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.
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.
Because I work so closely when drawing and it’s no fun getting ink on sleeves and the sides of hands, I had to wait until the monotypes I mentioned on 23 August had dried perfectly before resuming work. I used monotype to draw template forms because it lends a stony, earthy texture, so now I am adding things associated with the air and sky. Aerial puffs, steam, comets and clouds are beginning to populate the drawings, all natural events, unpredictable, wobbly, and transparent in contrast to the templates. I often use stitching because it throws me (sewing is not exactly my forte) and the results often add a comedy moment. I stitched the little cloud in this drawing, and it looks shy and fragile. I haven’t yet decided whether to leave that little loose thread in place or cut it off; I’ll see how it looks when the drawing is finished and ironed.
... is a sheet of toughened glass, which my partner B also uses as a surface to muller his paints. He makes his paints by hand and for that purpose he constructed the wooden jig you can see surrounding the glass. This holds the glass steady, and he can put sheets of white paper underneath which can be changed when they get dirty. It is a clever, practical invention which works brilliantly for making monotypes, lucky me! Here it is on my work table, all freshly cleaned after I finished for the day.
I'm going to be busy at the weekend - my beautiful god-daughter (B's daughter, yes it's a bit Fleabag), owner of vegan The Beans Bakery on Instagram, and her fab YouTuber husband Ben are coming to stay for the weekend. We haven't seen Ben for nearly three years, and it's been nearly a year since we saw Molly, as they had both planned an Easter visit which didn't happen because of lockdown. We are all so excited about the weekend!
Next week I will be back on the monotypes and I'll maybe show the glass in action.
Meanwhile, check out Beardo Benjo on You Tube, especially if you are partial to a little spooky horror gaming!
Monotype drawings have been a long-term favourite of mine, ever since I learnt the technique in 1981 at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. I began some new work this week, bearing in mind what I was thinking last week about allowing more space for the work, and decided to start with monotypes of my father’s old templates.
It meant (horror of horrors) having to clear out my work space, involving a lot of shifting things around and putting things away to make room for my toughened glass plate on the table, which in turn led to an incredible amount of dusting. A rethink and reorganisation of the work space is a great way to begin a new series of work, though, and I was excited when I could eventually begin! As usual there was the initial panic that nothing would come of it and that I wouldn’t ever be able to make art again, but the best thing is just to start somewhere and get marks onto those scary blank sheets of paper. I love the monotype process so much it it was just a few moments before I was totally absorbed. The marks, accidental and deliberate, are their own inspiration. Below is a detail showing lovely stony textures and pale lines left on the plate by the drawings which happened earlier.
I spent some time photographing details of templates drawings from my diary this week, exploring those passages which use more space. The spaces aren’t exactly negative, being activated by broad, loose brush strokes which offset tighter marks. Their opacity complements semi-transparent areas created with tracing paper; tight marks meet a mist of gestures, so they are apparently being released into mid-air. The sensation is that they might eventually disperse, but there they are fixed in the world of the drawing.
Moving forward, I want to explore giving the drawings more breathing space - and use more colour.
I photographed these crystals - in our scullery sink, of all places. A bleach solution had drained away, leaving a residue which dried into these beautiful crystalline forms. It reminded me of a photo (or possibly a contact print) my Dad used to have lying around; he had made if from of the bottom of a developing tank he used for his photography in the early 1970s. Sadly, that print appears to be lost now. As a child I thought at the time that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had marvelled at the intricacy of the crystals in their feathery forms, for years mistakenly thinking it was a photo of ice on a window.
How could something as mundane as a cleaning product flower so spectacularly? Today, from a yellow plastic Asda container had emerged pale, ephemeral gardens of constellations, skies of wonder, caves of stalactites and stalagmites - a genie in the bottle. Is this a form of efflorescence? I hope so, because in French the word means ‘flowering out’, and that to me is exactly has happened here. As bleach is diluted sodium hydrochloride, I am guessing once most of the water emptied from the sink, the rest evaporated away leaving these beautiful salt crystal deposits.
I heard something on the radio yesterday which dug right into my soul. So much so that I sought it out to listen again on radio iPlayer, and copied it out word for word:
Front Line BBCRadio4 aired 3 August 2020 19:15hrs BST
Presented by Kirsty Lang
Author and poet Barbara Kingsolver in conversation on her second collection of poems How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)
“This poem is about how in a physical way, in a metaphysical way, in a biological way, nothing ever dies. Behold your body, there’s water and there’s minerals; think where it’s gonna go, it’s never gonna be lost; and this is what I told my children when they were small, and asked me what happens when you die. I talked about trees, I talked about soil and minerals and compost and when a tree dies it turns to soil and then another tree grows from it.
“We don’t like to talk about it generally but it’s the same for us and I think it’s a pretty beautiful story, and that’s how we fly, we ultimately evaporate but it’s not an easy thing to think about it, especially in a culture that doesn’t like to think about the finite nature of life and of bodies.”
“I love the idea of me ending up as a leaf and flying into the sky when I die, I find it very positive ...”
Yes, I love that idea, too.
Barbara Kingsolver then read the title poem
“Anything left undone you can slip like a cloth bag of marbles into the hands of a child ...” - wow.
I bought the book on Kindle straight away as hardback isn’t available for a couple of days, but it’s already on my letter to Santa. I haven’t read the whole book yet, but from what I have browsed so far it is a treasure chest filled with similar pearls of reflections on simple subjects such as a broken leg, family, knitting, and even sheep shearing, all gifted a unique insight by the biggest human heart.
I don’t presume to compare my drawings with Barbara Kingsolver’s poetry, but my use of evaporative marks and transformations of objects (recently, templates) try to express a similar concept: nothing goes away, it just changes, because we are composed of parts of the universe. I am encouraged and inspired by her writing.
I was photographing some of the templates diary work during the week when I noticed I was getting good images of some used carbon paper. I had been drawing templates through it to get that particular blue line, which somehow manages to be crisp and fuzzy at the same time; also, I love that particular blue colour. After the sheets of carbon have been used over and over I had noticed the shiny side becomes an intricate lace of inverse lines left by pressing through the back with a biro to transfer the line onto paper. I have tried so many times to capture it - scanning, fancy lighting, getting close up with the camera, but to no avail - no detail showed up at all in the images.
I had cut template shapes from the used carbons for some compositions in the diary, and these were amongst the photos I took this week. The natural light of summer was so good I saw that at last I had managed to capture those elusive lines! They were so interesting I brought them into Procreate on my iPad, cut them out, and composed this image - maybe an idea for a painting?
We have just had the busiest 3 weeks. As soon as lockdown restrictions were eased here in Scotland it was all hands on deck as we focused our full attention on our old house which has been on the market for nearly two years. We do have buyers, an enthusiastic young couple who are a perfect fit for the property and itching to move in, and it was actually all systems go on the sale back in February. Of course everything then suddenly came to a halt, and we couldn’t even get out to the house to do routine maintenance and cleaning etc until 3 weeks ago.
It’s an old house and had been sitting empty all through the winter followed by lockdown, but in all that time it had fared better than expected. Nonetheless, the usual list of tasks and jobs had stacked up along with the cobwebs, and naturally we wanted to make sure the house was as spick and span as possible before the buyers made their first visit since before lockdown. It was lovely to be back there, cleaning and repainting, warming the place through and generally bringing it back to life. It was a very rewarding time, but any thoughts I may have entertained about getting any artwork done during that time quickly vanished. Also, we had disconnected the phone and internet when we moved out, so no blogs or Instagram happened at all. To cap it all, once we finished work on the house we both came down with a nasty norovirus type tummy bug last week.
However, everything is done and we are much better now. The world is beginning to open up a little into the ‘new normal’ and things are moving on - so I am hoping that this coming week I will be able to start getting back into my work. I always try to make both my blogs as different as possible to reflect the differing areas of my work, but naturally, as Binky McKee and Heather Eliza Walker are actually both me, this week’s entry will have to do for both! I did give Binky's a winter photo and used a summer one here to make them a bit different.
The other day I was playing around with a grille composed of Old West lettering again, I placed it over one of my drawings to see how it would look. It does have a feeling of looking outside from within. I was most interested in the shapes created between the letters, coloured around in black to isolate them.
I was honoured to receive this comment when I posted this work on Instagram the other day:
To me, your work is a really inspiring example of how to take a set of artistic questions, ideas, and feelings and truly explore them, rather than just skating the surface ...
I was bowled over by this, not just because of the praise but because it came from an artist I highly respect and admire. Known as Daniel, please check out his Instagram Graphopathy - it is fun and inspiring and very intriguing.
Titled Ball Game, this work is available on my Etsy store, listing here
This week I have had a push to get the children's book I am illustrating as Binky McKee well on its way to completion. Part of it was to create alphabets of lettering to make a couple of posters for the story in a Wild West kind of font. I became very interested in the spaces between the letters as I was making them into words. In my spare time I quickly threw together this idea in relation to my interest in asemic text and legibility. It made a fascinating screen reminiscent of mashrabiya design. I placed it over a photo I took of the side of a rusty, bashed up skip (when we were moving house two years ago) and some fascinating shapes revealed themselves. They almost look hewn from stone.
For weeks now I have been contemplating how people or characters might look in the templates drawings. The little figures above came out of the children's book I have been illustrating. I made this digital mockup with one of my recent drawings on my iPad and was quite taken with how the people look solitary and overwhelmed by their environment. They look like explorers on their Grand Tour, but the scene also reminds me of our local park where people are taking their daily exercise during lockdown. The entrance to the park is on a hill overlooking the park, and solitary walkers can be seen scattered amongst the trees and meadow areas. In that respect it brings to mind the works of Lowry, or even some of Henri Rousseau's beautiful works like Carnival Evening.
I spotted this fantastic example of four different systems crossing each other while out on our daily walk: the plant, its shadow, woodgrain, and saw-marks on a felled tree. Of course I didn't have a phone or camera with me, so when I got home I got my phone and returned to the scene. It was worth it both to have collected this image which I find deeply interesting, but I also met a beautiful little pug pup - his body was pale sandy coloured, with a black face.
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.
I always take prints from my monotype glass at the end of a day's work. It helps with cleanup and the results are often surprising - like this one, which looks like a weather front! (Yet another work titled A Change in the Weather on its way?)
(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.