Not to worry…

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.

One of my new Yorkshire prints – rough grasses in a December afternoon dusk.

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.

Don’t try this at Home

Mounting Japanese woodblock prints and what not to do!

So, what do artists do all day? I’ll give you a snapshot into this morning…

Today I discover that an experiment I made in backing a pair of prints with a sheet of paper to unite them flat for framing has sort of worked. Sadly the bit that hasn’t is quite important: the prints are desirably flat, but the backing paper is now tightly bonded to the glass sheet I used to support the experiment.

This is a bad thing, but not insurmountable. True these are finished prints and they are now stuck fast to the wrong thing, but they are Japanese woodblock prints. This means I can sit at the kitchen table with a bath sponge and a bowl of water and dab them until the whole thing is wet enough for me to release. Japanese watercolour and rice prints look delicate, but take damping and re-damping with the insouciance of the British at a bank holiday barbeque. I have two more sets of prints to go and another avenue of mounting needs exploring.

I learned the art of backing prints with supporting paper while on residency in Japan. Imagine the scene: a big room empty but for tatami mats and sliding paper screens, Mount Fuji at the end of the garden and students kneeling attentively (this does not include me. I cannot kneel and used to carry a note excusing me from kneeling in infant school. I stand respectfully instead). What the master says makes absolute sense and we accordingly mount and back prints successfully. What doesn’t translate, once I am in my own kitchen, is the access to the right brushes and papers. Here I am lacking in wide hemp, rabbit and deer hair brushes and the easy availability of washi paper. My prints are on European paper and I have emulsion brushes from the builder’s merchants. It’s now a question of adapt or fail.

This time I decide that the glass is best lined with cling film to prevent the backing sheet from sticking. I have seen Masterchef: I know cling film has diverse uses. First I wash the big sheet of picture glass in the bath to remove the last batch of gummed paper. As the glass slips around, I consider the health and safety forms I’ve just filled in for a class I have to teach. They require me to warn students not to trip over their own belongings. Nowhere do they cover the stupidity of juggling large sheets of thin, wet glass in a hard, curved bath.

I and the glass survive. Lining with cling film goes well, but then I worry the gummed tape to stretch the paper won’t stick so resolve to cut the film to the size of the paper to expose glass to the tape. For some reason I choose to use a meat cleaver for this (I am in the kitchen after all). More suited for a father intent on discouraging his daughter’s admirers, it actually works a treat and I am able to put fresh paper onto the film on the glass, damp and stretch.

The prints need to be stuck down with rice glue. I’ve made the glue by beating the hell out of a stiff rice and water paste for a full half hour over high heat while wondering if this is for the glue’s improvement or mine. Traditionally the resulting rubber ball is then diluted again by working with a hemp brush. I use the milkshake option on the blender. The cat appears and walks about on the prints. I shut him out. He swings on the door handle and yells, so I stop and place a chair in the sun where he agrees to sit and assumes the expression of Prince Phillip watching some not-so-good tribal dancing. I coat the back of my second batch of damp prints with the rice glue and offer them up to my scrupulously drawn guide lines more in hope than expectation. When they were handing out accuracy, I veered off course into the queue for creativity. I do my best, seal everything down and leave with the cat to dry in the warm.

It’s not yet nine am. This is a pretty normal day for me and I suspect for a lot of you creative people. It’s what we do and, though it’d be nice if things ran to plan, I do like a job that keeps me on my toes…