Refining and Resolving my Print Processes, Techniques, Materials and Colour
Through prior sampling I felt that the sheer cotton muslin itself with the materials construction and imagery in print had worked very well to exemplify key themes of fragility, disintegration, and disappearance. I had increasingly realised meaning through the materials and making, of generating a sufficiently positive reciprocal relationship with materials as I recognised a sense of flow and momentum as I worked with the repurposed muslin. The positive outcomes which were evidenced evolved from my respectful handling of the sheer materials being used and printed onto. This analogy of respectful handling of the sheer materials especially the fine muslin directly referred to and with the respectful handling of the environment. Through my creative practice and my work with a range of materials I felt closer to the environment as it informed and defined what I did. Every decision made reflected favourably upon environmental sustainability and minimising waste, of only using what I need, of selecting reclaimed materials, of recycling, repurposing, and reusing as part of my creative process. The imagery used always stemmed from nature itself especially natural surface qualities of coastal and marine life. That said the beauty of fragility continued to act as an inspiration for my making, to further cement the fragility of the environment and the fragility of the material and my imagery, to convey the vulnerability of such natural forms, of aspects of natural surface qualities and the creative process.
I have always had an affinity to the coast and the sea, I have evolved from a long line of fisherman in the East Neuk of Fife going back hundreds of years and such themes with the sea have continued on through the Royal Navy and merchant navy to the present day. The coast and the sea have been deeply embedded within my identity and who I am. I stay where I do as my family moved to secure fishing rights many years ago when the fish stocks were still plentiful and what was taken was what was required to maintain what was there. I have been brought up to respect the sea and what it needs to only use what is required to maintain a natural balance and order within the environment. From all these memories on boats from a young child onwards, appreciating the sea, coast and nature I tried to imbue such depth of feeling and relating into my creative work through the materials used and my relationship with the materials. I wished to communicate and convey the beauty but also the fragility of nature from such environments, to be able to look to see the complexity of such life forms like shells and to increasingly recognise what is being broken and destroyed. Without increased intervention disappearance of multiple marine and coastal species seems inevitable. From walks along many beaches and coastal paths over the years I can see first-hand the disrespect shown to nature with the unnecessary waste strewn end to end coupled with the floating debris out to sea. In focusing in on the relationship with materials, of showing respect something beautiful can come from changing our relationship with materials, of caring more and discarding less. For me, the beauty comes from such fragility in both highlighting the fragility and working in such ways to fully acknowledge fragility.
Through the continuous documentation of my personal response to and with materials I have developed and refined my creative practice with a range of materials including sheer cotton muslin, to work in different ways, to be led intuitively in process by the material. From the sampling processes using screen printing on repurposed sheer cotton muslin (70 x 50cm) I was able to articulate a way forward using this material, to recognise its worth larger scale (1.3 x 5 metres).
From the sampling processes preferred colourways were realised including use of dull yellow, grey-blue and a selection of greys and blues on grey-blue dyed reused sheer muslin. This colour palette seemed to situate naturally within the context, of the sea and the coast and it felt right as it evoked prior experiencing of the sea and the coast with my family, of being a child on the sand and on as well as in the water…the colours resonated with me at a more visceral level, of feeling the same sensations as I worked with such coloured inks on the cloth. As such feelings were reverberated in process I was led by such feelings, of earlier experiencing being re-enacted which informed the decision-making processes, to select this colour palette for these final extremely large material pieces. To continue to work with identity through colour use, imagery from natural marine and coastal forms-art and collage work and increased scale to feel completely immersed and embedded within the making processes. My own formative experiencing with the sea and the coast with its associated felt sense was expressed through the relational choices made in process including the preferred elements of the layered imagery which was utilised throughout this larger scale screen print process. The beauty of fragility was capitalised upon using fragments of the imagery in print using different sized squeegees as if paint brushes. The idea was to harness aspects of the overall mixed imagery from a series of large scale screens with hand cut masking and stencilling on the sheer muslin as well as on the screens as if painting a scene on canvas, to build up the layering effects differently, to communicate the core themes of fading, disappearance, and extinction through the layers of muslin, printed imagery to the imprint. This understanding was helped by previous extensive sampling through screen print experimentation using different layers of materials to create a range of prints and imprints.
Two 1.3 metre width by 5 metre length sections of dyed blue-grey sheer muslin were laid out on the print table, one layer on top of the other to develop more defined print on the top layer and more faded imprints on the underneath layer to resonate with environmental change and disappearance, to exemplify fragments missing, vanishing through misuse.
Given the sheer scale of the material in use I enjoyed the screen printing processes, of approaching this as an opportunity to tell a story through print. As sheer cotton muslin had already been investigated through sampling the properties of the material were already known and understood. That said there were still surprises in just how well the material held the printing ink through both layers in such a large and multi-layered piece of work. The muslin responded remarkedly well with the printing processes despite its overall fragility. There was enhanced imagery, and the strength of the imagery was unexpected due to the heightened qualities of the muslin especially its structural strength and resilience despite its visual delicacy. While I had intended the muslin to fracture and fragment naturally during the print process the material held firm. In respecting the material, making and process itself I went with the material and how it naturally reacted and responded to the tension, pressure, and printing inks. I felt that it would have been disrespectful in this process to then slice the material itself to represent fracturing, splintering and rupturing to symbolise environmental threat and this would not have been conducive to my relationship with the material and how I work with such materials. Instead I continued to emphasise such themes of broken and breaking down through the colour palette, printed imagery and use of imprints. The difference between the printed imagery and imprints highlighted a process of loss and change, of healthy environments to disappearance, fading and passing from sight. The monumental scale generated impact, to develop the narrative, story telling of environmental breakdown, of using an exceptionally large canvas of sheer repurposed muslin to say what needed to be said visually. Working in this scale with these materials suited the visual account of the connected events of loss and change within our environment, one of disappearance and extinction.
From the development of the top printed layer of muslin including the removal of colour and the addition of white highlights the layers of muslin were separated and the underneath layer with imprints was focused upon. Degrees of contrast were generated with broken parts of imagery printed on top of some of the imprints. The printing ink was used like paint and painted onto the muslin with different tools including paint brushes to achieve different effects. An array of marks was made throughout the five-metre length to express fracturing and splintering, to disrupt the imprint in parts, to evidence increased rupturing and struggle. The increased layering of different techniques on both layers of muslin added depth, dynamism, and complexity within the imagery which was helped through use of hand cut stencilling and masking off of areas to create further interjected, interrupted and disturbed areas of interest within the overall imagery. The imagery evokes a tale of loss and change from top to bottom and across the length of the material…of a story of struggle for survival as the disrupted elements of the imagery overlap in part with increased disappearance through the use of the imprints…fading and vanishing.