Preparation for Landscape Artist of the Year
A35 Through Chideock, Shrinking Studios and CO2
In my art work I search to illustrate the issues, lives and actions behind places and I try to bring new ways of looking at images and landscapes in particular. Earlier this year I read about the Landscape Artist of the Year compeition and it sounded like a good match with what I’m seeking to achieve. I entered with my print ‘A35 Through Chideock’ but knew I’d be one of many and my work might not appeal to the tastes of the selectors.
While Lockdown home working in June I got a call and was told I’d been selected to take part in Landscape Artist of the Year. The lady said I was to be a pod contestant rather than a wildcard artists but not having watched the programme before I wasn’t sure what this meant. Never mind I was delighted to have been chosen.
I excitedly told my wife who thought I’d been taken in by a scam and only started believing me when she did an internet search for the show. We watched an episode that evening and the challenge ahead started to sink in.
‘A35 Through Chideock’ is screenprint prepared at East London Printmaker’s studio. It has nine print layers and was prepared over six four hour sessions not counting all the time on the preparatory sketches, work on Photoshop mock-ups and going to print shops to print out stencils for some of the layers. I used a large print bed, a large light box, a large UV exposure unit and large drying racks in three separate rooms. I clearly would need to change my approach to prepare a piece of art in a 2.5m square pod in four hours.
Initially I thought a screenprint wouldn’t be possible and wondered about a linocut or collage. Nelda at StoryVault/Sky Arts encouraged me to stick with screenprinting, I guess thinking it would help give variety to the show and make more interesting viewing. Over the next couple of weeks we had a series of discussions about the practicalities of shrinking a large print studio in to a pod and what it meant in terms of steps in the process, not least including cleaning screens with large amounts of water and ideally a power hose. I think Nelda and her colleagues started to wonder what they were potentially taking on, and even held a health and safety meeting just to discuss what to do and whether they were going to be room to film me with all the equipment I was thinking of having in the pod.
In the mean time I’d been researching ways of screenprinting away from the studio. A revelation was finding out about hinge clamps and a great blog article on making a screenbed with them (see https://handprinted.co.uk/blogs/blog/making-a-hinged-board-for-screen-printing-onto-paper). This sent me on a constructive track though it took a while to find out about all the things I needed to order and where best to get everything.
While waiting for my equipment to arrive I worked on my first test print using the facilities at the East London Printmakers studio. I’d decided to do a series of prints inspired by my Sunday runs up and down the Lea Valley and Regents Canal with my cousin. The first print ‘Hackney Marshes Bridge’ took around eight hours. I evolved my approach half way through to combine paper stencils, for the blocks of plain colour I like, and block-out painting direct on the screen for reduction printing to give details.
My next print ‘Ponders End Mill’ was the first with my new equipment at home. My wife and daughter accommodated me taking over our living room and table for the day. I’d bought a plastic trough to clean my screens in with buckets of water in our garden. It was great to find out I could get a screen clean with two half buckets of water – far more economical than the gallons of water and power hose I’d use in the studio. I’d also carefully pre-cut and marked all my paper to help with registration and save time when printing. I didn’t time all the printing but it took around five hours so an improvement. I was also pleased with the picture with its contrast of red vegetation in the foreground and green, buff and blue trees, factory and sky in the background. The main thing that hadn’t worked was my improvised print rack which collapsed with the prints in it.
I wanted to include references to the climate crisis and environmental issues in my work. For ‘Hackney Marshes Bridge’ I’d tried out regimented lines of ‘CO2’ text. My thinking evolved to having floating CO2, PO4 (phosphates), PH3 (methane) and Covid19 icons probably in the sky. I prepared the master image, had it printed at a print shop and then transferred it on to a screen at the studio using photo emulsion and an ultra violet light box. I didn’t have the screen ready for the ‘Ponders End Mill’ print so prepared a mock up by superimposing it on the sky in Photoshop. I liked the way it gave the impression of stars in the night sky, even though it was day time.
I was able to reassure Nelda that all was looking positive and I was more comfortable that the technicalities of printing in the pod were in hand. I remained worried though that I’d run out of time or mess up on the day.
My next print was ‘Ponders End Mill Field’. This was done in three layers. I was happy with the result, though at over five hours it took too long.
I then printed ‘Mile End Studios’ which I felt was a step back. Although I completed it in four hours it was rushed and the result was disappointing. I’d tried incorporating my CO2 pattern in the whole print but felt this didn’t work. Even editing it in Photoshop still left me feeling dissatisfied. I decided in order to print in the four hours on the day I’d need to assume the sky would only be in the top part of the picture and just have the stencil on this part of the screen so I could use paper stencils and flat blocks of colour on the rest of the screen.
Family holidays then took me down to Chideock for a week. My printing equipment would almost completely fill our car so it wasn’t practical to bring. I needed to keep practicing so decided to try painting the print layers with black paint and pen on paper, taking photos of each layer and colouring the layers in Photoshop. This worked better than I’d expected and I prepared ‘Chideock Garden’, ‘Ruins Lane’ and ‘Eype Beach’. The first two took around two hours of painting each which was around what I estimated I could fit in to the four hours on the day.
Up to a week before my heat the LAOTY team had only told me the location was somewhere near Wycombe. I got an email before my last weekend of preparation saying it was West Wycombe House and grounds. This gave me two days, with a print a day, to guess my location and try out compositions. I searched the internet and found a fair number of photos of the house set in its ground with a lake reflecting the landscape. I was convinced they’d put us down by the water and practiced two images, one of the house and a second of a conservatory-type building by the lake. I completed both prints in four hours each. I felt the second print in particular brought many of my ideas together as I was hoping.
It was a big challenge getting ready for the heat. A combination of desire to grab the opportunity, competitiveness, and fear of a failure on the day had driven me on. I was working on preparation and thinking about my art and how to print every evening and weekend, often waking up in the night with a new idea to note down, evolve or reject. Nelda and the LAOTY team were also positive and encouraging. It felt like we’d all come on a journey and with six practice prints and three practice paintings I was hopefully ready for the day.