Exploring a New Path (and Some Resources for Learning to Draw).

garden path
You never know where a new path may lead…

When I started this blog, I mentioned wanting to get on with the things that are important to me. Specifically, I wanted to learn new art techniques that would help in my printmaking and in mixed-media work. One of those techniques was perhaps the most basic – learning to draw.

So now I am busy doing something that is entirely new for me. A few weeks ago I enrolled for a six-week natural history illustration course. (I’m now doing the work for week three.) The class is online, held by the University of Newcastle in Australia. (If it appeals to you, you can find it here. )

It was luck that drew my eye to the advert for the course and the fact that it was offered free (so long as you don’t want a certificate at the end) made me think, ‘Why not?’ A drawing course held locally would probably make me feel a bit uneasy, but online you’re pretty much anonymous, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious about any lack of drawing skills. Additionally, the course is aimed at anyone from beginner to more experienced, so I didn’t have to worry about the course being too advanced for me.

Having said that, I did find the course really hard work last week – spending hours staring at the items I’d chosen to draw and attempting to get the detail of them onto paper. I felt tired by the end but managed to get the drawings (mostly) finished and submitted. A lot of the value of doing a course like this is that it pushes you to get the work done and to commit yourself to it. (Obviously, you could back out of the course and you wouldn’t lose anything, but self-respect, and the desire to make the most of an opportunity to improve, is a good spur onward.)

Does it seem a bit strange for a photographer to want to be able to draw rather than simply taking a photograph? Well, maybe! But this will give me the freedom to be able to do printmaking without needing to rely on a photo for the basic image. (I’ve done both screen-printing with a photo-stencil and photo-lithography but now I’m learning drypoint, which really does need some ability to draw.) Even the photography should benefit, because learning to draw trains you to become more observant. Drawing a subject forces you to concentrate on it to see all the details and to fully understand its structure and gives a much better understanding of what you are looking at.

The course lists a number of useful outside resources which are available to anyone. (You could learn a lot about the basics of drawing from these, without bothering with the course.)  These YouTube videos may be worth a look if you’re interested in learning to draw or improving your drawing skills:

  • SchaeferArt – first video takes you through the basics and following videos build on drawing and painting skills.
  • Paint Academy – basic shading, hatching etc demonstrated. You can work alongside this in real time. They have a large number of painting and drawing videos – many more advanced than the one I’ve linked here.
  • Drawing & Painting – The Virtual Instructor – I found this video on ‘How to Shade Basic Forms’ the most useful of those I’ve listed. There are lots more videos from him (on both drawing and painting) here that all look worth watching  – might need quite a bit of time!
  • Digital Painting Lessons – ‘Visual Measuring’ – basics on working out angles
  • EmptyEasel – ‘How to Draw by Finding Basic Shapes Within Objects’ – simplifying a subject  to make it easier to draw.
  • Sycra – ‘Negative and Positive Space’
  • Cathy Johnson – ‘Sketching in Nature’  The sound is low at the start but she does start speaking!

This drawing course is certainly a challenge for me. When I complete it, I’d like to have enough skills to be able to continue learning on my own. It does feel exciting to do something new! I hope that if you’re interested in learning to draw, you’ll find the videos helpful. (I wish I’d realized that they existed before!)

Japanese garden
Your destination might be a surprise!

 

Discovering Drypoint

Drypoint print of passionflower
Drypoint print with chine colle

I’ve mentioned before that over recent years I’ve been learning printmaking techniques. My newest little adventure is to learn drypoint.

This is a process that appeals to me because it is very simple and direct. Basically, an image is scratched into a printing plate (metal, plastic or special card) with a sharp point.

The plate is printed in the same way as an etching plate but the drypoint print has a softer-looking line. (A result of the ink being held not just by the incised line but also by the raised burr pushed up by the sharp point.)

For my first attempt at drypoint, I’ve used a drawing based on this photograph:

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

This is the same image that I used for the intaglio print/photography combination that I wrote about here.

The plate I used for this print was clear plastic. (You can see it in the photo below.) This has a huge advantage over metal – you can just lay it over a drawing or photograph and use that as a guide for inscribing the lines of the image. To scratch the lines into the plate, I used an engineers’ scriber. (You can find these for around £5 in D.I.Y. stores.) Anything sharp enough to mark the plate is worth trying but there are specific drypoint needles with different sizes of tips available too. I’ve recently bought a couple of these – shown in the photo. (Above the engineers’ scriber.)

Drypoint plate and needles
Drypoint plate, scriber and needles

The printing plate is inked and wiped in the same way as an etching plate. (But treated more gently, to preserve the burr along the edges of the lines – this helps to give the characteristic fuzzy look to the printed lines.)

As you can see from this description, the drypoint process is very straightforward. It’s also pretty inexpensive to try out. Even better – there are no chemicals involved. (Hooray! Great!! I’m very happy to be able to avoid using the nastier printmaking chemicals – some are very toxic!)

Making the drypoint print was a process that I really enjoyed. I found something very satisfying about scratching the lines into the plastic plate. And it’s also very pleasing to be able to use my photographs as a starting point for a printed image that will look quite different. I’m planning to make more prints soon and (if you’re interested in printmaking) I hope that I may have encouraged you to give drypoint a try.

Drypoint print of a passionflower
My first attempt at drypoint printing

A Photographer’s Garden

passionflower white lightning
I couldn’t resist buying this passionflower to photograph it.

As both a photographer and a gardener, obviously I tend to choose plants that I think will make a good photograph. The flowers I choose are often fairly large with a complex structure or interesting markings – something to hold the interest of the viewer.

It probably won’t take you long to spot my favourites on this blog. Passionflowers, hellebores, clematis, tulips and alliums are just a few of the flowers that give me the urge to grab my camera. (And, um, a strong urge to visit garden centres too!)

Buying plants to photograph means that I’ll have plenty of subjects for pictures. But buying one each of these plants won’t add up to good garden design. Instead, if I don’t restrain my plant-hunting, I’ll end up with a very bitty-looking garden.

Of course, the remedy is simple. We’re told to plant in groups of three or five, or in drifts if we’re lucky enough to have the space. Yeah, fine! That just gets a bit expensive at the garden centre….

Luckily, lots of the plants I’ve chosen are easy to propagate or else like to spread or seed themselves about. These plants are gradually becoming the backbone of my garden and they make it look a bit more cohesive.

There’s a snag here though. (There would be!) Some plants are getting just a bit too enthusiastic. Tall red scabious are getting absolutely everywhere, the geraniums are ruthlessly trying to smother the young astrantia plants nearby, and Japanese anemones are doing their best to take over the entire garden.

It appears that this photographer’s garden is going to be a constant balancing act. (And some of the more thuggish plants will have to be forced to mind their manners. That may take quite a bit of effort on my part.)

I hope you have the chance to enjoy a garden in this wonderful weather.

 

My Favourite Source of Inspiration

garden border in summer
Morning light in the garden

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?

Close-up photograph of a hellebore flower
Should I be concentrating solely on my photography?

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)

passionflower print
A photograph and an intaglio print of a passionflower digitally combined

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

Allium Christophii
The first flower opens on an allium head

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