Friday, 15 April 2016

Palm Trees

When looking at ways of telling my story through art after gaining some inspiration from watching some high school art classes I decided to represent different stages of my life with prints of plants that remind me of those periods. The first one I chose as it is the most readily available is palm tress, representing my current life stage, living in Saudi Arabia. I drew some pictures of trees to start with:

In this drawing I brought a large leaf inside and drew it. This leaf was a bit damaged and had some interesting bent leaves and overlapping lines.

In this drawing I was interested in the shadows created by the trees, and was thinking this could make an interesting exploration of tonal counterpoint.

Here I tried laying the outline of the broken leaf over some patterns. I made a background of half arabic shapes and similar traditional patchwork shapes which would represent my background in sewing. The bent leaf is interesting as all my other drawings, including some others not included here I discovered how uniform palm trees are. They all have very neat leaves with little variation in shapes. I think this almost unnatural uniformity reflects the landscape here which is largely artificial and man made. This design, in particular the bent leaf, shows my occasionally scatty and unpredictable personality in combination with this rigidly ordered place, however, it became too complicated to print in a single block, and I may revisit this later as a multiple block print. I also felt I needed to do a more detailed drawing for the foundation of this design.

I decided to simplify this and make a print of just a tree, as a practice of cutting and printing a more intricate design, I may develop this later. I wanted the design to be an energetic composition so I used diagonal lines to create energy. I tried out some compositions with my camera

I decided including the trunk of the tree made the image stronger and the leaves coming out upwards had lots of energy. I drew this directly on the block from life and then traced it onto a second block so I could cut this in positive and negative.

I cut the negative block first. I was able to get a clear print of this by using thin Japanese paper or banana tissue paper and caligo inks. I also tried printing it in a light colour on dark paper but this was less successful. There were places where the leaves overlap where I was cutting lots of overlapping lines. Unfortunately the lino crumbled when I did this leaving some white spots. I like how the trunk came out with its variety of lines it is clearer and more interesting.

The positive print took forever to cut, and I realise now I have missed a couple of lines in between the bottom of the branches. I really like the energy of the small lines in the large cut away areas. I wanted to make a lively composition to reflect the busyness and energy of this period in my life and I think this really reinforces this.

I found some cotton rag paper with inlaid flower petals which I tried for printing and it soaked up so much ink giving a much darker image. The top pint is the back of the paper without the petals showing, the bottom has the petals on this side. The petal moved when I removed the paper but this gave me an idea to try using this deliberately with petals as masks on a later print.

What was successful?

These prints were very useful cutting exercises. I learnt how much detail is possible, and how well this detail transfers to different papers.
The texture of the trunk of the tree was successful due to its diverse lines and textures.

What was not successful?

In the negative print I lost some detail when the lino crumbled through try to cut detailed textures of overlapping leaves.
The image was quite 2D, creating an image of overlapping leaves was very hard in one block.

Ideas to be developed:

I would like to take these shapes into a more adventurous  composition which expresses a bit more about what the trees represent to me. I may explore:
  • A new compoisiton also based on these trees using multiple blocks to show overlapping leaves
  • A piece created with a combination of these blocks 
  • Dab printing with them. 
  • Printing them over a different block or monoprinted background

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Exploring Black and White shells

Following on from my earlier post about artist's who use inversions of black on white and white on black I did some drawings of shells on white and back paper:

This one has unfortunately been drawn on by my daughter

I wanted to cut this out of lino, the top half black on white the bottom half white on black. However this didn't really work. The black was supposed to be the table but it didn't look right.

It looked like it was floating, not sitting on the table. Also, I cut too much away from the shadowed side of the shells and needed to add more light on the light side.

I cut off the background and added a bit of white which improved this. The shell on the left still did not have clear shadows and light.

I needed to add a lot of white to get this to make sense visually. I realise now that trying to make the bottom half of the shells darker didn't make visual sense and I should have been more true to the shadows and contours of the object.  This finished print I used caligo safe dry inks on thai banana tissue paper. Reducing the contrast from black and white to dark red and cream also softened the image. 

What was successful?
I am pleased with this finished print, particularly the textures. I found it a very interesting learning experience. I did learn some important points on this, most notably being true to the image and its form and shadows or it wont make visual sense, an important lesson to take into my next project.What was not successful?I didn't achieve an image that shows much in the way of experimenting with black on white / white on black,
Ideas to be developed:
Next time I attempt to recreate an object like this I will be much more selective about the lighting. I would like to try using lamps to create strong shadows giving me more contrast to develop in my print.

Monday, 4 April 2016


Looking for inspiration I went to see some art classes in the secondary school I teach in. The art teacher there is very strong conceptually and guides the older kids to make really complex artwork. I thought this would be a good source of inspiration for the linocut assignment.

I went in at the beginning of a new unit and they were starting on the new idea of storytelling and creating artworks that tell a story.

They were looking at some traditional art forms that do this such as shrines and retablos. I found some interesting ex voto retablo, including some by Frida Kahlo. They tell the story of a tragic event, with a picture of the saint that they feel saved them from this.

I also found some old woodcut retablo images

Inspired by this I began designing a similar image. I was going to use an image of my Dad in the hospital bed and Nina Simone as the saint.  I am not religous and her music has helped me through hard times. In the end I decided just to focus on Nina in the style of the wood block retablo.

I decided not to go any further with this as my source image was not very good. I may come back to the idea.

After this I brainstormed lots of ideas about my story and decided I wanted to represent my life as different identities I've had living in different places. Although I have not been completely different, each place I've lived have been very different to one another, and to some extent, I've been a different person in each place. 

This idea of multiple identities I later realised is very much a post-modern one. In traditional society and later in modernist times, roles were more or less defined by class, place of birth occupation or gender.  The beginning of the mind shift that changed these roles was Deconstruction from the late 1960's, developed by Jacques Derrida, based on the concept that ideas are unfixed, unstable, inter-reliant and inherently contradictory, and can therefore subvert themselves (Phillips, 2013). When this idea is applied to identity, and it is our own ideas that are unfixed, the multiple identities many of us experience can become in sharp contrast to one another.

I am aware that I am a person with a true post-modern, shifting and uncertain identity. The place where I grew up is in great contrast to this. There are many people there (the Isle of Wight) who live their lives on much more certain terms. They identify themselves as being from that place, some quite strongly. I have never felt this certainty in my identity as I never felt from there, being born in London and not having the same network of extended family around me as other people there had. 

The Isle of Wight is not a place with a lot of social mobility, there are not many professional opportunities there. For many they find a role that enables them to stay there, and they stay in that role. However, even as a teenager I was not happy with that and was taught to want and aim for more. While this, of course, I am grateful for now, it often set me apart from the community I grew up in, making me uncertain about my identity. 

My family were middle class, the Isle of Wight is not, it was not cool to be middle class in the 90's! This was another aspect of my identity which I would not accept and moved onto travellers sites, which defied social classes and lived outside of society for 6 years. This was a big shift in identity, perhaps could be interpreted as my search for an identity, after feeling uncertain about myself as a teenager.
I moved again after this, into different roles, different places in society and later different countries. I am now an expat, and feeling uncomfortable with this identity at times. 

I have explored this in more detail in other places and don't want to put too much of this personal exploration here.

However, it has put me onto a path of exploring this theme through my artwork.

An artist I have looked at who has created works juxtaposing a wide array of images and styles is David Salle. He rejected the coherent styles of the past. In this example he uses print, lithograph and woodcut:

Postmodernism is a broad term encasing a wide range of art movements, including blurring the boundaries between high culture and mass or popular culture. Salle regularly explores many of these styles and mediums of art within one work, this piece, Fast and Slow, combines print techniques, and textures when juxtaposing images together, creating a truly post-modern image (, 2016).

As a starting point I decided to explore five relatively simple subjects that represent each place. I brainstormed a lot of different ideas and found a recurring theme of plants.  I also want to capture a bit of the character of each place as well through colours and style of composition.

This collage shows the subjects I chose which are all plants: a swiss cheese plant, pine trees, sunflowers, pink roses and palm trees. I've also included a few fabrics from the corresponding times of my life, giving a snapshot to my taste at the time and colours I may look at and pictures of my children.


Phillips, Sam, 2013. Isms, Understanding Modern Art. Bloomsbury: London (2016). Postmodernism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2016].