My Favourite Source of Inspiration

I’ve always loved gardens. Early morning in summer is the best time in mine. It’s still peaceful then, and the demands of the day can be ignored for a little while.

Part of what makes it feel so special to me is the quality of the light at that time of day. It hasn’t yet got the bright glare that it will have later on. Instead, the light slants into the garden, picking out the textures of soft, feathery grass heads and glowing through the translucent petals of flowers. It brings a feeling of joy.

I’m certainly not an expert gardener, so it feels like a small miracle when plants grow well. (Especially if they haven’t had the care they should!) Self-seeded ”babies” are an excitement and sometimes a mystery…

sweet pea and aster flowers
Sweet peas and asters grown for a photograph

There are failures too, and there are always plenty of weeds, but somehow the garden always feels like a place of hope.

From childhood, I’ve been attracted by the look of plants. Not just for their colours, but for their textures and their structures too. (Think of the velvety petals of a petunia or of almost metallic-looking Allium christophii flowers.)

As I’ve grown older, my interest has widened to include the history of plants, the folklore, the stories told about them. (In general the relationship between man and plants. Probably because, for me, it represents the link between ourselves and nature. Because we are a part of nature too.)

There you have it – I’m a plant nut! (And always will be.) And yes, you may have found me out – photographing plants makes an excellent excuse for buying more!

clematis flower close-up
One of my favourites – a clematis

Is Dabbling Dangerous?

I’ve recently been enjoying the blog of the artist Danny Gregory. Reading through some of his older posts, I came across one from 2015 that seemed especially relevant to this blog and to my own creative process.

In the piece, entitled, ”The Dangers of Dabbling”, Danny Gregory says that although he admits to being ”a dabbler in all sorts of things”, we ought to avoid it. He tells us that we should concentrate on the work that we feel called to do, and not let ourselves be distracted by dabbling in other areas.

I do agree that if you want to be good at something, then you’ll need to focus and work hard. But does that mean that also trying out other things is necessarily bad? Can time spent on other interests bring something to your principal work? Is it possible for ”dabbling” to be a good thing?

As far as art is concerned, I believe it can be. Because it seems to me that, for mixed-media artists, experimenting and challenging yourself with new materials and methods is part of your artistic growth.

Several artists have particularly inspired me with their exciting combinations of techniques and materials.

Dorothy Simpson Krause wrote about bringing together collage, printmaking, photography and painting to create beautiful artists’ books in ”Book + Art”. (I love this book. It makes me want to try making my own artists’ books.)

Patti Roberts-Pizzuto creates delicate artworks by combining her drawings with stitching on paper, which is then dipped in beeswax. Wen Redmond also uses stitch in her work. To this she may add digital imagery, mono-printing, paint, or more, to create pieces which are wonderfully unique and expressive.

While none of these artists could be called a ”dabbler”, they do show that different techniques can be brought together in new and adventurous ways to create successful artworks.

So what about dabbling, then? Well, for me (as very much a learner) it gives the opportunity to find out what creative processes appeal to me and whether I can find a way to combine them with my photography. For artists, dabbling may provide a way to travel beyond the confines of the core work. It allows new ideas to form and new combinations to be made, which can lead to unexpected and exciting results.

There’s no doubt, if I was to stick to purely photography, then I would be that much better at it. But trying out other art forms and finding ways to use them alongside my photography may give me something that is truly ‘mine’ and expresses my own unique voice.

I’m not afraid to dabble…are you?

You can see the work of the artists I’ve mentioned here:

And Danny Gregory’s blog is here. I can thoroughly recommend it!

Combining Photography With Printmaking (An Experiment)

Photography has always been my main creative pursuit. However, when my husband and I moved from Scotland to Suffolk, I was delighted to discover that our new home was near a rather wonderful printmakers’ workshop.

The workshop is part of Gainsborough’s House, a museum and art gallery which celebrates the life of painter Thomas Gainsborough. It offers courses in all kinds of printmaking and there is a well-equipped studio for the use of its members. I’ve learned the basics of several printmaking techniques there and I’ve wondered about combining them with photography.

The picture at the top of this post is a digital mix of a photograph of a passionflower and an intaglio print of the same image.

For the intaglio print, I used ImagOn printmaking film, which allows a printmaking plate to be made from photo-generated imagery. In short, this film is adhered to a plate (which can be metal or plastic) before being exposed to UV light with the artwork/photopositive and then being developed.

This process is very similar to photographic darkroom work and has the same need for making test pieces to work out the correct exposure and development times. (If, like me, you’ve been through the ‘old’ days of film and black and white printing, you could feel quite at home with this.)

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

To create the image for the ”photopositive”, I used Photoshop. First, I converted the photograph to monochrome and then I adjusted the contrast so that the tones were either solid black or white. This image was printed on very thin paper, which was made more translucent by coating it thinly with vegetable oil. A slightly messy process! But it gave a good image to expose onto the printmaking plate.

The processed plate was a little tricky to print from because the lines of the image were quite wide and the depth of film on the plate was shallow. This meant that the ‘grooves’ on the plate didn’t retain ink well when the excess ink was wiped from the plate. Very frustrating! It took quite a few attempts before I managed to get enough ink to stay in the grooves to make the print.

Intaglio print of a passionflower
The intaglio print

The scanned intaglio print was combined with the original photograph by stacking the images together in Photoshop. A bit of work was needed to remove the background of the intaglio print and to make adjustments to exposure, colour and saturation to get the two images to blend well.

I enjoyed my experiment and I reckon that I’ll be trying more combinations like this. The results are quite different from either either photography or printmaking and it feels as if there are all sorts of possibilities.

You can find out more about ImagOn printmaking film here.

If you would like to read about Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop, you can find their site here.

Have you experimented with combining photography and printmaking? I’d love to hear about it in the comments…

A Time For New Growth

Do you have things that you want to do – really want to do – but never find the time for? Important things that get swept aside by life’s demands and responsibilities?

If you do, you’ll understand how I feel. Over the last couple of years there have been creative processes I’ve wanted to learn and ideas I’ve had for ways to combine my photography with mixed-media art. But I haven’t given them the time they deserve.

A comment from my mother made me realise that I’ve reached the time where I want to get on with all these things. She looked me in the eye and said, ”You know, if there’s something you want to do, you must get on and do it now.”

Nothing unusual in that, you might think. But, at 91, Mum was suffering from severe dementia and was rarely able to communicate clearly. Usually her sentences would start off with something familiar but then drift off into nonsense. ”Tell me this,” she’d say. ”Are you up or down?” You can imagine my puzzlement in trying to figure out that one!

I’m sure you can now see why Mum’s moment of clarity made such an impression on me. Somehow she was able to think out and communicate her feelings about getting on and doing the things that really matter. It makes me believe that Mum was still aware that there were things that she wished that she had done. The persistence of this thought, even through the late stages of dementia, surely shows how important it is to do the things we care about.

So I am writing this blog as a way of urging myself forwards. When I learn new techniques for printmaking, collage and mixed-media art, I’ll be able to write about them here. This will also be a space where I can share my main passion – photography – and the inspiration behind it. (Which, as you will have guessed from the title of this site, is nature – plants in particular.)

This is the time of year that I love best – a time that makes me feel excited and energized. Everything in the garden is racing into summer. The trees are in full leaf and there is a rapidly-changing procession of colours as the flowers bloom. New growth is everywhere. Now it’s time for me to grab my camera and see if I can do a bit of growing too…

Are you in the same situation as me? If so, I hope you’ll be able to snatch the chance to do whatever it is that you really want to do. Time is never easy to find but it passes all too quickly and can leave us regretting the things we’ve left undone. Go for it!

young fern fronds
The unfurling new growth of a fern