Friday 1 February 2019

Kayak expedition Greenland

In the midst of winter here (-14C in Braemar last night), I have finally found the time to report on our kayak expedition to Greenland last year. We booked our 12-day trip with Martin Rickard who has been kayaking and leading trips in South-East Greenland for almost 20 years. He was recommended to us by our neighbours who did a similar trip two years ago.

Map of South-East Greenland (source: Wee Cheng)

On the 23rd of July we took the plane to Reykjavik, Iceland. We stayed there for one night, giving us the opportunity to chat with our kayak friends from NESKy who just returned from their trip and were able to share their wonderful experience there. Because their group was too large we joined a different one. We met eachother the next day at the Domestic airport of Reykjavik. A couple from Northern Ireland, a couple and 2 friends from New Zealand (!), a woman from England and us.

Once arrived at Kulusuk airport we got a boat ferry to Kuummiut, a small settlement inland. Normally the kayak trips would start at Tasiilaq (also called Ammassalik or Angmagssalik) and go through Sermilik fjord. However, a hungry polar bear had been spotted there, "stealing" seals from the locals. As they already hit the quota, they couldn't do anything else other than making a lot of noise. Although our guide carries a gun, he didn't want to take any risks. This meant that we were going to explore Sermiligaq fjord with its glaciers and an abandoned US airbase from after WWII.

Our route

With about a maximum of  20 k per day it was not challenging. The cold however was! Not so much the first week when it was wonderful and sometimes surpringly hot, but in the second week we had some fog and the nights were very damp and chilly. Even our guide said it was unusually cold for a Greenland summer. There was also much more snow in the mountains than what he had experienced in two decades. One day we stayed put at one of the hunters huts due the bad weather forecast. The kayaks had to be tied down and the hut was shaking when the storm came that night!

Here is a selection of photos. Enjoy!

Some things I won't ever forget:

- The mosquitoes; they even sting through thick woolen socks! And then the weeping blisters because of the rubbing of the socks against my skin. Ouch.
- The stunning geology.
- The sound of calving glaciers.
- The warmth of our campfire (a necessity).
- The beautiful tree logs brought here by rivers and sea currents all the way from Russia (there are no trees in Greenland).
- The amazing wildlife such as seals (synchronised swimming), the cute and cheeky arctic fox in our camp and the humback and fin whales
- The exploding iceberg right in front of me while I was doing my polar bear watch at night. My heart skipped a beat!
- The tsunami that was caused by the breaking up of a giant iceberg a few kilometers away. We had to tie up the kayaks and it only took a few minutes to reach our beach!
- Drinking lovely fresh water which can be found almost everywhere.
- The joy of washing myself in a few pools of melted snow warmed up by the sun.
- The amount of layers I was wearing in my down sleeping bag during some very cold nights.
- The fresh Danish pastries when we returned in Kuummiut; a delight!
- The coated dates we bought in the small shop in Kuumiut (licorice, cocoa and coconut); the perfect snack!

It was a journey of a lifetime and I would love to go back again some day to explore a different area of this immense country.

Monday 10 December 2018

Printmaking residency USA (2)

Earlier this year I announced that I received the Visual Artist and Craft Maker Award to do a printmaking residency at Zea Mays Printmaking (ZMP) in the USA. You can read more about that in my previous article. From 30 October until 12 November I was there and below you can read about my awesome experience there.

Zea Mays Printmaking
Zea Mays printmaking studio is based in a former cutlery building in Florence near Northampton, Massachusetts. It's a huge building!

Zea Mays Printmaking on ground and second floor

The ground floor is where the printmaking courses are run, research into non-toxic printmaking is done, the Sanford gallery is for members' exhibitions and where the Annex (my studio) is. The first floor contains the members' studio, the office and the appartment (where I stayed).

The Members' studio

Rolled up ink in the members' studio

Participants during a printmaking course

Participant during a printmaking course

Participants during a printmaking course

Relief rollers

Instructions for non-toxic etching

Inky scrim

Letterpress alphabet

The Loo Gallery with a monthly rotating member exhibition

Members' exhibition at the Sanford Gallery

The huge Takach press in the Annex which was exclusively mine for this period!

My plan during the two weeks I was here was to create large collagraph prints and then make artists' books from these prints. I had ordered some materials in the USA and had it sent over to ZMP. That was easier than to add to the already full suitcase with other materials I brought from home. As I hadn't chosen my subject yet, I decided to let the environment inspire me. I was there in the most beautiful season with some decent weather and just in time to see the vibrant colours of the leaves before they fell off. ZMP lent me a bike so first I spent time to get familiar with the area. They have many bike-friendly roads, traffic is not heavy and they are very cautious drivers. There was also a dedicated bike track, the Norwottock Bike Trail which I really enjoyed!

Cycling the Norwottock Bike Trail

The Norwottock trail is part of the Mass Central rail trail

The rail bridge at Northampton

The Connecticut river

The railway bridge gave splendid views over the Connecticut river and that's when I decided to choose the flow of water as my subject.

Using the map as my guide I carved/cut out from the chipboard I had purchased in the USA. It was the first time I was using this kind of board so I was a bit nervous and hoped it would work. I was luckily not disappointed; I could easily peel off the top layer from the parts I had cut, making a nice indentation for the ink to set. I also scraped into the surface to add some more texture. Instead of sealing the plate with Shellac which I normally do, I used a non-toxic method in the form of acrylic varnish. That worked really well too and no bad smells!

Carving chipboard with a scalpel to create a collagraph plate

Me in action in the beautiful studio

As the plate was quite big it took a lot of physical effort and time to apply and wipe off the ink (intaglio method). For the first few prints I had to find the right balance in amount of ink, especially in the smaller grooves. Initially I only used one colour (Prussian Blue) but after I received some very valuable feedback from one of the tutors, I experimented with combining two techniques in applying ink: intaglio (which I ususally do) by using a squeegee + toothbrushes and once wiped off and the relief method where the ink was applied only to the raised area of the plate by using a relief roller (I only used this for some linocuts in the past). For this layer I used a terracotta colour. Normally you would leave that second layer of ink as it is, but I wanted to manipulate it and create various tones on the plate (while the blue was still underneath) so I had another intense session of wiping off the ink. All the effort was definitely worth it, I was very pleased with the result!

One of the final prints inspired by the Connecticut river

Inspired by the flow of water, I made another collagraph plate (with same kind of chipboard) by creating textures in a abstract way. I used molding paste, scrumbled up tissue paper, pieces of paperbags (every supermarket has them here!) and netting. This video shows (speeded up) how I wipe off the ink with scrim.

                                                         Wiping off ink from my collagraph plate

Certain areas were more wiped off than others to create tonal effects. As a print on its own, I don't think it works as there is too much going on. There is no point of focus and the netting is not the right texture. My plan is to use the print in artists' books so I was not too bothered. It was all about experimenting and having fun with different materials!

Water texture print

Before I left for the USA, I heard I was selected for an international print exchange (via Instagram). 20 printmakers would take part and each person would receive 19 different prints at the end. The theme was reflection. I had brought some Toyobo photopolymer plates and my design on film so that I could work on that too at ZMP. A positive and a negative image based on one of my photographs was printed on Pictorico Ultra Premium OHP Transparency film. I then exposed both images onto two different plates with the lightbox in the darkroom with the settings for a relief plate. Then I washed off the photopolymer that had been masked by the film.

The lightbox in action in the darkroom

 Here's a video while printing off the two plates onto one piece of paper.

                                                            Pulling off my photopolymer print

This is just a small batch of the prints. In the end I had to make about 30 so that I could select the best ones.

Reflection print from two photopolymer plates (Toyobo)

According to Wikipedia "Northampton is known as an academic, artistic, musical, and a countercultural hub. It features a large politically liberal community along with numerous alternative health and intellectual organizations. [...] Northampton is the most politically liberal medium-size city (population 25,000–99,000) in the United States. The city has a high proportion of residents who identify as gay and lesbian, a high number of same-sex households, and is a popular destination for the LGTB community".

I only found this text after I had come back, but this is exactly how I experienced the culture there. I felt at home from the day I arrived!

To give myself some rest from all that printing and learn more about Northampton's culture, I visited it's Historic Museum and saw the exhibition "Chaotic Freedom and the scars of slavery: from Baton Rouge to Northampton". Distressing but important to not forget this horrible past!

I also visited an exhibition at A.P.E. gallery where selected members of ZMP showed their work.

A.P.E gallery in Northampton

I was instantly drawn to one of the ceiling hangings and artists' books by Edda Valborg Sigurdardottir.

Detail of Edda Valborg's mixed media work

Another artist whos work inspired me was Nancy Diessner. She had incorporated intaglio prints in a kayak sculpture!

Print sculpture by Nancy Diessner

Print sculpture by Nancy Diessner

On another day Liz Chalfin, the director of ZMP, invited me to come along to a talk by German book artist Veronika Schaepers, organised by Special Collections at Smith College. She brought a few books that were not in the library's collection. The amount of detail and dedication to create books like that is just mindblowing! Here are two videos where Veronika shows one of her "woven" artists' books.

Veronika showing her artists' book

   Veronika showing her artists' book

At the end of my residency, I went down to Special Collections again to see 10 other artists' books with unusual structures such as Daniel E. Kelm, Liz Chalfin, Julie Chen and Ken Botnick.
Back at ZMP I had the opportunity to see their own artist' book "Traces", a collaboration between poet Annie G. Rogers and selected ZMP members.

Artists' book "Traces" with prints from ZMP members

I also viewed artists' book "Of Thin Ice" by ZMP member Tekla McInerey which had just been purchased by the New York Library Special Collections. It was inspired by Shackleton and Scott's expeditions to Antarctica. The photos here don't do it justice, you really have to feel the different (handmade) papers and see the subtleties in the prints upclose to fully appreciate the making of this book!

Artists' book "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

Artists' book "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

Detail of one of the pages "On Thin Ice" by Tekla McInerey

While I was there ZMP heard they received a grant to fund improvements to their studio. A fantastic achievement! During the preview of one of the members' exhibitions a local tv crew from 22 News came round to cover the story. Unfortunately the directors Liz and Sheldon had other commitments that night, but members were able to inform the journalists. And then they interviewed me! I was a bit overwhelmed (and not prepared at all!) but I think it went ok. You can watch the broadcast here.

Having fun AFTER the interview

My plan was to create artists' books from my new prints, but as it took much longer to make them and then to dry them, there was not much time left. I also realised I had to print the back side of the prints too before I could start making books. So while they were drying I made some mock-ups, inspired by Paul Jackson's books about cut and folding techniques.
This one is made by embossing paper first with one of my collagraph plates and then rubbing graphite on top.

Experiment pop-up card

I also brought Hedi Kyle's Art of the Fold book with me which gave me many wonderful ideas what to do with my prints. This one is a mock-up of the crown book made with newsprint. My head was spinning with the amount of possibilities!

Mock-up crown book

At the end of my residency I had an informal open studio event for ZMP members and tutors. I showed them my work and spoke about the various printmaking processes I had used. It was really lovely to hear their positive feedback and questions. I was actually quite sad that I had to say goodbye to this wonderful community!

Back home I made this card to thank ZMP. It's the crown greeting card structure from the Art of the Fold book. The designs come from my collagraph prints I made during my residency and are reproduced on Canson Aquarelle rag fine art paper.

Card for ZMP (front)

Card for ZMP (front)

Last but not least, I would like to thank Aberdeenshire Council and Creative Scotland. They have given me the chance to develop my non-toxic printmaking in a totally new environment and be part of a renowned, privately-owned printmaking studio. I have learnt new printmaking techniques, have experienced working on my art full-time and worked with a different press. I have been inspired by its members and other artists in the local community and their exceptional quality of artwork. The feedback I have received from members and tutors has given me more confidence to continue the creative path I'm following now. I'm ready to take my art practice further and look for opportunities to exhibit my artists' books nationally and internationally.

VACMA award sponsors

Tuesday 2 October 2018

North East Open Studios 2018

I can't believe how fast summer went! It has already been more than two months since I last posted an article here. Earlier this year I started to use Instagram where I regularly post photos and videos. It's a more convenient way for me to record my artistic journey and connect with other artists and people who are interested in my work.  You can see the latest feed on the right-hand side of my blog (if you receive blog updates by email you first have to click the title).

It has been a very busy time with a kayak expedition to Greenland (which I hope to write about later this year) and preparations for the yearly North East Open Studios. From 8-16 September I exhibited at the beautiful Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee in Bieldside, Aberdeen, with 10 other artists.

Artists at the Phoenix group

In the run up to NEOS I was asked by the Committee, among a few other artists, to take part in a promotional video which was going to be shared on social media. It was exciting to do but it's so weird to hear yourself talking!

                                                                 Video of me in my studio

                                                          Video of all interviewed artists

I had a wonderful, light space and was able to display my works in the way I wanted. I brought two side tables to display my print sculpture "Betula"and my limited edition artists' book "Woodland" (the original was sold at RSA Open!).

Settling in in my exhibition space

As most visitors like to buy smaller items, I designed and made various notebooks. These proofed to be very popular so soon I will have these available in my Etsy shop!

A selection of my handmade notebooks

I used wooden boxes to display my notebooks and cards

For the event I also made a new artists' book where I used birch bark and some leftover prints.

This print sculpture was another new piece I added to my collection. It is made from two prints (from a laser engraved plate), machine-stitched together and assembled onto a piece of birch branch with three twigs.

"Betula" print sculpture (front)
"Betula" print sculpture (close-up back)

It was an amazing week, where I met so many lovely people. Hearing their feedback about my work was just priceless. I also really enjoyed working together with the other artists and being part of a group. Newton Dee has been a fabulous host for our event and I can't thank them enough for letting us use their space. Even though I was exhausted after 9 days of listening and talking, it's something I definitely want to do again, again....and again!