It’s hard to write a blog this week without mentioning coronavirus which, as I type, I see is already embedded in the spell check of my software. Most of my friends and colleagues are, like me, either self-employed or work in creative industries that rely on an audience. Many are already starting to feel the effects of cancelled or under-attended shows and exhibitions and there’s no doubt that it is going to be a very difficult year ahead for everyone on many levels.
It’s very quiet up in ‘one of the largest indoor spaces in Europe’ that is our local shopping centre, except it seems in the loos. I went in and found singing in progress as a mix of shoppers exchanged hand washing songs. It was lovely, stumbling into scene worthy of Richard Curtis. Complete strangers, debating and trying out the benefits of Jolene versus Daisy, Daisy, Love Shack or The Circle of Life. My vote’s for Jolene (that song has seen me through many a tight karaoke corner in Japan over the years) except I’m stuck with reciting Auden’s Night Mail. I’m part proud that I’ve dredged the poem up from my primary school memory in full and part horrified that I now go into auto-recite at the sight of a tap.
Leaving the impromptu musical performance in the loos, I saw the effects of panic buying. As an artist, I’m in the fairly happy position of a studio packed with materials that can, at a pinch, be changed into hand sanitiser and loo roll. If push were ever really to come to shove, my large stock of rice flour for my students’ Japanese woodblock prints would make for some extremely worthy and dull bowls of perfectly edible gloop. A bit of investigation in my mum’s handwritten recipe book does come up with a pudding based on rice flour which might make that bearable. All I’ll need to stockpile are ground almonds, eggs, double cream, plus a ‘good’ brandy and we are home dry.
This week on Ask An Artist we’ve dragged Mr B out from behind the sound system to explain how to take good copy photos of artwork without breaking the budget on photographic equipment, or setting up a fancy lighting rig. This sort of photography is a job every artist has to do at some point and, dare I say, one that’s perfectly suited to a period of self-isolation.
You might have noticed there was no Friday blog last week. Writing came a poor second to printmaking that week and a good deal of the week before, as did laundry, regular meals, exercise and remembering not to hold my breath for long periods. I’m sure you’ll recognise the symptoms of starting a new project and the excitement of running with your ideas to the exclusion of everything else.
For most of my life the failure to provide a Friday blog as promised would be so anxiety inducing that I’d have made myself write one whatever the inconvenience. Letting people down, however distant and virtual those people might be and however tenuous the promise, is a fear I have in common with many others and it’s one that’s easing gradually. I’m sure I’m not the only person to back themselves into a corner by making a commitment while failing to realise that it’s mainly, or even only, me that actually cares about it. I’m guessing you’re OK with this blog missing the odd week or two*. It’s not a huge deal, I’m not writing anything more important than something to muse over while eating a biscuit. I’m getting over it and, if you’re prone to worrying about this kind of thing like me, have another biscuit and drop a few minor commitments too.
The all-consuming project is far more exciting. I am making a set of Japanese woodblock prints of the North Yorkshire Moors.
These prints have demanded a fresh approach and I’ve been rising to the challenge. Ironically these new Japanese woodblock prints owe much to the kind of mark making that’s more a part of traditional linocut, while my recent lino work is fast becoming indistinguishable from the washy transparency of traditional Japanese woodblocks. Contrary, but it’s what’s working for me and now it’s working, I can’t leave the printmaking alone. So this week’s blog was a bit touch and go too if I’m honest.
This week on the Ask an Artist podcast we interview master paint maker Michael Harding who, even as a student, never had any issues about prioritising his love of mixing pigments to the exclusion of everything else, including the welfare of his bedsit and the loss of his housing deposit.
*I did get one complaint from my brother-in-law who wanted last week’s blog to feature my award for the tartan todger. Sorry about that, but the whole story of my early artistic genius concerning the male member is included in last week’s Ask an Artist episode on competitions.
I have been starring in a film of my own life over the past ten days or so. We’ve documented one of my linocuts from drawing to finished edition, the goal being to relax and inform others with a slow film about printmaking, rather than an educational video about specifics. The result is a film that’s as much about the passing of time as it is about technique. We’ve deliberately kept things as silent as we can, bar a couple of snatches from Jane Eyre and Miss Marple before I got into the swing of switching off during takes. I had to shut up too; I never realised how much non-sensical muttering I do until I didn’t.
We both knew it would be tricky. I am viciously impatient of anything that gets between me and my print. Plus, used to being alone in the studio, I’m inclined to trip over (kick) cables, cameramen and tripods.
Thankfully Mr B specialises in working unobtrusively and never expected me to pretend to do anything just for the camera. The worst he did was to make me wait while he set up shots and ask me to hit a specific mark from time to time. We finished with him imagining that I barely conceded to any of his directions and me knowing that the Pope will be in touch shortly to celebrate my saintly abundance of patience and good will.
Watching the film was as close to an out of body experience that I ever wish to experience and certainly the death of my vanity. There’s no posing for the camera when deep in concentration. In many respects it was an encouraging trade-off. I found it very easy to forget how I looked in terms of appearance because I was so interested by what I could do in terms of print. That said, I gradually found myself thinking that something was missing; that the me on film should be referring to a colour plan, or at least a to-do list, instead of just staring into the middle distance with unbrushed hair. It seemed such an inadequate approach.
We set out to make a film to highlight the time, focus and creativity involved in printmaking and I think we’ve done it. For my part, I’m pleased that watching it has made me pause and appreciate how lucky I am that the colour plans and to-do list are reliably spooling away, hidden inside my head, desipte the unbrushed hair. For everyone else, I hope it says a lot about what goes into making a print and a little about my methods. As for Doris, I can only apologise. She’s a starlet out of control.
This week on the Ask an Artist podcast we discuss writing rather than filming, but you should listen anyhow. The epic print film can be seen on my YouTube channel at Laura Boswell Printmaker for your viewing pleasure. Choc ices optional.
I left my hairdresser recently; other women of a certain age will sympathise. Undeniably talented hairdresser that he was, Bob was somehow just not seeing me anymore. I’m not sure when I went from paying customer with individuality into the big box marked ‘nice ladies of a certain age’ but, just like in Toy Story, there I was. Left on the side of the style road waiting for the nursing home truck. The nail in the coffin came when I said that I didn’t wish to look like a lady who spent her days colour matching towels in John Lewis and he replied that I ‘had the face for it’. He was right of course; I have the pleasant face of the stranger who’ll mind your bags while you nip to the loo. Doesn’t mean I care to pay to be reminded of it. Now I go to Emily, covered in a riot of tattoos, who is far more interested in my trips to Japan and my prints and far less in pigeon-holing me into a one cut suits all.
The sad fact is that I am as guilty as Bob. I once taught a very elderly woman who was struggling a bit in class. I spent a bit more time than usual one to one with her and sorted out what she needed to understand. Then I stupidly said that being in class could be a bit overwhelming and not to worry. I didn’t actually say ‘for a woman of your age’, but I might as well have done.
She smiled kindly and said that she thought the problem was too much time in class, not too little. Handing in the final papers of her doctorate had clashed with my workshop, so she was feeling a little tired. I’m grateful for that humiliating lesson in teaching me that people are very seldom who you think they are. Can I put in a word here for a similar re-education programme for mobile phone sellers? I’m tired of having my ignorance interpreted as stupidity and I’m sure many feel the same. I’m ignorant about phones because I can’t be ars*d to be interested, not because I lack the intelligence to learn.
Appearances can be deceptive. We all know that and we all forget it. This week on the Ask and Artist podcast we’re discussing social media, the most misleading light ever provided to shine on our personal and professional lives. Surely social media is the greatest villain for misinterpretation the world has ever seen. Or is it?
For me as an artist it is the exact opposite and I hope that’s true for most creatives. It’s a platform for my reality. A world away from predictable ‘niceness’ of my age, face and clothes, where I share just who I am and what I can do. I’m good with social media and I believe this is mostly down to authenticity and honestly. That the audience like my output is fantastic, but that I have a place to put the output is even better. Look on social media and you’ll see the truth: in my world, towels are ripped into squares and dunked in ink and spirits, not politely matched to the colour of the downstairs loo.