There is – what I refer to as the glory hole, it is the place where I stash stuff. (You know what I mean, those things, might be useful,.. Someday.) It is a big space, the size of a horses stable and stuff has been stashed there for many years. Enough years for it to be a few years since I realised it was so crammed, that I couldn’t get into it to retrieve anything useful.
So on a sunny day in November, the beggining of another lock down, booted and gloved and masked (it being very dusty, bird pooed and home to spiders). I set too. With courage and the intention to burn anything flammable or tip anything dumpable and thereby to make the space accessible.
In the course of the day I looked over drawings and paintings – some to save but many to destroy. Equipment that could still be useful, a wooden rug weaving gismo, a trestle table, picture frames and many rolls of paper. Boxes full of bubble wrap – (How I dislike that ‘stuff’.)
I found a small screen printing bed which Fiona Chance (fine printmaker and all round talented creative), gave me at least 15 years ago. It has been sad and unused all that time. I toyed with putting it on the fire pile, but instead, without any real conviction I put it in the studio to clean.
Forward two weeks – I had a call from friends in London. Excitedly talking of an idea they had to give a print as a present to key members of their workforce. This Team that has been challenged beyond imagining to adapt, re-invent, create working solutions to keep their business ‘Wallaespace’ afloat. The theme of the commission to be ‘Python’. (The uk government have ‘Cobra’)
Pythons are not a subject that I have ever even pondered. I am not drawn to or interested in reptiles and I have certain never considered that I would accept a commission relating to a snake. But I stirred by Roy and Renata’s enthusiasm and found myself considering the brief. Firstly in a pragmatic way. How could I create 15 or so images, using the same technigues, so that each one was original, of the same quality, but not nessesarilly totally unique. It had to be a production line of sorts to fulfil the brief in a relatively tight time frame. (Christmas oh blighted Christmas)
I sent these suggestion off on Saturday, three days after the initial discussion. Sort of at my wits end. Thinking I had tried all the technigues that I could confidently repeat. But really I wasn’t happy with any of them and nor were the commissioners. I don’t know why I even sent the images, except maybe I needed to be told I was on the wrong track.
My mind continued filtering ideas as I went to bed, like index cards popping up – what about this, reject, what about that. I woke in the night with the wooden screen printing bed in my thaughts and a new drawing, stencils, two colours. In the morning first ting, I cleaned the dust and cobwebs off the screen.
And – They liked it. It was a leap of faith and I was excited by the image potential now.
Controlled chaos and happy accident came to play. Not surprisingly as I am completely inexperienced with the art and craft of printmaking – I cut the stencil using a robust thick cartridge paper – it was too thick. So I had to use a load of ink to squegie through its depth. Then with such a thickness of ink I was concerned about how long it would take to dry, so I placed another piece of paper (Tonking) exactly over the first and got a reversed image (monoprint). The process effectively halved the ink load and also squished the ink, softening the rather sharp stencil formed edges. Delightful.
Counter change is a key ingredient in my work and it was an important feature in resolving each piece. Reversal of tones, light against dark and dark against light. Positive and negative. It didn’t matter to me by then if it was a python or a woodland full of trees.
It was a trail of painting pleasure and creative solution in the depth of covid gloom. This the stuff of life.