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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.

 

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PORT PIECES: Abstract ink works

PORT PIECES: Abstract Ink landscape, Ella Johnston

I’ve been recently working on a series of abstract ink works for a new book from Dunlin Press.

The book, PORT, is an anthology looking at the subject of ports. The publication essentially explores places where ‘here’ contacts ‘there’; where known and unknown meet; where perceptions of possible experience are expanded. It features essays, interviews, stories and poetry – I’m very excited to be working on it.

PORT PIECES: Abstract Ink landscape, Indian ink on Arches watercolour paper, Ella Johnston

I thought long and hard about this project. I wanted something that reflected the character of such places. Because these locations by their nature are scenes of transition, movement and trade, I needed to convey their shape-shifting essence.

I pondered the medium and colours I was going to use for the pieces. I needed movement, flow and immediacy so I stuck with inks, my current tool of choice.

PORT PIECES: Abstract Ink landscape, Indian ink on Arches watercolour paper, Ella Johnston
So I approached these compositions as palimpsests; each quick application of ink acting as layers of stories, activities and histories coming together. I played with colour initially but settled on black and white arrangements as I felt they were starker and more visceral.
PORT PIECES: Abstract Ink landscape, Indian ink on sumi rice paper, Ella Johnston
I also experimented with the surfaces I applied my abstract ink works on. My paper selection is an integral part of every original piece. So I mixed it up a bit, using sumi rice paper, Arches smooth hot-pressed and textured cold pressed Arches watercolour paper. Every surface produced very different results as each paper type absorbs the ink washes, marks and strokes completely differently.

PORT PIECES: Abstract Ink landscape, Indian ink on Arches watercolour paper, Ella Johnston

The abstract ink works will be featured as book illustrations, with a selection being printed as limited edition fine art prints and postcards as a companion to the publication. The book is being launched in the autumn and I’ll be sure you keep you updated on its progress here.

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Prints in Cafe Saison

In June I showcased 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…

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Feathers for my drawing workshops

A3 Feather print, Ella Johnston
A3 Feather print

As I was prepping for one of my drawing workshops 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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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