It feels like a long time has passed since I posted my last gallery of work online and even longer since I last blogged. When I decided to move up in size for my next woodblock from A2 to A0 I knew it was going to be challenging. But with all the techniques at the heart of my practice staying the same I figured I was only changing one element so I should be ok.
Boy was I wrong. Nevermind the time it takes to carve these monster blocks, the obstacles that surfaced at this size were varied and tricky. AO is double the size of A1 or roughly the dimensions of a medium sized dining table. I found it easiest to simply sit on the block whilst carving.
Blistered thumbs from successive repetitive days carving helped increase the likelihood of wavering attention. Wavering attention meant a higher chance of a slip of the gouge and a hole in the other hand. The gouge responds to your desires most succinctly just after sharpening. The control diminishes with a blunt edge losing accuracy in the movement, direction and depth of your cuts.
Gloves aren’t really an option, you lose the feeling. Not in eighties soundtrack way, just in a practical sense.
There were challenges with every part of the process. The time it takes to roller out the ink on a block this big means lots of dust and other randoms in the air settle on the block before I get the chance to print. Also the paper I use is very thin Japanese hand made paper, which is required for printing by hand as you can’t replicate the pressure of a press. This means the paper needs to be more absorbent to take on the ink from the block much more easily. It can be awkward at the best of times handling such delicate paper but at this size it’s a borderline spiritual experience.
It moves like silk on the wind. You can’t force it or move quickly with it or it will crease and bend. It’s quite meditative really and requires a significant patience that sometimes that 6th cup of coffee just can’t provide. It demands that I am totally present and precise.
The lightness of the paper allows a lighter touch and a more delicate line. Because of the translucency of the paper I can effectively ‘draw’ onto the back after placing the paper onto the block. From here I use painterly strokes with varying pressure, giving me a denser or lighter mark based on how heavy or light my touch is.
Keep in mind that this is all in reverse as I am looking through the paper from the other side and I only really have a loose idea of what is happening as a result of my marks. I am making these marks blind and back to front. A lot of it is improvised and it is not until I pull back the paper off the block, do I see what it really looks like. The big reveal. My technique means every single print is different, I couldn’t repeat anything even if I wanted to.
The process of applying pressure on the back is quite quick because if the paper is left on the block for too long, too much ink soaks into the paper and the more subtle lines are lost. The woodcut is slow deliberate and time consuming. The printing is fast and immediate. The contrast between these provides a balance overall that really appeals to me.
So although using printmaking techniques I produce 1/1 originals. That is why you will see a lot of the same motifs and forms throughout my work. I produce a series of varying but original images from the same block rather than the usual limited editions of an identical image.
One of the things that really struck me in this round of making was the connection between 2 separate ecosystems; that of birds and their relationship with trees and how similar this is to fish and their relationships to the reef. I found when I abstracted some of the bird forms they became marine. The structure of the bird’s wings also appears as coral to me when taken out of context, or given a new one. The chance for the image to be more than one thing is becoming an increasingly important part of my work.
I want my work to be an invitation to the viewer to an extent. I don’t want it to be completely defined. If the ability to instantly recognise or classify is removed, that’s where the imagination is allowed to play. And that’s where the dialogue begins.