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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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 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.
The black and white studies were created with fineliner pigment ink pens.
I’m really pleased with the botanical photography aspect of the book – you can read more about it here
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.
Here’s a preview of some sketches I’ve been working on for an up-coming Dunlin Press project to be published next month.
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.
These sketches are for the text element of the piece. They accompany beautiful prose written by MW Bewick.
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.
Watch this space for more updates.
Although my art is quite intricate I actually strive for simplicity. The bravery and beauty of making a few gestural lines to shapes to convey a subject for me is an incredible achievement. It’s building up to becoming an obsession of mine, as this September moodboard illustrates.
While my desire for simplicity is a long held one, it was compounded this summer by Dr James Fox’s documentary series The Art of Japanese Life where Fox featured Sesshu’s ‘splashed-ink’ landscape (see below), dating back, unbelievably, to 1495. Let me say that again, 1495!
I think this is a glorious painting. I see so much energy in it and I find it exquisite in composition and atmosphere. I’m also drawn to the simple black and white colour scheme (I would be though wouldn’t I?).
It’s also coincided with me getting some brush pens (which I used to create my new header btw), so I’ve been playing around with them try to make simple, gestural images. I find minimalism and knowing when to stop more difficult than adding clever little details and additional descriptive strokes – it’s a real challenge for me. I’m using the work of Toko Shinoda as further inspiration as well as ancient Japanese brush painting of bamboo, birds and butterflies.
What do you think of this style of painting? Do you like those simple strokes? The black and white? Or do you need a little more colour and detail? I’d love to know.
I’ve deliberately kept it simple for part three of my Christmas wrap ideas with these easy black and white designs. I’ve opted for a lovely iridescent white paper and teamed it with simple black tags and co-ordinating ribbon. The gestural stem designs are based on my laurel stem illustration, see the step by step here. The Christmas tree and garland are really simple; I used a white Posca pen to create tiered jagged shapes for the tree, waited for the paint to dry and overlaid it with gold dots. For the garland I drew some simple thin lines with a silver Posca pen then added white and gold dots.
It’s day two of my week of Christmas wrap ideas. This time I’ve gone for a stylish, yet playful Scandi-style as seen in my Scandi Lodge trend ideas with illustrated mdf bauble shaped tags. Using my Scandi-style Christmas moodboard and my pinterest pins as inspiration I painted the shapes with white acrylic paint and used black Posca pens to apply the designs. I kept the drawings fairly simple with basic star/snowflake shapes, squiggles, hearts, dots and scallops. Because the illustrated baubles create such an impact I kept the wrap itself very simple using shiny black paper with black or white 5mm and 10mm satin ribbon. One of the easiest Scandi-style motifs I like to create is my simple laurel stem illustration that you can see above on the heart and the Christmas tree designs. It’s very, very easy to recreate as these step by steps show. Step 1: Draw a simple line, it can be curved or straight, although I prefer mine to be a little jaunty.Step 2: Make little semi-circle shapes along the line as shown.Step 3: Join the tops of the semi-circle to the central line to create leaves.Step 4: Colour in the leaves.
This time for my drawing of the week I’ve done a very earnest little Zebra. Even in the middle of doing loads of Christmassy type stuff I still made time to work on my zoo animals series.
Although I love black and white drawings I can never resist subverting a traditional black and white subject with a bit of colour, so as well as using my black pens on this illustration I’ve adding some purple and yellow watercolour notes.
Timeless, classy and striking, I love black and white designs. In fact I can’t believe I haven’t featured this on my moodboard sooner.
I hardly ever wear anything other than black and white clothes (occasionally navy or grey but it’s mainly black and white). I also am a massive fan of simple black and white sketches, print and design. The purity, harmony and general all-round elegance is, for me, a total short-cut to cool.
At the moment I’m working on the design for a poetry book. The publication is printed in black and white so I wanted to think of effective shapes and marks that would look strong on the pages without distracting from the words (which are the most important thing). I’ve done lots of research and have settled on something that I’m quite excited about. You can’t see it yet but the book is set to be released later this year so, watch this space.
In honour of British Flower Week I thought it was only fitting that I drew a few peonies.
Frilly, girly and full of glorious flounce, even a single bloom can make a tremendous impact – no wonder they are often a top choice for summer events and weddings.
The flower is also very popular on the internet too, with Elle Decoration reporting that peonies are overtaking the avocado for the most tagged item on Instagram.
The peony is among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture. Along with the plum blossom, it is a traditional floral symbol of China and is depicted often in traditional Chinese art. They are also used in tattoos, inspired by artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi‘s illustrations of Suikoden, a classical Chinese novel. Here the peony is associated with a devil-may-care attitude and disregard for consequence.
I kind of understand this, the peonies I’ve got in the vase at the moment are so vibrant, full and abundant with glorious colour it’s hard to imagine that in a couple of days time they’ll be shrivelled up and like crumpled paper. But that’s their beauty. These pink watercolour illustrations and black and white line drawings are a stab at making the blooms immortal.
This is the shop for Ella Johnston. Here you can buy original artwork, prints, stationery and homewares from my archive. Dismiss