Tag Archives: rabbit skin glue


14 Jun

14 doldrums

I did a lot of artwork when I was in the USA last month but since I’ve been back I’ve really been in the doldrums. I’ve had the artist equivalent of writer’s block and the past few days in particular have been very frustrating. I realised today that I just have to get off my backside when I’m in that mood and scribble – it doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad or indifferent – just get stuck in and get my hands dirty. I felt a lot better afterwards, like taking exercise. It’s easy to forget that art is a very physical process as well as a cerebral one and it’s easy to spend too much time thinking, reading and researching.

I almost always work from life, so it was a bit odd to do these drawings from ‘my head’ but maybe I should do more; other artists work from within so perhaps I should give it a go. I scribbled on some huge pieces of paper that I found jammed into a bin down the print workshop a while back. Someone had over-soaked them and they were falling apart so I rescued them, stuck them onto a huge board and sized and coloured them with rabbit skin glue and yellow ochre acrylic paint. Today I scribbled on them with compressed charcoal, carbon and chalk. It doesn’t matter if I look at them tomorrow and don’t like them; I can just rub it all down and start again.

The Columbian

12 Jun

12 colombian

I spend the afternoon at Swansea Print Workshop but didn’t have any plates or blocks ready for inking so I did a spot of drawing instead. This is our lovely old Columbian Press, dating from 1855, with one of our artist/printmakers inking up a collagraph in the foreground.

It’s drawn onto a sheet of stretched Bockingford, sized with rabbit skin glue and coloured randomly with acrylic washes in red, blue and yellow. I used willow charcoal for initial sketching and carbon, white oil pastel and white chalk with a smidgen of yellow oilbar to work it up. It’s A2 size (23.5 x 16.5 inches; 60 x 40 cms).

I was well out of my comfort zone, drawing interiors and machines, although I managed to get a human being in. It’s hard to draw a machine without making it look like a technical illustration so I’ll keep grappling with it.

Apricots And Bunnies (not for vegetarians)

9 Mar

09 apricot tree

I’ve been having lots of discussions about rabbit skin glue with local artists recently. It seems that some art colleges don’t bother teaching about technique and materials any more. Well, there we are then! Anyway, rabbit skin glue is a very versatile and cheap size for applying to canvas, paper, wood and cardboard before painting, drawing or doing traditional or digital printmaking. It forms a barrier between the surface and the material you are applying. This is important because the surface might contain chemicals that will damage your pigment, such as cheaper papers, some kinds of wood, and also because your pigment might rot the surface, such as oil paints on canvas or paper.

It’s largely been superceded by acrylic gesso, printmaking papers with internal size, and commercially prepared art papers for digital printing. These can be very expensive. To prepare rabbit skin glue I use one teaspoonful of glue granules to 12 teaspoons of cold water, leave overnight to set into a revolting grey jelly then stand the pot in a bain marie (I use an old saucepan) to melt the glue. When it’s thin brush it quickly over the surface you want to prime. It leaves a lovely satiny sheen and is a joy to work on. I usually do 2 coats and stretch papers first, although some heavy-duty artpapers can take the strain.

This piece started as a digital photograph I took on my travels to the Hunza Valley in Pakistan when the millions of apricot trees were in Spring bloom. I tweaked it a bit in Photoshop (just very slightly with Cutout filter) and then printed it out using a good quality inkjet onto an A3 piece of Somerset I’d previously sized and dried with rabbit skin glue. The piece has a beautiful velvety quality that doesn’t really come over on the screen.

ps Toulouse-Lautrec did loads of paintings onto cardboard, usually with gouache and oil.

A Lovely Line [female nude]

1 Jun

I had a nice life drawing in my sketchbook and decided to take it a stage further into a fully worked-up drawing and then, eventually, into a full-colour reduction monotype. I stretched a sheet of Bockingford 250gsm and gave it a couple of coats of rabbit skin glue, then washes of acrylic paint in yellow ochre, permanent rose and cerulean blue. That was the easy bit. When I rework a sketchbook piece, I don’t just scale it up, I adapt it to fit the shape of the monotype plate, correct any bad bits in the original and aim to get a lovely line, even if that means altering it.

I’m pretty happy with the linework on this new drawing; there’s a bit to do on the hands and hair still, and then I’ll start working in some highlights and tones into the body and darken the background. So far I’ve just used willow charcoal, but I’ll probably develop the piece now with compressed charcoal and white and transparent oil bars. I’ll do the monotype from a linear tracing, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. It’s taken me two half-days to get this far; I can’t keep it up for a full day because I stop being able to see it and need an overnight break to look at it afresh.

Three Stages Of Man

8 May

Mixed media drawing.

Back to reality after last week’s Renaissance drawing course and ploughing on with a new large drawing in my studio. I had a life drawing in my sketchbook as a starting point and I worked it up on a piece of stretched Fabriano which had been prepared with rabbit skin glue and washes of thinned acrylic paint in yellow ochre, permanent rose and pthalo blue. I sketched it up with white chalk which took AGES! I’m working to the size of my perspex monotype plate, because this drawing will eventually be used as a template for a full-colour monotype, so I had to distort the original to fit the space. I’m much more comfortable about distorting figures now, after spending some time with Egon Schiele and the Renaissance Masters [in my dreams LOL :)].

Anyway, Stage 1 took about four hours. I’m a pacer; I have to keep turning my back on my work and walking away to have a think about what I’m doing, then walk back, staring at it, trying to work out what to do next. Sometimes I prop it against the wall outside my studio and walk down the entire length of the corridor to the far end, then walk back slowly scrutinising the piece of work, analysing it from different distances. Consequently I’m on my feet for hours at a time and I wear out a lot of carpets. Eventually I was ready to draw in the final linework in willow charcoal [in the middle picture] and then block in around it, again with willow charcoal. Stages 2 and 3 took less than ten minutes.

Now it’s ready to be worked up in compressed charcoal and oil bars and it’s also ready to be traced as a template for the monotype process. A good day’s work, but my feet are awful sore 😦

Distorting To Fit [parental guidance, male nude]

5 May

Mixed media drawing: male nude.

Last week I spent a couple of days doing some training in Renaissance drawing techniques but earlier in the week I finished this piece which had started out as a smaller drawing in my sketchbook. I was working within a specific size, which is my printing plate for monotypes because this will eventually become one of my large colour monotypes as well. I struggled with it for a while because I couldn’t get it to fit the space, but I took some time out to study some of Egon Schiele’s drawings and it gave me the confidence to distort the body quite considerably until it fitted. Schiele did it all the time and so did many Renaissance artists. They constantly looked for the patterns and ‘truth’ underlying the visual world and weren’t averse to altering what was in front of them to conform to what they considered to be ‘divine’ rules of nature. So I’m in good company, eh? 🙂

I did a lot of preparation on the ground underneath the drawing, stretching a large piece of Somerset and priming it with several layers of rabbit-skin glue, which gave it a lovely satin sheen. I washed over it with three layers of watered-down acrylic paint in yellow ochre, permanent rose and phthalo blue respectively. Finally I worked over the surface randomly with willow charcoal. And only then did I begin to draw, firstly by rubbing away the highlights from the charcoal background with a bit of rag, letting the drawing emerge. Then I worked it up with compressed charcoal and oil bars. This is based on a life drawing done with a young soldier model.

Soaking, Stretching and Dead Bunnies.

24 Apr

I spent a few days soaking, stretching and preparing some sheets of paper, Fabriano and Somerset, coating them with several layers of rabbit skin glue [smelly] and then applying random washes of thinned acrylic paint in yellow ochre, permanent rose and pthalo blue respectively, making sure they were translucent enough to create randomised colour combinations. I’m working from life drawings to create large-scale fully worked up drawings in charcoal and oilbars which in turn will be the templates for three-colour reduction monotypes. Here’s a picture of me just getting under way first thing today; I’ve covered the paper [it’s Somerset 250 gsm] with a lightly applied layer of willow charcoal and I’m about to transfer a recent drawing of the soldier who models regularly for our life drawing group at Swansea Print Workshop.

I spent ages trying to get it ‘right’ – it has to be drawn to fit the perspex matrix that I will use for the monotype, but in order to do that I had to do a certain amount of distorting, which I baulked at at first. By 10.30 I was pacing around the studio like Lady MacBeth declaiming ‘Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just stack shelves in Sainsburys?’ Then I dipped into Nigel Spivey’s most excellent book, How Art Made The World, as I remembered seeing something he wrote about how artists have always distored the human body, like Michaelangelo and Schiele, and that gave me a lot more confidence to loosen up and not worry about keeping to accurate proportions.

It’s quite revolting really to use rabbit skin glue, but I haven’t found an alternative that gives the effect I want. I know the rabbits were killed for food, but it still makes me feel like a bunny boiler.

This evening I went to a meeting at Swansea Print Workshop; we had a marketing consultant in to help us with future planning and marketing. It was very useful and we really need something like that because we’re run almost entirely by volunteers with just an occasional drip of project funding and we need to become better at making money if the Print Workshop is to flourish. So if anyone’s around the Swansea area on 12th and 13th of May there’s a terrific short course on creating artist books with Edinburgh-based Printfest Printmaker Of The Year, Kelly Stewart [click for more details]. You’ll end up with a terrific hard-bound artist book and help to support Swansea Print Workshop too. 🙂


The Disappearing Eyebrows!

2 Apr

Work in progress: life drawing in charcoal, ink and oil bar.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I thought Husb’s eyebrows might take over the universe. He was straight up the barber shop this morning for a haircut and a spot of eyebrow grooming. His eyebrows are now beautifully trimmed and don’t rest on top of his specs anymore. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence though :).

In the studio I’ve been working on this drawing. I’ve  used this same image quite a few times now. It started out as a small sketchbook life-drawing and I scaled it up and made a full-colour monotype from it and also did it as a smallish oil painting. Now I’m drawing it onto Fabriano Accademica paper, in oilbars on top of a background of inks sprayed on with one of those funny little mouth-spraying gadgets, overlaid with scribbled charcoal. I like reworking the same image in different media because it changes so much from the original depending on what materials I use. I previously stretched the paper and sized it with several layers of rabbit-skin glue. I love the surface it gives to work on, but it makes my studio smell like a butcher’s shop.

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