Rode my bike to work, and on the way back it rained hard, big cold pelting drops that soak you through, drum on your head and back like handfuls of gravel and stream through your clothes. Peddling along beside the canal, squinting against the water running down my face, shoes squelching with every turn of the peddles, I slogged the five miles without another person in sight, only a few ducks for company.
Although epically wet, it wasn’t cold or windy, so it could have been much worse, but the going was slippery in a few spots and on one corner the bike went over. Luckily, a long-ago decade of falling off things had left the muscle memory to land me on my feet, with nothing worse than a wrenched hand and some reflexive cursing. The worst of it was getting back onto the now-drenched saddle, soaking the only bit of me that had stayed dry until then.
It was an oddly nostalgic journey – I seem to have spent a lot of my teens and twenties outside getting soaked, and it happens much less often now – but it did also remind me that no matter what humans can do as individuals or a species, in the face of the weather, we can only hope for kindness, or to endure.
The library display is hung (and only took an hour or so to do, getting the hang of it now). There are a couple of pictures to finish off, and a whole stack of lino-cut cards piled around the place, taking an age to dry in the typical glory of an English May (cold and wet. Last week, hail. This week, thunder). I’ve been making collograph plates with matboard and assembled junk, coated in yacht varnish to make them a bit more durable. Again, it takes an age to dry, and is horribly sticky besides. I keep expecting to see the nosy cat run past with one stuck to it. I’ve done some monotypes and some more linocuts, experimenting with multiple layers and colours.
An old project I abandoned three or four years ago has come back on the table, I’ve signed up to do the festival again in August. I’ve been asking around to see if I can find some space to work, but so far nothing cheap enough or close enough has come up. There is plenty to do but progress is slow and time is limited.
Even before the clocks go forward, I’ve been forced out of hibernation…
In six weeks I am having another display at the library (see output page). I do like hanging pictures there, it’s such a nice space. I have six paintings for it still half-finished. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and probably will be doing for six solid weeks, in every bit of spare time I can find or make. In case anyone was wondering…
A flier from an art supply place had me flicking idly through their new product range – probably as a diversion from some paperwork or other – and among the range I spotted big set of chalk pastels, priced at nearly £1400. For another £400, you could have them in a nice wooden case…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they are great quality, and anyone who uses pastels would love them (I don’t – all that dust). And it’s a huge box, there are hundreds of them. But if a basic box of half-decent student pastels is £150 even, and you can get just-about-usable ones for under £5, are they really hundreds of times better?
One of the reasons for expensive materials is their archival properties; pigments that will not fade in the light, or acid-free papers that don’t yellow over time. That being said, the cave paintings as Lascaux are estimated to be about seventeen thousand years old, and are done in mineralised clays (aka coloured mud), charcoal and spit. Their survival is more about a dry undisturbed low-light environment that what they were made from.
By the same token, no amount of care or expensive materials can keep an artwork from its doom by fire or flood if it is in the wrong place at the wrong time; or stop it ending up in a charity shop, cellar or skip should it fall out of favour; or clash with the curtains, or prevailing ideology.
So much of what art is about is the desire to fix something in time and space, and it having a monetary value only reinforces the idea that it must endure; but it also needs its ephemera; its mistakes, fads, neglect, loss and destruction. Otherwise art loses the possibility of change, rediscovery and new creation. Sure, have meticulously-conserved archival works wrapped up and crated in temperature-controlled vaults, if you must; but don’t say that because of them there is no place for sandcastles.
I have been trying a bit more printmaking. Shambolically, since that’s the way I do things; and without a press because even if there were money for one, it wouldn’t fit in the house without throwing out someone’s bed.
So, armed with the white-hot technology of some sharp points, a roller and a wooden spoon, I made some linocut Christmas cards (I mentioned these before). They were crude and simple things but quite fun to do; and more to the point, I could do them inside and stay warm. Since then I have started a couple more, for birthday cards and the like.
Printing takes a different approach to painting, though: a lot more planning and front-end design, not to mention the dark arts of registration (aka lining stuff up straight) and getting used to the idea that the print will be the reverse of the plate. It’s not something I have been able to work with so far in a spontaneous way, and you could easily argue that better results could be achieved with a ten-minute burst of Photoshop, but it is a good way to build up a stock of inexpensive art for cards and postcards.
So far I have kept my fingers away from the sharp things, and a pot of block-printing medium means I can use the paints I already have, so I haven’t spent much on materials. If nothing else, it should keep me busy until the Spring comes, and I can go back outside to paint.