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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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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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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
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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
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New work: Bird prints

A3 Limited Edition Wren Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston

I’ve recently launched a whole new collection of illustrated bird prints now available on my Etsy and Folksy shops.

A3 Limited Edition Wren Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonI really enjoyed drawing this wren – I created it using new uni-pin sepia pigment ink pens on watercolour paper. This delicate avian illustration is then scanned and printed as a fine art print on archival paper ensuring that it will last a lifetime.A3 Limited Edition Peacock Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonI originally created the watercolour and ink Peacock artwork for an exhibition. The artwork showcases vivid blue, pea green and violet watercolour washes combined with shimmery golden POSCA pen washes. I then overlaid the painting with pigment ink pen.
A3 Limited Edition Peacock Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonMy golden plover drawing was originally created for the book The Migrant Waders, published by Dunlin Press. It was one of my favourite illustrations and I love looking at it, so I had to turn it into a print. Again this is printed on high quality archival paper so it will last a lifetime.
A4 Limited Edition Golden Plover Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston
A4 Limited Edition Golden Plover Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonGolden Plover illustration work in progress (c) Ella Johnston

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New illustration project: The Waste Ground

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Here’s a preview of some sketches I’ve been working on for an up-coming Dunlin Press project to be published next month.

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston

The Waste Ground Project is the culmination of a multimedia collaboration. The project is centred on a rumination on life through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration. The project takes the form a paperback book, a highly limited edition box set, featuring hand-stitched booklets, archival prints and a reliquary, as well as art prints and more.

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
These sketches are for the text element of the piece. They accompany beautiful prose written by MW Bewick.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
These black and white wild flower and plant sketches have been created with a brush paint pen. They accompany more detailed fine-liner drawings elsewhere in the piece. I wanted these illustrations to be loose, gestural and quick so they feel like they’ve been captured on the fly.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Watch this space for more updates.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston

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New botanical print; Juniper berries

Work in progress Juniper watercolour and ink drawing (c) Ella JohnstonThis is my new botanical print, juniper berries illustrated in watercolour and ink. A perfect gift for gin fiends!A3 Limited Edition Juniper Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonI’ve been producing a lot of new work recently and I’m going to get into the habit showing some of it to you on a regular basis. This juniper berries drawing was really fun to do – I love its needles (something I’m not too familiar with in terms of illustration) and its juicy berries.
A3 Limited Edition Juniper Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston
The new art print is available on my Etsy shop.
A3 Limited Edition Juniper Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston