At the start of this year, I took a couple of months off from the writing of this blog and put my focus on setting up my first online exhibition platform called Marsh Flower Gallery. This electronic space can be found on Facebook and currently shows an exhibition called 'Happenstance', which displays 20 pieces from my sketchbooks, most of which have been produced recently.
Marsh Flower Gallery will also have a rolling programme of guest artists - my first guest artist will be exhibiting in April of this year and I am very excited about having great practitioners be a part of this venture. More news will follow soon on this next exhibition.
10 of the images in 'Happenstance' are monoprints - a medium I've been keen to explore for some time. I like working with printing methods which don't require lots of set up and preparation and so the spontaneity and immediacy of something like monoprinting suits me down to the ground. In 'Language Seed' (shown below), I used water soluble ink rolled out on a non-stick baking tray bought from the local supermarket. In order to make the water soluble ink spreadable on the non-stick surface, I added a couple of drops of washing up liquid to it - this makes water-based inks thicker, oily almost, and they don't dry out as fast once detergent is added to them either.
Language Seed - monoprint and mixed media on paper
The first stage of this print involved making a line drawing on the back of the paper, placed face down in the ink. I am obsessed with the lost and found lines which occur in monoprints, surrounded by chance speckling, like the egg shells of rare birds. I fall in love with the unique imagery which is created with such drawing methods: I love line drawings anyway but when they are rendered using monoprint, I think they are extra special!
Printmaking purists feel that prints should never have other media added to them, that such ways of working create 'failed' or 'untrue' prints. I have never shared this perspective. Instead, I welcome the opportunity to bring printmaking media into contact with other media. In 'Language Seed', coloured pencil, watercolour and acrylic ink have been allowed to communicate with the original monoprint. I love the way that the water-based paints have disturbed the water-based printing ink here and there in this image, creating mysterious, multicoloured edges and washes.
My exhibition also focuses on a number of my artistic interests, namely: asemic writing, abstract comics, collage and surface design. Unknown scripts find their way into some of the images - as do conventions such as framing devices, thought and speech bubbles, from the world of abstract comics. Just as I like to bring different media together in my work, I also like to pursue an eclectic range of visual interests.
Using sketchbooks is one of my favourite ways to make art, it might even be my most loved way to practice. I am often happier working on sketches than I am on more 'formal' or 'finished' pieces. I wanted to celebrate and capture this love in my first exhibition for Marsh Flower Gallery. I hope that 'Happenstance' does my recent sketchbook work justice and that people enjoy looking at these pieces as much as I've enjoyed creating them.
Written by Nicola Winborn, Thursday 22nd March 2018
Friday 29th December 2017
For my final blog entry of 2017, I want to say a huge thank you to my super talented friend, Kimm Wiens, who stepped in when Unity Works closed and set up an online gallery space for me:
She has done a phenomenal job: the site is of superb quality and looks so beautiful - I am beyond delighted and grateful to her!
My online exhibition is called 'Conduction Stream' and showcases most of the larger pieces I would have shown at Unity Works. I had also prepared a considerable collection of smaller pieces which were going to stand in the glass cabinet at Unity - I decided to not show these in the online space, as there's too many of them and they would have detracted from the atmosphere of the online exhibition as it stands. Also, their smallness can't be felt online, so these tinier pieces have gone into storage for another time.
The true power of the online world and social media has really come home to me this year as an artist! A forum like Facebook has enabled me to connect with many great artists locally, across the country and internationally. Through social media, we all get to share our efforts, support and inspire one another in countless ways. I find this astonishing and wonderful.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year for 2018! May your next 12 months be filled with boundless creativity and new ideas!
Early in January, I will be launching a new art forum online - more news to follow on this - and so I am going to take a 1 month break from writing this blog. I will be back with the next entry in February 2018. Thank you for reading!
Written by Nicola Winborn, Friday 29th December 2017
Tuesday 7th November 2017
Setbacks to our art practice
The loss of Unity Works in Wakefield has sent shock waves through our city. It's devastating: for the people who worked there and lost their jobs, and for the community as a whole. As one Twitter user remarked in the days after the fateful news, Unity Works was set up according to a different business model, a community-based one, and its collapse is therefore a very big deal indeed, since something innovative, new, forward thinking and collective has gone from our region.
I first learnt of the fate of Unity Works through Facebook. It was a Monday night, about 10.30pm and I was having a final Facebook session before turning in for precious slumber. I remember saying to my partner, "Shit! Unity Works has gone bust and all its operations are closed with immediate effect!"
"So what about your exhibition?" he asked. "Will that still go ahead?"
"No," I said. "It's shut down with immediate effect. That's it."
I thought I wouldn't sleep that night. Unexpectedly, I did.
I had some time away last week in the Peak District. Colin, myself and our beloved dog Moushka, went and holed ourselves up in an isolated cottage in the valley between the outcrop of rocks known as The Roaches and Tittesworth Reservoir. (I love to holiday in the quietest places I can find; the more remote the better for me.) Whilst there, I reflected on how, all things considered, I've coped well with the loss of my exhibition, which was scheduled to open on 29th November 2017. It's a setback, and one I'd rather not experience, but it hasn't stopped me in my art practice. And it's this last detail which is key, for many things in human existence can and do prevent our creativity (and I've had my fair share of barriers over the years) but, magically, this time, I've not gone away and hit artist's block. This is a new experience for me and one I am most grateful for. What's different this time?
Many things: the passage of time; age; experience; personal growth; meditation and its positive effects on my psyche; Reiki practice; increasing self insight etc. Too much to explore completely in this here blog! But I would like to hone in on one particular detail that's different this time around: allowing myself to get right 'back in the' creative 'saddle' straight after a setback like this.
A few days after the news of Unity Works, I had my next studio session scheduled in my dairy. I made myself keep to it and I made myself create new things. I could have gone back to my last exhibition painting - I had just one left to finish - but decided that this was too gloom-inducing and opted instead to do something different. I had no plan as to what these new things might be; I relied purely on instinct and following my nose. I feel that this is another key ingredient to our practice, especially when making ourselves create against the odds of setbacks, disappointment, self-doubt etc. - don't worry about having no plan, most of the time they're useless to creativity anyway, let go, allow your gut instinct to direct you, release yourself from the need to schedule and control. Above all, have fun in letting go, you'll be surprised where this takes you.
By the end of that session, I had 16 new pieces made. I remember looking around me before cleaning up and packing away and smiling! I'd done it. I'd broken through what could easily have been an impasse and kept the creative flow moving. Here's a sample of what I produced that day:
Sketch in mixed media on graph paper - October 2017:
Mail Art piece No. 1 (given to my partner, Colin) - print, acrylic gouache, silver acrylic and watercolour on paper - October 2017:
Mail Art piece No. 2 (given to Colin) - collage, acrylic ink, acrylic gouache and graphite pencil on paper - October 2017:
Mail Art piece, No. 3 (given to Colin) - collage, acrylic ink, acrylic gouache, copper acrylic paint and graphite pencil on paper - October 2017:
Mail Art piece, No. 4 (given to Colin) - print, acrylic ink, acrylic gouache and graphite pencil on paper - October 2017:
Mail Art piece, No. 5 (given to Colin) - print, coloured markers, fine liner pen and coloured pencil on paper - October 2017:
So, in summary, here are a few things that could keep all of us going when barriers appear to our creativity: draw a line under the setback, keep to your precious creative time and allow yourself to create something new; don't judge your new pieces as 'good', 'bad' etc. - you made them in the face of a great challenge, be proud; you don't need a plan, follow your nose, allow yourself to play, do something you find joyous and fun (in my case, making Mail Art for the people I love); enjoy your new pieces and take credit in yourself for being able to get back on that creative saddle!
I wish all of you much creative joy and flow in this difficult social context we all find ourselves in. However hard things get, creativity is like water - it will always find some cracks to trickle and push its way through. All social systems, no matter how all-powerful they might look, have their fissures and water is a pure, elemental force, which even the proverbial King Canute couldn't hold back! It may take time, but water will always discover a path for itself, always.
Written by Nicola Winborn, Tuesday 7th November 2017
Tuesday 4th October 2017
I am busy preparing for my exhibition at Unity Works in Wakefield at the moment. It opens on Wednesday 29th November 2017 (as part of Wakefield's final Art Walk for the year) and runs until the middle of January 2018.
One part of the body of work I am producing, consists of a series of 7 inter-related images. I don't have titles for this series as yet, so this is one area I definitely need to do more work on! Sometimes names for works arise instantly; at other times longer periods of contemplation are needed; and then sometimes, the work doesn't seem to want to have a title at all. I enjoy the naming of works; equally, I also love it when a piece intuits to me that it doesn't want to be called, fixed. It will be interesting to see what emerges for this series of 7 pieces as the exhibition date nears.
For this month's blog, I include images of 3 paintings from this series in a much earlier guise. I have since 'completed' these works (those of you who have read earlier blog entries will know how tenuous I feel the status of 'finished' work can be), but here they are as works in progress:
It is interesting for me seeing these works as digital reproductions in their earlier incarnations. In the above digital form, I love them as they stand, they seem to have a magic all of their own. However, when they were sat in my studio in their raw state, I knew they needed more work. I don't for one minute regret continuing to work on them - I think they are all the more richer for this - however, I also feel that we do, inevitably, lose something magical from the earlier life of a painting as we continue to work on it.
So, what, I ask myself, has been lost here? A stark simplicity, perhaps. A raw infancy. (Maybe this is one of the reasons why digital reproduction systems are so useful, because it allows us to record and keep earlier stages of our artistic process for subsequent viewing - something that was much more difficult and laborious before the advent of devices like Smart phones.)
These 7 works are now all 'finished'. I am currently working on 4 new canvases, which have been born out of a series of 31 sketchbook drawings I did recently called 'Asemic Love Series'. One of the challenges of getting ready for an exhibition is that, until you get into the space to hang your work, you don't know how many pieces you are eventually going to need. You also don't know which pieces will eventually sit where when it comes to the final show. There are many unknowns.
Un-chartered territory can be a source of stress for us and, believe me, there's lots of aspects of this exhibition which have caused my heart rate to go up many times in recent weeks! But I am also a big believer in focusing on enjoying the journey, the process, as much as I can. And so I move through October with the inevitable heart flutters and mini-panics but also with a willingness to enjoy this entire creative endeavour.
Written by Nicola Winborn, Tuesday 4th October 2017
Monday 4th September 2017
On 2nd August 2017, I gave a presentation about my work at a 'Women's Voices Ring Out' event in Wakefield. Whilst preparing for this, I grappled with deciding what area of my practice on which to focus. There were lots of different directions I could have gone in (colour, influences from other artists, subject matter etc.): finally, my instinct was to settle on what felt most natural at that particular moment - and so I embarked on preparing a talk looking at my use of materials, surfaces and my lifetime love of working in mixed media.
I have decided to make this talk the focus of this month's blog. The writing which follows is not an exact copy of what I said on the night (I'm not someone who likes to over plan what I am going to say, as this then makes me too anxious about having to remember my own script) but it is close enough! The feedback I received from the audience at this event was lovely - people really enjoyed my talk and also seeing my work. I've also had lots of encouraging responses to the presentation subsequently, both through face-to-face feedback and through communication on my Facebook page. I have been really grateful for such kind comments!
When I first started painting and drawing again in my 20s, I tried to not work in mixed media, by forcing myself to just practice in one media, e.g. acrylic paint, pastels etc. Sometimes I enjoy doing this - I find pure watercolour especially delightful - however, most of the time, I am happiest and most comfortable working in a variety of media together. People can sometimes be disparaging about mixed media: at one art class about 10 years ago, a fellow participant said, "I don't want to work in mixed media, I would rather master a single form." This was said with a somewhat sneering tone which, sadly, I have witnessed quite a few times when people speak of this way of working. Yet, I and many others see mixed media as an entire or 'single' media in itself, its own 'discipline'. For instance, there is a real knack to getting it to work for you and to finding your own style within it. Also, many people struggle to let go in mixed media, since it requires a willingness to experiment, something our left-brained dominant culture is averse to. These days, I am proud to describe myself as a mixed media artist; moreover, the increasing acceptance of it as a genre in itself, means that people now instantly know what you mean when you say you are a mixed media painter. This is good news!
It was in my early 20s that I first began to look at art seriously again (after a long separation starting at school). I found myself instinctively drawn to the work of other mixed media artists such as Paul Klee. I found a joy and a beauty in Klee's work which still captivates me to this day: he is one of my favourite painters and I never tire of looking at his work.
'Sunken Landscape' was created in 1918, roughly coinciding with the end of the First World War. Its layers of marks, line, shape and colour may look like a familiar way of constructing art to the twenty-first century eye, however, for Klee's time, this was groundbreaking territory. I love the way mark making has been built in layers in this image - the initial sketches are in what looks like pen and ink which then pokes through the later planes of thicker, colourful paint. 'Sunken Landscape' encapsulates some of the things which first drew me to Klee : his fine, delicate and subtle use of colour; his willingness to test the limits of mixing different media together, long before this became commonplace; and his inventive surfaces (Klee often used detritus, like old pieces of cardboard, to construct his works - numerous searches have failed to reveal to me the surface of 'Sunken Landscape' but, looking at it, my guess is that he's used either paper or a gesso surface). Personally, I love to experiment with surface! And I know that this aspect of my work comes from admiring Klee.
One of the most 'regular' or 'standard' surfaces I like to work on is watercolour paper: I particularly love the coarser grained varieties. The first image I showed at my talk in August, was a mixed media piece called 'Route':
This uses coarse grained watercolour paper as its foundation. When I was putting the final layers on this image (using a combination of graphite pencil and oil pastel), I wanted to really bring out and highlight the texture of the paper, as I felt it vanished a bit just with the paint on it. One of the things I love about this type of paper, is the way in which the grain creates a 'key' or 'hook', which seems to capture particles of our chosen media, holding them in suspension. Rather than make this aspect vanish, I wanted to bring it out centre stage. You could say that this is a kind of personal love letter sent to the very paper, held within the image itself! Some might think this is a tad too flowery but I can't help myself, I just love this kind of paper too much!
'Transect' Series, No. 4 also uses coarse grained watercolour paper:
Once again, I wanted to make the grain explicit in this piece and so in key sections of the image I have used oil pastel to bring the grain forward. At first I planned to do this all over the image, however, I also did not want to mask the luminous colours of the spiral shape in the top left hand corner, and so that section was kept free of this final layer.
In recent weeks and months, I have been revisiting the work of Mark Tobey. (Like Paul Klee , he is another painter I spent a lot of time researching in my 20s.) Back in June/July of this year , I embarked on a series of new works inspired by my love of Tobey. In response to Tobey's 'Space Rose', a series of seven new works have evolved. I don't have titles for these images yet but here are two of them:
In both pieces, one of the formal elements I am seeking to explore, is the power and possibility of simple shapes - in the above paintings, the circle and the rectangle appear. Acrylic gesso has been used to create the textured central shapes; the surface used is coloured mount board (red in the first one and dark brown in the second). In the first image, I sought to preserve just enough of the initial red of the board. It is a vivid red, so I didn't want to keep too much of it, however, I also felt it was too much of a loss if I didn't use it at all, and so it is left to poke through in fragments around the main shape.
I am a big believer in the importance of play when it comes to art practice! When I am in between canvases, I like to give myself permission to let go and try anything I want. A few months ago, I had reached a waiting period brought about by needing to let various layers of paint dry. Not wanting to use the hair dryer on them to speed things up (I find it can flatten the paint effects too much at times and dull the luminosity of the pigments), I was left with something like the passing of half a day before I could work on these paintings again. Time is precious in the studio and I didn't want to waste it. What could I do?
It was then that I spied an unopened 'Spirograph' set sitting in the corner of my space. (I spent my 1970s childhood fascinated with 'Spirograph' and played with it endlessly. I'm not sure where my original set went but I was chuffed last year when I stumbled across a re-launched one in my local supermarket!) I leapt on it, ripped off the wrapping and started to play. To begin with, I produced a series of 'Spirograph'-inspired sketches on scraps of paper. I didn't expect them to amount to much when I began and I wasn't bothered about the 'quality' of them: yet, what I ended up with, far surpassed my expectations. I'd fully expected to produce something I was quite happy to chuck to one side, to draw over again or rip up and reconstruct , but I was in for a lovely surprise! In the end I kept the sketches made that afternoon and glued them in an A4 notepad. My unexpected delight got me remembering how much fun I had with my 'Spirograph' set as a kid. I found myself wishing that I still had it in my possession and, not only the set itself, but also the drawings I'd made with it as a child. It then struck me that the fresh drawings I'd made that day were a kind of ode to my childhood, a melancholy love note. It was then that I hit on the idea of doing more pieces like this but this time in a more deliberate way, using canvases etc. And so a set of four small pieces was made and christened 'Ode to the 70s'. Here are photographs of No. 2 and No. 3 from this seri es:
Both make use of canvas and watercolour paper in terms of surface. The main paints used are acrylic gouache and acrylic ink. I particularly love the granulation which has occurred at the sides of No. 3: I didn't expect this to happen, it's a beloved 'happy accident'. The above two paintings share kinship with another series I created last year called 'Beyond'. This latter series also uses a combination of canvas and watercolour paper as surface. Here is an example:
Finally, I will bring in a piece I created a few years ago called 'Oversoul'. This was generated through experimentation with 'mod rock' - a material I didn't like at first! I remember looking at it in its dry form and comparing it unfavourably with my beloved coarse grained watercolour paper . It felt like it was too full of holes and I couldn't possibly see what I would make with it. But 'Oversoul' surprised me:
As I started to see how preparatory sketches and the mod rock material laid on to mount board might come together, the neolithic-type image of 'Oversoul' was born. Whilst mod rock is not a surface I use that often, I would certainly like to use it again in the future.
Written by Nicola Winborn , Monday 4th September 2017
Saturday 5th August 2017
The question of when a piece of art work is 'finished' or not is a difficult one indeed. I certainly find this fraught; every other artist and writer I have spoken to over the years also finds this matter confusing. It is as if the moment we move from 'unfinished' to 'finished' work is one where we hang on a tightrope: move too far forwards to the end point too quickly and we fall from our delicate perch, the work overworked and ruined forever; but stay where we are and we run the risk of an incomplete journey with great chances never taken - then our efforts will be underworked, never quite fulfilling their potential. We have no guarantee of success either way and so making this fateful judgement is a delicate balancing act, whether we are an experienced artist or a novice. This is one of the many reasons why I enjoy sketchbooks so much, for they give us a space in which we are freed from the pressure to finish, refine and polish. I love the rawness of images in sketchbooks, which lends them a certain ephemeral quality you inevitably lose in a 'finished' piece. This is not to say that fully worked pieces can never appear ephemeral too, of course they can, but the fleeting qualities of our work in sketch pads or notebooks is unique and special indeed, for these are our first thoughts straight from our source, our creative beingness, unpolished, unprocessed. In a world of smooth corporate surfaces, where all is streamlined and made straight, perhaps our sketchbooks are a kind of personal wilderness, in which chance can grow and flourish in a happenstance fashion. Maybe this is why I love artist's notebooks so much. Here are a couple of flourishes from one of my own beloved notebooks...
'Dandelion clocks' in coloured marker pens and black liner pen, sketch pad, January 2017
'A yellow dandelion' in coloured marker pens and black liner pen, sketch pad, January 2017
Written by Nicola Winborn, Saturday 5th August 2017