It’s been a few weeks for me since making time for a photo walk – walks that have quickly taken hold in my art life. I walk all the time regardless of a camera. Since moving up to Scotland a couple of months back, it’s a new routine, to walk and talk on the phone, attempting to keep up with people I miss. But now, making time just to walk with no other purpose than to gather images, feels luxurious, even care free. I wrote about photo walks in a previous post last year and meant to return to the topic. This time, I’m intending to be a little more focused. I’ve set myself a mini challenge – to go in search of shape in my photo walk. Finding regular or irregular shapes in my environment that will go on to inspire a range of original mono prints.
Why mono prints? Because I love any excuse to return to this technique, always a key part of my practice and where I head in spite of any lost motivation. Through mono printing, my spark returns. I thought I’d carry out the challenge as a way of demonstrating how I source imagery for print making.
Quite a few years back I was invited to join an A Level art group on their trip to Paris with the role of artist in residence. It was magic. Fantastic staff and students from Chalfonts Community College who embraced the city like nothing else. I thought I was trigger happy on the camera – I met my match with these students who quickly clocked up thousands of images each in a matter of days. We careered around the city, swarming any local graffiti and artfully decaying walls and plonked down on dusty museum floors, sketching Rodin and Degas. I mention this trip because I learnt a lot through the student’s eyes, watching them take pictures on the street, intrigued by what intrigued them. One of their tasks was to find faces in the city – to find signs of life in the inanimate. It’s a game you’ve probably seen played out online. Last week The Guardian ran a photo feature about it, celebrating the photographer Justin Sutcliffe, turns out this game has a name – facial pareidolia. The idea was also brought to screen by new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker in the film Adult Life Skills (lovely film), whose character sees faces everywhere. Here’s my contribution to the game – from today’s photo walk on shape… I warn you, if you start playing too, you wont stop.
I found it really helpful to focus in on the singular theme of shape during the photo walk. Normally I’d be capturing all sorts of texture, colour and shadow, which can feel overwhelming to absorb all at once. Today was about an hour’s walk – I had intended only thirty minutes, but it’s addictive. I walked through the town and into some local countryside. I was a little pessimistic, feeling the familiar route would not offer much – and there was rain. As always on a photo walk, the permission to concentrate solely on photography soon opened up plenty to see. By focusing in further on the theme of shape, I stretched my comfort zone a little. Texture is king to me, colour it’s consort, so to ignore both was tricky. In the end I’d say it was freeing and helped me broaden out from my go-to photo walk subjects. I can now add drains, vents and road signage to my visual interests. My walk generated about eighty or so images which, through a quick edit, appeared to fall into four themes.
The Square and Rectangle
The square and rectangle were the two most dominant shapes out there on my walk. Whether that’s to do with my own conscious bias towards these shapes or a general theme of urban life, I can’t be sure. I focused in on details, often within the architecture, escape routes and airways, at eye level or ground. Curves cost more money to realise in construction so perhaps that’s why these right angles trickle down into smaller features of buildings. If I did a similar photo walk in Barcelona I wonder if squares would appear so often with architect Gaudi at the helm, who believed “the straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”
The curves seem to be additions to a scene rather than part of the furniture. Discarded objects, graffiti and fabric all loosely embed themselves into the environment. Within this group I notice a greater variety of material, rubbish being the common denominator. If I’d been more savvy I would have combined my walk with a litter pick – although breaking my ‘one purpose’ rule for a photo walk. I start to envisage my next school project, fusing photography and conservation, a team of ten year olds armed with cameras and black sacks!
I wonder if I’m stretching the boundary of the theme of shape with the inclusion of line. Shape and line are often listed separately as formal considerations in art and design. I’m using the term ‘line’ as a way of grouping these images together. Line is helpful to extract when thinking about printmaking. I’m seeking clear motifs to inform my print designs and these are a good source.
The Negative Space
Perhaps another personal preference here. I’m always drawn to areas of light or dark. I like the idea of shape consisting of space not form. The space created sucking in the light and offering a true black. Another great source of motif for printmaking. Clear and distinct shapes to copy onto the printing surface.
Preparing to Print
Before starting some mono printing, I prepare some textured backgrounds to print over. It’s a way of creating another layer in the print work and quickly removes the dreaded blank canvas worry. I’m using diluted black ink and play around with some mark making ideas using tools like brushes, rags, crumpled paper, stone and rope. I try to reference some of the textures and shapes within the photo walk images.
With my backgrounds prepared I sift through my photo walk images and select a handful to use as a focus in my mono printing. I view the work from my laptop although I prefer to use printouts of the images out and have them nearer to hand. For this session I’m using a glass panel as my printing surface, an ink roller and acrylic paint.
Once there’s an even layer of paint on the glass, I can start to add texture and line to the surface using a variety of tools to scratch away the paint…
The paper is layered over the top of the surface, even pressure applied and then slowly peeled back to reveal the mono print…`
The resulting prints can be seen as starting points, a way of understanding the original photographs. Like the practice of drawing, mono printing for me is about reducing an image to its bare bones. Extracting key shapes, textures and colours. With these ideas I can decide to be true to the composition and copy, or release the shapes and create new pattern and arrangement to lead into future designs or original artworks. In a another blog post, I’ll focus on collaging these mono prints together to create a larger scale, resolved piece. Along with a love of mono print, I really enjoy the combining, layering and patch working of prints together. Next time I’ll share ways to manage this by hand and by using digital tools.