Archives for the month of: July, 2010

On Thursday afternoon I spent my NUCA time with Sarah, the drawing workshop manager, and the laser cutter in the LRC. I had been told about the laser cutters potential for printmaking by Joe Baker who had used it to engrave on plastic which he was then printing with intaglio. I wasn’t too sure about the results but I was interested in the idea of using a machine to produce a cut print-a computer meets the wood cut.

I am interested in the idea of the hand drawn mark, the autographic mark, being transcribed by machines in some way and I am always interested in the way an idea gets changed as it interacts with technology. It is a way of finding out about technology and the assumptions embedded in the design of the machinery. Of course this is true of paints and pencils and all the other ‘minor’ technologies that are so old and that we are so used to that we barely consider them technologies at all. I have a lesson script for the history of the pencil that I unroll for the children which tries to point out that the pencil has a relatively short history, back to the Henry VIII and a thunderstorm in Cumbria. Most children and a lot of teachers think technology means something you can plug in these days, the word has been usurped.

But anyway. I am interested in this interaction between idea and translation by machine especially as I tend to be a gestural mark maker the idea of a computer translating marks into a material seems intriguing. I took a photo of one of the big drawings that I made at the end of last term with Payne’s Grey acrylic on 50 x 60 cm cartridge paper. These featured in the NUCA show in April. This set of drawings were meant to be somewhere between Lasker and Matta and Guston. Particularly the tiny little forms in the back of some Matta drawings I had seen at the SCVA. They were meant to be cartoon free-associations, comic-book automatism.

Glyph image for the laser cutter.

Glyph image for the laser cutter. Originated as a painted image with acrylic and brush then fiddled with in Photoshop to reduce the colours.

I thought they would work in the laser cutter by being relatively bold and straightforward. I meant the image to be what I believe is called rastered out which means that the laser burns way all that is white in this image so that only the black bits are raised up. Then a roller would be used to put a layer of ink across the raised area, a piece of paper put on top and burnished so that the ink is transferred to the paper. The classic wood cut, as loved by Modernist Expressionists like Beckmann and Co. Another part of the appeal – to take a method associated with hacking and carving and expressive marks in this tradition and rendering it coolly computer generated at several removes from my original mark.

However, part of what is going on here is that I don’t really understand the machines raison d’etre. It is a piece of industrial plant  designed to cut things out and perhaps do a bit of engraving but not really to render woodcuts for me. Rastering out the white bit of the image would take a long time, make a lot of smoke for the extractor fan and would still require sensitive printing to get a result. Sarah suggested cutting the image out of 3mm medium density fibreboard and then gluing the pieces down to make the relief printing block. This, for this image, is a great idea. Sarah had made some tests with a jpeg image I had sent her and when I got there she presented me with this rather fantastic great 800 mm piece of wood with the image cut out and another piece of wood underneath ready to have the top bits glued on, burnt to show where the bits should go. This all done in one go with the laser set to burn through the top piece but not the bottom piece.

Laser Cutter 01

Large laser cut image with base board helpfully scorched ready for top pieces to be glued on.

I was surprised by this as I had been thinking about the prints being 8 x 10 inches, like the etchings so that they obviously fit as a series and we spent the afternoon experimenting with the bits of plywood that I bought with me. The cutter didn’t like the plywood very much and wasn’t happy cutting through it. We had another go with the 3mm mdf and it went through it like no bodies business and I took away tow successful cuts, the large one and a small one.

We also talked about trying to make the accompanying text image into a print. This was part of my interest in the machine aside. If this can render text as a relief print then I could make prints that have that ‘teacher voice’ on or overlaying images. It seems a taller order than I thought and I left Sarah with an Illustrator file to think about it. She pointed out that the text didn’t really full encompass the difficulties of the process and this is true. I hadn’t forseen the complexities of the process at all and I was also thinking about how one would describe it to year seven as well. There is a possibility of a fuller and franker explanation though that wouldn’t be a classroom description. We briefly discussed the idea of a range of signs, each explaining how the previous sign had been made so the wood cut was explained by a screen print and the screen print by an etching and so on.

Large laser cut print.

I haven’t been to school since so it is all in the boot waiting to go to school to be glued down. The car smells strongly of burnt wood. Thinking about it I realise how little I understood the machine. I am disappointed that it won’t practically raster an image and I am prepared to have another go and prepare an image that would need less wood burning away which might help. I like the way that the edge of the brush marks has been rendered by the machine. The gesture is still there but it has been digitised. I am still interested in the idea and I will pursue it further. I like the large scale of the image Sarah cut. It wasn’t my intention but it seems to be part of what the machine can do that my hand can’t. It can cut a far bigger image than I could be bothered to cut by hand far, far quicker. There is also the possibility of experimenting with the machine replicating marks into pattern and repetition. The point has to be what the machine can do that I can’t? What does it extend your capabilities to do?  What is in the nature of the machine that will give the images a distinct look that perhaps reflects the tensions between the history of the Expressionist wood cut, the translation of a brush mark into a cut mark and so on?

I still have a large etching in the print room with an aquatint on it waiting for its final immersion, cleaning and printing plus two 8 x 10 inch plates with grounds on knocking about, waiting for images. There are nine days of school to go and then I am teaching on an ARU summer school and then I shall have a month to ‘be an artist’ for a bit.

The laser cutting through the 3 mm wood to make the second smaller print.

Wingfield Barns map

You should re-write the title of your project every couple of months or so to see how things have changed. So the subtitle has altered to reflect recent thinking. Considering the confirmation feedback over the last few weeks, mulling it over really and letting it sink in. It emerged in the meeting that the artist teacher bit was probably not the most interesting bit and there is an article in iJade this month which is very much about the artist teacher. It is looking a well trammelled bit of turf with Daichendt’s book Artist-Teacher. I think my interest is probably in a subsection of the general area of the artist-teacher, particularly the role of the demonstration in the classroom and the idea of the art work as demonstration.

For a lot of art teachers the only art work they make is the work they make to demonstrate ideas or techniques in the classroom. Could this be seen as an art practicee? Should art teachers value this sort of work as practice? Should art teachers just value this sort of work more?

If you make a lot of work in the classroom how much does that change your practice? The work might be demonstrating something to someone in the classroom which might be one category of work- actual performative demonstration in the classroom. Other sorts of demonstration can be the sort that I make anyway when I am thinking about how to do something in the classroom, when I am looking for a way in. The sets of Davie style drawings that I did on a PD day would be an example. Not necessarily made as classroom material or with the classroom in mind to start with but they became so as I made them and thought about them as a potential project. I did mono-prints as a prep for a project in the trialling phase which became the Sandra Blow project a couple of years ago.

If one makes a lot of work of this sort how far can this be said to ‘infect’ the art practice away from the classroom? There is a way in which I end up demonstrating things to myself in a way. But what am I demonstrating and why? The etchings are almost me demonstrating to myself how to make an etching. There is a sort of running commentary in my head unpacking the process of making them as I make them.

This week I prepared some digital files for the laser cutter at NUCA to see if it can cut type onto wood to make a relief print. Hand-cutting type or writing it backwards on an etching plate is going to be a drag.  The text is a monologue on the process of making the print as if I am telling year eight how to do one. The image is from a photo of one of the big ‘formal experiment’ brush drawings I did at the end of last term. The idea is to overlay one over the other with transparent ink. So the idea is to make this ‘teacher voice’ or ‘demonstrator’s voice’ part of the art work as it is in the big hand paintings. I would like to do it in the prints too.

Text for a laser cut print

One of the effects of the teaching practice has been to make the art practice extremely diverse. I now make work with a far wider range of materials and techniques than I did at college or before teaching. When I was at college I made video and film, made photos and did a lot of drawing, animation and painting and print. So I was always quite diverse in my art work but since entering teaching it has become even more diverse. This is partly because I have been a one man band in the school but I have had to teach the range of media and techniques that the National Curriculum requires. This has particularly taken me into 3D and sculpture which I had rarely done previously. At the moment we have a set of masks based on the work of Calixte Dakpogan on the wall along with a second set of Niki De Saint Phalle sculptures by year 8 being finished (they liked the year 6 ones and wanted to have a go) plus a very fine set of large scale Pop pieces based on Oldenburg and van Bruggen. Then there is all the ceramic work which is something I learnt how to do on the teacher training course at Middlesex and have developed since. Plus the textile work and the moulds and plaster work and so on and so on.

I learn something new to teach the pupils and then I will go off on one and make a series of things using that technique until I get bored or the next thing comes along and then I’ll go back to it later or perhaps not. The set of ceramic biscuits I made (biscuit fired) when I was into moulds for a year would be an example.

The need to teach a wide variety of techniques and artists keeps the work moving around and not really settling into one groove. This has become a feature of the work. No two shows the same.

The use of artists as deliberate influence must be a factor too, the use of styles and artist’s working methods in the classroom. The role of influence as a teaching and learning tool in the classroom is one part of the question but as far as the art practice is concerned it has an impact on how the work is done. It keeps it diverse too. I described it to Dom Theobald as running the working methods of various artists through my own practice. What effect does that have? How does that impact on my work and how I feel about it?

How to approach this then? My initial thinking is that I have to work more from the art practice. If the confirmation documentation was heavily dominated by educational research methods and ideas (which is where I come from) towards art practice but not really finding it (‘where is the art practice in this?’ question in the confirmation meetings) then really I have to explore the practice and connect it back to the classroom. The practice might be the shape it is because of the classroom and the habitual practice of teaching but it is still a distinct thing from the teaching practice, it does stand away from it.

I need to document and catalogue the art practice and describe it in its diversity. What shape does it have? I need to know more about practice as research and I need to spend the summer making work and reading up on that, a lot. The current case studies as they exist in the research seem somewhat limiting and they are too classroom focussed to be useful. They feel like millstones rather than stepping stones. And they have come to misrepresent the work in the classroom and that can’t be the right thing. So perhaps the classroom work with the pupils and there work can be more tangential and seen through their outcomes on display  more than anything else. The case studies exist in the way that they do due to the ethical procedures about using the images of the pupils and their words but there is less of a problem if just the final work is used in the report.

I feel more interested in this as a direction and more energised than I had been as I ploughed through the case study with the attendant over focus on the one artist. The project is supposed to be a practice based project and that is what I was originally interested in learning about when I started, art practice as research. I should be more confident about the practice and be happier to use it, funny, odd and diverse as it is, as the centre of the project.

This farmer worked in the barn when it was a farm.

We had the opening of the Culture of the Countryside exhibition at Wingfield Barns this evening. The mural was well received by all. I was particularly pleased that it gained the approval of this gentleman who had actually worked in the barn when it was a farm, many years ago. He was pleased to see that I had got the names of the fields right.

The website was also launched and it features Gisleham Middle School and our part in the project over the last three years in several catagories. And, of course, there is a bit about me.