New beginnings and the formation of ideas.

This week I started my post-graduate internship at Leicester Print Workshop. It was a busy couple of days, and I felt as though I absorbed a massive amount of information in such a short space of time, so looks set to be an intensive year, and I can’t wait!

Seeing as this is a bit of a new beginning for me, it has brought me back to some ideas I was mulling over at the end of last year, but never got the chance to post about, about how a piece of work begins, or how an idea forms – another recent topic of conversation at the print workshop.

For me, it has always been a kind of intuitive thing. But talking to other artists has brought to light that fact that every individual goes about it in a completely different way. This may be pretty obvious, but its not really something I’ve thought about in much depth before, and its made me examine my own way of working in more detail. I wanted to try to describe how an idea forms for me – just to see if I could articulate it in a comprehensible way. Without a better way of describing it, an image tends to appear to me, (not by some divine light shining down through the clouds – it’s usually very mundane). This could be sparked by anything – a throw away comment someone makes, a song lyric, a sentence in a book, a texture on a wall, the way one piece of furniture might sit compared to another, or a conversation which seems to recur coincidentally time and time again. This then tends to result in a fairly clear image of the piece of work I want to create, although inevitably that image changes through the subsequent processes of sketching, mock-ups, proofing, etc, often resulting in an outcome which is totally different to that which I intended.

In contrast, I was talking recently to a couple of artists who work rather differently – without any clear image of how they would like the work to look. Instead they let the materials and marks on the paper, or brush strokes on the canvas, guide them through the image-making process. I really admire people who can work like that, and I think it can add a sense of freshness and vibrance to a piece of work, and prevent work from going stale.

In contrast again, I know some artists who have a very rigid idea from the start of the piece of work they want to make, and do not deviate from this original idea and see it through to the end. This I also admire, as it involves a determination and blinkered vision which I’m not sure if I possess.

In short, I think it’s really important for an artist to be aware of how and why an idea forms, and to consider the ways in which that idea could be best interpreted and fulfilled – whether to stay true to the original vision, (if there is one), whether to deviate and explore alternative avenues, or whether to start from scratch and let the work grow organically. This also harks back to my previous post about working within the constraints of a particular medium.

These are definitely ideas which I’ll be considering throughout this year, and I am really excited to see how the lithography process will influence my work.

I started off this week learning about photo-lithography, and below are the resulting prints from my first ever photo-litho plates. Ok so I think I need a bit more practice!

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Thoughts on what makes a good print…

Working in a print workshop means that I inevitably spend my weeks having conversations about printmaking with a variety of different people. It’s interesting the way the same topics of conversation seem to arise again and again.

Recently it has been the question of what makes a good print. Of course there isn’t a definitive answer – it’s purely subjective – but for me a big part of the success of a fine print lies in the choice of technique. It’s a consideration which in my opinion is too often overlooked.

Perhaps it comes from having a reasonable knowledge of some of the main printmaking processes, but usually when a print really stands out at me, it is either because I can see a strong connection between the subject matter and the process used to create it, or because that particular image could not have been created in the same way using any other technique, thus adding to its unique quality. There is a huge contrast between prints where you can see the technique has been been employed and manipulated by the artist in a creative, thoughtful, individual way, and prints that have been made with a particular technique purely for ease of reproduction. (Although with this statement I seem to be heading towards the territory of ‘what is an original print’ which is a hot topic of debate among printmakers, and one which I may attempt to tackle in due course.)

When I start a new piece of work, it is usually because a particular image or idea has appeared in my head, and while spontaneous, sometimes frantic preliminary sketches are extremely important, I still try to find the time to stop and ask myself questions about my original idea. What is the most important thing I am trying to communicate? What process and materials are best used to communicate this idea and why? Is it the process of making the print, or the finished outcome which is more important? Is it important that it is a multiple at all? These are questions which need not always be answered, but if it is apparent from the print that the artist has considered these aspects, it is likely that the viewer will also ask these questions – and in my opinion that usually makes for a very interesting piece of work.