Friday, 28 October 2016

Etching with 'A Belfast Peace'

When I visited Belfast almost a year ago, I took a lot of photos of the city as it now is, as opposed to when I knew it in the 1970s and 1980s. In those decades, it was a very tense place to be because of the violence that plagued the city and Northern Ireland in general but I'm very glad to say that it is now a much changed place with so much happening socially, architecturally, in the arts and in tourism. The same is true of Derry/Londonderry which I have now visited for the first time. I was here to attend an exhibition opening in the Verbal Arts Centre and I'll be posting about this visit in my 'Thread of the Spirit' blog. In this post, I will include images and details of another exhibition 'Stitched Legacies of Conflict' on at present in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady, a few miles from Derry, as I have one of my conflict pieces 'Continuum', in this exhibition.

The photographs I took of Belfast last year inspired me to make a piece within my 'Conflict' work which looks toward a peace which has begun and is ongoing, if still not perfect. Added to the pleasure of thinking about a peace that seemed impossible for so many years - the Troubles are generally spoken of as lasting 30 years - the medium for my new work is etching, something I carried out with such joy as an undergraduate and to which, thanks to the help of Andrew Baldwin in the School of Art, I have now been able to return!

View of presses in the Printing Department, School of Art, Aberystwyth University

The bench I work at in the Printing Department.

I started off with a copper plate  -  I had only worked on zinc before  -  and used the new ground for etching and aquatint called BIG (Baldwin's Ink Ground) that Andrew developed as a non-toxic method for etching and aquatint - when I worked in the medium years ago, health and safety weren't regarded in the same way that they are now! It was such a pleasure to be doing etching and I have fallen in love all over again with the plates, the prints, the method and process  -

Photo of my etched copper plate on my bench.

Inking up the plate  -  the 'Titanic' workers with 'Rise' behind.

The image that you see on the plate has, as its main components, my interpretation of a bronze sculpture in East Belfast of three figures that represent the 'Titanic' workers of 100 years ago and, behind them, a sculpture in steel by the Falls Road known as 'Rise'.

The figures of the three workers, sculpted in bronze by artist Ross Wilson, stand on the Newtownards Road and, unveiled in 2012, they depict the 'yardmen' walking home, a tribute to the industrial legacy and folk history of the workforce of East Belfast. This was made as part of East Belfast Partnership's project Re-imaging the Newtownards Road and some of the most contentious murals in the area were removed and replaced with 'No More' and 'Ship of Dreams' community artwork.

Harland and Wolff's iconic cranes, Samson and Goliath, one of which I have pictured here, can be seen rising above houses in the background at some distance behind the bronze figures. I have not included the cranes in my etching.

This is a night-time photograph I took from the car, using my phone, of the sculpture 'Rise.

Built to represent hope and known locally as 'The Balls on the Falls', it is a structure in white and silver steel, almost 40 m tall and 30 m wide and I think it is particularly effective seen lit up, when its two geodesic spheres, supported on slender stanchions, seem like ethereal lace against the dark of the night sky. The large sculpture stands on the Broadway Roundabout at the junction of the Westlink and the M1 motorway, a main road into the city with access to the Falls Road via Broadway and it is visible from a considerable distance and can be seen by both sides of the community. Artist Wolfgang Buttress, who designed the work, wanted it to be simple, universal and the same when looked at from every angle.

The print showing the sculpture 'Rise' with the 'Titanic' figures.

From plate to print

For the very first trial pull, black without extender was used but it turned out to be much too dark, so extender and Prussian Blue were added. This use of the extender to thin the very dense ink and adding the blue to the black gave a much more subtle colouring to the image. 

Using a single ink mix, Prussian Blue with Black and extender.

Andrew talked to me about the method called a 'double drop' which would involve inking the whole plate in Vermilion, using extender to define and give the desired character and effect in particular areas, then repeating the whole process using Prussian Blue. I thought that Vermilion could give a warmth to the image, so we tried this out on the plate. However, instead of the sepia tones I had been expecting from the mix of red and blue shades, the colour that resulted was very much more burgundy than sepia and I didn't think this tone suited the piece. Vermilion is also a very strong colour and, as well as the tendency toward burgundy rather than sepia, I felt the colouration Vermilion gave with the 'double drop' was much too strong, drowning out the blue shades almost entirely and robbing the piece of the subtler atmosphere the Prussian Blue had given it.

Experimenting using Vermilion as a 'double drop'.

Inking up and printing to find the right colour balance and treatment of the inks.

The solution was to use a recipe of Prussian Blue, Black, a little Vermilion and touch of extender as the initial colour for the entire plate. The plate was inked up using this colour recipe, then extender was applied to appropriate areas where a softening or suffusing of tone was wanted. After this, Vermilion was applied only to sections where it was needed and again suffused using extender. The result was a satisfying blue/black with the vermilion adding hints of warmth to the lower sky and foreground of the image.


The finished print on Somerset paper. I gave it the title 'A Belfast Peace'.

I was thrilled when Andrew said he would like to include my print in his exhibition 'Breaking New Ground'! This is an exhibition of prints using the etching and aquatint ground known as BIG, developed by Andrew. The exhibition features work by artists from all over the world and it opened on Friday 7th October in the School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University and runs until Friday 18th November 2016.

I find this is a really exciting addition to my processes and I have now printed onto linen and am stitching the etching on paper  -  next blog will include images for this next stage in my work! 

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