Thursday, 29 May 2008

Sketchbook (re)formatting

Victoria Park 26 May
Graphite in Moleskine, 13x11cm

Our Moleskine exchange is firmly on its way, and I'm looking forward to getting the first one sent from David (David: have you started yet??). The sketchbooks we're all working in is the small pocket size Concertina one: it folds out to a glorious, continuous 2.70m (if my maths up to speed). That's far longer than any of my Found Paper Books, which just come up to 45cm; but there is something wonderful about a format that is so much wider than higher. It just doesn't seem to end. And with its folds, the next (or indeed previous) pages can be hidden, as if they didn't exist. Oh, so much fun on empty pages.

I had bought a small pocket size plain Moley in my attempt to sketch anywhere. So, I've been carrying it round with me and do indeed use it once in a while. But, it's awfy small, really. It's a one person per page kind of scenario. And while it lends itself well to some minimalist lines, it is just tiny.

Victoria Park 26 May
Graphite in Moleskine, 13x18cm

So: Plan B is already in Amazon's basket: a couple more Moley concertina books, same external dimensions, they will soon be like the Tardis: so much bigger inside than anyone would guess by looking at the inconspicous exterior.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

On accidental loss

There's been an expression popping up throughout a number of discussions between Casey, David, Brian and others. I think it was Casey who named it first: in order to finish a painting one has frequently to 'kill the precious thing'. The one that you keep closest, most valued within the painting is so often precisely the one thing that stops you from finishing.

It's something I know too well: again and again I find that it is precisely the object, line, colour that drew me to that particular scene or composition in the first place, that proves later to be the weak point, the nag, the problem. It's a funny one. So, in many ways I wholeheartedly agree with this proclamation.

But, then again: to KILL it? My mind kept going back to it - and I also see that Casey refers to the messing up of a new truck rather than death. My mind kept wandering to some of the collage work I've been doing. The beauty of collage, as well as pretty much all other art is, that stuff, mistakes, failures do get lost: they submerge, recede in the background, become unnoticeable. Yet, all the same, they remain - and I think they do so very much being alive and not as corpses.

So, my proposition is on losing rather than killing. And I've got a good quote to give you a sense of what I mean. It's one that's been keeping cropping up in my academic work, and while I have difficulties with the sense of solidity it conveys, it - on one level or another - gets me to where I want to: lost.

"I wanted to see Kafka’s tomb. Knowing perfectly well (having verified it so many times) that you cannot see what you want to see, I went to the cemetery to see what I could not see. It’s the law. All is law. It’s because of desire. The law makes its nest in the peels of desire. Go on: you will not enter. If you did not desire to go, there would be a chance that the door would open." (Cixous, H. (1997), ’Attacks of the Castle’, in Leach, N. (ed.) Rethinking Architecture, London, New York: Routledge; p.303.)

Fields in blue WIP, Detail
Fields in Blue, WIP Detail
Mixed media on board, 50x35cm

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Eldon Group... by way of introduction

The exhibition preparations are getting ahead now; I've ordered (and need to pick up from the depot) the postcards that some of us have been designing. I also took the first lot of (small) paintings to the framers yesterday.

By way of introducing some of my fellow artists, I thought I'd post the images of their postcards.

So, here they are:

Thomas Bush, Korridors,
Acrylics on board, 67.5x54cm

Sarah Jane Sharp, Dancing Jelly Fish
Oil on Canvas, 100x100cm
Chris Turpie, Dreams of Sunset
Oil on Canvas, 70x80cm

They were all pretty clear of what my card should be, so I'm including this one for good measure.

Gesa Helms, Fields in Haze
Mixed media on paper, 58x40cm

We are having an Exhibition Opening Party on Friday 13 June 4-6pm - so, if you're around, come along!

For some general info on the exhibition see:

We were initially a bit worried about the date for exibition (16-30 June) being so late in the year and also after term has finished. Yet, it all seems to be working out rather well as it will fall right into the annual Glasgow West End Festival with lots of events, venues and general things happening.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Moleskining - internationally and exchangingly

I've acquired not only a new Moleskine but also a new project. And not only that: a group project.
Yellow Steph had been bitten by the Moleskine exchange bug and so eight of us have now purchased a small concertina moleskine each which will be posted around the world. Well, not quite aroound the world but back and forth between the UK and the US; with each of us filling each book as we receive it with a few more pages. Eventually, each books ends up back with the original owner - filled with drawings, sketches, little paintings done by everyone else.

It sounds like excellent fun. I have gotten to really like the ideas of artist books, shared projects and the dynamics that brings with it. So, this is an excellent way of taking that further. Many, many thanks to Steph for organising and everyone else for being similarly excited.

We have set up a blog for the project at to chart, discuss and illustrate the travels of each of the books, so pop by to see what's going on. The blog also gives you the list of everyone involved, some nice maps and, also importantly: the themes each one is giving to their books.

I'd like to write a bit more about it, but it's late just now.

But have a link to the Flickr Moley_x group for some more background...

Monday, 19 May 2008

One v many

A follow on from the previous two on canvas making and serial production.

When I had made the canvasses last week, I made a few at once. It makes sense once you got going to do so: not much cleaning inbetween, etc. On Saturday, however, I only took one with me to the studio.

There was some deliberate logic behind it. That logic went along the lines of: take your time, dear, just keep working on one and not on several at once. Part of that logic was trying to be more thorough, another part was my apprehension to another round of friendly jokes at 'Go, Gesa, Go!' as I'm - maybe except Chris - the only one in the group who works on more than one painting at a time. In fact, several do work on the same painting for 8 or ten weeks. I simply don't.

The road to the blue trees WIP Detail
The road to the blue trees, WIP, Mixed media collage
70x50 on board, Detail
I work on the same theme for a long time. I also do a whole number of colour, composition and value studies of the theme for ages before I start painting. But when I start painting, three or four paintings at once just about feel right.

And you know what: I should have stuck to that. Should have taken the other canvasses with me, too.

So, slowness is part of it, but in a kind of not very obvious way - it's the slowness on working towards the oil paintings through pencil, ink, gouache and acrylics; it's also a slowness in going back to the painting several weeks after I last touched it. But that's combined with a distinct and deliberate moving quickly between different paintings in one session.

What does that result in? I don't know, but it feels right. It feels right as it makes each painting less precious, less singular and thus possibly more spontaneous? It means I don't worry about whether that line is right, that value is spot on or whether that mark is precisely the way I want it. It becomes clear in a muddled kind of way.

So, one v many is quite possible one in many.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Series production

or is it: serial or serious?

I have just been typing a lengthy comment in response to Yellow and Lindsay's comment on the difference between collage and scrapbooking, when I thought I should just write it up as a new post.

So, here's some more thoughts on creativity and generic commercials.

Some of the issues that I had been wondering about to do with creativity is the slap-dash approach to produce many of the same paintings, cards, collage to flog them successfully. - My adventures into the depth of Etsy, and even more Ebay, quickly take me to sites that do exactly that.

The funny thing is that I often work in series, do several variations of the same theme - early ones are the Bedrock and Clouds paintings; and just yesterday I realised that I must have done the four scenes of the fields at my parents' place well over thirty times since January - in sketches, pen and ink, acrylics, oil, collage, gouache and pastel. So, there's plenty of repetition.

In particular now that I've found my abstract shapes and lines in the compositions, it doesn't take me long to divide up the canvas for that composition, go on to fill in colours - and then... hey - is it still there? The IT being elusive, the non-mechanic, the bit that makes it work. Or probably: the bits (plural) that still make it work, the mix, the dynamic.

The road to the blue trees WIP Detail
The road to the blue trees WIP, Mixed Media Collage,
70x50cm on board, Detail

But then again, in many ways, it is the mechanic, the non-thinking that is important and helpful - to get to somewhere accidental and incidental amongst all the purpose and intention.

So, it's not really straightforward with the IT, is it? Just as well as that there's nothing wrong at all with decorating ones diary, making greeting cards etc. - do that myself, too.


Ach... it still verges on elitist posturing but I think I'll keep trying for some more explication on this.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Canvas makings

I always seem to need quite some time to get to the actual painting I want to. So, it's been week 4 of 6 and I finally got going on the final set of oil paintings on the landscapes.

Part of the delay this time was the fact that I had run out of canvases. Well, I had plenty of ready-made or DIY small and square ones. But the last ones I worked with were considerably bigger, about 80x70cm or so, and I loved the feel of space and distance I could easily achieve with these. I also retracted my previous favouritism of square ones to go back to a landscape format. - The gouache studies used that format and very effectively so.

So, finally, this week I had planned ahead, had bought some stretcher bars, although not without difficulties; and also some more canvas. The very first lot of canvas fabric I had bought a couple of years back was some fairly fine callico - I loved it for acrylics and smaller sizes; but had bought some heavy cotton canvas after that: it was fairly coarse and heavy. So heavy that my fingers were sore after stretching it onto the wood.

So, when I was in the fabric shop this time I ended up buying some medium-heavy linen - Irish linen in fact - twice as expensive as the cotton canvas but seeing that I don't use that many large canvasses I was feeling generous.

Pulling the canvas over the stretcher bar
Pulling the canvas over the stretcher bar

Easy to stretch, pull and fix, it was a joy to work with. After assembling the stretcher bars (use a hammer if it's too difficult by hand), I cut the fabric so that it just stretches around the wood on the back side. I begin by stapling the wide sides: three staples on one side, turn to the opposite, pull firmly into place, and again staple 2 or 3 (with 5cm between each staples or so); I then turn to the two other sides and continue to work round the whole frame by frequently turning, pulling and stretching evenly. Once I'm close to the corners, I pull these in neatly, fold over and staple firmly into place.

Working my way round the frame
Working my way around the frame

As far as priming is concerned, I used acrylic gesso for the first ones. But ever since, I've been using simple white emulsion paint: much more economical, and it works well for the type of paintings I do - fine details rarely figure in my paintings, and so the emulsion paint is more than adequate. I gave each canvas four thickish layers of primer.

Seeing that used such precious canvas I was a bit doubtful about the cheap emulsion paint. But for the moment it looks great: the primer tightened the canvas to a good, sound drum; it bounces perfectly, has enough give, the surface is well sealed but still there is the weave texture throughout. It was such a pleasure to work on it.

I think that's one of the benefits of making my own canvas: the painting actually starts well before the paint/sketch/study - it's the selection of materials, bars, dimensions. So, by the time the first brushstroke goes on it, my canvas and I are already best pals...

Finishes: stretched, primed and ready to go
Finished, stretched, primed and ready to go

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Almost there with the Found Papers Project

The most recent envelope I received for the Found Papers project is stretching my imagination: a board and plenty of playcards from a children's boardgame which looks like a couple of decades old; the dried pink petals of some spring tree blossoms and plenty more to get excited about.

I am trying to finish the project before mid-July. In order to do that, I've been asking people to send me any more found papers by the end of May. This should give me enough time to finish a few more books: there are some ideas for printmaking, said flower petals and quite a few more bits and pieces that are here already.

Here's a peek into the envelope above. You see my excitement?

Found Papers Lot  6 May

Not quite? How about now?

Found Papers Lot  6 May

Monday, 12 May 2008

What made me smile

... this morning was the search terms someone used to stumble into my blog:

'Gesa Helms artist'

How's that for a new identity, she asks???

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Doing collage and thinking collage


FPP#3 WIP , mixed media collage on board
[if you follow the link,
click at 'all sizes' above the photo to see a close-up]

I had just uploaded my most recent Found Papers book to Flickr earlier on when I stumbled across a recent post by one of the collage artists that I had discovered over the past few months. Neda at Papiers Colles does collage that stay with me quite some time after I leave her blog: they are often composed of female figures, difficult, intense and haunting. The compositions are striking and - working much more conceptually than I do - of a clarity that really gets to me.

One of her recent posts spelled something out that I had only in passing picked up: she explored - inquisitivly and carefully - the differences between collage and scrapbooking. In so doing, she put a name to something that had rummaged (if not loudly so but persistently) in my own mind since I've been exploring and seeking out collage artists.

It is the link to avantgarde (however awkward that term may be) that makes collage an art form that was fought over, experimented with and thus often outwith mainstream art. The one collage book I bought a while back has some intriguing collages in it which include fumage - the technique of using soot - of candles, lamps etc - to leave marks on paper. While I couldn't find anything online about the artist - Banerjee - I did find plenty on the technique. Always in the context of surrealism and experimental automatic techniques with which the meaning of art was pushed to its boundaries, transcended or just to have had fun with (taking the piss would be the Glasgow phrase for it).

  • See, here, e.g., something on the techniques employed by the artist Ithell Colquhoun
  • Or, here, the Wikipedia entry on surrealist techniques
And while I am getting rather conscious of me turning into an art snob at this point: I wonder if it's not the curiosity, inquisitiveness and love of experimentation that makes art? Well - I suppose much of that has to do also with creativity, doesn't it - have a look at Neda's post and the many comments on what matters to her readers.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Proudly announcing: our summer exhibition

I've been busy off-line, or rather off-blog. But it's all be for good reasons.

Here is the first look at our flyer for the Eldon Group Summer Exhibition. It's going into print this week, along with postcards etc. And I will give you some intro to the others in my art group. I am excited about this group exhibition coming together - and will easily talk about it non-stop. That easily avoided with this:

Eldon Group Summer Exhibition 2008

Monday, 5 May 2008

A bit of Middle Eastern promise

To compensate for my postponed travel plans, here's a recipe:

(makes about 20)

250g filo pastry
80g butter, melted

For the syrup
125 g sugar
75 ml water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon liquid honey
1 tablespoon rose water

For the filling
180g walnuts, coarsely ground
80 g sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
grated zest of 1 lemon

To make the syrup:
boil water and sugar for 10 mins, add honey and rose water and boil for another minute

Mix the filling ingredients.

I used a round 20cm tin, but probably some square baking tin or dish would work better. Grease tin and fit half the pastry sheets in the tray, one a time, brushed generously with the butter, fold/overlap - or simply: crumpled - the sheets around the edges. Spread the nut mixture evenly over sheets; layer the remaining sheets as before; also brush the top layer with melted butter. Cut parallel lines through all the layers with a sharp pointed knive. Bakes in preheated 160C oven for an hour.

Take baclawa out and let cool for five minutes; pour syrup over the cut lines and the whole tin; put back into oven for another five minutes [this is the cheating bit as per recipe]; you can reduce the amount of syrup for a less sweeter version.

This is a jumbled together version of different recipes from Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food which I love for the Sephardic recipes.

Enjoy! I pictured myself on West Jerusalem's shuq, and it worked.
Look for yourself:

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Study Plains

Study Plains 3_2

Study Plains 3_2, Gouache on Board, 18x12cm

I've been playing with the winter scenes again.

Following the excursion into Nicholas de Stael's work, I wanted to push the airy, flowy scenes of Fields in Winter towards more abstraction. With de Stael, I got really struck by the extent to which he was able to par down the compositions: so simple and yet so strong. One of the reasons he seemed to be able to do that was that there exist strong, almost whirllike focal points in his paintings - certainly in his Agrigente landscapes; and these focal points are almost central to the painting. I need to experiment with Photoshop a bit more to give you a visual sense of what I'm describing here.

In any case, I try to apply that sense of focal point coupled with a really parred down composition to the landscapes scenes from a while back. To do so, I took some small scale (18x12cm) boards, gessoed and with a burnt umber underpainting, and used gouache. I've done a few of them and uploaded them here.

These are just two to start with. I worked again with a limited palette and explored some variations. It's been great fun; I want to write up a bit more about them, but need more time to do so.

In the meantime: Here's another one.

Study Plains 2_3

Study Plains 2_4, Gouache on Board, 18x12cm