing
  • A sense of drama in the image.
  • A freshness, looseness in the drawing, so that the marks stayed interesting.
  • Strong tonal contrast emphasised by broader areas of dark tones.

Crop section to show loose drawing marks

Crop section to show dramatic shapes against the sky

This drawing was relatively quick to do, given its size. I have increased  my confidence in working from my sketchbook. While I was sketching I was more thoughtful about what I wanted to record so that I would be able to do a further drawing in the studio. I paid particular attention to the shapes of the rock against the sky, and to the overall structure of the rocks. Having sat in front of this subject matter for a good long while I can now picture the scene more readily. Being able to work with the original sketches makes working on site much more exciting and rewarding. As the weather improves I am aiming to work on a much larger scale on site, leaving less to do in the studio.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

More from a Cornish sketchbook

While I sat on the beach watching the dog pull as much seaweed out of the rockpools as possible, I became more and more intriguid by the dramatic rock formations and the beautiful canyon like spaces they created with pools of water running through them.

The drawings are done with my travelling kit of water soluble pencils, of quite soft grades, and Aqua pens - the sort where you fill the handle of the pen with water. Indispensible.
The water soluble pencils allow a good dark wash of tone which allows for heightened contrast to be captured. They also then don't smudge, or transfer, as much as ordinary pencils when you work on the reverse of the page.

The light was very bright on most days this year so looking for shadows and the contrast of one rock to the other became a focus.
It was interesting to use this landscape book in the portrait position. It was equally easy to work on and the hard back cover supported the pages well.
Before we left Cornwall we dropped in to see a gallery called 'The Padstow Studio', and was amazed by the stunning paintings of sea caves and coastal rocks by Sarah Adams. You can see her work at any of the following links:
Do have a look. I am glad I hadn't seen her work before I made my rock drawings otherwise I would have felt daunted, they are truly inspiring.