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But what does it mean?

Pictographs - monotype print inspire by Native America pictographs
Pictographs – monotype – acrylic on paper 2020

As I continue to add new items to the shop, I’ve taken to including in the item description a brief explanation of the title. In connection with the ‘Lockdown Series’ of monotypes this is sometimes difficult. Naming a piece of abstract art is never easy and may well end up saying more about the artist than the art! Humans appear to have strong pattern matching instincts. We see shapes and can’t help trying to make sense of them. There is even a scientific term for it – pareidolia. It isn’t surprising then that abstract paintings and prints fall victim to the same tendency. Any meaning in abstract art has to be put there – usually by the viewer, not the artist.

Several things spring to mind from this.

First, just because you see something in an abstract image, that doesn’t mean it is the result of deliberate intent.

Second, just because you see something in an abstract image that doesn’t mean others will also see it. Equally, if you can’t see anything, it doesn’t mean others cannot.

Third, just because an artist gives an abstract image a title suggestive of something in the real world, that doesn’t mean it is actually in the picture.

For example take one of my favourite artists, Gillian Ayres. Many of her paintings only got a title after she finished it. Sometimes she even asked friends to suggest titles. These titles almost never describe what the painting is about. Instead, they seem to reflect how the artwork made her feel and what that reminded her of. Gillian Ayres said you don’t need to understand her art to like it. She just wanted you to look at it. I found many similar quotes from Mark Rothko.

There is a wider point here. There is no meaning in abstract art. It does not require understanding. It just is. A Renaissance painting, with its richly symbolic visual language has much more intrinsic meaning than say a painting by Jackson Pollock. If an artist attaches personal meanings to the shapes and colours of an abstract painting, they must either share those meanings or accept that others will attach their own and, going back to our starting point, see different things.


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Gel printing – my approach

Multi-layered Gel print

I’ve tried to record the process of making one of my gel prints several times, but without success. This is because my working methods mean I am usually working on perhaps a dozen prints at once, jumping between them. I build up each image over time by adding layer after layer of colour and texture. The closest I have come is a series of photographs of different stages. This post tries to fill some of that gap.

Applying the paint

All gel prints start with paint on the plate. This is the first big variable. I apply the paint with a brush, a roller and even my fingers. Rollers give the most even effect. Even then as the roller loses paint to the plate in one place it can start picking it up elsewhere. The basic aim is to create variations in the thickness of the paint sitting on the plate. This helps to create variations in colour and visual texture in the eventual gel print.

How much variation you want is a matter of choice. For me, early layers tend to have more or less complete coverage using a limited palette. For later layers I may only cover part of the plate, perhaps using a mask or stencil. On any layer, I can create textural variation by applying anything with texture to the paint as it sits on the plate. I use pill packets, bits of card, pieces of scrap plastic with interesting textures or just crumpled paper. I often remove paint completely with cotton buds.

How this will print depends on a range of factors – what colour is it going over, on the use of opaque or transparent paints and on how much is left in the thinnest areas. Using more than one colour at a time on the brush or roller also creates variations and colour blends. Adding acrylic medium also alters things.

Layering

I don’t clean down the plate between every layer. Because the transfer from plate to paper is not always 100% this can leave patches of paint behind. Rolling fresh colour over these patches often picks them up and transfers them to the print, adding texture.

Using transparent paints in a layer will shift the colour underneath depending on the two colours used. If the upper layer is partial this will leave the underlying colour untouched in some areas. Removing part of a layer also allows the underlying colour to come through. The effect will vary between transparent and opaque colours.

I also restrict the area to which I’m applying the paint using masks or stencils. I usually cut or tear these from newsprint. Opaque paint will obscure what is underneath. I do this to simplify messy areas or perhaps to combine separate blocks of colour. Using transparent or semi-transparent paint can subdue contrast between adjacent areas or shift colours by mixing through layering. Acrylic medium can create translucent effects if you mix it with opaque colours.

Eventually the build up of paint on a plate makes the transfer of paint to the print too unpredictable. This is my cue it needs cleaning. The paint left on the plate won’t be wasted however, even if it has dried completely. Start by rolling out an even coat of colour over everything. Then start to take the print as normal, but leave the paper on the plate longer than usual before you lift it. If everything goes well the last layer has bonded with the residue on the plate and most of it will transfer to the paper. You are unlikely to get a print this way that stand in its own right. The idea is just to use it as the first layer for a subsequent gel print.

As the layers of paint build up I look for the happy accidents and try to reinforce them. It is the way that successive layers show through that creates the subtle colours and textures which I think are the defining characteristic of gel prints. Some paints are opaque, other transparent. It is very rare for me to plan out an image. Even when I do that plan is often quickly abandoned when I see something unanticipated but which works! Eventually I get to a point where, as I look at an image it says Stop! That is something I can’t define. IT seems to be a combination of visual balance in terms of shapes and colours and overall cohesion/balance of the image as a whole.

Composition

Building up the image in layer after layer makes adhering to a specific composition difficult. I rarely have a fully planned composition in mind. Even when I do, that can be derailed when something unexpected happens which I like. The closest I usually come is the use of very simple structures like this crib sheet of mine. The artist Bob Burridge produces a rather more refined version you can buy.

Compositional diagrams
Set of compositional diagrams

A final thought on colour

As you add layers to your gel prints, you need to consider not just the area to be printed but the colour you will use. Careful thought here will give you more control over the final image. The first thing to do is to get a colour wheel. If your first layer is pretty much all cadmium yellows, look on the wheel at the colours either side of yellow. Using these colours for subsequent layers will give you a final image which is harmonious and balanced.

Alternatively look on the wheel at the colour opposite yellow – the complementary colours. Don’t just look at the direct complementary, look at the colours on either side of it which form the so-called split complementary. Some wheels also include markings for colour triads and for four colours. Try them. Using these colours will add drama and intensity to your work.

Don’t make the assumption that you need equal areas of complementary colours. Sometimes a large area of a relatively low-key colour can be balanced by a small intense area of its complementary. Think also about the effects of using transparent layers of one colour over its complementary. Think about how the effect differs from using opaques colours side by side. This can have an impact on your composition too.

Examples of my gel prints

There are lots of examples in the shop in the Lockdown Series 2020 and many more in my Instagram feed.

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Why consistent and attractive presentation of your work is important.

Sailing to Windward

I’ve written before about some lessons I have learnt about selling online. This post is about the more concrete aspect of getting a consistent and attractive presentation of your work.

The monotypes I’ve been making during lockdown now number about 70 with more still in progress. I’m thinking of setting myself a final target of 100 for the series. Making them has taught me a lot about colour and composition and I want to try to use those lessons in other print forms, especially collagraph. With so much work though consistent presentation is critical, not least because it raises issues of up-front costs in framing etc. Like any small business, artists need to minimise overheads

The cheapest option is obviously to offer these prints unframed and unmounted. However, I have noticed that there is a difference in perception between what you might call the ‘raw’ and ‘presented’ images. The simple act of presentation seems to be key in transform your work from just a piece of paper into an object of value.

By their very nature, gel plates are stretchy, so it can be difficult to get them accurately squared up before printing. Consequently, most of the nominally square prints are slightly distorted. Mounting them conventionally, with the edge of the print showing doesn’t look good because the gap between the print edge and the aperture edge is variable. The mount aperture can of course be cut to fit just inside the image. This gives a clean square look, and if the mount’s external dimensions are a standard frame size, gives a lot of flexibility in framing.

The print can also be torn down to a clean edge and ‘float mounted’. This needs a box frame to keep the glass off the image, which may be slightly more expensive. Here’s a video showing several ways of achieving this.

Instead of framing the print can be mounted on canvas or on a cradled wooden panel. This video by artist Bob Burridge shows how to do that neatly. I have to say I think this works best for larger pieces. Smaller works treated this way somehow lack ‘presence’, at least on their own.

I haven’t made my mind up yet. The float mounting technique in the video looks wonderful, but takes time to do well and would therefore be more expensive. I think in the end I will probably go for mounts cut to mask the edges. That way I can buy the mounts in bulk with bags and a backing board and to fit a standard frame size. Most of the images I’m talking about are 30 cm square so would look good in a 50 cm, but square frame. That’s a bit on the large size for easy shipping but should be possible. I have in the past sent 20″ x 16″ (about 50 cm x 40 cm) without problems.

However you do it, having a consistent and attractive presentation of your work is an important factor in achieving sales. If you are at all serious about your work it deserves that effort.

Let me know in comments how you do this for your work.

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Mailing List

detail of digital print

There’s a link via the menu, so this is just a reminder.

If you sign up to my mailing list you will get notifications of any shows or galleries where you can see my work in the flesh and advance notice of new projects. From time to time I will be offering subscribers discounts on purchases from my shop or other special offers. I will also use it to give subscribers a foretaste of the novel I’m working on. So, if you want to be kept up to date, please sign up.

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A Selection from the Shop

Because I’m still finding my way around WordPress and its various plugins, I haven’t fully implemented searches. At some point I will be adding the ability to search by price and probably also size and medium. Until then, here is a selection from the shop of what is currently available. There are lots more in the Lockdown Series, and I’m adding more all the time.

Once we have got past the COVID-19 crisis I would very much like to hold a physical show. Follow the blog or better still sign up for my mailing list to be notified.

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Latest in the shop

I’m continuing to add new items to the shop. My intention is to do that every day, but I don’t always make it! The shop structure is now much simpler, although I’m working on improving the search to allow for searches on price and size. For now, I’m concentrating on adding work made this year, the ‘Lockdown Series‘, with some older works.

Have a look. I’m quite pleased with it so far but I would appreciate your comments. The image below is ‘I Ching’

geometric abstract print resembling hexagrams of I CHing
I Ching – geometric abstract print

I’m still working away in the studio on some ideas for more ‘pared down’ images. There’s nothing to show yet though. I’ve learned a lot making these prints, especially about colour, and I want to transfer that experience to other print forms, especially collagraph, probably at first by revisiting some old plates. I also want to explore ways to take these monotype images into screen prints.

The best way to do this is probably by creating colour separations in software. These would then be used as the base image for the screens. Working in collagraph and screen print will also mean the images can be offered as genuine editions. I know of course that I could print directly from the scanned images, but that would then be just a reproduction, not an original print and I don’t do reproductions of my own work.

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Selling your art online – getting to grips with a new world.

From Westport to Ocean Park a collagraph print
From Westport to Ocean Park – collagraph

Selling your art online. Easy enough surely? Well, yes and no. I always wanted this site to be both shop and a blog. I enjoy writing so I want of course to write about my own work but also about art in general. That’s the easy bit. The shop though is, to say the least rather more complicated. I’ve sold online before, in a small way on EBay, but mainly on Etsy. That arcane art called SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, is however much more complex on your own site than on market places like Etsy or Folksy. That’s an issue but also an opportunity of course, but it still takes time.

I’m slowly adding new items to the shop but it is much slower than I hoped. So please bear with me for now while I work my way through the listings I’ve brought over from Etsy. For that reason I’m retaining the links to my other online venues for the time being. Eventually I will move them to the About Me page because I want this site to be the centre of my online existence. One of the wider lessons I learnt from selling on Etsy is not to dilute your brand. It’s my art I’m selling, so my brand is me. When I talk about selling your art online, I mean my art of course, but if I have any lessons to share I will try to do so.

Lessons I’ve learned

I don’t feel comfortable writing a blog post that claims to offer the answer because I don’t have the level of expertise to do that. I will however post from time to time to talk about what I’ve done and why. So bear in mind this is not advice. I’m the one following the advice!

  1. This post title has links to other parts of this site and to external sites. As I understand it a good variety of internal and external links helps persuade search engines the site is reputable. Bearing in mind my comments about brand, those other sites also use variations on the same artist name.
  2. There’s a relevant and unique key phrase used in the title, in the text (including near the beginning which gets more weight in search engines), in the page meta description and in the SEO title. This last took me a while to grasp but it is what shows up in search engine results. It needs to be long enough to explain and short enough to show up in its entirety.
  3. A good chunk of the key phrase should also appear in the url.

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New developments

I’m slowly starting to add items to the shop. I’m doing this slowly to make sure I have everything set up correctly. I’m aiming to make it possible to browse by medium, price, subject and size. I’ve added the last because I know sometimes thought how a little corner of a room would benefit from just the right piece of art and I can’t be alone.

I’m also working on setting up Virtual Exhibitions from time to time. My next real time show is not until May 2021 and who knows what will happen between now and then? For the moment this will just be a custom selection on the Shop Page but I’ve seen some wonderful examples since lock down using Virtual Reality so I’m looking into that too.

The featured image is called The Moon Goddess and the Sun. It is a collage made several years ago with prepared papers over a colour wash on watercolour paper. I had it framed for myself, but it will soon be added to the shop. The frame is very heavy solid wood so it will probably be added to the shop minus the frame.