In the print workshop today, making screen prints onto large sheets (to cut up and make into artist books…)
Today I used a photocopier and slide (acetate) transparencies to make negatives for a photographic print process called cyanotype. You may have seen cyanotype used for botanical prints (a 19th century pioneer of the method was Anna Atkins, who made books of algae prints). [For botanical prints no negatives are needed – instead the plants are placed directly on the paper].
The first picture shows a negative that I made today, using one of my drawings and a piece of my writing; the second shows some blocks that I made a couple of years ago – by folding papers that had been printed using this process.
To make the prints, you mix up a UV sensitive ‘paint’, and paint it onto paper indoors in a room that is not too bright, and then expose the paper (through the negative) to UV light – which I hope to be able to do by the simple method taking it outdoors and putting it under the sky, perhaps weighted at the corners (hopefully we have enough UV in the middle part of the day, by April). Once exposed, the print is rinsed – the paint exposed to UV remains on the paper and darkens, the rest washes off. I have almost no expertise in this process – only a good instinct for it – so I’ll need to experiment and be flexible. Very fun.
The colour of the prints is a very strong blue (this is the ‘cyan’ in cyanotype) – but I was taught a method of bathing completed images in a tanin-rich liquid such as tea or wine, which alters the tones closer to browns, which I will follow.
What is simplicity? Not something narrowing, or closed. In the context of multiplicity, abundance, a full universe, what do we mean by looking for what is simple, longing for the simple? Is it elegance: like the use of Occam’s razor say – a direct route? Or is it to do with leaving behind that which is not needed, with paring back? Is this what simplicity is?
Thinking about this, feeling uncertain, I took the step of looking up the word in a beloved dictionary of word origins.
The word ‘simple’, it turns out, is not itself without complexity. It comes from root words meaning ‘same’ and ‘fold’ (‘ply’). And the meaning is described in the dictionary as “not multifarious”. Sameness runs through the word then, linking simplicity it to the idea of unity: perhaps we can understand that the underlying meaning of ‘simple’ has to do with unity in multiplicity.
But to me, the loveliness of the word is in the surprise of the element ‘ply’, which the dictionary says comes from the latin ‘plicare’ (or ‘fold’): this is the part of the word that pleases, touches the heart. This is because I feel this word, this folding action, in my hands – and that means that this word carries inside itself a way of thinking with the hands.
Imagine folding clothes or sheets, or a sheet of paper or putting a letter in an envelope.
And then, notice too that the words multiplicity, complicated, and implicated are also built around this word root ‘ply’. How wonderful.
I am still writing letters to myself as I get up in the mornings, a practice that is helping me very much. Things that are tender and unexpected can come at that time of day.
Here is one, about my work:
You need to figure out what it is that you are researching here. This seems to be about the magic of turning up in the same place, at the same time of day, being open to what happens when you are there. So repetition, rhythm. Change, sameness. Is it just saying “it gets dark, it gets light”? Is that it?
What do you feel like in the evenings at the mountain? Is it joy? It is a feeling of connection, a profound peace. You feel your aliveness, your mortality. There is a sense of opening of a door in the heart. There is all the beauty, the wide-openness to sky. Sun, wind, rain. There is the darkness, the dusk, the falling light, the fading colour. And truthfully you do love the darkness, always have. Darkness has a comfort and also a mystery. Is the mystery entangled with the comfort? As with fog, darkness makes you invisible.
So partly about seeing and being seen; perception, participation. This is what you felt when you saw D’s boxes of light. The landscape being made on the inside / outside.
When you make the scrolls, you generally made them double-sided, or with the ‘landscape’ on the outside. You generally did this without really thinking it through – as instinct. This seems important.
And the small paintings. They are very much about the dark, the ‘book of the dark’ that you would want to write. And actually, honestly, some are superb. The question of how to show them remains.
Yours for today,
I’m still writing letters to myself first thing every morning, as part of my contribution the wonderful upcoming letters project with brilliantmess.com . Here is another letter – one which I wrote to myself on the weekend, based on a conversation which I had with the artist Jen Smith about our creative practices, and about a bird and an oak tree.
I read a really wonderful book called ‘Emergent Strategy‘ by adrienne maree brown, which encourages readers to learn from systems and patterns in the natural world, and I think the discussion and my letter were based on that work.
Yesterday you compared yourself to a jay burying acorns, and although you started with the feeling that to be a jay is a bad thing, and a random scattering of energy, you may have stumbled into something that is worthwhile, and that could be true.
A few months ago, your friend S. told you that almost every oak tree in every forest and hedge is planted by jays. This is how it works: the jay hides the seeds – all around. Of course, many of the acorns will be put in places where they cannot grow, but a few will be planted in a perfect place. The bird remembers well, and later returns to eat the seeds, digging them, pulling up the flesh. But in the meantime, the acorn has put down a deep tap root, and although it releases its flesh, it holds its place in the ground, and has retained enough of what it needs to keep growing. Like this, the germ of the tree is rooted and ready for the spring.
This is very hard to think about, and relates to what you think work is, and how you think it happens. And to the mistakes you have made about that. […] You have always had a job, you have never been without one – and so it seems that a job is not only a matter of money, but is also a psychological prop for you. Because you sell yourself very short, that is also clear.
So what is needed now (this year), is not a job but your own work, and a way of trusting that if you do the work, things will grow. And you have started to understand that there is a possibility of something that feels true, and of abundant growth, and that the constant self-pruning that you have been about is not your work.
To return to the jay and the acorns. Am I the jay, or the oak, or the acorns, or what am I? Can we see them separate? Well of course the jay is a bird, it flies away while the tree stays rooted. But the tree needs the bird, the bird needs the tree; they are a process, an encounter.
The work of the bird, the scattering and burying (planting) is its own reward. Providing that it can remember, then it can return to retrieve, and the reward is the eating.
To be seen, to be part of something, to be needed. These are what will never go away, and what work may hope to satisfy.
So for the jay, the work is the reward. And the strategy of the jay is interesting, because it is broad-based. The acorns are not all buried in one place, but widely. This makes sense. For the tree, the strategy is very simple, to offer from its own flesh, and with sufficient abundance. And where the opportunity is open, to take root deeply and in good time. The bird will come back for its reward, that much is given; the acorn is the token of an exchange.
To summarise. To narrow down on one thing only – this is not my strategy. To withhold the offering – this is not my strategy. To root shallowly – this is not my strategy. To follow the strategies of the jay and the oak, there must be faith in abundance, there must be patience and an offering, and there must be reciprocity.
Working on my writing today, I had a moment of joy after transcribing & then randomising my mountain record journal, and seeing what came from that.
Some strange (very strange) and heart-catching beauty has been revealed, and I feel like I can do something wonderful with bits of it, (ie. combining parts of the text with my drawings or prints, as part of my book of the mountain).
Here are three examples:
Golden light, ravens, later Surpassing beautiful. Sky in flocks, closing the day low Such cold. Such water, black peat opened All quiet and softened on its shoulders. Colours high blue clear.
Sea breeze. East. Northwind cold like a knife Stillness. A raven lifting up moon through haze. Quiet and on the other side. but it must be the clouds Darkening. lit as we leave.
glooming. Storm coming tonight. yellow to blue above. south of west, north of West. All dampness. Colours out the voices of the others. and gorse, greens and reds bruised glow up as the light dims. Paying respect to this, the beauty. What does it mean? High cloud, brittle ice, Sun setting yellow in us.
To see better. To see better more often. Like a child sees, open and learning. And to communicate this intensity, this openness, this vulnerability.
In as much as we all have potential for connection, and in as much as the ordinary can unfold into being suddenly extraordinary, the work is to open a door onto that possibility.
Been going through my photos and videos, putting them in order so that I can find things.
Found some interesting things.
Found these night photos to share.
This one, a long scroll, a book of the dark.
I am writing. And I am modelling my writing on a quilt that I once saw. I don’t know how she made hers. But I start with pieces and colours, and sort them into piles. I place the fragments as best I can. I cut the shapes to fit. I sew them in side-by-side. I work and rework every inch. It takes a long time and I train my patience on it.
My quilt will tell a story about my skills. I admit that it is a bit raggedy. There are a few holes and the shape is not true, the colours are off in places.
My quilt will tell a story about my history and my hopes. So it will have beautiful moments and it will have ugly lumps.
My quilt will speak from the fragments of time that I inhabit. It will be a work of repair from a time where repair is a calling.
And because it is a quilt from this time, it will be a quilt where contradictions meet and fail to meet. There will be patterns and there will be places where the patterns dissolve.
My quilt will be a work to keep us warm and bring us joy.
I am writing. And when I am finished with writing this quilt, I will start another.
I am grateful
Full Moon and North Wind for showing yourselves.
And I am still grateful for the fingerless gloves which were a glorious gift
Knitted for me in soft moss-green wool and repaired with silver green around the thumb-holes.
Also I am grateful for
The Christmas cake recipe given to me a long time ago
Which I keep in a plastic sleeve in a folder in the kitchen
And which I adapt and alter so much
That the only thing which stays the same each year
Is that it is always such a very good cake.