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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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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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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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Bookmaking how to: The Orphaned Spaces

You know last week I told you about the Dunlin Press Waste Ground Project I was working on? Well, here are two short book-making how to films as a sneak peek on what’s to come…

These videos show you how I created our hand-stitched book of photography depicting botanical still lives of plants collected from brownfield sites and a pamphlet of black and white sketches also created by me. This book will form part of a limited edition box set.

The Orphaned Spaces is the culmination of a multimedia collaboration by independent publisher Dunlin Press. 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.

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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

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The joy of house plants

My work explores the way human connect with the natural world, so it will be not surprise that I am a big fan of house plants! I love them. They provide a great eco-friendly home update (they’ve brightened up our battered old piano and bright white sideboard), they look amazing and will lift your soul – I promise.

They have also brought out my nurturing side – I’m not ashamed to admit that I talk to our growing green housemates and it’s very therapeutic. I’ve bought a leaf mister – an object not on my radar five years ago – and I got a dedicated house plant watering can for my birthday this year.
I love house plants. Photo (c): Ella JohnstonSo what do I like about house plants? As you know I’ve been banging on about the benefits of greenery and nature for years.  I love the organic, wild(ish) element that they give to my home. It swells my heart to watch our plants grow, especially as they are all quite easy to maintain and look after – although I admit I’ve had some neglect/kill with kindness-related fatalities.

Houseplants (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.ukI’m constantly adding to my home jungle. At the moment, I’ve got Monstera deliciosa, Castanospermum Australe (Jack’s Beanstalk), Dracaena marginata (Madagascar Dragon Tree), Chamaedorea (mountain palm), Sword Fern, Sanseveria (Mother-in-law’s tongue), Fittonias, Aloe Vera and some succulents.
I love house plants. Photo (c): Ella Johnston I’ve been very successful with the monsteras (touch wood), had mixed results with the fittonias (I think I transplanted them too early), I have an on-going struggle with succulents but have managed to keep it together with the aloes (so low maintenance it’s unreal).

What are my top house plant tips?  Hmm not sure really,  I’m certainly no expert. I’ve got most of the plants in rooms at the back of the house where they will get the most light. I don’t have a strict timetable when it comes to watering – I’ve had so many over-watering incidents in the past that now I tend to go by feel (using my fingers to assess the dryness/dampness of the soil, checking the leaves and stems). Obviously I’ve found myself giving the monstera, dragon tree and mountain palm more of a drink in the summer months but I don’t have any hard and fast rules.

Have you got bitten by the house plant bug? Can you recommend anywhere to get some good large(ish) pots? Give me a shout and let me know.

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Pick of the Pins: Lucy Tiffney Mural

Pick of the pins Ella Johnston
I’ve been itching to share this pick of my pins this week. Lucy Tiffney’s murals are a constant inspiration but this particular illustration created for Care UK, Oxford really impressed.

I think this example exemplifies Lucy’s illustrative style; simple, structural and striking. It communicates the essence flowing energy and lightness of the plant’s leaves contrasted with the weight of the pot. Her colour choice is always spot-on and her simple composition is one to be admired and taken note of. She has inspired me to explore some large scale work of my own.

See more of Lucy Tiffney’s work on the following channels…

Instagram: @lucytiffney

Website: lucytiffney.com