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Adventures in washi rice paper

Hope, ink on rice paper Ella Johnston

Wish, ink on rice paper Ella Johnston

Over the past two years I’ve expanded my artistic practice into ink drawing. I’ll be sharing lots of posts on this over time but I wanted to talk about a wonderful discovery made during this new and continuing phase of my work. So here’s an intro to my adventures in washi rice paper.

Goat willow ink on washi rice paper Ella Johnston
Beautiful, beautiful paper

I have a real love for all kinds of paper, both as an artist and in my ‘other past life’ working as a magazine editor. I can talk for hours about the virtues of weights, textures and paper pressing techniques. Don’t get me on shades of ivory, cream and white!

Normally I have always opted for heavyweight art paper, and for certain works I always will. However, one day, meandering around an art shop in search of some inspiration I saw a pad of 80gsm rice paper and thought ‘hmm, where’s the harm?”. I think I subconsciously needed a new challenge, something to expand my practice and challenge me a little bit.

Now, if you’re not familiar with ‘gsm’ (grams per square metre) a simple guide is something like 80gsm is really thin, fragile and delicate when something like a 300gsm is thick, robust and heavy.

Hope, ink on rice paper Ella Johnston

Washi paper and the art of sumi-e

Having already experimented with lots of mark making tools in ink I had already been working with Japanese calligraphy brushes. Another accident really as my sister got me some when she was away in Japan. They are an absolute joy to work with and I am going to write another post concentrating on those, so look out for that.

I wanted to have a go at using the brushes (and some of the traditional ink pens) with this very delicate paper. I decided to record this first foray into working with this super fine surface and you can have a look at the results here.

At the time, in my ignorance, I was calling this paper ‘sumi’, I was completely wrong. The art of sumi-e is the practice not the paper. My bad, I’m always learning.

As you can see in the video the paper is so very delicate and super absorbent. Which means it is completely unforgiving – the mark you make is the mark you make. I love the spontaneity of this, and having bought some more washi rice paper at a range of higher gsm weights, the paper still holds on the ink immediately so you have to work quickly and with conviction.

Zen buds harmony, compassion Ella Johnston

A moment in time

I love the fact that you have to work quickly on this surface – to be the paper feels like it really captures a moment in time. It sounds silly but I work with this paper with a view that it’s the artistic equivalent of amber. Any little ink drop, drip and accidental ink mark or line is absorbed and preserved. You can also be creative with it and draw with water, before seeing the alchemy that takes place as you touch the water marks with ink.

Ink flowers Ella Johnston

While you have to work quicky, I have had to think slowly when working on this surface. It’s an incredibly therapeutic process as I have to really consider my marks and be deliberate in your artistic choices. I think this results in very mindful work. Though I started with black ink, I’ve expanded to explore various forms in colour with this paper, again with quite pleasing results.

Golden Allium ink on washi rice paper

I am delighted by the spontaneous nature of the pieces I’m also pleased by their quietness. In my opinion they are very gentle, considered pieces and I like this. I feel that the work reflects the contemplation and mindfulness I utilised when making them.

I’ve made both abstract ink works and botanical ink drawings with this practice and I’ve used some of the work I’ve made in this manner for some of my cards and prints.

I’m keen to explore further the creative possibilities of working with what is a relatively new material for me.

I’ll sign off with my latest rice paper video (I’m going to do some more soon) but you can see how I’m progressing…

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Hello, me again

Hello it's me Ella Johnston

Hello, me again. It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog – well over a year in fact and looking at the date of the last blog I know why…

I wrote my last blog post on July 23 2019. It was about my work on the amazing Dunlin Press book PORT, I was feeling really proud of it. In fact the picture below is when we launched the book at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. I had done my work for PORT and written this particular post during a time when my health wasn’t great, in fact I wrote it while I was recovering from surgery.

Ella Johnston MW Bewick Dunlin Press

Let’s cut to the chase, I was recovering from a hysterectomy. I had a 20cm fibroid growing in my womb and it had to go. And it went on July 10 2019.

After unsuccessful IVF treatment and our ‘infertility journey’,  I was sad about this chapter of my life so definitively ending, but more than anything I also saw it as a new beginning. The end of an extremely painful and unhappy period (no pun intended) of my life and the start of a new spring! My womb hadn’t been my friend, she hadn’t give me anything I wanted, so we were going to part company.

On the July 24 2019, two weeks after the op I had what I thought would be a routine appointment with my surgeon. It was then he told me that had found cancer in my womb. Yes one journey had finished but another one, one I didn’t want, had started.

Thankfully they haven’t found it anywhere else yet. So I am very lucky indeed. And I am fully aware that I am so much luckier than a lot of people. That fibroid may have saved my life. I now have to visit the same gynaecology department that sent me away to do IVF all those years ago. No baby conversations, just cancer ones, I did not have a good IVF experience so every visit opens up old wounds. So this past 14 months have been a bit of a challenge to say the least. Needless to say Dr B, the best husband, a girl/boy could hope for has been amazing.

So I haven’t been blogging.

But I have been creating.

I have made so much art during this period. So many pieces that celebrate the joy and wonder of life and the beauty of the world. So over the coming weeks I’m going to share my new work and new observations with you – and all the thinking behind it. I’m doing great and I am happy. I want to share that.

Hello, me again.

To find out more about Gynaecological cancers, visit the Eve Appeal website.