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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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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