Peripheries 2: First Sketches & Research Trip 1

So, at last! I got down to the west of Ireland to the cliffs I was dying to get to draw!!!!! Beside myself with excitement !!!! (I don’t do ‘cool’- never have!) .

I left Dublin in driving rain and dirty traffic conditions, but when going West a bit of faith and optimism is required. The weather changes fast and out on the edges it’s got  mind of its own.

As I arrived to Kilkee the weather broke and by the time I got to the town the sun was shining. I couldn’t wait a second more and did a quick very rough sketch of the first cliff I saw – right at the edge of the Bay.  A quick watercolour which did capture the colour. (This proved to be very useful in the end!).


Packing for the trip was educational. It took a lot of organising.  I want to use the Irish trips as a dry run for more ambitious trips to Norway  and Iceland, as well as being research trips in their own right.  So I am keeping notes of what was useful. First prize goes to the Aran sweater – works hard. I also regretted not packing a few more specialist bits and bobs for cooking. Hardly matters for a couple of days but longer it might make a difference. I am assuming all the places I will be in are fairly off the beaten track, remote even.

So, first off – Kilkee.  This is a small village at the head of the Loop Head Peninsula. The village is mostly known for being a seaside resort – it is literally right beside the beach. And also as a starting point for the Loop Head routes.


Loop head is one of the underestimated landscapes of Ireland, and I am tempted to wish it stays that way – uncrowded,  quiet –  and all mine!  It has spectacular rock and cliff formations all along the headland, including breathtakingly gorgeous views of the Atlantic.

I spent the morning scouting the locations I want to return to. Settled on several points with views of sea-stacks, cliffs, caves and sea arches. Stunning. Also wild.

Kilkee 2014

I lucked out with the weather on the first day of drawing – perfect blue sky and warm, very little breeze. The water was dark rich blue. I sat on the scratchy bouncy grass on a cliff top to draw. Seagulls floated at eye level on the airstreams from the cliffs.

Sketch in situ

First small sketches to have a wee think, pen and pencil, then a bit more detail, then onto larger pages and chalk and charcoal.  I will keep drawing these ‘objects’ until I understand them and will gradually move into paint and colour. I need a lot of drawing references for the planned prints.

This is the first proper painting trip I have been on this year, so things were a bit disorganised – in bags and boxes – I brought EVERYTHING.  So, first job was to get the kit sorted out for the day’s research. In the end I put the equipment for each medium in its own bag. I also taped watercolour paper to Perspex boards to have the ready for use. Of course all this took longer than expected. But then it is also part of focusing for the day ahead.


As is the drive around to get a feel of the location. I have now begun to realise that this is part of the process too, in fact there is quite a palaver to selecting the right spot to draw. Quite apart from the practical considerations of how to reach it, and is it safe, it must also meet the requirements of whatever notion I am pursuing. It’s one of the reasons I return to certain spots over and over again.

I like wherever possible to revisit a view and draw it dozens of times to really get to understand it – much the way I would for life drawing. Usually, too, the spot has been picked because it is representative of a whole category, it is a good example of ‘the species’. Thus it can take a while to locate! But I got lucky with Kilkee and it is exactly the material I was looking for.


Day two the weather changed, but I was able to get in a few hours drawing before I had to leave. I have mastered the art of drawing from inside the car, it just requires some skilful if death defying parking. And a few contortions.

Car Park Kilkee

It also turns the car into a mobile studio, and as it’s also essential for scouting and reaching the places I need to be, at this stage I am including access to wheels as ‘ part of my process’ whenever I make funding applications.

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By the end, outside was getting a bit blustery – an occupation hazard of working outdoors!


Then back to Dublin – Till next time…….

Next stage: The studio!


Starting Peripheries

May 2014.  As ever the beginning of a project is the hardest part.  And as ever finding the funds to do it is an issue, in fact it gets quite frustrating. I know exactly what I want to do, but until I get the wherewithal to do it I am very limited in what I can achieve. I will start however, and do whatever I can do under my own steam.

The plan is to visit a series of specific landscapes to do research drawings and paintings to work towards a print series.  I don’t like explaining what I do or to ‘translate’ it into words. but suffice  it to say for various creative reasons I need to be IN the landscapes themselves when I do this.

To this end I have begun to apply to residencies, some in Iceland and some in Norway. I need to apply for arts grants to do these,  but then I need an invitation or acceptance letter from a residency to make the funding application;  there is no way to streamline the process, so I have sent out a bevvy of applications and submissions. I also expect to need to go more than once to each destination so if I can get accepted to more than one all the better!

First up however, is the West of Ireland – my favourite hunting ground of West Clare, in this case Kilkee. Thanks to a friend Orla K who has provided accommodation for a few nights right in the middle of where I need to be! It will still be a bit of a push to get there for the usual dull practical  reasons but until I get some drawings done I can’t start anything. Even if I can get just a few I can at least start to work on test plates. 

I have also just got an invitation to Gullkistan residency in Iceland. It’s very expensive, but the landscape nearby looks amazing!!  I could be properly excited if I was convinced I’ll be able to go, that said, I am thrilled silly!

I tripped over a Tony Robbins ‘you can do it’ sort of TED talk.  So, this will certainly be a test of his theories!

Of course, it’s not the only project I am working on, but it is the one which requires most resourcing, and will take longest. Luckily, I don’t feel inclined to rush.

Onwards and upwards –as I have often said, if artists got paid for filling in funding applications we wouldn’t need the funding in the first place! Smile

A Natural Selection: Making the Etching

This is a fairly significant exhibition of printmaking in Ireland presented by the Graphic Studio Dublin along with the Botanic Gardens.  There are 100 artists producing 100 prints at a fundraiser price of €100 each.  It is shaping up to be a veritable who’s who of printmaking in Ireland today!

The Background

The call went out last spring, and at that stage there was plenty of interest but no one at that stage anticipated to momentum it world achieve. It seemed more like  another fundraiser for the studio, if a large scale one.

Then the discussions began, and suggestions that there would be catalogue  and that it would tour Ireland, then that it would travel abroad… The thing just grew legs!!

The Botanic Gardens already has an extensive collection of botanical drawings in their archive and a full set of these prints will be added to this as well.

Botanic GSD  reseach old drawing 3  Botanic GSD  reseach old drawing 1


There were a few visits organised for contributing artists to go and see the Botanic Gardens in Glasvevin, and their sister branch in Wicklow.

I went to the Glasvevin one and we got a tour of the gardens, the plants ad the glass houses. Nothing inspired me. I left a little worried. What would happen if I got no idea for a print ? I sent a text to the committee asking what happens if I didn’t want to do a flower or plant? They replied that was ok, my print just needed to be inspired by the Botanic Gardens, either of them. 


Much relieved I took myself of down to Kilmacurragh, and promptly go inspired! I sat in a patch of shade the first day it was so hot, and the next day I went down to do more drawing, I was dodging downpours. But I got my idea!!


The plates

I decided to use two plates as I wanted to use colour.

Initially I had planned to use aluminium and spit bite, but the brief specified an edition of 100 prints. Now while I had sever doubts that I would sell that many, I have no doubts at all about Murphy’s Law – if I didn’t;t pan for 100 I would need it after all.  And no way was aluminium going to survive that.

So ‘Plan A’ hit the fan, and I decided I’d better use copper plates. This also made a difference to how long it would take, as I now had to prep the plates with aquatint before I could spit bite.

I also wanted to use sugar lift for one of the details so this then had to be more carefully integrated with the aquatinting, and everything done in the right order. In the end I completed the sugar lift element in its entirety then masked it off for all the other processes – or at least whenever acid was involved. So more time used up while the bitumen in this dried.

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Overprint plan

The  two plates were blue and yellow essentially, and I planned the overprint areas carefully for a wide variety of tone and mix. I also had a lot of texture and detail on both plates with added to the range after overprinting.  The yellow was quite strong, and the blue had a dash of extender in it.  There was a fair bit of fiddling around to get it right.  That said, I do a lot on the plate itself.



So, everything seemed reasonably in order, and then – aha! I discovered some weird and wonderful problems with the aquatint. After several – failed – attempts to solve this using the normal Ferric for spit bite I had to admit defeat and again adapt the plan.

This time, abandoning most of the spit bite and reverting to the more traditional method of blocking out. Slower again!!! But doable. With one major change.

I had to use Nitric! I don’t generally use it, but needs must so I just went ahead – my wee schedule had already hit the fan and I was now falling behind.  

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IMG_2326     IMG_2165

As it turned out, Nitric worked a treat, and fast!!!  I caught up reasonably well and – finally got to the colour testing stage.

Colour testing

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Hours of fun to be had – variations on a theme. I know I wanted to a blue/green/yellow  theme, but I also needed to see what was on the plates and try out a few variations and options.  Finicky work at times but very satisfying to see it all coming together.

The  Artists Proof

Finally – the colours were settled and the A/P made – from now on it’s Editioning!!


Are We There Yet? & CurbYourCarrieBradshawism

So, finally I get round to putting up this post  – I just got swamped! In fact I am not quiet out of the woods yet – and I am totally exhausted trying to fit in art deadlines at the same time as the mundane business of general life and survival!


The opening night was only hopping, quite possibly one of the trendiest events in Dublin that week. It even got mentioned in the Irish Times! MART was packed, and visitors circulated throughout the building across three floors. The main exhibition for the opening was Curb-Your-Carrie-Bradshawism – an invited exhibition in which MART artists were given a brief, an empty cardboard box and left to  it.  This was a temporary four night exhibition with the emphasis on using cheap and found materials, with most works destined for the recycle bin afterwards. I had a box in this.


My ‘Are We There Yet?’ assemblage pieces were also exhibited for the first time on the night, but will stay in-situ  afterwards. 


Here are the final pieces -:

done AWTY Residence Construction  done AWTY Library Construction  done AWTY Fire Service construction  done AWTY Civil Defence construction  done AWTY Pigeon Construction 2 IMG_2192

This was a new departure for me so I was somewhere between excited and nervous on the night, and dying to see how people would interact with it. Everyone was invited to leave an object of theirs in the Perspex case made for the purpose.  To my delight, they stepped up to the mark with enthusiasm.

Here’s the blurb that went with it on the night:  –

The Constructions

1. Residence

2. Library

3. Fire station

4. Civil Defence

5. Pigeons


Camilla Fanning – Are We there Yet?

You are invited to participate by dropping an item you have into the Perspex box, something personal to you. Afterwards this construction will be sealed.

What will you leave behind?

We are travellers hurtling through time and space. As we go we leave evidence of our transient presence, traces of who we were then, what mattered to us then. Each present leaves its mark for later travellers to encounter. This is the evidence of life and existence, every incarnation leaving a time capsule of clues, the flotsam and jetsam of existence on the muddy shore of the river of time.

Our destination is our own future from our own past. All we can ever see clearly is where we are now, there is no map. We think that when that we reach the future everything will be clear, our questions answered and it will all be in order. We travel in hope. We want answers.

“At first we are eager to go faster and further. At age three we ache to play with the big children of 5, at 11 we are itching to be all of 15, by 18 we aspire to be 21 and really grown up, we think we will have arrived then. But by 28 we are still seeking, ready to find out, we expect that at 35 it will all be clear, it will all be sorted; they seem to know what they’re doing. By 40 we are beginning to wonder, to have an intimation that it may not be so clear after all, but surely by 50 – the median point – we will have the answers. We will be there. We will have arrived and know how it all works. It will all make sense then, won’t it? By 55 we know it was an illusion and we can only keep going, equal parts curiosity and resignation, and so we keep going.

Yet the question that has driven us all these years remains- still drives us and still rings in our heads, surely, soon up ahead, we will reach the point when we will have the answer, so we keep asking ourselves – ARE WE THERE YET? “

At each point of the journey the present is most certain and yet most ephemeral. We leave our traces.

Some pics of people on the night-:

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The last piece of the series was left open for a few weeks to allow more materials to be deposited. My favourite addition so far is a fork! (Ta Aisling).

Are We There Yet? in Situ


Curb Your Carrie Bradshawism

On the night there were a couple of dozen of these boxes scattered throughout the building with visitors wandering around to have a look, some were interactive as well.  The imaginative use of simple materials was impressive.


My piece called ‘State of Dissipation’, as you can see basic construction.

This is the press release for it – explaining the ideas behind the exhibition –

Curb your Carrie Bradshawism

4 – 8 September. Exhibition Preview: 4 September, 6pm


Alison Cronin, Amy Walsh, Andrew Carson, Andrew Healy, Anne O’Byrne, Aoife Giles, Camilla Fanning, Claire Behan, Claire Nash, Cliona Harmey, Colleen Keough, Colm Weakliam, Debbie Jenkinson, Deirdre Marie O’Sullivan, Eleanor Lawler, Emily Boylan, Gearoid O’Dea, Ida Mitrani, James L Hayes, Jessica Conway, Karen Tierney, Katherine Nolan, Michelle Hall, Moya Clarken, Niamh Hannaford, Olive Barrett, Olivia Doyle, Orla Gilheany, Rebecca McGetrick, Seamus Bradley, Stephanie Golden, Terence Erraught and Vanessa Daws.

Curated by Ciara Scanlan & Matthew Nevin.

THE MART, a new visual arts depot located in the iconic old fire station in Rathmines, Dublin, has been reappropriated to house multifarious elements, which include several galleries, an art shop, a workshop space and studios. MART seeks to position itself as a mediator of social and cultural transformation, through engagement with the arts. This dynamic venture will provide an accessible location and platform to develop and promote Irish and International contemporary visual art, one of the key principles fostered by MART.

This exhibition highlights the cycle of creativity beyond the confines of the gallery. Through a Fund-it campaign to raise resources for MART’s new premises, all contributors who invested in the initiative were invited to participate in the Curb your Carrie Bradshawism exhibition, in recognition of their support. This is a strong gesture and reflective of the inclusive nature of MART’s modus operandi. The realisation of this exhibition in this rejuvenated space sees the outcome of an exciting venture come full circle, culminating in the official launch of this new venue.

MART’s egalitarian ethos is echoed in the inaugural exhibition Curb your Carrie Bradshawism, as each participating artist will be given an identical challenge – to work within the constraints of a cardboard box, in any visual arts medium. As our culture is evolving into a society full of restrictions and limitations, artist’s struggle to find financial resources and opportunities to showcase their voice. The format of the exhibition and its established restrictions will generate an equal standing for each of the artist’s involved, without prejudice or favouritism.

The title of the exhibition Curb your Carrie Bradshawism, weighs heavily on contemporary material and cultural ideology. The all-pervading suffix, ‘ism’ has become commonplace and part of visual art pop culture. It enables the user to attain a certain gravity, or level of authenticity in their distinctive practice, philosophy or artistic movement in contemporary art. By initiating a response to the fad of ‘ism’, another layer is added to the prerequisite conditions imposed on the artist’s.

Impossible to ignore, Carrie Bradshaw becomes a focal point of the exhibitions title. Her character from Sex and the City, has become symbolic of consumerism, excess and materialism. Her happiness appears to be counted in material goods such as shoes, bags and couture clothes, in strict contrast to values and quality of life, and acts as an interesting foil to the realities of the artistic lifestyle. How would she survive the recession or economic hardship?

According to the philosopher Jacques Lacan, how somebody reads and interprets an artwork is determined in large by their subject position, as they inevitably project their own views on an object. To mirror this, another perspective worth considering is Carrie Bradshaw’s career as a journalist. Her character is established as possessor of ‘the gaze’, whose position involves objectifying situations to her individual perspective – highlighting the rupture between sight and gaze. A similar scrutiny will be undertaken by each of the artist’s involved in the exhibition, as they will be bringing their unique approach and individual interpretation to the fore as they create specific pieces. Despite the fact that the artist’s all have a common starting point, the final selection of artworks on display will differ significantly, both in composition and in their conceptual and philosophical deliberations – in stark contrast to the lite existential questions à la Carrie Bradshaw.

The use of cardboard boxes for each artwork is a confident, if unconventional method to provide unbiased, equal footing to every artist in the show. Yet, could it be argued that this scenario becomes symbolic of being somehow boxed-in? Or categorising the artist’s and their work – putting them into boxes, in a manner of speaking. The paradox of this construct is highlighted in the duality encapsulated by a seemingly neutral perspective, that when analysed may in fact be interpreted as including a somewhat judgemental element. These shifting concerns that are at play throughout the exhibition; the concept, the title, the symbolism and the display format, all combine to constantly challenge the perspectives of both artist and audience, as these fluctuating layers offer room for evolving interpretation.

Text by Rowan Sexton 2013

Well done Ciara & Matthew!!


Celebrating the inaugural exhibition and launch of MART

Making ‘Are We There Yet ?’

The incredible thing about this project is the speed with which it has begun to take shape.

There was a certain amount of circular faffing at the start, but then its final form made itself clear and from that point on it has been trundling along steadily. This is always a good sign.  Of course this must be tempered with the risk of simply falling into a too familiar route, and repeating what’s gone before. But equally if it is just ‘not working’ then probably it’s not supposed to.

Some projects just grow legs of their own.

This one has proved particularly enjoyable because of the involvement of other living beings! so often artwork is made alone with the materials and not much else, it’s been a real pleasure to be deeply involved with the shared memories of other protagonists as well as my own vision of what it needs to be.

The Project

The Old Fire Station building in Rathmines has a long and interesting history. The walk through of the site was amazing, the building just has so much character. 

The brief was to make a work that both responded to this and also recognised its newest incarnations as an art centre. The work should also be something that had a specific presence on the opening night AND would be kept in situ afterwards. So, no pressure!

First instincts suggested something techy, interactive and installed. But I began to move away from this to something more tactile. I was also acutely aware of the needs of the building. I didn’t want to interfere with the fabric of the building in any way,and I knew that there would be other art works going into it in the future, so whatever I added must be something that would politely take a back seat when something else held the  lime light. A sound piece – my first thought – was NOT going to cut the mustard! I was also aware that people and other artworks of various dimensions would have to be moved around in the space, so intrusive objects or wires were not an option. Surprising sometimes how the practicalities will influence the finished work.

In fact, the idea that presented itself in the end fit all these requirements. And it was this, a series of constructions, that I chose in the end.  One area of the building that defied this approach was the bathrooms, and yet I didn’t want to ignore them so these had a companion piece approach. A temporary installation on the night, and also one that would wash away.  I kept this to myself till I was certain it would work!

The next stage was to start researching for the constructions.

Background to the project

the MART building has had several incarnations over the last two hundred or so years and the brief was to respond to this with a work that referenced the history without being historical, and to make something that would both be part of the opening night event and also stay in place afterwards.

this is how the idea for the constructions evolved, first of all to make objects in advance but also to have an object created on the opening night by visitor to the exhibitions – they too would leave their mark and their record would then also form part of the whole.

I began by finding out more about the history and more importantly about the people who inhabited the space. initially the dates  I was working to were inaccurate, but in the end we got that sorted out with only minor delays. (It is at moment like these that I meet my inner pedant).

The Building went up in the early part of the 19th C, probably with people living in it by 1837, this was just the tail end of the Georgian period, the transitional moment to Victorian. The house was a posh residence  in a village on the outskirts of Dublin, pretty much surrounded by fields but a busy spot none the less.

By 1899 it had become a library which remained until 1914 when it was handed over to the newly formed municipal Fire Service.  At this stage the current front gallery was where the fire tenders were parked, there is even a circular trapdoor in the ceiling for a fireman’s pole. The next group to use it was Civil Defence who arrived in 1982 and stayed till 1993. From then on it was pigeons until MART took it on in 2009 until the opening – now  – in 2013. This was the starting point. A record of people and their activates in the same location over 176 years. (Oh, and there’s a ghost too).

Research Visits

July 22:  Civil Dense HQ & the National Museum

Was invited to visit the HQ of the Civil Defence in Dublin and went to the Collins Barracks Museum to research for the residence.

The Civil Defence have an office near the Croppy Acre, to get in the gate takes quite a feat of daring crossing several traffic lanes on a bend and aiming for a gap on a corner. I was welcomed in by Bernie and James and shown around the collection of historic materials and around the complex, giving a really good insight into what goes on there. It’s very varied, what stuck in my head was a big training diorama of the station, lots of model buildings. that and dials and tubes – I was very impressed with a Geiger counter!


The costume collections in the National Museum were a useful source of imagery and mood for the residence, as were the furnished rooms and silver collection.  I was tweeting about it when I got a DM from the museum PR department, were and want was a ‘AWTY’ ?  – They were relieved to hear it wasn’t an exhibit they hadn’t hear of.


Aug 2: the Fire Service Archive

Just back from the fire service museum and training centre in Marino.  A-Mazing! And Firemen to boot!


Not surprisingly Fire Engine red became an important element, although not from the tenders, but from the many 19th Century red painted wooden carts. Soot and blackened surfaces got noticed, and lined paper, as many records were kept. The centre had quite a lot unexpected items. A big collection of model fire engines donated over the years by enthusiasts, a lot of badges and plaques. Posters and paintings by firemen.

We all clambered into the training house, soot on the ceilings, but mostly just dark.  The lights were turned off to show me,  as dark as Kilkenny caves.  the Batman made a boot print for me, hard enough to make and to find suitable dust. the atmosphere inside the fake ‘scene’ was quite disturbing.


Paul told me that a firemen could hear what the fire was going to do next.  you could hear it, sense from its particular sound what it was going to do next. It might be minding its own business and then you would hear a hiss and know something was going to change, something that told you to move.  It sounded like an elemental being with a will of its own. Now firemen wear helmets over their ears, how do they listen to the fire?

The Breathing Apparatus (BA’s)  make that sucky sound associated with divers, to check for sounds of life everyone stops breathing inside and listens out carefully.

I came  away with a bit from an old burnt and blackened fire helmet, just the right material. And a strong impression of over painted red wood, the sort of thing that’s been repainted a few times too often, so  its got layers and is that odd dead official shade.

The Rest

It’s surprisingly hard to find pigeon feathers when you need them! There’s a lot of Magpie feathers around though, maybe there’s a connection. 

The old loos are just too much fun, like something straight out of Harry Potter. They have old brown and cream tiles all over every surface, and that lovely hollow sound only got in proper institutional facilities.

I had a planned to put down ephemeral footprints using prints taken from the firemen and from images of wet foot prints. I would use the sort of wipe away chalk shops use on their windows to write signs. But in the end they didn’t run with this. Pity, I had some nice footprints all ready to go.

Any remaining research  – old libraries  –  was done online, searching Google images and checking reference books

MAKING the Constructions


I started by collecting found materials and various objects I needed to use, like painting with things instead of pigment. I also wanted to make receptacles for each construction, and to make sure each one was relevant. This first stage took about 10 days to complete with a lot of waiting for layers and glue to dry.


So, wax encrusted wood for the Residence lined with patterned paper and jacquard. The Civil Defence had to be in a biscuit tin, with a lot of enamel. Fire engine red and black for the Fire Service,  a reproduction of a book spine for the library. I had thought to use a hollowed out book but then decided it might be too heavy. It also proved very hard to find something suitable. 


The pigeon construction took a lot of effort, chopping down an old wooden crate and then reconstructing and painting it the way  wanted it.

The constructions are put together.

I discovered the joys of Epoxy Resin – WOW – it’ll glue anything to anything. I just don’t know how long these hovering objects will resist gravity.


The house was full of fumes of various glues and paints, I had to repaint the fire engine red a few times to get the right shade. I discovered the historical dates were a bit later than I thought so went with shiny red enamel in the end, and brass fittings for the Fire service. I have been rummaging around in charity stores for weeks sourcing the materials.  In the end I had to go to a builder suppliers for the brass, I got lucky though the Blackrock Builders Suppliers who gave me a bundle of just want I needed for two euro – just enough bendy bits of brass piping to give the right impression.  I had to put weights on the objects to make sure they stuck on. The Fire Service box is looking good and it had been the one that gave me most problems.


After a while I got the library sorted out, searching long and hard for old books to cannibalise for the spines, but of course as soon as I started looking there were none to be found! In the end – pure luck! I found a new delivery of old books in my favourite hunting ground for stuff  –  the community shop in Dun Laoghaire  – and got a bundle of the perfect old spines there, and these formed the core of the library construction.

The Civil Defence construction took a bit of resourcing too.  I decided it should include a trophy, there seemed to be a lot of those, and ideally a lot more badges would have been included but I couldn’t find any. I think these things suddenly become fashionable and then they all disappear. I expect some festival goers are festooned with old badges in the mud somewhere right now feeling uber cool.

I had acrylic, oil, stone, emulsion and enamel paint all on the go at once.  Copious amounts of PVA, nails and staples and hammers. There was a LOT of construction involved. And fun.


The Last Piece

Aug 21: I talk to McGregor’s Plastics.  And of course I could have done this weeks ago but I didn’t so now with 10 days to go I am looking for the plastic – Perspex case in fact – for the final element of the construction.

I call McGregor Plastics and talk to Bernard. thank goodness I did – there are logistical issues – the Perspex can be brittle, I will need a shelf doe it to sit on, it may need to be screwed onto the shelf – ‘to stop some eejit knicking it’  he advises, but I am thinking stability. I have to talk to Matt about this, they have assured me they can mount anything on the wall, but is this a bridge too far?

The case must be robust enough to take people dropping in items, and clear and strong enough  to remain in place as the display. I may need to fiddle with the objects to make the repository look good, and it may need to have hole drilled in the base to be screwed to the shelf, so in that case when do I make any adjustments? If it is full of stuff, it can’t be screwed in, I am thinking about how to navigate this now.

In the end I go in and Brendan spends a long time explaining the technical requirements, and I point excitedly at various shapes of curved Perspex constructions. The shape and requirements are settled. It will be curved edges and have wings for securing to the wall, be an enclosed box with a lid. It will sit on a shelf. I hope my idea for it will work on the night!

It will be ready for collection just in time.


The inaugural MART opens on Sept Wednesday 4th at 6pm with an event on the following Saturday 7th at 7pm.

Multi-Tasking innit? A typical fortnight

Every so often it is as if a handle is cranked just that bit faster and suddenly a lot of things happen at once.  It always comes as a surprise, but shouldn’t.  Everything has been trundling along for some time, typically with art lots of activity goes on in the background with no visible result  till the end. Then, as if all of a sudden, there it is. Frankly, it’s easy to lose track!

This round kicked off with the opening night  of the fundraiser exhibition in the Graphic Studio Gallery. On one of the hottest days of the summer, it was melting!  People stood outside to keep cool and dived in and out of the sauna heat of the gallery to view the prints.  Every kind of printmaking on display by fifty artists, all on Dublin city.  Mannix Flynn gave a great Opener. The prints are displayed without frames, all printed on the same size paper. It’s anew hanging system which is a bit controversial, but personally I like it, and just for practical reasons. I like th aesthetic of showing the ‘unadorned’ works.

Strumpet City Exhibition

Strumpet City Exhibition

Next up for me a week later was the SCREEN event at the Contemporary Music Centre in Temple Bar. This was a re-showing of my video piece for Sebastien Adam’s composition Tweet Piece as part of a linger programme of sound video works, and an experimental dance piece.  We hope to have it re-edited and combined soon and online in its entirety ( a link to the sound track is on the blog under Sounds).

CMC Dublin

This was first performed for FRACTAL last winter on one of the coldest days of the year, and for this showing, we were melting in the heat of one of the hottest days of the year. I’ve been invited to make another piece which I have started to work on now. The stills are mostly taken, I have to work out how to video myself with one hand! and I need to make the sound track, although I have a fairly clear idea of what will be on it. I suspect there will be some copyright clearance research too. Then, one again, I do battle with Movie Maker.

Poster ' july 17 event Screens'

meanwhile I am at the making stage of the MART project, now called ‘Are We There Yet’ – I am collecting the materials I need and adding some final detailed research.   The plan is in my sketchbook now and pretty much completed. There’s a few big ‘and just how am I going to actually do that?’ question marks, but – hey! that’s the fun part!


It takes decades to collect this level of deluxe ‘making’ materials.  Now at last I can justify lugging these form flat to house to storage to flat to studio – for years….




I also needed some footprints and the heat wave kindly provided the opportunity –


In the middle of all of this a day was spent with the GSD demonstrating print at the Rose Festival. We also provided kiddies the  opportunity to try out printing  – cue stampede!

Rose Festival Demo

I went to see the Civil Defense archive for research for ‘Are We there Yet’ – they were wonderful! Showed me around and told me the history, it’s a very impressive set up. These hats caught my eye, the colour and the material.  Somehow just says it all.

I need to do the same for the Fire Service, and prbalby the National Museum for reserch on the 18th Century residence.


Finally, in the middle of all this, I am starting to get serious about the image I am going to use for the next GSD fundraiser poject. This is major exhibition planned for autumn called  ‘A Natural Selection’ on themes from the Btanic Gardens. I have just noticed tha dedline is a lot sooner than I thoght! Oops.


Like most artists I Ireland I have to do other things and work to fund my art habit, and that had to get fitted in there somewhere too.

All this and a heatwave!!


Waiting for Beckett

Finally!! After a few false starts I got it done. Barely in time. I was in the studio till 8pm finishing it off last week. I had to get it done in time to put in under the flatteners to be ready to deliver it this week. Skin. Of. Teeth.

I had two other plates for the Strumpet City show but in each case thought better of it and changed to a new one. In the end I did get the effect I wanted.

The third plate took the best of the previous two and blended them. I had a notion in mind. A very modern view of Dublin rendered in a very classical print traditional technique. Finally I settled on softground with drypoint.


Inking up for a test print

I also got very fussy about edges. There’s always a bit of discussion about this. In many modern prints its considered to be less of an issue, but  best practice suggests that the edges of the plate should be highly polished.

Aside from the practical consideration of producing a clean and controllable edge there ate also soe aesthetic considerations. A polished edge also gives that much desired bevelled indent around the image. then there is also a decision to make about the corners. Sharp or rounded? this has become very optional as an artistic decision, however originally it was most likely done to protect the paper and press roller from potential sharp corners.

in any event, to polish the edges properly the vertical part must be polished smooth first and then the back edge a little, but most attention given to the front edge to make sure there are no unwanted ink reservoirs – a particular risk is pitting, as well as an extra deep groove where a line meets the edge of the image. to start with wet & dry paper can be used, but then it needs to be polished hard with the curved stem of a burnisher. To be honest at this stage a bit if heft helps, so if like me you’re pretty weedy and some kind soul with a stronger arm offers help  – let’s be having it!

Polishing the plate edges with a burnisher

Polishing the plate edges with a burnisher

Finally after many test prints and additional workings with Drypoint, the darks were dark and the contrasts established. It was ready to print.

Then for one of the hardest parts of printmaking. Measuring the paper!! This is generally agreed to be a prime pain. The paper must be right angles and the correct size in relation to the plate, and the plate has to be positioned within the paper space correctly on each pu of the press. To achieve this a template is made and the measurements marked up on a thin sheet of acetate. The plate can then be positioned in its spot and the paper laid over it in the correct position for printing.

The Template

The Template


Paper trimmed to size

Paper trimmed to size

The plate is inked up, I use a squeegie. then Scrim to make sure the ink is in the grooves. Then a final polish with a ball of nylon lining fabric. the paper is all torn down to size ready for soaking and printing.

Ready to ink up

Ready to ink up

Paper ready for printing

Paper ready for printing

And then at last at last at last – it is FINISHED.

The finished print.

The finished print.

I sign it and give it a title, it gets delivered to the gallery.

Medium: Softground Etching with Drypoint.

Title: Waiting for Beckett

Edition of 30.

That’s next week gone……..


The last few weeks I have been working on a print for the upcoming GSD exhibition ‘Strumpet City’. It will run through July and is a fundraiser for the studio. the idea comes from the current choice of James Plunkett’s book ‘Strumpet City’ which has been chosen as this year’s book for the City of Literature and the Gathering.  (Heavens what a sentence – like some pr handout!!!).

Anyway, such is the reality of the artist, fundraising in all its forms is a central part of life, and none more important than for the studio with all the lovely presses and acid baths. a bit of a detour from my planned work, but it is always interesting to respond to a specific brief, keeps everyone on their toes! So, about 30 of the studio artists are making work for this event. The theme is the city new or old, and I am working on an image which combines the two.

The first stage was the idea, which didn’t take long to click. Every time I go to the studio I cross the Liffey at the Conference centre, (trust me, it grows on you!) – And there it sits beside an old weigh station and the river – a new landmark.

First stage is a few sketches and a take a couple of reference photos so I can find the same spot and angle again.

day in a 089

Then more planning drawings are made with a view to making a print. In this case the brief was to make the images of fairly recognisable places, specific to Dublin.

My first idea was semi-abstract. I was attracted by all the curves and arcs in the view, both the building and the bridge. I worked on this for a while.

day in a 005

However, I then got another idea and decided to pursue this instead.

I had to decide whether the main purpose of the image was the bridge or the building, and I decided as well that I wanted to include the old weighbridge as a nod to the docklands past.

This required a few more visits to the site and some more sketches as the ideas evolved.

wa 029wa 032

At this stage the image did begin to act the maggot and caused a few headaches. This is however perfectly normal, but none the less annoying.

So, I had my image fairly well sorted and the layout transferred to the polished copper. I am using a technique called Drypoint. I am thinking of those wonderful old topographical prints of the enlightenment era. the sort of thing a ‘gentleman’s library’ would hold, accurate – to a degree – renditions of the strange and eclectic; roman ruins, the fjords, some Great Houses and maybe a dodgy looking rhinoceros.

This process took longer than usual because I had a very complex image with several distinct elements. Because the plate is so shiny and because the lines will be deep when I start drawing on the copper with the Diamond Point,  it’s important to have a good idea of where these will go before I start.

Strumpet May 007

It is usual to begin with a layout drawing on the copper first. There are a few ways of doing this. I used white transfer paper and a tracing for key positions. I also had to do this in separate stages, drawing on the copper between each. If I had done it all in one go it would have been a mess, too many lines to follow, so I did it in layers.

And of course then I had another idea. It needed people!! I liked the way it was going but as a scene of the city I just felt it needed more ‘life’. However, this entailed a few changes. First of all I had to go back to the site and draw some passers-by, and then I had to fit these into the image.

Strumpet May 077

The next thing was to burnish out any lines which were now in the wrong place. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for more pain, I also decided to change the position of a few other elements. enter a LOT of burnishing. This is done with a special tool, they come in various shapes and sizes, the one I have is pretty basic but with a bit of will power and effort I got what I wanted.

All Day in a life 039

There comes a point in any etching where the plate fights back and it becomes a battle of wills.  It was at this stage that I got to this point. this is where innate stubbornness pays off. It’s not skill just perseverance!

All Day in a life 045

Some bits need some polishing up before I worked over that bit of the plate again. Lets hear it for Brasso!

All Day in a life 041

The figures are in position, and I have worked up the feet first. I need to be sure these are grounded and also to relate the figures to the rest of the image. It’s important for scale too. A lot more burnishing ensues. I fact, I spent nearly three days fiddling around back and forth between burnishing, polishing and Diamond Point drawing, just to get everything the way I wanted.

I take a few test prints along the way to see what I have on the plate. Each time I see what else needs to be done. Because it’s a Drypoint I can’t take too many test prints or I will wear out the plate.

I add details and shading to the image using a carbon Tip fine point, and refer back to original sketches and drawings while I do so to keep reminding myself of the starting point and how I want the image to look.

day in a 111

I am on the home straight now. I will be finishing the figures and adding more depth and generale detail. I will play around with colour to see if I like it or not.

The finished prints need to be delivered by the beginning of June so they must be printed and pressed before then. It should be an edition of about 30.  I have to decide which paper to use, Fabriano or Zirkal. Then there’s signing them and that takes ages.

And so the deadline approaches!

Orientation week in the GSD

First of all it was just one of those weeks so missed a couple of days but that said I can always finish off afterwards. It was fairly intensive but I came out of it feeling I had at last got the measure of hades.  It has

occurred to me that the studio seems to follow the general layout of Dante’s Inferno.  In the basement it’s all about metal and fire, acid and blades. Then as we go up the floors we finally arrive at the top floor into natural light and clean white paper. From hades to heaven by lift.


IBEKI Filter

Now that I am getting into spitbite again I have to upgrade the mask to a full face mask. In fact this is more comfortable than the half mask, but more importantly is necessary to protect from the full range of fumes. We use the ABEKI standard filters. Divil the fume will make through that.

The plates were smoked. This feels like time travel, Rembrandt did this. The plate is first covered with Hard Ground, melted and rolled on a heat plate. There is a definitely knack to this. Too cold and nothing happens, too hot and the wax just rolls off the plate and sticks to the roller – it’s a goldilocks’ job.  The grounded plate is let sit for a moment on the heat for the wax to further melt, but not for too long.  This helps to fill in any remaining gaps. When it is cool it hardens.


Smoking the plate

The plate is suspended in chains or a brace, ground side down. Tapers are lit which burn with a long cool flame, and then this flame is allowed to skim the surface of the plate. This both hardens the ground and darkens it to black, making it easier to see what you are doing later on. It is also one of the most fun things we do in etching. Swishing the flame around is just plain cool.

I also got a refresher in sugar lift. A lot of discussion covered all the variations, but in the end the vote was between, Maple Syrup with colour added, condensed milk or the classic mix of sugar, ink and soap. Each one produces a variation on the same result, so a lot – as usual – depends on what you want to do with it. On this occasion I was using it less as a resist than as a pattering method. After the Sugar Lift dried, a thin layer of Bitumen was painted over it and then this too was dried.




Closeup Spitbite

Finally the plate was put into a tray and the Sugar Lift was dissolved slowly in very hot water. First hot water was gently poured around it, allowing this to flood over the plate and soften the Sugar Lift, and then hot water was poured over it directly. In this case there was no use of brushes to help with the lifting – and the result is very interesting indeed, a sort of splotchy lift – the classic appearance of sugar lift. In any event a brush can be used to gently remove more if needed.

The next stage was to add aquatint (resin followed by heat) and then I will add tonality using spit bite – but it could just be dipped in the acid if the background was protections.


As I missed the start of the week, I was working backwards, so I ended the week playing with colour. We used three acetate plates with a simple drypoint line design on one, using ink applied with rollers, and overprinted.   A brilliant way to just get the juices flowing and try out new colour overprint combinations.

I kept notes but really it’s all about familiarity and just getting to know the space.  I can know say that hades no longer holds any fears for me.


Full Face Safety Mask 🙂

Printmaking in the Spring

So, out of the blue I decided to start a proper blog.  At first I put it off, and then I forgot.

I have been settling in to the Graphic Studio, at last I can find the bins! There are three floors. I settled in to the top one fairly fast, it’s mostly presses and all the kit for printing – prepping paper, inks, hotplates and so on.

I got a good introduction to the bit of the second floor I’ll need to use – the Photoexposure unit; we have been introduced and the first plate made. I predict we are going to get on quite well.

But then there is the basement. This is the sharp end of etching. I do like and drool over a nice shiny piece of copper; I have caught myself looking in awe and appreciation if I pass sheets stacked and ready for cutting down, I actually stop and look, the way someone might admire a Porsche or some Manolo’s! Nice shiny copper – yum!

Down here is where we do the acid etching and prepare the plates with resin for aquatint; or cut them to size with industrial guillotines. Most of the processes require safety wear these days,  gloves and a mask.

Cool!  🙂

All set for a spot of Etching