Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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