Post-Walkabout, I Run into Archimedes and Tangerine Meg in the Pursuit of An Eco Collograph and Its Ghost

My Internet friend, and artist, Tangerine Meg, has just posted a blog listing different apologetics for Art, mentioning, among other things, the apparent dichotomy between Art and Science. That the dichotomy is just that, an apparency; that Art and Science are just two different routes to understanding the world.

It’s true that there’d be no scientific progress without imagination. What d’you think propelled Archimedes from his bath to run naked through the streets shouting, “Eureka!”?  And he did have it – Archimedes Principle (which I can to this day recite by heart only because when I was 13 I was made to write it out 500 times by my science teacher for failing to do my Physics homework).

Likewise, there’d be no art if it failed to progress beyond the idea: an idea comes into being through the development of technique. Both Art and Science are about problem-solving.

I am reminded of my very first art project at university. We were sent out onto the streets of the city to make drawings to translate into one huge drawing – a work of art in black and white. We were to go out and …”activate a space.” I didn’t have a clue as to how to activate a space, so I went out and did some drawings. I do recall being chased off a piece of land belonging to British Rail by a very angry official – I escaped by climbing up the side of a multi-storey car park, clutching a small section of abandoned rusty rail while shouting, “I’m an art student!” at the official as he accused me of theft of British Rail property. I used the rail in my second project, which was to develop a piece of sculpture from the spaces I’d activated (drawings). It never occurred to me at the time that I could have developed a project around the car park climbing incident.

The sculpture was hopeless and fell apart, as did British Rail, some years later. During the process of the first project, however – the large black and white drawing – I found myself going back to the departmental art shop time and again in frustration, in search of something to make blacker blacks. My professor came up behind me on one of those occasions and said something to the effect that black was black you know and maybe my problem was one of contrast. That was a Eureka! moment for me, though luckily it didn’t inspire me to run up and down a (British) rail track naked, shouting in Greek. That was the last time I trespassed on railway property, too.

I am back from my Walkabout as you see. I’m transitioning through a big change in my life. More on that another time. And I’m picking up where I left off with my Eco Collographs, but with an especial aim. More on that, also, another time. The above are from a series of prints of Purple Sage. For the first time, I made prints on both sides of the paper. As I’d noticed that the colour seeps through the paper during the printing process, I wanted to make use of that aspect. The first two images here are of prints made on one side of the paper and mirror images of each other.  The third image is a shot of the other side, on which there is a ghosting of the print on the reverse. Oh and these prints are longer at each side – too big for the scanner. So I’m back to contrast – a way of adding dimension and many other things. In fact, contrast is going to play a big part in  developing these works into something meaningful, what may be called Works of Art.

I wondered if there was a subliminal reason I was drawn to the Purple Sage and went to my delightful copy of Flowers and Flower Lore: Revd Hilderic Friend. I found the following about sage in the Plant Augury section of his Introduction:

“… a farmer recently informed me that the same plant [sage] would thrive or decline as the master’s business prospered or failed. He asserted that it was perfectly true, for at one time he was doing badly, and the Sage began to wither; but as soon as the tide turned the plant began to thrive again. This curious association of plants with the weal and woe of individuals and nations is widespread, …”

My tide is turning, I hope. I will soon be in a more settled position in which to give better form to my ideas. Like Archimedes and his Principle.

Flower and Flowerlore, in the chapter entitled The Magic Wand, makes mention of Red Sage. Apparently it will afford “… sight of one’s future husband. On Midsummer’s Eve, just at sunset, three, five, or seven, young women are to go into a garden in which there is no other person, and each gather a sprig of Red Sage. Then going into a room by themselves, they must set a stool in the middle of the room, and on it a clean basin full of Rose-water, into which the sprigs of sage are to be put. When certain other operations have been gone through, it is thought that the lover of each will appear at midnight.”

I already have a husband and am keeping him, but all ye young maidens out there, take note. It’s a great pity that the Revd Friend wasn’t more specific about those “… certain other operations …” that have to be gone through during the ritual for the apparitions to be brought forth. If any of you reading this have the rest of the spell, do let me know and I’ll pass it on to the world’s maidens.

The latin name for sage is Salvia – salve. It is a healing plant. I have sent away for some Red Sage, in the form of tea. Apparently, there are properties in Red Sage which lower cholesterol and as mine is sky high – despite the fact I’ve been a vegetarian for about 25 years – and I won’t take statins, it’s worth a shot.

And so you see that my colourful Internet friend Tangerine Meg writes true – Art is a way of understanding the world and Art and Science are not dichotomies, but intertwined. The practice of both Art and Science is an activity that leads to uses to humankind on all levels.

Have you had a Eureka! moment? What did it lead to?  I’d like to hear about it.








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An Hiatus: Back Soon

Going walkabout.  See you soon.

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Seeds Fallen from an Elm

“Everything changes and nothing remains still …
you cannot step twice into the same stream.”    Heraclitus

I walk through a park almost daily. It is never the same park twice. Yesterday I passed beneath an elm, my feet ankle deep in a soft carpet of fallen seeds in their springy green husks. I filled my bag with handfuls of them and later the same day turned them into a suite of eco collographs. The above is one of them.

Earlier in the week I passed a pleasantly prickly hour picking blackberries and turned them into 3lbs of zingy blackberry jam. (Next time I go blackberrying I won’t wear white pants – by the time I’d finished I looked like I’d been savaged by The Hound of the Baskervilles).

What park will I find there tomorrow? I’m hoping for more blackberries, to turn into blackberry vinegar.

I like finding things to turn into other things.








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Purple Sage, Accolade

Purple Sage (Eco Collograph)

“Practicing creativity in every way we can think of feels like the most powerful response to current events that we can make. Adding to the beauty of the world and allowing our work to reflect the highest qualities of our soul feels to me like a way of helping to create positive change in our world.” Suzanne Miller

There are times when as an artist I feel utterly pointless and powerless. This is especially so when I hear of yet another terrorist or other terrible outrage and there have been several of these here in London recently. 

Invariably, one of my Internet friends will turn up and put my hat on the right way round again. So it was with the above quote, which  reminds me of the power and purpose of art, the innate goodness of the activity and practice and restores my spirit and resilience.

Aren’t Suzanne’s words inspiring and uplifting?

Suzanne lives in Warrnambool, on the south-western coast of Victoria, Australia. The best aspect of the Internet for me is that it’s made it possible to connect with wise and creative folks like Suzanne, living and creating far away on the other side of the world, to connect and in doing so, be reminded of the power and purpose of art and to keep on keeping on with it.















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Conjuror’s Trick: Blueberry Eco Collograph: Acid v Alkaline

Eco Collograph II Blueberry Leaves on Watercolour Paper 18 July 2017

Eco Collograph: Young Blueberry Shoots on Watercolour Paper

“Why there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow.
That’s always the way with the blueberries, though:
There may not have been the ghost of a sign
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn
The pasture all over until not a fern
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,
And presto, they’re up all around you as thick
And hard to explain as a conjuror’s trick.”

Robert Frost: Blueberries

P S  The poem isn’t really about blueberries.  Or magic.  It’s about acidity versus alkalinity.

Sort of.



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Eco Collography – A New Development – St John’s Wort

Looking like fossilised remains of some ancient creature, this is an eco collograph of St John’s Wort, including stems, leaves and luscious red berries. I made a couple of little chemical changes to the process to ‘see what would happen’. I’ve decided to explain the process in a tutorial which I’ll post at some time on my cobwebby web site, rather than trying to describe it here. For health and safety reasons, basically. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this addition to my herbiarum vocabularum.

I will be writing in greater depth about St John’s Wort, named for St John the Baptist. For now, this intriguing morsel:  know that its Greek botanical name – Hypericum – means “… to hold over in such a way as to protect from anything”, indicating how the plant was once held in high regard as “… possessing magic properties over evil spirits.”  Flowers & Flower Lore, (Revd Hilderic Friend) his chapter entitled The Magic Wand.

My collograph does seem to be taking the stance of protector, an erstwhile knight in shining armour, don’t you think?



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Eco Collograph: Human Days and a Scene in Paradise

“I have walked once in summer by the side of a little marsh filled with mint and white hawthorn. The mint and white hawthorn have with them a vivid, rare delicious perfume. It makes you want to grovel on the ground – it makes you think you might crawl in the dust all your days, and well for you. The perfume lingers with you afterward when years have passed. You may scream and kick and struggle and weep right lustily every day of your life, but in the moments of calmness sometimes there will come back to you the fragrance of a swamp filled with mint and white hawthorn.”  Human Days, Mary MacLane (1881-1929)

A second eco collograph from Bergamot Mint. And a quote, for my herbiarum vocabularum, perhaps.

I was reminded of Cecil Collins’ painting Scene in Paradise. It has given me ideas.





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Eco Collographs: Shaking the Tree

What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?     Logan Pearsall Smith

The image above is another of my experiments with eco collographs on 300gsm watercolour paper.

Look like flowers at the end of stalks, yes?  In fact, these are  young shoots that were emanating from the base of a plum tree. They’re not flowers, but leaves. Baby leaves at the top of shoots. Reddish, they turn green as they grow.

They’re suckers. If I didn’t cull them, they’d rob the tree of its fruit. I have to shake the tree (cull the shoots) for there to be a harvest.

Something of the life, beautiful life, of these young shoots has been preserved, I hope, in these prints. They have not just been discarded without thought, mourning, honouring.

I like the quivering energy.







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Herbiarum Vocabularum

One from my latest batch of eco collography experiments. I made these from herbs from our allotment. I am fascinated by the fact that the dark green colour of the leaves, during the process, changes to brown. This has happened with many of the prints. I wonder how it is that the pressure on the plant matter precipitates the chemical changes that create this phenomenon. Or it is about the chemicals in the water in which the paper is soaked? Or a combination of both?

I used Bergamot Mint to create this print. I’m thinking now of producing an herbiary, a compendium of herbs in the same manner of the bestiary, which dates to the Middle Ages and were illustrated descriptions of animals accompanied by “… a moral lesson, … [reflecting] the belief that the world … was the Word of God, and … every living thind had its … special meaning.” (Wikipedia). 

I’ve wanted to research bestiary for years. And it seems that now is the time. And it also seems that I’ve for a second time in a couple of weeks invented a new word. First there was Eco Collography and now there is herbiary. I can even attribute to this name a latin origin for if bestiary is bestiarum vocabularum, then herbiary must be herbiarum vocabularum. And it also occurred to me in considering an herbiary, given that it would have, like a bestiary, its metaphysical aspect, that this would also fall within my theme, Towards the Light.

In regard to the metaphysical I’m already thinking of Jon Silkin’s Flower Poems and Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal.







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Eco Collographs

Collograph on Watercolour Paper V 30 June 2017Eco Collograph – it seems I’ve invented the term, which is nice if it’s true since I rarely invent anything. I poke around – books, bookshops, art galleries, the Internet – find and adapt. Which is exactly how Eco Collographs came about, since the technique comes from Alice Fox’s fabulous book Natural Processes in Textile Art. 

It’s subtitled From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects and in the book are described a good number of techniques. And this particular printmaking/markmaking technique is breathtakingly simple. It’s in a section of the book on embossing – marks made not from inked plates, but impressions of three-dimensional objects on the paper, fed through the rollers of the printing press.

Printing press? Don’t they cost a fortune? Yes. The cost of a printing press often runs into four figures. But don’t run off; the printing press used in this case is a pasta-making machine. And the one I bought was Top Home Solutions® 3 in 1 Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Professional Fresh Pasta Lasagne Spaghetti Tagliatelle Maker Machine Cutter. It comes with a clamp to attach the machine to a table or other surface; and it cost an unprincely £17.94 ($23.64) and the rollers have nine settings, which means you can adjust the spacing between the rollers nine times, to suit the thickness of whatever you’re feeding through them.

Collograph on Watercolour Paper VI 30 June 2017

A proper collograph (an alternative spelling is collagraph) is a printing plate and therefore reusable; for example, an assemblage glued down onto a base, inked, then printed onto something, usually paper. My prints, in this case, are monoprints as well as collographs. I used as a first experiment, some sycamore seed heads – windmills – as I have a constant  supply raining down into my garden from overhanging sycamore trees (whether I like it or not). I placed them, rather than glued them, meaning that they shifted as they went through the rollers of the pasta machine. So the results were unpredictable. I like unpredictable. And I noticed that as well as achieving an impression of the seed head in the paper, some colour transferred.

Alice Fox recommends printing onto watercolour paper over 200 gsm (120 lbs). The paper I am using here is 300 gsm (140 lbs).  Why 140 lbs? Well, the papers in my local art shop (Frances Iles) are kept upstairs, first floor. The day I walked in seeking paper for this specific technique, my eyes fell at once upon this lovely, big, landscape-shaped, 300 gsm watercolour pad. There it was, all on its own on a stand just inside the door and on sale at half its normal price. Talk about meant-to-be.

Collograph on Watercolour Paper III 30 June 2017

You soak the paper for at least ten minutes, then blot it till it’s lost its glossy surface. I soaked mine in the bath while I raided my garden for plant material. I have lots of clematis that have flowered and the flowers have developed into spectacular frondy seed heads. The print above this paragraph is from some of these clematis seed heads. If you look closely, you will see how the stems have also been embossed into the paper and some of their greenness has transferred.

I placed the plant matter on one half of my moist watercolour paper, folded the other half over onto that, creating a sandwich. I sandwiched the sandwich with thin card (from a cereal box) to protect the paper and fed it through the rollers. It’s trial-and-error, getting the roller setting right. The top two images are battered, stained and torn first tries – before I remembered to wrap the paper in card. But I also like battered and torn – battered and torn mirrors life, thus an appropriate metaphor for my inkblotty mirror images.

Collograph on Watercolour Paper II 30 June 2017

You don’t have to make mirror images, of course.

Only small prints can be achieved using a pasta machine, since the rollers are only about six inches wide, but you can feed through quite long pieces of paper, as I did here.

This technique is, like sketching, a way of recording the treasures found on sorties into nature.  Sketching is another way – the traditional way. Both techniques are about making marks that represent. This, in addition, is, I think, a kind of entrapment, entrapment of the energies of nature. And yes, unless the plant matter has dropped from tree or bush, there is an element of cruelty, even. And in that, isn’t really eco. Is it valid? Life is cruel.

Is it valid to be cruel – even to a seed head – in order to make the point that life is cruel?  I think so. In the same way that even we vegetarians/vegans need to kill plants for our sustenance, we also need to kill for art’s sake, which is also sustenance. We cannot survive without either food or art. They are both fundamentals. Our responsibility must be however, to do as little damage as possible as we pass through this earthly plane. And to honour and give respect to that which we kill for our sustenance. How many of us give a thought to our food before we eat it? How many of us artists are conscious of the sacrifice of life that went into our art materials, papers, canvasses?

Food for thought and pardon the pun.

I am looking forward to experimenting further with my pasta machine printer. But recommend Alice Fox’s marvellous book for the complete embossing technique. And also, all the many other recipes she shares for markmaking and further, her tips on combining techniques to arrive at a finished piece.













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