Malham Cove, snow, last March

Malham cove in snow, reduction linocut

Ten months ago I stood in the sleet and mist on the rocky path that leads up the side of a steep drop that had been carved by falling water powered by the melting Ice Age glaciers.

Malham Cove (14)

I have adapted this sketch, experimenting with carving a relief into a soft cut rubber block.  The aim was really to understand how the tools worked this material.  It was like butter against the broad bladed gouge yet buckled and resisted the greater pressure applied from the narrow V shaped cutter.  It took a while to learn how to cut fine lines.  This was the first cut.

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Those small white vertical lines seemed to say nothing about the rock structure beneath, so I made four prints with various depths of blue and then recut the block.

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Actually, I quite like this simple image without the blue underprint.  To me, it has a pleasing abstract nature.

Printing was done on the floor with an eighteen stone weight applied to the paper and block: i.e. placing a dictionary on the paper, with me standing on the book, lifting my daughter and with my son balancing on my feet and holding onto hers.

 

Biting the paper IV: sylvan idyll.

I pay a yearly subscription for access to a private nature reserve.  Here there is a small wooded hill, largely ignored by the twitchers who congregate at the hides facing the flooded gravel pits.  I am self-conscious painting in company whereas this secluded wood is free of children, walkers and dogs.  This allows me to spend time just looking and experimenting in paint.

Siden Hill Wood - March (5)

I painted this in March, weather shifting between drizzle and sleet, a dry-run perhaps before my sketches in the Yorkshire Dales later that week.  At the top of the ridge, weak sunlight through the trees gave a luminous quality to the lichen covered fallen logs.  My painting had elements I liked, but the woodland floor was over-painted and dull (the digital image flatters the actual painting by being back-lit on your screen).  This weekend, I scraped it back with a knife, re-painted a single layer of green over the refreshed paper and brought more reds into adjacent areas for contrast.

Siden Hill Wood - March

Minds play tricks and odd thought pathways become ingrained.  Each time I cut into paintings in this way, an ugly little phrase recurs in my mind: “It has been knife work up here”, a comment by the Elf Legolas in the Lord of the Rings as he reports his tally of slain orcs.  I find I have  sympathy for the orcs, represented as a caricature of and metaphor for the industrial working class, invading and despoiling the rural idyll, mobs marshaled by elites and slain in their thousands.

Biting the paper III

I’ve more or less said all I wanted to say on this already.

This is the beck that winds its way down to feed the fall into Hull Pot.

I created this version at home, working into the original with knife and hard eraser.

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The wall with the hole from which poured the water was there but was more behind my left shoulder.  Putting it into view is, what is termed, license …

As for the original, I propped myself against that wall, my feet in snow, and painted in a gap between drizzle and sleet.

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Biting the paper (II)

In the Yorkshire Dales recently, it came as a revelation after years of painting in the field: sketches in open air are not finished pieces.  Instead, they need to contain sufficient information to complete the painting.

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Sure, for some artists, the field is the studio.  But this skill comes from both talent and practice.  For me, standing on the edge of Hunt Pot, with the sound of tumbling water in my ears, the evening light dimming to dusk and the first specks of drizzle settling on the paper, I was liberated by the realisation that my watercolour sketch was a beginning, not an end.

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The information I gathered in the field was the colour and overall composition.  I could not achieve the tonal contrasts or precision of drawing that I wanted at that moment.  These came later, from scraping back to white with a knife and hard eraser, and building layers of deeper colour with brush and conte crayon.

The palette is aurolean, ultramarine, phthalo blue, rose madder genuine, burnt umber and burnt sienna.  Some of the deeper tones are paynes grey.

Landscape with gun

I listened to Janacek’s sinfonietta on the radio.  The anchor commented that two different recordings of the same music  provide the soundtrack to Murakami’s novel, 1Q84.  I downloaded the music, and the book.  Janacek’s sinfonietta marks the boundary between the real and unreal, the profane and sacred.

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Around the same time, I listened to a learned discussion on the writing of Anton Chekhov.  In 1890, the ill young man made a three month journey from Moscow across Siberia to the penal colony of Sakhalin Island.  After listening, I have begun to work my way through his stories. As it turned out,  Chekhov’s narrative power is another thread running through the tapestry of 1Q84

Landscape with gun

According to Chekhov, says a character in 1Q84, once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.

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Biting the paper

When I paint, I want to fight the paper.  Bite it, scratch it, hack into the layers.  I want to build the image and gouge holes in it.  Cover the image with another and another.

Buckden Out Moor looking west (2)

Somehow, I don’t think watercolour is really my medium.

Buckden Out Moor looking west Horton Scar

I enjoy the watercolours of other bloggers.  Looking at their skilled work, I think  you have to have to be kind to your medium, offer the paper understanding, respect the areas that should remain untouched, build the experience layer by glorious layer.

Horton Scar (1)

I took up watercolour so I could carry a field kit and paint outdoors not because I had any instinct for the medium.

Horton Moor (36 1)

In this series, I have drawn into each pocket sized rectangle with soluble graphite and crayons moistened with drizzle and drifting snow.

Horton Moor (37)

I have subsequently worked into each image first in watercolour and then with knife, water and a hard rubber, tearing the surface to create texture and claw back the whiteness beneath.

Malham Cove (15)  Malham Cove (18)

In one or two places the cratered paper was holed.

Working in the rain and snow: Hull Pot

The Yorkshire Dales are pocked by deep scars: chasms eroded out from beneath the limestone by running water.  There is an excitement in this landscape in which springs erupt unexpectedly out of rock, run a distance and descend again into dark sinks.  Everywhere, my walking was accompanied by sounds of accumulating snow-melt: gurgling, rushing and roaring.  I purposely planned my route to paint at two deep pot holes.

Hull pot (7 1)

The day was accompanied by drizzle veering into snow.  I set up to draw in these conditions using a large sheet of heavy textured watercolour paper folded into sixteen panels that would slide into a plastic protection.  I decided to experiment with soluble graphite and inktense watercolour pencils.  This way, I could snatch brief interludes in the weather, use the drizzle itself or ground water, and work with limited materials I could hold in my pockets.

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This proved tricky.  I could indeed work into the snow-dampened paper and the falling flakes or drops added to the texture.  However, I had to work for just a minute or two or the whole thing would wash off.  Drying in my pocket, the adjacent surface lifted some of the pigments though also added to the textures. This then was the first sketch.

hull pot (7)

Only later, with the paper thoroughly dried, did I work again into this with conti crayon, watercolour and knife to create the image I wanted.

I am editing this post in response to a comment below to add links to my use of this folded paper approach, in case you are interested.