It's Christmas- and birthday-card making season, which I always enjoy. An excuse to get out all sorts of crafting materials and have fun with rubber stamps, stick things together with the hot glue gun, play with spangles, blob around with paint and generally increase the peace. I usually don't have a single idea about what I'm going to do at the beginning, and this year, being a strange one, was no exception; I began completely empty headed, but as soon as all the bits and pieces come out and I start playing with them something always happens. And it's so satisfying to see the neat rows of finished, folded cards.
Benign Little Town
15 x 21cm, gouache, mapping pens and printing ink on Japanese tissue
This is the third work I submitted to the Open Eye Gallery’s On a Small Scale annual Christmas exhibition. This is just about my last work on Kozu Shi tissue paper, which ceased production about 4 years ago. When I discovered it wasn’t being made any more I rang my supplier, Lawrence Arts, who kindly dug out all their remaining sheets for me. Apart from two small pieces, these works for the Christmas exhibition have finally used it all up, but I have already found an excellent replacement from Lawrence Arts.
The entire exhibition will be available online this year, for the first time in its history, alongside selected works on show in the gallery. The gallery is open by appointment only at the moment, for details and contact details please visit the gallery here.
Star Making Machine 150x300mm
Ink, monotype and gouache on Japanese tissue
I finished three works for the On a Small Scale exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery this week. Usually I catch the train to Edinburgh to hand them into the gallery, it's a highlight of my year - the beautiful journey across the Forth Bridges followed by a warm welcome when I arrive at the Gallery. This year was different, though, due to coronavirus measures. Fife, where I live, is in tier 2 restrictions at the moment while Edinburgh is higher in tier 3, and people have been told to remain in their own health board districts and not to travel unless absolutely necessary. I decided to post my works this year.
Read on for the maelstrom (or should that be Mailstrom?) of Jobsworth which followed ...
My 'honorary brother', Ian, has been in Venice for a few days. We grew up together in the same street in Scotland and did our spell in London at the same time, but now he lives in Germany so I don't see so much of him (especially these days when nobody sees much of anybody!) but we speak twice a week on the phone. Every day when he was in Venice he sent me photos of his hotel and places he had been, which I am sure unconsciously rubbed off on me because as I was deciding on a title for this one I realised there were references to canals, Renaissance buildings and motifs, the romantically scruffy and slightly broken feel of Venice, misty vague shapes, and I noticed the unreadable writing in a foreign language (asemic text) had a distinctly dangly appearance. Ian had sent me a photo of the most beautiful old Murano glass chandelier (in his bedroom!!!) which made a huge impression on me - I love it so much, I reckon without knowing it the chandelier influenced the delicacy and suspended nature of the lettering.
So, this one is titled Letter From Venice. It will be going off to the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh for inclusion in the annual Christmas Exhibition On a Small Scale along with two other works of A5 dimensions. The exhibition is going to be online for the first time in its history. It was a good move on the Gallery's part because who knows which Covid alert tier Edinburgh, or any of our cities and towns, will be in next month. If the spread of the virus doesn't slow down it could happen that non-essential businesses will be forced to close their doors again. If that does happen, the show goes on - three cheers for the internet!
I am making plans for what I'll be doing with the small scale works now the monotype ink has dried thoroughly. At the moment they are being pressed flat, so I will be starting work on them this week, aiming to have four ready to ship to the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh by the end of the week. This one pictured above returned to an old favourite shape I have used a few times in the past, which comes from an old wooden Indian salt box. I drew around it onto a piece of card to use as a template alongside my Dad's old ones.
I got nothing done yesterday because I was making face-masks in colours for autumn and winter wear - I say masks, but in fact it took nearly 5 hours just to produce one. I had only intended spending a couple of hours on it, but I was working from a tutorial which I loved, but which I simply could not get to work. The new masks differ from the ones I made earlier in the year in that they have vertical pleats instead of the horizontal ones more commonly in use, designed to be more comfortable because the mask doesn’t touch the nose and mouth; however, I just couldn’t figure out the measurements. I spent a while cutting out a template as per instructions and everything, but it still wouldn’t work. There wasn’t enough room to make pleats by the time it was stitched up, and I noticed at this stage it was already mask-sized before any pleats went in. I’m wondering if the measurements given were for the finished product and not the cutting size? In addition, my sewing machine simply would not sew over the elastic straps so I spent ages faffing around before realising it would be so much easier not to try with the machine, but to leave holes to poke them in and hand stitch at the end.
Eventually I did it with gathers around the nose and under the chin instead of pleats, and it was a success in the end so at least I got something out of the day. It was much more breathable and comfortable than the others, too. It was fine for me, but much too small for B! I’ll be back on mask-making this afternoon, this time I’m going to work backwards with the measurements to get the dimensions for cutting out the fabric. Look at all the scribbling and scoring out all over my mask template! It's not my tidiest work.
Not much to report this week, mostly because of a work crisis over at Binky McKee, but here is a little progress on the drawings, four of which I will submit to the Open Eye Gallery's On a Small Scale Christmas exhibition. I work on semi-transparent tissue paper, which means I can take advantage of reduced opacity and work on the back as well as the front. Here I have gessoed the images in the centre of the monotype frames on the back. It's enough to make those areas stand out, and it means I can draw easily over the area without clogging up my pens.
I do love my close-ups of the work! Here are three laden with texture and inky splotchy marks (so inspiring), the white gesso can be seen underneath the drawings.
Here’s the latest drawing Steam Machine finished except for ironing, and that may have to wait a while because I procrastinate all ironing terribly, including artworks. I have eight in total lined up so far in this series, each measuring 285x225mm, but I will be taking a break from it now - to get on with works for the Open Eye Gallery Christmas exhibition!
Called ‘On a Small Scale’, each year in November one of the Open Eye’s beautiful big galleries (it is an elegant Georgian building in Edinburgh’s New Town) is banked on all four walls with A5-size works, tiled tightly together, and it always looks amazing - a colourful mosaic of all the artists works which beckons the viewer in for close inspection. This year, for the first time in its history the exhibition will be launched online. This is to allow social distancing in the gallery where selected works will be on show, but I do find it exciting to think an online presence will give the exhibition a global reach.
Artists are invited to submit up to four works measuring 148x300mm, but I have already prepared a series of 12 from which I will select four for submission to ‘On a Small Scale’. I generally work in series so it suits me to work this way, leaving me with eight for other exhibitions.
New drawing in progress with a comet, of course, and more unreadable writing. The section at the bottom right (pictured above) looked to me like a strange machine, so I gave it cloud puffs rising up towards the comet. I drew the comet around a splodge of dark red monotype ink which I thought gave it a sultry Martian look.
The finished drawing. I talked a bit on Instagram this week about the asemic writings I often use in my work. It began by colouring in all the o’s in my school jotters with a pen, followed by all the other closed letter forms, mostly in Latin class. That was quite a few years ago now (nearly 50!) - I just never stopped doing it. At the same time I discovered I could draw on my eraser with biro and print with it - my jotters must have been quite an un-scholastic mess, but I found it all fascinating. I even picked up a couple of words in Latin at the same time.
After discovering the medieval pottery of Samarkand and Nishapur while at Edinburgh University, my filling-in and elaboration of letters became properly fancy. I loved, and still love, finding new forms in text. Although this detail started off as actual hand-written words, I now have absolutely no idea what it originally said. I am intrigued that it still retains the sense of text in spite of being unreadable and devoid of meaning. I think of it as seeing sign-posts in the language and script of a foreign country. You know what they are, yet you are unable to decipher them; they simply remain exotic and mysterious in their existence.
PS We finally sold that house and warmly welcome the lovely young family who moved in on Friday! It has been a busy weekend.
I haven't scanned or photographed the finished drawing yet, but here are four details from the drawing (WIP last week) which I finished yesterday. The work has been pressed now, so it’s not so wrinkly. It contains my frequently visited themes of the origins of Earth, with comets and volcanoes, weather systems, and unreadable text - and I decided to keep the loose thread on that little stitched cloud I talked about last week because it is suggestive of wind-blown rain.
The materials are Lawrence Arts oil-based relief printing ink (beautiful colours) and mapping pens on Kozu Shi paper. Sadly, production of Kozu Shi ceased around 2015. Apparently many independent paper makers in Japan are one-man bands, so when they retire or die the papers go with them. When I heard the news I rang around all my suppliers and bought up every last sheet I could find. I have enough left for one more series of small works like this one (h295mm x w245mm) and perhaps one more large drawing like Brave Oleander. I do have a good replacement lined up from Lawrence Arts - if that is still being made - it is almost (but not quite) indistinguishable from Kozu Shi, and just as strong.
I work a LOT in sketchbooks and always have several on the go. My dad was an architect and naval draughtsman, and after he died in 2017 I found heaps of old templates while clearing out his study. Always having been an avid collector of shapes, at the beginning of this year I bought a WHSmith A5 diary to use as a sketchbook specifically for work based on them.
As well as the work you see here, I illustrate under the name of Binky McKee (my mother's maiden name was McKee, Binky was every single one of my great grandmother's many cats!)
If you would like to visit my Binky website, please click the picture above.
Mug design from a sketchbook from c2003 when I was studying ceramics at Barnet College
(Sorry the archives don't nest!)
A 2013 work book, still very much in use
Please note all images on this website are ©Heather Eliza Walker 2013 - 2020, and may not be used or reproduced without prior consent.