Winter

MillFionaMarches
Fiona Mill. ‘Marches’. Watercolour, pastel and charcoal on gessoed paper, 50 x 40cm (20″ x 16″).

A winter walk along a ridge on the English-Welsh border. The foreground is in Shropshire, the hills beyond in Powys.

A chill biting wind, marching storm clouds glower across the landscape. Colours of moss and heather in unexpected corners within the quartzite outcrops.

Finding a horizon

Last year, I took some of my work to an appraisal evening at my art society. This is an occasional event where members put there work on an easel in public view of an audience who are then invited to make comment. Sometimes the works are fully resolved and framed, sometimes they are works-in-progress. It’s an opportunity to review your current work. It also spurs you to resolve and finish stuff. The discussion is led and facilitated by experienced and respected member-artists. It is a brave thing to do, to experience, both on the part of the artist and the reviewers. It is a very supportive event and also instructive. There is always something to learn. Sometimes surprising things. I took along a selection of work I’d been working on, some featured here in various blog posts. Most had been previously exhibited, so I was confident in my work;  a series of landscape prints, a coupleof paintings, a small body of work exploring contours and lines in the landscape.

The comment that hit home for me was the observation that although they were all landscapes, not a single one had a horizon.

It was obvious as soon as it was pointed out, but it was a revelation. I was completely unaware. Sometimes things have to be pointed out to you. The appraiser was not making a value judgement, just stating the obvious. But they did ask if it was a conscious choice. A very good question. And as it turns out, a very personal one.

Some years ago my horizon was taken away from me rather abruptly by a sudden change in health. I had been a mountaineer, canoeist and rock climber, all my interests had always been outdoors. In the space of a couple of months, I suddenly found myself inside, struggling through recovery and focussing on getting back to work. No more mountain activities. My life turned indoors. That could have been very difficult and depressing, but I didn’t allow myself to wallow. I started sketching again. If I couldn’t be active outdoors, I could sit in the landscape and draw. I could find the outdoors through pencil and paint. Drawing then led me back to painting and printmaking. I could develop, meet people, exhibit, find a new voice. I could search for horizons within.

And all the while, I had been exploring the lack of external horizon in my work without realising just how important and personal that is. Very sobering and there followed a lot of reflection.

I will still produce work in that series, but I have begun to challenge myself a little, to explore skies, tree lines and perspective in my sketchbook.

Shropshire sky, sketchbook, watercolour & pastel
Shropshire sky, sketchbook, watercolour & pastel

 

 

 

 

 

Summer

 

After some time on the canal, I’m spending this month travelling around in the van, fitting in family events along the way. I’ll be sketching as I go, so will hopefully be posting as I can, or more likely catching up here later in August.

Currently I have work on display still in Northern Ireland until the end of the month, and was really delighted to receive the award of ‘ Highly Commended Whole Submission’ from the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists for all three Fieldwork prints,  currently on display as part of the Friends Exhibition at the RBSA gallery in Birmingham until the 16th July.

image

image

 

More about the inspiration and the making of the prints here and here.

 

My pastel painting ‘the pathless wood’ has been selected for the Weston Park national open art exhibition, showing for the month of August in the Granary Gallery. When I started exhibiting two years ago, this was the first gallery to accept my work. I was very pleased to receive their support then and now, a great confidence-booster and a fabulous exhibition to visit.

the pathless wood, 2015, 75cm x 37cm, pastel
the pathless wood, 2015, 75cm x 37cm, pastel

Onpaper Printmaking contest 2016

My ‘urban reflections’ linoprint is on display in an online exhibition here at ONPAPERCONTEST 2016 as part of the 2nd International ON PAPER printmaking competition, organised by the Barcelona-based artists’ organisation, Sala Ramona.

12 artists have been selected for the final exhibition at Trongate 103 Foyer, Glasgow in August this year. My print did not make the final exhibition, but I am very happy to see it displayed  as part of the online exhibition alongside the wonderful work by all the other international participants. On Paper will be showing participants’ work as an online exhibition for a year.

By taking part, I have met some lovely people, I have some international exposure for my own work and can attempt to assess it in relation to the work of others. As well as that I’m now in contact with artists I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I’ll be following up the links to their work and websites.

Applying to exhibitions and competitions can be hit and miss, but is always worthwhile, particularly in the printmaking world where the emphasis is almost always on forging links and providing mutual support as well as honest appraisal.

urban reflections, 2015, 21x21cm, linoprint
urban reflections, 2015, 21x21cm, linoprint

 

uphill

uphill, 2016;15x15cm; pastel on canvas board
uphill, 2016;15x15cm; pastel on canvas board

‘uphill’ iscurrently at the framer’s in readiness for the RBSA Prize exhibition in Birmingham, from 4th May until 4th June, 2016. I’m very pleased to have had it accepted. I love working in pastel. It’s such a fresh and direct medium. For me, it’s a great complement to my printmaking, which is just about as indirect as you can get.

This little painting started as a quick sketch of a West Shropshire hillside near the cottage of a friend. The track winds uphill to their house and beyond. The landscape is a  working one of low rolling green hills and meandering valleys, with open views to the south and east towards the wildness of the Shropshire Hills, Long Mynd and the Stiperstones.

hillside near Westbury, Shropshire
hillside near Westbury, Shropshire

Resisting a strong tendency to try to draw everything, I focussed on what had originally attracted my eye, the double-curve of the track and the hawthorn tree and shadow just to the right. I worked the composition lines in later. They helped incorporate a sense of the lay of the land in the finished painting; I kept the square format, worked well into the canvas board for the colour and texture but omitted the sheep. I’ve been thinking in green for a while now. Must do some more.

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sketchbook page, watercolour, wax and conte crayon.

 

Fieldwork printing process

In response to a couple of questions I’ve had about the process, here is some additional info and a couple of slideshows showing the multi-layer printing process I used for the fieldwork prints.

I used the reduction method on linoleum, where you cut away the block between each inking of the colour to reveal the ones beneath. Using this method is not for the faint-hearted… there is no going back! I also cut stencils and masks in the initial layers, wiping and overprinting to create painterly marks in the later layers. I created additional texture by embossing the paper throughout. This isn’t noticeable within the depth of the colour, but adds additional interest on the parts left white.

I used Caligo washable oil-based inks and mixed all the colours including the darkest one from the following: Diarylide Yellow, Napthol Red, Cyan, Raw Umber, Opaque White. (I did not use Black). The paper is a firm and smooth archival 220g from Seawhite of Brighton.

I started with 25 and ended up with a satisfactory edition of 18 for each, plus a random number of the usual chaotic variations (where I printed the wrong plate in the wrong colour on the wrong print, where a stencil changed shape, where I printed upside down, where the paper slipped, where the registration didn’t work out etc).

25 pieces of paper x 6 colours x 3 prints = paper going the press 450 times. Add in the sampling I did in order to check plates and colours + 450 + 30 = 480 times. With the setting-up, cleaning-up and drying time, approx 8 working days. Great fun!

Fieldwork 1

Fieldwork 2

fieldwork

I have just finished these three small reduction linocuts, based on some quick watercolour and pastel sketches I did in Wiltshire last year. The open landscape there is one of rolling downs, long bare ridges dotted with copses of trees (‘hedgehogs’), slow rivers, ancient market towns and stunning neolithic and medieval monuments.

The soil is chalk-based, providing glimmers of white to pewter shining through the crops and grasses; the cloud shadows and sunlight fold across the contours of the land adding subtleties of colour and tone. Endlessly changing but eternal.

I printed them on my much-longed-for, brand-new etching press from gunning arts. There’s no stopping me now.

Prints:

Fieldwork 1, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut
Fieldwork 1, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut
Fieldwork 2, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut
Fieldwork 2, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut
Fieldwork 3, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut
Fieldwork 3, 10x10cm, 2016, multi-layer reduction linocut

Sketches:

watercolour and pastel sketch
watercolour and pastel sketch 1
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watercolour and pastel sketch 2
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watercolour and pastel sketch 3

Two of the prints have been accepted for the Seacourt International Mini-print Biennial at the Centre for Contemporary Printmaking in Bangor, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, showing from 7th April to 20th May 2016. I hope to get over to see this exhibition, very much looking forward to seeing the work of all the participating artists.

the pathless wood

‘the pathless wood’.

The title is a reference to a line from ‘Birches’, a poem by Robert Frost.

..when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood..
When life feels like that, I go for a walk, usually in the woods nearby. This painting started as a watercolour sketch in one of my sketchbooks that I developed as a woodcut print. I then revisited it last year as a large pastel. I kept the 2:1 height to width format throughout.
'the pathless wood', 2015, 75cm x 37cm, pastel
‘the pathless wood’, 2015, 75cm x 37cm, pastel

From sketchbook to finished pastel painting:

 

 

 

 

 

green winter

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A short January walk in South Staffordshire; a mild winter up until mid-January, the fields rich with growth, the low mid-day sun silhouetting bare trees against rain-laden skies, stretching shadows across the vibrant greens; standing still against the breeze, trying to catch the swing of branches in a sketchbook; wind-blown thoughts of cutting a plate and a pool of green ink.

I carved out the careful absence of a hill and a hill grew.
I cut away the fabric of the trees
and the trees stood shivering in the darkness.

from Etching of a Line of Trees by John Glenday