Lockdown week 5

It’s changing, I mean I am changing. 

I have accepted making the silkscreen, serigraphic prints I am researching cannot be done during Lockdown. I can research, read and write about the work, but accept that I will not be able to test through making. That will have to wait. Talking on screen with artists and colleagues; seeing lockdown work beginning to appear online and in particular Instagram, along with planning for scheduled exhibiting has taken me to a position of motivation to ‘make in lockdown.’ 

It will be digital in essence, but with analogue, material processes and outputs. This challenge has brought thought and experimentation forward. I safely visited the studio for the first time and Locked myself in, meeting no-one. Using a Canon A3 ip8700 inkjet printer, which is usually used for outputting black and white images on to plain paper for the first stage of drawing for silkscreen print, I begin experiments with outputs for finished prints on a range of papers.

An international print exhibition has been organised by four Australasian Print Groups. Thinkingofplace is the third iteration of the exhibition concept and is planned for international exhibits over the next 2 years. Our printmaking team coordinated by Dr Catherine Baker will produce A3 prints for delivery to Melbourne on June 1st. A deadline.  Perhaps this is what has been required to ‘make in Lockdown’.

top iii

For Thinkingofplace I am working with a finger printed lamp black ink, abstract image originally made on paper as it was being tested on the mixing glass in the Birmingham School of Art Printroom. The image was imported into Photoshop, converted to greyscale, areas edited and curves applied to loose the background and enhance the presence of the analogue marks in the now digital image. A 200 bitmapped line dither was applied to bring a digital ‘grain’ to bear. This is a much finer grain than the 105 line used for silkscreen printing. The depth of black and grey ink required to make a digital print was tested by printing to the printer with plain, photo matte and arches papers, available in the studio. On review of the results a smooth A3 cartridge and Hahnemühle digital etching paper were ordered online, to extend the range of print surfaces and ink impressions.

2 blacks and a grey. one yellow, cyan and magenta.

If the prints are satisfactory, they can be offered up for Thinking of place and other live lockdown ventures such as the artists pledge. 

Returning home I move ‘Looking Out’ on. This is an ipad drawing of the view I wake to each morning of a weeping tree. Far from sad it is a beautiful tree. It has become a task beyond that which I envisaged.  Now I am on day seven, it should be completed in the next few days. I cannot draw it for long as my eyes begin to hurt from making the detail effective through the digital pen, iPad surface and underlying photographic image. Each session usually lasts as long as a chapter of the audiobook I listen to: Broken Greek, by Peter Paphides, about his mute childhood in his parent’s Birmingham’s Hall Green chip shop.

‘Looking Out in Lockdown’ first drawings

Brief horticultural research narrows the name of the tree to: Cupressus nootkatensis.

Cupressus nootkatensis is a species of trees in the cypress family native to the coastal regions of northwestern North America. This species goes by many common names including: Nootka cypressyellow cypressAlaska cypressNootka cedaryellow cedarAlaska cedar, and Alaska yellow cedar. The specific epithet “nootkatensis” is derived from its discovery by Europeans on the lands of a First Nation of Canada, those lands of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver IslandBritish Columbia, who were formerly referred to as the Nootka. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupressus_nootkatensis

Garden Design centre also call the ‘quite majestic’ tree the ‘Green Arrow’ https://www.gardenia.net/plant/chamaecyparis-nootkatensis-green-arrow

Lockdown week 4

Another difficult week of terrible news from the frontline of coronavirus Britain and beyond, as we support the NHS and all those who are looking after people struck down by the virus. Thursday clapping on our streets at 8pm is now a weekly show of solidarity, as is social distancing as it is observed when we leave homes to get exercise and supplies. The daily walk along with breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner are becoming the staple structure to our days. These get us by, but they are not rewarding beyond that. Challenges for those not at work or engaged in their usual activities are finding it difficult to maintain their commitment to the pursuance of their lives.

That said new activities with those who are at home, but have internet access are experiencing new means of communicating much more frequently. Family quizzes across physical boundaries are the rage. We even enjoyed an Easter egg hunt between, Scotland, Derbyshire, London and Birmingham. We divided into Hunters and Hiders and sent the video hunt via our phones to Zoom viewed by all participants and those on their own were able to comment on progress. Recommended for 2 year olds to pensioners. On Saturday nights we meet in the Covid Arms and catch up on the weeks experiences including nephew’s final days of pregnancy, that has now run over. There is a dedicated WhatsApp group for updates. Our younger members give insights on employment and volunteer possibilities from the newest employment status ‘Furloughing’ and the long wait for the call from HMRC to our self employmed members. When not on social media checking and supporting flat mates progress on the building’s Vegetable Patch and proposed Green House plans are a daily pleasure. There was no veg patch before Lockdown. Of course the BBC 5pm, daily ‘Coronavirus Update’ from No 10 Downing Street and the now famous medical and scientific advisors that before now were in the shadows, provides another slot in the day before the 9 pm drama catch up beckons.

Busy, Busy, Lockdown Busy. Where does Art making and PhD research fit in? If it is going to be productive it has to be structured in. Large scale making is not possible at home, but academic research? Surely that will begin daily at 9am and 2pm with traditional breaks for food. One would have thought so, but the Virus effects are pervasive. They seep in to thinking processes and bring you back from intellectual pursuits to the fearful reality we are living through. Perhaps some research into thought in periods of social and global trauma should be undertaken.

While art galleries, theatres and cultural venues are closed there are signs that online alternatives are being welcomed by artists and audiences alike. NT Live, once a fringe activity is being watched by new audiences as it is available free on Youtube; itself a fringe activity only ten years ago is now mainstream viewing platform. Indie film platforms like MUBi are offering free access to students. Virtual tours of exhibitions large and small, are free as viewers control their experience through interactive functions. The Big Draw celebrates 20 years this year and will have their planned festival with “No critiques, no judging… no worry…”. You can see more in the Bigdraw Minimag. As part of their positive response to the crisis the BBC and have launched Culture in Quarantine, a funding package managed by The Space to commission unique new digital online work. What was fringe is mainstream in Covid Times.

There are some positives as we look forward, but another three weeks of lockdown does not sit easily. No drawing has taken place this week, which is a loss. My reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Little History of Photography’ and Dominique de Font-Reaulx’s ‘Painting and Photography’ have provided intellectual sustenance. The discovery that the 1840’s painter and photographer David Octavius Hill made the first work of art painted with the help of photographic images has given focus and a lens to the research: Hill was present at the Disruption Assembly in 1843 when over 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland assembly and down to another assembly hall to found the Free Church of Scotland

Spring Lockdown Birmingham

Covid Art and Online content are out there and one of the always interesting commentators is Garry Baker and his Drawing Blog: https://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.com/2020/03/drawing-corona-virus.html?showComment=1587127942051#c4215859787420580235

While engaged with my smart phone more than usual an ad for a new Face App somehow appeared before me and I tried it. Plenty time to try things these days.

Another ad appeared and made the claim to be ‘Photography beyond Reality’.

I haven’t tried it yet.

Reality is not being photographed much as social distancing is in place and photographing people suffering is not a valuable activity. The reality of the virus is sometimes close to home. A relative recently taken into hospice and near neighbour into a care home have very sadly passed away. May their God be with them.

Lockdown week 3

Digital drawing in isolation.

Its a tough time for so many. Being a lucky one that does not have any symptoms, so far, I am just dealing with self isolation. I am also lucky that my partner is sharing our family flat and we are supporting each other along with our family WhatsApp and zoom sessions. Video Conf with research colleagues bring more welcome sharing via screes. Day to day I have been digitally drawing subjects that feel valuable in these times. Rather than leave them on the iPad or instagram I collate them here alongside increasingly important lockdown reflections.

Week three sees some reflection on the lockdown situation. Personal feelings of isolation and helplessness in the face of a global pandemic. From time to time there are moments of positivity when a drawing, an instagram or twitter post or pointer to thoughtful thinking on how we can deal with the emotions of isolation.

My partner suggested I might make some small family drawings that could be inserted in a photo-frame from 10 years ago. There is only she and me here. Family photographs abound in shoe boxes, albums and online archives. One from a trip to India that Mother and Daughter shared three years back captured their closeness and caring nature of their relationship and could be a good starting point.

M & M India

My phd portrait research continues albeit with difficulty under Lockdown. I experience desires to research and write, but the motivations are curtailed by the feelings of immensity of awfulness of the effects on many older innocent people locally, nationally and internationally. This is genuinely a global pandemic not experienced by people of my ‘baby boomer’ generation. Its difficult to go on as normal in these circumstances. Self isolation is what is demanded by Governments, but isolation from all productive activity while many frontline services are being delivered by people of all backgrounds leads to a feeling uselessness and what feels like grief.

Trying to explain these feelings has been helped by my daughter’s recommendation to read That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief from the Harvard Business School: by Editor Scott Berinato with insights by David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief and founder of www.grief.com. https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief.

Read the article to get to the last paragraph:  Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings.” If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.

Being signed up to a blog by Professor of Education, Pat Thompson brings a weekly post, that in regular times provides insight and support for PhD researchers. This week’s post did this in spades for students attempting to pursue their research in isolation. Getting by and Getting on

Like the HBS article read it all, its short, but you get to the last Paragraph:

So this post is really just to say to the doctoral researchers I work with, and those who I work with indirectly, it’s OK not to be on top of it all. I’m not. Take the time to sort out how to manage. I am. Acknowledge your feelings. Look after yourselves. Do the best you can. That’s me too. Day to day. One thing at a time. And importantly, don’t hesitate to seek social support online and with your peers, supervisors and colleagues.

I am lucky to have a couple of video conferencing groups that meet regularly: The Print Gang hosted by Justin, the Senior Printmaking Technician at BCU School of Art and ‘happy PhD Students, kinda’ hosted by Jenifer. Last week one of our group made a surprise on screen appearance after her successful pregnancy! It was a Happy moment deserving of the group name. During our video conference Mum Kenny fed 5 week old Theodore. A drawing to celebrate that moment.

Happy PhD students

Finally this week a domestic reminder of where we are.

April 2020 Calendar with April 2019 Damson Blossom
April 2020 Damson Blossom


Digital drawing in isolation.

Its a tough time for so many. Being a lucky one that does not have any symptoms, so far, I am just dealing with self isolation. I am also lucky that my partner is sharing our family flat and we are supporting each other along with our family WhatsApp and zoom sessions. Video Conf with research colleagues bring more welcome sharing via screes. Day to day I have been digitally drawing subjects that feel valuable in these times. Rather than leave them on the iPad or instagram I collate them here.

Week 1.

Print squad meet on phone
Team meeting on laptop
Family WhatsApp.
iPad drawn response to Congregate an international sharing of medical and faith insight followed by iPad drawing and musical interaction. see recording at Soul City Arts.
Congregate Live Promo

Gepostet von Soul City Arts am Donnerstag, 2. April 2020

Week 2. Self Portrait

With no contact with other human beings at the moment a self portrait is perhaps worthy of attention. Made from a colour ‘selfie’ photograph this image is imported into an engraving plugin. ie a digital app that enables the user to select from range of traditional metal drawn engraving effects.

It doesn’t feel that the craft of engraving is being carried out to get to this image, but in times of no access to tactile printmaking facilities digital offers some respite. The app enables conversion from a photographic image into a black and white line engraving rendition. This can be taken into image editing app photoshop and further developed. ie black replaced with pink as in Fig1. The lower part of the image is engraved with an ‘accented’ linear cutting whereas the top facial image is made with a ‘cross fine’ style.

In The Attraction of Print – Notes on the Surface of the Art Print by Ruth Pelzer-Montada explores a range of questions on the adoption by artists of digital means of image-making beyond traditional techniques and notes: “Jo Ganter, printmaking leader at Edinburgh College of Art, has expressed a different kind of reservation: Digitally produced and printed images which appear to adopt the syntax of, say, a wood cut or a lithograph still only look like the real thing and function merely as a quotation of said techniques. More importantly, in such digital prints, she noted the paucity of the more subtle codings and unique syntax that the traditional modes allow.” The concept of images made using digital printmaking mimicry applications as ‘quotations’ is good. These ‘engraved’ self portraits are definitely quoting print techniques. However in lack of haptic facilities Lockdown it it is fine to quote and experiment with digital solutions for future printed images.

Fig 1. Self Portrait in pink
Fig 2. self portrait with Covid.

In this digital manipulation environment we are physically in isolation from the Virus. It is invisible, while dominating our existence. Its image is available through our computer’s access to the World Wide Web. We are informed that this beautiful constructed and colourful image is of the fearful plague that is affecting humanity as we know it. The microscopes operated by scientists, biologists and medics show us what we are up against, but it is beautiful in its detail, complexity, structure and colour, like most of the universe seen through magnification. How can this be deadly? Well it is The digital environment offers safety from the fear of the physical, however creating a corona digital image self portrait background may feel like tempting fate in the physical world.

Art Gallery Lockdown

In lockdown Art galleries are closed. No longer can visitors be inspired by original art. Only two weeks ago I visited the LS Lowry collection in his home town of Salford in North West of England where visitors are offered pencil and paper to draw. The digital drawing below celebrates a young woman drawing in the first gallery room with Lowry’s fondness for the pencil writ large. The small drawing below the quotation is titled Carlisle and is an inspiring minimal drawing with hardly any detail, but manages to capture something of the essence of the subject he draws.

LSLowry. Salford UK.
Carlisle. drawing LS Lowry
Minimal Drawing Caption