Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Can you see me?

I was delighted to hear I am one of the 45 artists and makers selected for the Saltaire Festival Makers' Fair in September. The icing on the cake was finding out that I'm featured in this rather fun little video released to publicise the event (using a pic which must have been taken of me at last year's show). Can you see me? If you can then you could win one of my new Ammonites prints. Watch the video - it's only 30 seconds - then see below for how to enter. (Hint - if we haven't met and you can't see what I look like from the little profile pic here, there's a bigger version on the 'About the Artist' page of my website.)

Once you've spotted me, simply email me with the subject line 'I see you' and tell me which word is on the screen at the same time as I am. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries after the closing date which is 10 August 2015.
  • Only one entry per person please
  • The winner will be emailed and asked for their name and postal address so the print can be sent to them. If no reply is received in three days another draw will be made.
  • The winner's name will be published here on the blog
  • All emails will be deleted after the winner has been drawn; your email address will not be saved and will be used only to contact you if you are a winner.
  • The prize will be a print from my Ammonite collagraph monoprints series. (Three different examples are shown below).
Ammonite series mini prints -  each image size 10 x 10 cm

For more information about the Saltaire Festival and the Makers' Fair please visit their website. The Makers' Fair is on 12 and 13 September 2015 in Victoria Hall, Saltaire, West Yorkshire.

The Ammonite prints will be available at the Fair and are currently in my Etsy shop. If you're near York right now you can also see them in the 'Jurassic Coast' exhibition at Blossom Street Gallery until 19 August.

Good luck!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Who is Stoneflower Stu?

I’ve used the name Stoneflower Studio for more than seventeen years and quite often I am asked where the name comes from. Equally often, it has to be said, people think I must have meant Sunflower and just call me that instead: amusing when written on an envelope, less funny when written on a cheque. On one memorable occasion, the advertising editor of a local magazine decided I had made a mistake when submitting copy and so helpfully corrected the text to read ‘Sunflower Studio’. To reassure me that it was really no bother she kindly added an image of sunflowers to the background of the ad too. I think she was quite hurt that I didn’t appreciate her efforts.

So anyway how did I start using this name? In 1997 our brand new house was being built, along with several others, on disused industrial land between existing houses.

Autumn 1997
When our neighbours’ properties had been built several decades earlier, the planners had shown a distinct lack of foresight and imagination (or indeed planning, which was their job) and failed to hold back any spare house numbers, so now we would have to be 25a, alongside 25b, 25c, 27a and 27b as well as the original 25 and 27. We anticipated trouble, mis-delivered post and unordered pizzas* so those of us watching our new houses being built decided we needed house names too. After much deliberation I had the stroke of genius which was ‘Stoneflower’. It was so right! It was so perfect! But just as we were about to order a sign and notify Royal Mail and the Fire Service, our children deployed the downcast lashes and small voices tactic and murmured that they’d always liked the name of our old house [insert heart tugging sigh here]. Instant parental deflation was piled onto the guilt already felt at uprooting our six and four year olds from their home 200 miles away and thus the old name, 'Alderley', was duly re-used. What a shame we'd left the house sign behind.

But I still haven’t explained about ‘Stoneflower’. Well it comes from the names of our children – yes that’s right, the ungrateful ones who spurned my suggestion of immortalising them in a slate plaque on the front of the house. Our son is Peter, which I’m sure you know comes from the Ancient Greek ‘Petros’ meaning stone. Our daughter is Poppy, which should not require any explanation for the flower bit. Having come up with such a wonderful, meaningful name (even if this view was not shared by the children), I didn’t want it to go to waste so decided to use it as my business name.

A watercolour I painted of the children in 1998
I have since discovered Stoneflower Studio won’t quite fit on my bank card where the embossing reads STONEFLOWER STU. I rather like the sound of Stoneflower Stu. He sounds cool. I imagine him as a banjo player supporting Seasick Steve on tour. When I joined Twitter I considered becoming StoneflowerStu but settled for @stoneflowerjane. Perhaps I should give Stoneflower Stu his own account. I wonder what he would tweet about?

*By the way we were proved right. And having house names didn’t help after all.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Robin Nest - printing a collagraph

One of the most common questions I get asked at shows is "How long does one of these take you?". The poor unsuspecting enquirer is probably expecting a simple two word answer starting with a number and ending with a unit of time, but I'm afraid instead they get an explanation of the many variables of printmaking. I try to stop talking before their eyes glaze over too much.

With some forms of printmaking, the time-consuming bit is carving and creating the plates from which the print is made, while the actual printing is a relatively quick whizz with an ink roller and a pass through a press. With others the plate might be fairly simple, but inking up for each individual print is a slow and painstaking job. The collagraph print I'm going to show you here is one of the latter. The plate was made from a piece of mountboard (or matboard if you're in the US); some parts were incised to remove the top layer while in other areas texture was created by sticking on elements including thread, paper shapes and lines of pva glue. Once finished the plate was sealed with several coats of shellac.

The first colour to be applied was a pale green blue for the twigs in the nest. This had to be pushed right down into the incised areas so I used a toothbrush to work it in. The ink was the thick and sticky consistency you would use for other intaglio methods (eg etching) so it would stay where it was put and not be easily wiped out again.

I didn't want much of this colour on the surface of the plate so I wiped the excess off with a piece of scrim and to make some of the marks even clearer I cleaned up around the edges with a cotton bud.

Then I added a green ink with a roller. Now I was working in a relief method so the ink just lay on the raised surfaces not in the indentations. The ink was loosened to a relief printing consistency for this using an extender. After inking, the outer area was softened and blurred by wiping with scrim, while the centre part was cleaned up with a rag to remove as much ink as possible

The middle of the plate was now inked up with a brown colour. This was another time that I needed the ink to be pushed right down into the nooks and crannies, so I used a poupée; meaning 'doll' in French, this is a thick soft stump made by screwing a piece of rag into a ball and then wrapping and taping or tying another piece round it.

Then I used another piece of clean rag to take the brown ink off the paper eggs in the centre and yet another to wipe some pale blue ink directly onto them. (Worn out shirts never get wasted here.)

Finally, after around half an hour of adding and wiping ink the plate was ready....

... to be passed through the etching press with a piece of dampened printmaking paper, and a print was pulled.

And then it was time to clean up the plate and do it all over again. After seven prints the fragile plate began to degrade and that was the end of the edition. Each print inevitably came out differently so the prints are numbered with the annotation 'VE' for 'variable edition'.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

National treasure

A few months ago I was watching Bargain Hunt while I ate my lunch (and there’s a glimpse into the life of a working from home artist right there) and Tim Wonnacott was looking around Chirk Castle. I’d never heard of the place but it looked marvellous. Another lunch break and another tv antiques programme put me on the trail of Wroxeter Roman City, which turned out to be in the same neck of the woods as Chirk Castle. I stored these things up in my heart and remembered them, so when my husband proposed that we book a weekend away I suggested we visit Shropshire. He was a little surprised – he’d been thinking more in terms of Florence or Paris – but I confessed that I was filled with ungrateful weariness at the thought of boarding passes, euros, travel insurance and putting my shoes in a plastic tray and I would really like just to get in the car and drive somewhere we had never been before.

So it was that late on a recent Friday evening we arrived at Sebastians in Oswestry, which attracted the requisite rave reviews on Trip Advisor and promised beamed ceilings, four poster beds and an award winning restaurant – all of which it delivered, with knobs on (polished brass ones).

The next morning the sun shone as we drove up to Chirk Castle which is a crucial few hundred metres over the Welsh border, as firmly announced by the red dragon fluttering proudly from the battlements. Rising into view on a hill ahead of us, the castle looked for all the world like the set of a Hollywood swashbuckler. We would not have been surprised to be stopped by some elegant men in tights on horseback, laughing uproariously and slapping their thighs. Instead we encountered the nice volunteers at the ticket office who scanned our National Trust membership cards and booked us onto a guided tour, which got us into the interior of the castle ahead of the usual opening hours.

This is a gem of a house, having been lived in and loved for centuries. The effect of generations extending and redecorating is that you find yourself making a tour of the history of interior design, through medieval simplicity, Jacobean majesty, Georgian classicism, over the top Victorian Gothic thanks to a Pugin makeover and, most recently, homely 1930s comfort. The gardens are equally delightful, lacking only playing card gardeners painting the roses. Dotted around are pairs of deckchairs, placed so thoughtfully it would be rude not to sit in them. So we did. For quite a long time.

The view from a deckchair

When it was time for a little something, the tea room did its National Trust thing and supplied our needs perfectly.

Note for overseas readers: when visiting National Trust properties you have to  eat a cream tea.

Most artists are probably used to the funny looks they get when they stand with their backs to the usual photo opportunities and focus on the unnoticed. I got some useful shots in the gardens and also at Erddig, another nearby National Trust property, to be filed away for future prints.

I have a thing for water lilies - leaf forms, reflections, shadows. What's not to love? (I talked about creating a water lilies woodcut in this interview for Jackson's Art a few years ago).

This Virginia creeper (parthenocissus tricuspidata) was on a wall at Erddig and is another candidate for my foliage series of woodcuts, like these two.

Beech and Ivy hand burnished woodcut prints
We packed a lot into one weekend and this was not the end of our Shropshire adventures, but that's probably enough for one post. To be continued….

Monday, 13 July 2015

Work in progress

For quite some time I've been feeling the need for somewhere that I can share more about what is involved in the making of my art - thought processes, influences, planning and of course the technical stuff. I need something less formal than my website, with plenty of room to explain things (I adore Twitter but it's hard to demonstrate a printmaking technique in 140 characters) and somewhere that posts will actually be seen by those who have shown an interest and not hidden until I agree to pay to 'boost' them (yes I'm looking at you Facebook).  I think I might have just described a blog…

So here I am at last. I had found many excuses to put off this day - not least, and perhaps most ridiculously, the fact that I need a new logo and I thought I couldn't launch my blog until I'd got that ready. Daft huh?  In fact, why don't I actually blog about creating a new logo? *makes a note on 'posts to be written' list*

What you see here is the bare bones of what I hope will grow into something you will find interesting and perhaps even entertaining. (Unless of course you are reading this as an archived post months in the future, in which case hey look, this is how it all started – it’s got better hasn’t it?).  Look out for work development, demonstrations (another item on my ‘challenges to be conquered’ list is making a video), suggestions for other blogs and artists you might enjoy, exhibitions, arty news, things to see, places I’ve been, maybe the odd cake.

Bear with.....