Tag Archives: linocuts

Talking About Red

27 Jan
A linocut Sparta Puss in red

Here’s my second podcast. It’s about the colour red and is mostly based on the book Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay

I hope you enjoy listening to it but if you’d prefer to read, here’s a transcript of the podcast.

Hello, Rosie Scribblah here. Welcome to my second Podcast. It’s been a while since my first one but there’s a pandemic going on so things go a bit pear shaped sometimes. I’ve been having a think about what to podcast about and I fancied doing something about Red. That’s the colour Red.

I read this amazing book a while back by Victoria Finlay, called Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox. She’s a really good storyteller so I thought I’d share some of her adventures. 

Red

Sooo – Red. Well, it’s a fundamental colour.  It’s the colour of blood.  It’s the colour of lust and rage and love and power and any kind of heightened emotion. In the Comanche language the same word is used for colour, circle and red, which shows how important it is to them. And of course it’s the colour of the dragon of Wales. 

But making red for paints and dyes isn’t an easy business. Blood is obviously red but once spilled it quickly turns to a murky brown so it’s no use as a permanent dye.  The search for something which matches the richness of blood that can also be used for painting pictures and dying fabrics is almost as old as history itself.

Chemical pigments

Before chemical pigments were invented by the Victorians, colours came from nature, from animals, plants and minerals and elements.

And for thousands of years the most popular red in what we now call the Western world came from an insect called the Kermes, which comes from the Mediterranean and lives on the Kermes oak trees. They were crushed up and used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a very expensive red dye. And from this Kermes we get the words crimson and carmine, which are both types of red. 

Another very expensive red was vermilion, which the Ancients called cinnabar. The Roman author Pliny wrote that is was the blood spilled from battles between elephants and dragons. But it’s a deadly mixture of sulphur and mercury, which is really poisonous. The Romans loved it so much that they used it in paintings, in frescos on their walls and in lipstick even though they knew it was so dangerous. But then these days people have Botox, a well-known deadly toxin injected into their faces, so who are we to judge?

The cochineal bug

Meanwhile, in the Americas they had a much richer red. The cochineal bug grows on prickly pear plants. Cultivating it is a delicate balance because left to their own devices the cochineal bugs will completely destroy the cacti.

To get at the pigment, cacti plants are infected with the bugs for 5 months at a time and then they leave the plants to rest for a few months. The insects are harvested by blowing them off the plants into bags using compressed air tipping them into massive steel vats and pulping them.  There’s no nice way of saying it. Trillions of insects die to make your chicken tikka masala look like it does. Because, cochineal is the common name for the permitted food colouring E120 and it’s in most foods that are red and pink, like processed ham and also in cosmetics like lipstick.

The deep red you get from cochineal bugs has always been very valuable.  Cardinals in the Catholic Church used to have hats dyed with it and Mary Queen of Scots wore a dress dyed with cochineal when she was beheaded. 

The ancient Incas

The ancient Incas had a very sophisticated symbolic colour system. Black was time, yellow was gold, blue was the sky and they used red to represent themselves.  Different types of red would mean different aspects of their empire. They used a sophisticated system of knotted cords to communicate across great distances.  A red cord tied with knots at the top would mean a great battle and blood red knots at the top would show how many of their own people had died. 

When Europeans stumbled across the Americas, gold wasn’t the only thing they wanted.  They were amazed by the red they found there.  It was richer than the ones they were used to and they didn’t waste any time, muscling in on the trade in cochineal and very quickly this new, brighter version of red totally swamped the European world.  Everybody wanted it for clothes and cosmetics.  At the time only the Spanish knew how the red was made and they guarded the secret fiercely.  The colour was imported into Europe as a reddish brown powder, so no one knew it was bugs, and the Spaniards tried to stop any other nation from travelling to the source of their supplies in the New World. 

Thiéry de Menonville

By the 18th Century, other nations wanted in on the Red action. The French sent Thiéry de Menonville to South America to find out.  The Spanish were suspicious of him and tried to send him home but he escaped and headed into the interior of Mexico.  Once he had discovered the secret, he then had to get the insects home to France. Because they would not settle on a plant once they had been removed, the plants complete with insects would have to be kidnapped and kept alive all the way back across to Europe. And, if he’d been caught the Spanish customs officers would have burnt him at the stake. That was their penalty for industrial espionage back then.

After months of searching and risking death from the Spanish, from bandits, disease and wild animals he got back to the French controlled island of Haiti where he lived. And then he found the cactus and bugs growing just round the corner from his house. Which must have been annoying. But it broke the Spanish monopoly of the cochineal trade.

The red produced by cochineal is so gorgeous that the 19th century British painter Turner used it despite being told time and again by his fellow artists, customers and even the manufacturers of his paints that it would fade.  And it did. And because of this many of the great Turner paintings that we see in museums are literally shadows of their former selves, because the reds have faded so much.

Turner

But he wasn’t that bothered. Turner was well known for not caring about his finished work and left a lot of his paintings in terrible conditions. He even ripped a tear in one painting to make a catflap for his seven Manx cats.  He was such a passionate, spontaneous artist that he wanted the reddest red at the moment he was painting and didn’t think of anything else. 

But he also used another popular red at that time, red lead. The proper name for it in its natural state is Minium but it can be made by heating up white lead, which is also really poisonous. It’s quite an orangey red and it was so widely used by Persian and Mughal artists that their work became known as miniatures.  The fact that the paintings are also usually very small is just a coincidence.

So what other reds did Turner get to use? In one of his most famous paintings, of the ship The Fighting Temeraire, he used iodine scarlet, which was developed by the inventor Humphrey Davey from the mineral iodine.  But like the others, it fades and the painting is now it’s just a pale reflection of when it was created. 

Post boxes

Finding a red that didn’t fade was also a problem for the Post office in the 1800s. Post boxes were originally painted green, but people complained that they kept bumping into them, so the Post Office painted their pillar boxes red. Unfortunately, they quickly faded to pink and had to keep being repainted until a good, colour fast synthetic red paint was invented.

So there we are, the colour Red – I hope you enjoyed hearing about colour as much as I do. Like I said, I got most of this from the book Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. Net time I’ll podcast about another colour – black maybe …. Or purple …. So many to choose from. Hwyl fawr, Bye….

A Chance To Own One Of My Artworks

I have some small screenprints for sale, inspired by my drawings of the taxidermy collection at Swansea Museum. I have given these antique artifacts a modern twist by combining them with images of rubbish – old fruit nets, bubble wrap and plastic – highlighting the problem of human pollution and how it affects wildlife.

To buy my work on the Swansea Print Workshop site please click the image to the left and to see the complete image.

Inspired by drawings of the taxidermy collection at Swansea Museum. I have given these antique artefacts a modern twist by combining them with images of rubbish – old fruit nets, bubble wrap and plastic – highlighting the problem of human pollution and how it affects wildlife.

20 percent of the cost of each screenprint sold goes to support Swansea Print Workshop, which receives no public funding.

Sharpening Tools

17 Aug

august

Just carrying on cutting blocks today for my pandemic printmaking project. I’m still in the early stages but I know what I need to do and that’s most of the battle, to be honest. I keep my tools super sharp as I’m carving the lino, using my Flexcut Slip Strop.

Twenty eight blocks

I’ve cut almost a third of the little blocks. The whole piece will be made up of text printed onto fabric.

Calligraphy set

I treated myself to this Chinese calligraphy set. I don’t like shopping unless it’s for tools and art materials – oh, and books. I don’t know how to use it but I’ve been getting advice from over on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t think I’ll be trying it out for a while as I need to crack on with my lino project and I’m also doing a weekly painting session to improve my skills. But this is something to look forward to.

Not Just Faking And Baking

11 Aug

fake and bake

I’ve been looking at my blog posts over the past few months and it looks as if I spend most of my time baking or faking (with the Cheese and Wine Painting Club on Fridays) or drawing trees. But behind the scenes I’ve been carrying on with my pandemic-inspired project which involves, in the first stage, carving around 100 little lino blocks. Well frankly, that’s interesting to blog about occasionally but it would be pretty boring if that’s what I posted day in, day out. So I’ll just drop it in now and again.

Columbian

This morning I was at Swansea Print Workshop, we’re starting a slow and measured re-opening with no more than two artists at any one time, masked and sanitised. I get to hang out with this big beast – The Columbian 😀

Carving And A Wriggly Cat

14 Jun

zoom home

More of the same today, designing text for my little lino blocks then transferring and cutting. These are numbers 19 and 20 so I think I might stop cutting for a while and get on with printing them onto fabric and making masks.

charcoal cat 2

And I did another quick charcoal sketch of Sparta Puss. She was lying down in the sun, but not asleep so she kept wriggling. I’m giving myself a maximum of 2 minutes to do these sketches of her. She’s a bit on the tubby side….

 

Carving Blocks And The Charcoal Cat.

13 Jun

social kind

More of the same today, transferring words to little lino blocks, in reverse, and carving them. I’ve compiled a list of words and phrases as we’ve travelled through the pandemic lockdown. Eventually I’ll have a whole load of these printed up and made into masks.

eighteen

I’ve cut 18 so far, there’ll be at least another 60 to go, depending how long lockdown lasts.

charcoal cat

For a bit of light relief, I sketched the cat in charcoal.

Compromise, Cat And Cheese

12 Jun

Wash Bday 1

The text on the little lino blocks I’m cutting goes through changes at each stage of the process, partly because of the materials I’m using, from pencil, to ink and brush, to tracing transfer, to carving with cutting tools. But along the way I make adjustments, a curvier bit here, a shorter bit there.

The brush gives me very flowing, curvy marks while the cutting tools give me something more jagged. So the final cut that will be printed is a process of development and compromise.

cheesy cat

And a parcel arrived from The Welsh Cheese Company today. It’s not easy going out shopping at the moment and many smaller food producers are struggling – the supermarkets can weather the storm. So Husb and I have been shopping for some of our food online, which we had never done before, not from the big conglomerates though but from the independent sector. This is our third lockdown parcel from The Welsh Cheese Company, it’s insanely delicious stuff. Sparta Puss was very interested, not in the cheese, it’s the box she fancies.

And an added bonus is that they use wool to protect the goods – and I just happen to need some blankets for my printing press. How cool is that?

blanket

Here’s my press, now I have a blanket, I can try it out.

press 1

Cat Watching

11 Jun

cat watching

I carried on cutting little blocks of lockdown text today, with Sparta Puss overseeing the work. She’s tough on me.

 

From Paper To Block

10 Jun

make do 1

Yesterday I showed the a page of text designs I did for small lino blocks (here) so today I selected the first two that I’m going to carve. I started the process by painting the text onto paper with an Isabey watercolour brush and walnut ink, then I traced the text using 90gsm tracing paper and a 2B pencil.  Then I turned the tracing I wanted to use onto a lino block and drew over the back of the lines with a 4H pencil. This is important – the original in 2B is soft and when I press on the back of the line with the 4H, the hardness of the 4H pencil presses the dust from the 2B onto the block. Once that’s done I draw over the lines on the block with a ballpoint pen because the pencil lines will rub off once I get started on the carving.

make do 2

 

The text goes through several stages, from ink and brush, to pencil tracing, to ballpoint pen and eventually to carving. At each stage I refine the text. Once the lettering is in reverse, I sort of lose sight of the words and start to see the letters as individual pieces of design, which alters them yet again. The first one is cut, tomorrow I’ll do the second. I must work faster because there are an awful lot of these to be done. Eventually I hope to have one block for each day of UK lockdown, which is about 79 days so far.

 

Writing The Changes

9 Jun

phase 2

Now that I have a fresh supply of new grey lino – smells gorgeous – I can carry on with cutting little blocks of text. I have been writing down a list of words and phrases since the pandemic started, well since lockdown I suppose, and it’s been interesting how the spirit and feeling of these words has changed over the weeks, very enthusiastic at the beginning, but things started to fray a bit after quite a few weeks, and then there’s been an explosion of anger over the weekend. To start with, I’ll be working my way through them, transferring the text to lino, cutting and printing onto fabric. It’s going to take a while, there are over 70 so far ….

Nothing Much To See Here….

1 Jun

1 equipment

Today I restarted something that has been brewing for a while now, what I call my “serious” art work, my response to the Covid19 Pandemic. It’s been on hold while I’ve been waiting for materials to arrive; they’re not all here, a lot of stuff is out of stock, but I have enough to kick-start it. I spent this morning researching the different ways to make face masks, trying to find my way around official advice and research, which is scanty. But I think I’ve hit on the best combination of safety with comfort that’s out there. The photo shows the cardboard templates I made for cutting the components of the mask. It’s nothing much to see, it’s not glamorous but it’s the foundation for all the work to come.

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