The Adventure week 2 – starting to think images

We didn’t have any workshops in week 2 of the Fifth Size Book Adventure so I took the opportunity offered to go on a trip to North Yorkshire, which happened to coincide nicely with thinking about the book that I’d had a quick look at during the last half hour of access to the fifth size books during launch week: Geological Survey of North Yorkshire. It seems to be a bound collection of geological survey maps of North Yorkshire, dating to the late 19th and very early 20th century. I printed out a few  parts of maps relating to the area I was visiting and took them with me.

I was staying in Harrogate, going back and forth through Knareborough quite a lot, and went on day trips to Skipton (pausing but not stopping at Bolton Abbey on the way back), Helmsley (via Thirsk), Ripon, Pickering, Hutton-Le-Hole and Goathland.

Although there was no time to sit and sketch, I had the luxury of someone else driving so was able to snap some landscape as we were passing through.

 

 

At the end of the few days, I thought that I needed to go back to do some drawing en plein air (outdoors), but had little idea still of how I could use the landscape and the geological survey in an artwork.

More thinking required…

The Fifth Size Book Adventure: A Professional Development Programme for Creative Practitioners is led by Jane Shaw of People Into Enterprise, and supported by Newcastle City Library and Arts Council for England.

The Adventure launches part 3

The Fifth Size Book Adventure has several contributing professionals – apart from Jane Shaw who leads the project – to help us along the way, sharing their stories of how they got to their current stage of professional success, delivering workshops, mentoring, and helping to deliver the exhibition at the end. During the launch they told us a bit about how they got where they are, and gave us some useful advice or top tips.

Contributing professionals: Jo Coupe

Jo Coupe is an artist. It’s difficult to describe her work in one sentence. She works in different media and with different materials, can include plants, sound, photography, installations. You can see some of her work on the Workplace website.

She talked about her path from degrees (BA Newcastle University, MA Goldsmiths College) to where she is now in her career. Jo hadn’t gone straight from getting her BA to post-graduate studies but had worked in a few jobs. Accompanying her husband to Los Angeles had prompted her need for change so when they returned to the UK, she did a Master’s course at Goldsmiths College. She started making small pieces alongside her big work.

She worked on a residency at the Alcan aluminium smelter where she couldn’t use a digital camera because the magnetic field was strong enough to wipe the memory card so she used the low tech solution of pinhole cameras. She was working to commission but it was still work that fitted in with the rest of her work.

Having small children made it more difficult to make work, and to make enough work and spend time organising solo exhibitions, so she formed a group with other artists she knew in the same situation (more about collaboration to come in another workshop).

Jo had some top tips for us which made me think:

  1. Think of the narrative behind your practice.
  2. Work with other exciting people.
  3. Know your weaknesses and strengths and find people who can fill in the missing elements in your weak area (and to whom you can offer strengths they lack).
  4. Keep up connections, even if it’s just sharing a picture and a few words eg use Instagram.
  5. Be careful not to undercharge.
  6. Make pragmatic decisions.
  7. Get everything you can out of each project you do eg contacts.
  8. Work in parallel lines on different things so they feed into each other.
  9. Be flexible. Make challenges positive.
  10. Feed your practice by eg drawing, walking, seeing other people’s work, clubbing.
  11. Document your work. If you can’t do that yourself, get someone else to do it.

My thoughts following Jo Coupe’s talk

Her work is very interesting and varied. I admired her confidence and her ability to develop a network of artist friends with whom she could collaborate. I wish we had had the methods of keeping in touch via social media that graduates have had for the last 10 years, or even before that via email.

Contributing professionals: balletLORENT

Liv Lorent and James MacGillivray of balletLORENT came to talk to us. I had heard of this dance company before but had no knowledge of what sort of dance they did.

Liv said that she had started out with teaching unemployed people to dance, which taught her to value a range of body types, and was good for JobCentre figures because people weren’t counted as unemployed while they were being trained. (It’s hard to imagine being able to do this in today’s unemployment system).

She’d worked with the fashion designer Paul Shriek (a name familiar from my undergraduate days when he was much discussed in the North East fashion world). Getting an Arts Council England (ACE) grant enabled Paul to make the clothes worn for the performance which attracted an audience who wanted to buy the outfits as well as see the dance.

In The Night Ball, they had performed all different styles of dance, deliberately not as perfectly as they would normally so the audience would feel less inhibited about joining in later. The money for rehearsal space also helped the venue they worked in which had lost income due to council cuts.

Liv had taken some time to decide to go from gritty, edgy, site-specific work to works for family audiences in medium to large theatres. She has done it in such a way that it doesn’t feel as if it’s an artistic compromise. They use narrative to help convey the story of a dance to an audience that doesn’t necessarily understand the dancing mime gestures traditionally used to tell the story. They have now built relationships with a number of schools in Newcastle, giving children the chance to experience dance who might not have other chances to explore it.

balletLORENT had been commissioned to develop work abroad but that could involve giving up some control as they had to fit in with different cultures eg costumes had to be more covered up for some countries.

A big advantage that Liv saw in being based on Tyneside is that it’s smaller than London so easier to meet and develop collaborations with other artists from other disciplines.

My thoughts following the balletLORENT talk

Sometimes having to work a different way for practical reasons can be good for artistic results, but being focused is good for getting work made.

One should think through what compromises one would be prepared to make, that is, artistic vision versus pragmatism (and need to pay the bills). I liked that they make an effort to make their art form accessible.

I’m very curious to see the work that the dancers in our group will produce, and hope that we will have the chance to draw the balletLORENT dancers rehearsing. I was never very interested in traditional ballet, even as a child, but other forms of dance including modern dance, do interest me as a visual artist. The dancers make such interesting shapes with their bodies.

Contributing professionals: Steve Messam

I had seen photographs of some of Steve’s work before and had thought “damn! I wished I’d been able to do that!” I like his work that much.

Steve Messam is a Cumbria-based environmental artist. He had started out as a photographer in the music industry. He first began to realise that non-gallery spaces could be a better way of sharing art when he created an exhibition in the windows of an indie music shop, putting 12-inch square photos in the clear sleeves used to protect vinyl LPs. The flower seller by the shop told him that between 5 and 10 people were looking at his work at any time throughout the day and early evening which was a much bigger audience than if it had been in an art gallery.

He set up an arts organisation called Fold in Kirkby Stephen, aiming to increase the rural community’s access to contemporary art in 2002, and capturing some of the 16 million visitors a year to the county. He then established FRED in 2004 – one of the largest annual festivals of site-specific art in Europe. FRED flooded the area with art in unexpected places for the duration of the festivals, and a million or more people saw the work. He gave as an example Shake Pole by Richard Box in 2006 which was in a field under electricity pylons and which could be seen best as it was going dark. Even though it was not the easiest place to find and could only be viewed properly for limited times, 2,500 people went to see it. It was featured a lot in media because of its extraordinary appearance and how it worked: hundreds of used fluorescent tubes stuck in the soil vertically and lit up because the electricity from the cables above was strong enough to excite the remaining gas in the tubes (it still looked like magic, even when one understood the science).

When Steve decided to be less a curator and more an artist, he was able to get money for his big and bold ideas. I suspect that his successful delivery of FRED helped to convince funders that he was capable of delivering his ideas. His big landscape-based pieces proved good ways of pulling in visitors to the countryside and in getting media coverage to promote the area as a destination. Because the pieces are only in the landscape for a short time, people are prompted to make the effort to visit. It is an unrepeatable (or unlikely to be repeated) experience. He had been able to get several thousand visitors even to quite remote locations that required a substantial walk from the nearest car park. This sounded to me like art as not just an experience but as an adventure.

Elements that are important in Steve’s work are inspiration, colour, scale and narrative. One of the examples he gave of more recent work was very local to us: From Mine to Tyne in the Victoria Tunnel, 2014. This was with the Cobweb Orchestra, playing music written by Michael Betteridge in response to this 19th century tunnel built to transport coal under Newcastle to the Tyne. I hadn’t had the chance to see this work but knew of it and have been intrigued myself at the  possibility of putting artwork in there. I knew there would be restrictions (from past life working in heritage), and was fascinated to hear that it was impossible to tape or screw anything to the walls so Steve had had to find another way of putting up the lights (carbon fibre rods that were tensioned between the walls & strong enough for the lights).

The colour pieces that Steve makes are interesting. He said that the obviously human-created colour puts a reference point into the landscape to give it a scale. Scale is crucial in his work. A lovely example of scale and colour – and a temporary work (the piece was recycleable) in a relatively remote place bringing in a substantial audience is PaperBridge, open to the public 8th to 18th May, 2015. This piece, made of rocks found on site and sheets of red paper to form a bridge over a beck, was well covered in the media. The attention it had in the media led Range Rover to think it would be a good thing for their brand and so they commissioned Steve to make one substantial enough to bear the weight of a Range Rover, but in white and in Shanghai.

My thoughts following Steve Messam’s talk

Steve’s confidence in being able to do significant work was very noticeable. I got the impression that my fellow Adventurers were as inspired as I was by the boldness and scale of his work. People were talking afterwards more about the idea of doing installations in the library for our exhibition in November.

One of Steve’s pieces reminded me of a few pieces I’d tried to do when I was a student many years ago. I didn’t have the resources to produce what I had in my head though I did have a go on a couple of pieces but one had to experience them, especially because they didn’t photograph well. It was great to see how similar materials and a vaguely similar methodology could work really well – and on a much bigger scale than I could ever have done!

Steve made it sound relatively easy to get large amounts of money to do big work but I realised that he can do so because he’s gradually built up a great track record of being able to deliver the work, no matter how ambitious and difficult to build it seems at the beginning. He also exudes confidence. I wondered how much his own conviction that he could make an artwork happen helped to convince stakeholders and funders. I would find it difficult to convince myself. As I thought about the talk later on, I was rather sad that I couldn’t do such big pieces (not unless I was able to afford a team to do the physical part, and being able to get the funding would be pretty impossible without making such work).

Contributing professionals: Alice Fox

Alice Fox didn’t start as an artist. She did a degree in geography and worked in nature conservation for several years. Having children prompted her to think about changing careers, so she started on an adult education course in textiles, then a part-time degree in Contemporary Surface Design & Textiles (she knew she was going to use it for fine art purposes) which also gave her the opportunity to start exhibiting her work.

The work that she did in her final year was carried through to her next big project of working as an artist-in-residence at Spurn Head. She had got permission from the wildlife trust that manage the land that she could work there, as long as she didn’t leave any mark in the landscape or pick plants. She applied to the Arts Council for funding but it took two tries to get it, and she had met with the Arts Council officer to find out why the first attempt failed and what she needed to do to improve her application.

She spent a few days at a time every 2 or 3 weeks at Spurn Head and had a key to the lighthouse. She recorded what she saw, the specific characteristics of this very unusual landscape/seascape. Drawing had to be fast because it was so cold and windy, and she found that writing was a usefully quick way to record things. She collected rubbish from the beach brought by the sea, recorded it and created prints on fabric that she sewed together to created bands of fabric. She also created prints on paper, artist’s books, and with some help put together a book Textures of Spurn.

Although the exhibition was only on for a short time and not easily accessible, it attracted 700 visitors. The work then toured, which meant Alice had to learn quickly to adapt her work to different environments.

When she was working on a subsequent project Tide Marks in 2014, she realised that it would be worth purchasing a range of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) and to publish herself the books that she produces as part of the work. As well as recording the project and acting as catalogues, they are a very affordable object that people can buy and are easy to sell online to an international audience. She also takes some books with her when she does talks and workshops.

Alice joined the Society of Designer Craftsmen when she graduated and often exhibits with them also does talks and workshops because there are quite a lot of amateur textiles groups keen to find out about different ways of doing things. She is also a member of the Textile Study Group which is a small group of 25 people who run a summer school and have exhibitions together. They learn from and collaborate with each other. She also has also collaborated with her partner who produces poems to go with her images.

My thoughts following Alice Fox’s talk

I very much liked Alice’s work as well. I could see how it built upon her knowledge of nature conservancy, and thought that whilst what she produced could be varied, it all had a characteristic style and worked well together.

The use of unconventional methods and places for exhibiting was inspiring. We enjoyed having a closer look at the stitched shell she was wearing as a brooch, and marvelled at the skill required (have a look at her website).

Again, it came across as important to have the confidence to sell the idea of a project to stakeholders and funders, and (in some cases) to collaborators.

One can think creatively about what outputs to have from work. A funded project could be about the more ephemeral aspects, about the one-off or limited period experience that stays in the minds of those who experience it, possibly helping them to see or understand something differently. It can also generate things such as catalogues, books recording the research and investigation, and it can start or feed into the next work.

A couple of thoughts at the end of launch week

I thoroughly enjoyed the week, and found it very interesting to meet my fellow Fifth Size Book Adventurers as well as Jane and the contributing professionals. Lucy, Jo, Steve, Liv, and Alice were all impressive and inspiring, and I thought we were very lucky to have the opportunity of learning from them.

I ended the week feeling rather worried that I’m not good enough, and that my work isn’t good enough, especially as I was still feeling very indecisive about what to do for my work to go into the exhibition (I had ideas but was unsure that any were good enough).

Links to the contributing artists

Do have a look at their work if you’re unfamiliar with it!

Jo Coupe on Workplace’s website.

Alice Fox

Liv Lorent, balletLORENT

Steve Messam

The earlier parts about launch week

If you haven’t and want to read the earlier parts:

The Adventure launches part 1 and The Adventure launches part 2.

The Fifth Size Book Adventure: A Professional Development Programme for Creative Practitioners is led by Jane Shaw of People Into Enterprise, and supported by Newcastle City Library and Arts Council for England.

 

The Adventure launches part 2

The Fifth Size Book Adventure has several contributing professionals – apart from Jane Shaw who leads the project – to help us along the way, sharing their stories of how they got to their current stage of professional success, delivering workshops, mentoring, and helping to deliver the exhibition at the end. During the launch they told us a bit about how they got where they are, and gave us some useful advice or top tips.

Contributing professionals: Lucy Jenkins

I don’t think I’d met Lucy before although I’d be surprised if we hadn’t been at the same event at least once. She’s an independent curator who had previously worked at the Hatton Gallery, and has worked with organisations such as the Great North Museum and the former DLI Museum (Durham Light Infantry Museum and Durham Art Gallery).

She was particularly excited on the day of the talk because the Turner Prize shortlist had just been announced, and one of the artists, Lubaina Himid, whom she’d commissioned to produce work for the Hatton Gallery was on the list. She told us a little of how Lubaina had developed the work into Naming The Money.

Lucy showed us slides of inspirational exhibitions that she had curated, including multi-sensory for a family audience, and interdisciplinary arts and science (artists working alongside scientists on the theme of ageing) exhibitions. She has done installations in alternative spaces, including workshops in schools. One of her aims is to try to engage a broader audience, to engage people with art who would see a gallery as a barrier. The latest project, working with artist Louise Plant, involved moving the abstract body shapes sculptures created for it to different locations. The same sculptures look different in different environments.

Essential definitions

What is a curator?

There was a murmur of recognition when Lucy said about how much the terms “curator” and “to curate” were used very widely for all kinds of things that bore little resemblance to curation. Some people use the term to mean putting anything in a list.

The term used to mean a subject specialist who was responsible for caring for cultural collections and for interpreting them. The role has changed over the years, and there are now also artist-curators. In the context of art (historical and contemporary), a curator can be a producer of meaning, an intermediary, or a mediator with artists. They act as an intermediary between the work and the audience; and can be a channel for information between different disciplines.

Who does a curator work with?

Artists, audiences, institutions, funders, collectors, donors, academics, writers, press/media, technicians, architects, surveyors, front-of-house staff, transporters.

What does a curator do?

Lucy defined what a curator does in the specific context of an exhibition (they do more in the rest of their work) as this is most relevant to our project. Curators:

  • define the scope, theme or thesis of an exhibition;
  • organise getting the exhibits, commissioning work, negotiating loans, organising the necessary contracts, transport, insurance;
  • support or facilitate the artists (when working with contemporary art);
  • are involved with the design and installation, including security and lighting;
  • do the interpretation which is delivered by labels, graphics, audio-visual and interactive materials, publications;
  • may also be doing the marketing, publicity, advertising, PR and organise the private view;
  • possibly do the education programme;
  • organise the touring of the exhibition;
  • often sort out the financing of the exhibition, finding grants or sponsorship;
  • do evaluations of the exhibition.

By the end of Lucy’s session, I think most people had been so inspired by the examples of exhibitions she’d shown, both inside and outdoors, in conventional and unconventional locations, that they all wanted to do large scale installations.

A couple of thoughts afterwards

My academic background is in art and design history (1750 to contemporary), and although I’ve never been employed in a curator role, I have been used to doing work that included quite a lot of work that would be done by a curator. For some years, I was part of a management team that had responsibility for a number of small museums (we had curators to look after the collections in those museums and in specialist stores), and part of design teams working on projects to provide improvements to existing museums and permanent exhibitions and, occasionally, new museums and new permanent exhibitions. I tended to be the one who drafted the bid for funds for projects. Sometimes I did the proof-reading of texts for guidebooks, interpretation panels and leaflets.

Later on, I researched and wrote a new permanent exhibition for a small museum. I spent some years curating in a digital context, with digitised images, starting at a time when it was still a new thing. I have little experience of hanging, particularly the physical aspects of it, and my experience has been mostly with collections of historical material. What I realised, listening to Lucy, was that I’d never sat back and reflected on these aspects of my work in the past. I was too busy getting the projects done at the time. It was useful to reflect on what I did understand and know about curating.

I am very glad that we have Lucy working with us. She has the experience and knowledge to help put together a good exhibition, whatever we produce – and I’m aware that subject-wise, media-wise and style-wise, we could produce some decidedly diverse work.

The Fifth Size Book Adventure: A Professional Development Programme for Creative Practitioners is led by Jane Shaw of People Into Enterprise, and supported by Newcastle City Library and Arts Council for England.

 

The Adventure launches part 1

The launch begins

Finally, it was 8th May 2017, the first day of the Fifth Size Book Adventure launch week at the City Library in Newcastle. It was time to meet the rest of my fellow explorers (having met two when we had our hour in the book stack, and knowing one already). There was an almost palpable air of excited anticipation as we entered the Bewick Room (named after the great Thomas Bewick).

Key elements

Jane Shaw, who’s leading the project, started with a summary of the key components of the programme: professional development workshops, contributing artists, business support, bursaries, creation of new work, curation, exhibition with private view – and we participants, of course.

She suggested we start thinking who we would want to attend the private view. Since the exhibition will be 1st to 18th November, it seems like a long way ahead – especially when I hadn’t decided the theme of what I’ll create for it – but my past experience of events is that invitations to previews, launches and openings need to go out about 8 weeks before it.

What could the library get out of it?

Jane outlined how the City Library might benefit from the project. It could offer insights how public spaces and collections might provide enriching new cultural activities and experiences to their diverse audiences. It could raise awareness of previously unseen collections. I remember being very excited about 20 years ago to discover that the City Library had many of the 19th century books and illustrated periodicals that I needed for research.

Imagining 6 months ahead

Jane asked us to imagine a friend is talking about us to an acquaintance six months after the exhibition. He or she describes our successes as a consequence of participating in the programme. What would we like them to say about us?

It was an interesting prompt to imagine future success. Even the thought of sharing what I wrote down made me squirm as I worried people would think I was being foolish to hope for success. This probably means I ought to share at least most of what I recorded of an imaginary friend talking to an imaginary acquaintance of what I was doing in May 2018, 6 months after the end of the Fifth Size Book Adventure exhibition.

Acquaintance: “I haven’t seen Janet for ages! What’s she up to now?”

Friend: “She’s been very busy in the past 6 months since that exhibition in the City Library. She’s taken part in another couple of group shows in the past few months. After she’s finished the pieces she’s doing for the Great Exhibition of the North, she needs to start on a new series of work for a first solo show. And the funding has just come through for the project that’s a collaboration between her, a couple of other artists, and research scientists and will take place over the next year.”

Acquaintance: “I saw something in a magazine about an exhibition she took part in a few weeks ago. I hadn’t expected her to produce work like that.”

Friend: “She’s really grown in confidence since taking part in that professional development programme. Her work is much bolder than before – and better for that. Having a studio alongside other creatives and being part of a wider network suits her better than working in isolation.”

What this exercise told me was that self-confidence is still an issue. Jane also asked us to consider what we thought were the barriers to achieving success and to split them into internal and external barriers. I came up with four internal and three external. Three of the four internal barriers were rooted in self-doubt, lack of self-confidence – so that confirms what I need to work on in order to succeed. The external barriers seemed less daunting (two out of three were money-related).

Reflection on first part of the first day

I didn’t know what to expect but being asked to think about the end of the project and beyond at the very beginning was a surprise. I need to know what I need to overcome, and I thought that this was a good time to think about it.

Jane’s enthusiasm and energy is great and animates the room. It felt from the start that she was being very supportive and believed in what we could achieve. She has a decidedly ‘can-do’ attitude that’s encouraging.

The Fifth Size Book Adventure: A Professional Development Programme for Creative Practitioners is led by Jane Shaw of People Into Enterprise, and supported by Newcastle City Library and Arts Council for England.

More indecision… (or, the Adventure begins)

I had to choose a book or two to inspire me on the Fifth Size Book Adventure before we had the first sessions for the launch week, starting 8th May 2017. Having thought quite a lot about the books I’d looked at and taken some photos of, I didn’t feel any of them were quite right.

Two images kept floating back into my mind – a pink peony and two women in kimonos – from a book that was just labelled Japan on its spine. I hadn’t even noted enough details about it to look it up online. I thought it was probably dated 1890s or early 1900s. The illustrations were mostly from black and white photographs. I described it to the librarian and he reported back that he thought he’d identified the right volume.

 

Since I had no idea what I might do based on the Japan book,  I asked for a book which was more familiar in content even though I had never seen the actual book: Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines, and Utensils by William Chambers, 1757.

Then I started to think about how I might use the books, without knowing exactly what the Japan book might contain (some images from the William Chambers book on Chinese design are available on the British Library website) until we had access to them during the Fifth Size Book Adventure launch week.

 

Indecision… or… Embarking on a new adventure

I’m trying to make a decision that I’m finding very difficult. I’ve been thinking about it since 10th April when I had a little under an hour to look at quite a few shelves of big books in the City Library’s stacks to select 1 or 2 that could inspire me to make artwork.

Books in the library stack.

Books in the library stack.

It’s part of a project – more of which later (there is a launch week coming up soon) – that involves about 20 creative people participating in a programme of professional development (workshops & mentoring) to help us, as well as making work in response to these underused big books, some of which date back to the very early 19th century. There will be an exhibition of our work in November (might include live performances too).

More books in the stack.

More books in the stack.

There are many subjects covered by these books. They’re not on the digital catalogue. I took some photos of the spines – but just a few. I should have taken more. I realised as soon as I looked at the photos when I got home that I had missed a book which probably contained some of the kind of illustrations I’d thought I might use. There were 2 other books I’d glanced inside but unfortunately missed noting or photographing the titles.

I have to make a decision so the library staff can get the book/s out for the project’s launch week.

19th century Ally Sloper cartoon.

19th century Ally Sloper cartoon.

Before seeing the books, I’d thought I’d look for 19th century maps, and illustrations of ancient monuments or archaeological finds/details or architecture. I got distracted by early 19th c sea charts (based on sea charts over the previous 200 years), drawings of canal locks and tunnels, the structure of railway embankments & sidings, steam locomotives, facsimiles of medieval – Tudor manuscripts, & a 19th c comic strip (that I don’t even like but I recognised it as of historic interest in the context of cartoons).

Looking yet again at the spreadsheet of the books I recorded on my slightly under an hour visit, my eye sort of snagged for the umpteenth time on the alluringly entitled ‘Boundary Commissioners Report’ of 1885. I don’t know what it contains, but it could be an interesting challenge to make artwork inspired by its content.

Books including Boundary Commissioners Report of 1865.

Books including Boundary Commissioners Report of 1885.

But I have realised that I have been focusing on books that could lead to artwork that is about heritage, and that I was feeling a duty specifically to find North East of England historical material. It is safe ground for me after many years of managing heritage, and years of researching art/architecture/design history & local history. There’s a great danger that I might tackle it from a heritage interpretation angle. I could possibly produce some reasonable artwork through doing that, but as I was thinking of creating prints (probably), my work could wander too close to illustration rather than fine art.

I could do with at least another hour in the stack, to look inside more of the books (it’s slower and harder work to browse these books because they’re big, relatively heavy, and have to be handled carefully due to age and often quite fragile bindings). I haven’t got another hour. I must make a decision and email the librarian…

Tapas jug print

The idea of trying a three-plate relief solar plate print in cyan, magenta and yellow had been floating around in my head for a while.

I had liked the little postcard-sized print I had made for the international print exchange in the summer of 2016. That had been a two-plate relief solar plate print, combining the yellow and magenta layers into one plate, and cyan and black layers into a second plate, and printed in translucent orange and ultramarine blue.

The little tapas jug had caught my eye in a sale. Its suggestion of Mediterranean holidays and the strong colours made me think of some of the flowers in my garden which grow wild in places such as South and Central America. The flowers and the little jug were like a colourful souvenir of the holidays in exotic places that I never had and never will have. I’ve been away on very few holidays in my adult life, and haven’t been abroad since my 20s.

What seemed like a simple still life composition took more work than I expected to simplify it to the point it would work as a print. I was going to work from the photograph originally but ended up creating a drawing and then smoothing that out on the computer.

Once I had an image that worked, I split the colour channels on the computer, discarding the black layer, and then turned each layer (cyan, magenta and yellow), into a half-tone image. I wanted to push the image by having big dots, arranging them in different directions, to the point where some colours might not read easily. The 3 colour layers, now black and white, were inverted and printed onto an acetate-type film to create negatives.

I put these negatives against solar plates and exposed them in the light box. Once exposed to the light, I washed each one in water for a few minutes and then dried it. The light areas of the negatives were hardened by the light and the dark areas were washed away by the water.

Inking up proved harder than I’d expected. I kept getting ink on the parts where it wasn’t supposed to be. I really needed 2 runners of unexposed plate the same length as the longest size to put either side of the plate to support the roller.

I printed each layer separately first to check the plates.

I tried putting the magenta and yellow together, and then all three plates. I found that I hadn’t allowed enough paper to keep the paper trapped under the roller while I swapped plates, and  managed to get one plate the wrong way round on one print (despite writing ‘top’ on the paper underneath and on the back of the plate).

I experimented a bit with deliberately off-setting the plates a little as well as trying to get them lined up as closely as possible. I find it quite fascinating how the slightest shift, just a millimetre or two, can change the colours.

It was the end of the day, arthritis was flaring up in my hands, and we had to be out of the studio within minutes so I rather anxiously decided on which print to submit for Northern Print’s Northern Footprints show (not shown here – I didn’t have time or sufficient light to photograph it properly). I was concerned that it wasn’t good enough.

Weeks later, I was so surprised to hear my name read out as the winner of the Reid Framing Purchase Prize at the Northern Footprints preview that I started to look round for the other Janet Davis who must have won it. I was delighted, of course, once it sank in that it really was my print that had been selected.

From this I learned that I’m not the best judge of my own work, especially when I’m exhausted. I will do some more solar plate prints. They’re not the cheapest type of plates but I do like the process.