Now showing: prints in Cafe Saison

If you find yourself in Colchester during the month of June, take a trip to Cafe Saison. One, because it’s really nice and the food is SO GOOD, I mean really, really good. But, two, I’m showcasing some new work in this most beautiful of venues as Colchester Makerspace’s ‘Maker of the Month’.

This is a soft launch of a new body of work for me and a new creative direction. The small-scale show displays my ink on sumi and watercolour paper work. My pen and Japanese calligraphy drawings are shown as A5 limited edition giclée prints on archival paper, created specifically for the venue.

I’ve often talked on this blog about desire to celebrate simplicity and my experiments with ink. This work simply marks a point in time for this on-going project. I’m really enjoying the experimentation process while using different kinds of paper with various mark-making tools using ink.

Ella Johnston Studio Sumi artwork work in progress

I am currently obsessed with working ink over sumi paper. I love the fact that you have to work fairly quickly with sumi paper as it immediately absorbs the ink. You have to think fast when you make your mark. I’m also intrigued by the difference that work on this rice paper has in comparison to ink drawings made on high quality hot and cold-pressed waterscolour paper. Both in the final finish and the actual working process.

Ella Johnston Studio. Ink work on sumi and Arches watercolour paper

You can take a look at how I created one of these pieces in the video below…

From the desktop: research on wild flowers

I’m doing loads of research on wild flowers, pioneer plants and bugs and butterflies. Expect to see a lot of wild, flowing drawings with brush ink, watercolour and pigment ink pens. You can check out some initial attempts her

Also I thoroughly recommend Modern Nature by Derek Jarman – an excellent book about time, gardening, memory and mortality.

Why I am fascinated by feathers

A3 Feather print, Ella Johnston
A3 Feather print

This Saturday I’m doing another feather drawing workshop . As I was prepping for it this weekend I wondered why I am so fascinated by feathers.

A5 Yellow Feather print, Ella Johnston
A5 Yellow Feather print, Ella Johnston

I suppose, for me, feathers represent duality. To me that are symbols of fragility and strength; the frailty of existence and yet the wonder of creation.

Feathers, work in progress
Feathers, work in progress

Hold a feather in your hand and it feels so light, almost weightless and soft. It’s so delicate that my instinct is to treat a feather with reverence and gentleness. However just look at even the tiniest of feathers’ structure and you see so much good structural design there. And strength, so much strength.

Watercolour feathers, work in progress
Watercolour feathers, work in progress

The process of observation and examination is fundamental to my art and illustration practice. The purpose of a feather – warmth, flight, waterproofing, camouflage, display etc – is so evident once you examine one close up. For me this one object symbolises so many of the things we need in life to survive both physically and emotionally; resilience,  protection, comfort.

Blue watercolour feathers, work in progress
Blue watercolour feathers, work in progress

As a species I feel we treat animal life so cheaply. We treat birds terribly. I also want the feathers to be a symbol of this. While they represent so much life, in reality they also are symbols of death.

I like to represent them in my work as celebrations of life, proud and at times even totemic. But as objects they are solitary, plucked, indeed, plucked or removed from a body. A stark reminder of the elemental, fragile line we walk between life and death.

Blue wild feather print Ella Johnston
Blue wild feather print

I must admit I’m conflicted when I have to source my feathers to draw. I’ve gathered a lot of them from the muddy floor of near-by woodland. I have been known to buy them from vintage markets (like when I use to buy leather jackets, I had to know the cow would have been long dead before I could benefit from it – a strange logic I know). But mostly I get given them by friends who find them on their travels.

Most of my feather pieces are created with watercolour and pigment ink pen.  I teach this technique at my workshop and I went through it in a step by step for uni-ball. You can read it here

Ink feather drawing Ella Johnston
Ink feather drawing

I’m also playing around with pen and loose Indian ink as you can see.

Ink feathers
Ink feathers

Take a closer look at my feather prints on my Folksy shop.

Delightful homewares: Japanese ceramics

Japanese ceramics (c) Ella Johnston

I couldn’t resist posting this still life of my Japanese ceramics . My sister took a trip to Tokyo last year and returned with these delightful homewares as some beautiful Christmas gifts.

I love the simple shapes of these bowls and bottle. I also love the muted colours and glazes of the wonderfully crafted ceramics. Expect to see these pop up in many of my shoots as props.  I love them.

New work: new ink prints

Ella Johnston Ink Equipment I’m very excited to share some new work with you. My new ink prints point to an interesting new direction for my art practice and business.

Flowing grass fine art print, Ella Johnston

I have recently rediscovered my love for working with ink. In the past I’ve achieved brilliant results drawing with ink pens and Japanese calligraphy brushes, I wanted to see if I could do it again. Flowing grass original pen and ink, Ella Johnston My last post talked about my first forays into reconnecting with pen, ink and brush work. It explored my need for finding my style within such an expressive and beautiful way of mark-making.
Flowing grass fine art print, Ella Johnston As always when looking for inspiration with my practice I meditated on my own passions and interests. It was my walks by the Colne Estuary in Wivenhoe that sparked off these series of prints. Eucalyptus sprig fine art print, Ella Johnston Naturally, I made bird sketches but it was the salt marsh and reeds that attracted me. After going home and doing lots and lots of reed drawings I decided to make simple, botanical sprigs as my subjects.
Eucalyptus sprig original pen and ink, Ella Johnston I then set about gathering all kinds of wild grasses, palms and plants. I made lots of botanical ink studies and selected my favourite ones for print. I’ve made three very simple fine art prints which are now available on Folksy.

Floating leaves fine art print, Ella Johnston

I work on hot pressed fine quality watercolour paper. As well as using inks I also work with washes of water too to create depth and variation of tone.

I intend to continue to explore drawing with pen, ink and brushes throughout the year. Again, if I’m pleased with the results you’ll see more prints and fabric designs coming soon.

Floating leaves original pen and ink, Ella Johnston

Brush-drawn faces #inktober

This year I decided to take part in Inktober. In typical Ella style I haven’t followed the #inktober drawing prompts. However I have enjoyed taking part in the art challenge, particularly my black and white brush-drawn faces.

ink face ella johnston

As regular readers of this blog will know I am hugely influenced by Matisse and Japanese brush drawings. So this is me working through my influences and trying new drawing techniques and styles.

ink face ella johnstonI feel a bit indulgent creating these face drawings. I love using a Japanese calligraphy brush with this free flowing Indian ink. I really enjoy the easy curves and marks this brush makes. However I’m aware I need to develop my own style. It’s a really stage in developing new work.
ink face ella johnston

The Orphaned Spaces box set

The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.
The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.

Last week I told you about my new illustrated book (with MW Bewick), The Orphaned Spaces published by our indie publishing company Dunlin Press, well here is the box set.

The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.
The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.
The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.
The Orphaned Spaces box set. Featuring postcards, hand-stitched books, seeds, reliquary, archival prints.

The Orphaned Spaces  box set is such an undertaking of work that I had to give it a separate post.

When working on Dunlin Press projects,  we’ve often described each book as ‘time capsules’. We aim for every publication to embody the mood and spirit of a place or region at a particular period of human history – like pressing a pause button or taking a picture. The Orphaned Spaces box set is a physical manifestation of this concept.

Hand-stitched still lives booklet
Hand-stitched still lives booklet
Limited edition postcards, reliquary, seeds and archival prints. The Orphaned Spaces Box Set
Limited edition postcards, reliquary, seeds and archival prints. The Orphaned Spaces Box Set

This highly limited edition, made-to-order box set, deconstructs the book The Orphaned Spaces, breaking it down into hand-stitched booklets, postcards, archival prints and a reliquary.

The box set contains the following elements:

1: Hand-stitched ‘Journal’
Coverstock: G.F SMith, Colorplan, fuchsia pink, 270gsm. Inset pages: G.F SMith, Colorplan, dark grey, 135gsm. Inner pages: ZANDERS ZETA, Unwatermarked Textured Paper, linen 100gsm,
2: Hand-stitched black and white studies booklet
Paper stock: Hahnemühle, Photo Rag, matte smooth, 188gsm
3: Hand-stitched wild flower still lives booklet
Paper stock: Hahnemühle, Photo Rag, matte smooth, 188gsm
4: 10 pressed plants fine art giclée prints
Printed on archival Hahnemühle, Photo Rag, bamboo, 290gsm
5: Six landscape postcards
6: A glass bottle ‘reliquary’
7: Wildflower seeds include a mixture of annual and perennial wildflower species and grasses.
8: Bookmark using G.F SMith, Colorplan, dark grey, 135gsm

The Orphaned Spaces box set includes three individually hand-stitched books and archival prints plus seeds and reliquary
The Orphaned Spaces box set includes three individually hand-stitched books and archival prints plus seeds and reliquary
The Orphaned Spaces box set includes three individually hand-stitched books and archival prints plus seeds and reliquary
The Orphaned Spaces box set includes three individually hand-stitched books and archival prints plus seeds and reliquary

I’ve really made use of the 2010 Central St Martin book-binding summer course I attended during the past eight years. The box set features three hand-stitched booklets all bound by me. I really enjoy book-making so, what would feel like hard work for some feels like a kind of zen meditative process for me.

Making the hand-stitched books for The Orphaned Spaces.
Making the hand-stitched books for The Orphaned Spaces.
Making the hand-stitched books for The Orphaned Spaces.
Making the hand-stitched books for The Orphaned Spaces.

You can buy the box set or the book at the Dunlin Press shop.

New book illustration project: Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher

Cover, Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Cover, Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I’m excited to tell you about new book illustration project with Dunlin Press: Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, by Alex Toms. The debut poetry collection launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and the words inside it are simply stunning.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

We already had beautiful photography from MW Bewick for the poetry book but we wanted an illustrative element too. In illustrating this book I really wanted to do the poems justice. I was mindful not to interfere with the reader’s experience of the words by being too literal in my illustration. My work had to convey a mood and atmosphere while allowing the amazing imagery that Alex creates to breathe.

Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms
Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms

When approaching this illustration commission I do what I always do, go back to my art history books and my old sketchbooks. My studio is packed with sketchbooks and folders stuffed full of experiments and ideas that I’ve parked for later and my ever-growing art book collection is a constant resource. Alongside a scrapbook of cut-out collages I did about 10 years ago when I was hungover in my art studio in Tottenham (never throw away your sketchbooks kids), a book on DADA and a book on Matisse’s cut-outs, the visual concept for “Eels” was born.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I love paper cuts,  I could swear I love them so much but I have never found a way to incorporate paper cuts into a project. Seeing my old scrapbooks and work by very different artists using cut-up and collage techniques freed me to create something visceral, with a sense of movement, depth and physicality that is so alive in Alex’s poems.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

Originally I had little, delicately trimmed paper shapes on painted backgrounds but everything seemed too polite and restrained. So I went big and got to work drawing with scissors on A2 and A3 black matte paper, creating lots and lots of rough eel, sea kale and old fashioned eel catcher net shapes.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I then arranged the shapes randomly on a large piece of card, set-up my camera and tripod over the card, and made a series of compositions with the cut out paper. The results were exactly what I wanted.

The book launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and you can pre-order it HERE

Experiments in ink!

Ink, mark-making experiments Ella Johnston
In preparation for #inktober I’ve been playing with experiments in ink!

Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, silver leaf collage. Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, silver leaf collage. Ella Johnston

Ages ago I told you about how as an artist and illustrator I strive for simplicity, well this has been a little mantra playing in my head all year so recently I gave into it. I’ve  started working on art work and illustrations using simple black Indian ink and various mark-making tools.

Simplicity is hard.

Composition, Indian ink teasel drawing Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink teasel drawing Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage.
Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage.

These scratchy ink sketches and gold/silver leaf and book paper collages are my first steps along my journey into the simple mark marking. Taking my cue from various Japanese ink artists I’ve experimented with my mark-making tools. I’ve fashioned ‘pens’ and ‘brushes’ from dried out teasels, found feathers, dried seed-heads and bunches of twigs to produce various line effects.

Composition, Indian ink teasel drawing Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink teasel drawing Ella Johnston

I thought I would combine these ink strokes with collage to create movement, contrast and texture. I’m also fascinated by palimpsests (where a manuscript or piece of written-on material has been written over but still bears visible traces of its earlier form) so I wanted to create a sense of that.

Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage.
Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage.

At the moment, I still need to work on my serenity ( I imagine a few people have remarked on that through the years).

I like combining humble unbleached papers I use for the inner pages of my hand-stitched books (sometimes painted with washes of colour, sometimes not) with gold and silver leaf to create a sense of collision. After these elements are layered up, I naturally want to produce something visceral and energetic over them with the ink marks.

Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage. Ella Johnston Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage. Ella Johnston

Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage. Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink dried seed-head, feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage. Ella Johnston

This mark-making method is real fun and, at this stage in my development with getting to know this way of working, I feel a little indulgent. I love the variation in marks the teasel, feather and seed-head tips create – I could go on all day marvelling at all the different line effects they produce.

Composition, Indian ink teasel, feather and seedhead drawing Ella Johnston
Composition, Indian ink teasel, feather and seedhead drawing Ella Johnston

New book illustration: The Orphaned Spaces

The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

Last month, Dunlin Press launched its new book, The Orphaned Spaces; a collaboration with featuring illustration from myself and words from poet MW Bewick

The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces is a rumination on life and loss through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites, edgelands – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration.

Wild flower pressings. The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston

The Orphaned Spaces project was meant to be a small artistic endeavour. Our original idea for The Orphaned Spaces was to have a brown paper bag containing fragments of writing, the odd drawing and some landscape photography, all loosely themed around ‘waste ground’. About a month in however, it had already started to take on a life of its own.  As is the way of things,  it escalated into something bigger, encompassing a 148-page book and  handmade book box set.

The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces features exquisite words and visceral landscape imagery from MW Bewick and my quick brush sketches that I spoke about in this previous post. Both the book and the box set also include fine line botanical and insect studies in black and white (see below),  ikebana-inspired still life plant photography plus wild flower pressings, all created by me.

Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston

The black and white studies were created with fineliner pigment ink pens.

Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press
Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press

I’m really pleased with the botanical photography aspect of the book – you can read more about it here

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press

I’m also delighted with the way my wildflower pressings came out. I used to press wild flowers and plants with my mum when I was kid, so I wanted this aspect to be in the book as I felt it needed a child-like, playful aspect to it. Actually as it turned out I think in some ways these illustrative elements are the most plaintive and poignant images of the publication – they are particularly effective as the archival prints featured in the box set but that’s worthy of another post.

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press