The Art of Caring

I’ve recently submitted a piece of work for an exhibition entitled ‘The Art of Caring’, organised by the art collective, ‘Collect Connect’. Now in its 3rd year, ‘The Art of Caring’ comprises two exhibitions - the first at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting from 3rd-12th May, where printed postcards of submitted artworks are to be displayed to help celebrate International Nurses’ Day; the second at St. Pancras hospital, which will be curated separately and combine original artworks with printed postcards.

The exhibitions were established to celebrate nurses, carers and the NHS and to show support for those in the caring professions. The organisers invited submissions that responded personally to this theme (whether it be as a carer or a patient).

My primary reason for wishing to be involved with this particular project was due to the wonderful work and support that the NHS and various care professionals have done for my father, who has lived with Parkinson’s Disease since 2007.

For the artwork I submitted however, I chose a response to my own experience of living with a condition called AF (Atrial Fibrilation); a heart condition that causes an arrhythmic and abnormally fast heartbeat. Having suffered five isolated cases of AF throughout my adult life, I have been reliant on the NHS for the condition’s diagnosis and treatment.

It may have been my own doctor who likened the heart’s behaviour in AF to that of a bag full of snakes but having had first-hand experience, this particularly unpleasant analogy is actually fairly true to the sensation experienced and also now impossible not to visualize on the (thankfully) rare occasions that I have suffered from the condition.

The image that I finally submitted began life, once again, from an original ink drawing. Further to it being printed for the ‘Art of Caring’ exhibition, I intend to develop the image into a larger 3 colour print.

'The Art of Caring' exhibition opens on 3rd May 2017 alongside SNAP (Student Nurse Academic Partnership Conference) and finishes on International Nurses Day (12th May). The second exhibition is at St. Pancras Hospital (July-October).

Sketchbook Circle: Make Time For Making

I’ve been working recently on a commission for a collective of artists, educators and makers and their collaborative project, ‘Sketchbook Circle’. Sketchbook Circle is a creative venture founded seven years ago by artist/educators Elinor Brass and Tanya Paget. Looking for a way to progress their own practices alongside their work in education, they set up a community of like-minded individuals seeking to do the same. The sketchbook is used as a vehicle for this collaboration, as each member is partnered with two people within the circle and a dialogue is established, as each person works on their own book and then mails it to their two partners, who will then continue to work on the same book in response. This will continue, back and forth, over the course of the year. Since its inception, the circle has continued to grow, nationally and internationally and Elinor along with my wife, Georgia Naish have continued to recruit new members and expand the ranks of artist/educators and explore new ideas for collaboration and creative dialogue.

The organisers wanted to introduce a limited edition print by different artists into their annual welcome pack and I was asked to come up with an idea for the first mailout, due to be sent out next week.

In thinking about ideas for the piece, I wanted to come up with an image that represented the themes of collaboration, expression and creativity and around the central concept of the circle. I did some initial drawings from a small life drawing mannequin that my 10 year old son keeps in his room. The model seemed like a strong starting point and a nod to Sketchbook Circle’s emphasis on the importance of drawing (and their ongoing partnership with ‘The Big Draw’), as well as a metaphor for creativity in general. After playing around with a number of ideas, the drawings of the model in a variety of poses put me in mind of Matisse’s painting ‘The Dance’, wherein the circle is central to the composition.

 

I took a number of photographs of the maquette based upon the poses of the figures in Matisse’s painting. Having sketched and inked them as line drawings, I overlayed the image onto a drawing of another circlular motif - a garland of flowers weaving its way through the dancing dolls. As this was to be printed as a risograph print, (a machine printing method that allows for the layering of images, similar in principle to screen printing), I overlayed the central image onto some text. As artists working in education, the slogan 'Make Time for Making’, is one of Sketchbook Circle’s central tenets,  as well as a creative call-to-arms to all their members.

SketchbookCircle Colour Proof5.jpg

Thanks as always to Jake at Fred Aldous Ltd. in Manchester, for printing these in time for the forthcoming mailout. For more information about the Sketchbook Circle, visit: www.sketchbookcircle.com

CollectConnect: Art for All

Last night saw the private view of a retrospective exhibition by the art collective, CollectConnect at Kensington and Chelsea College in London and I'm pleased to have been part of the many projects that comprise this show over the last 6 years.

CollectConnect was founded by artists Alban Low and Dean Reddick, who were working with people living and recovering from mental health problems. They devised a simple and flexible exhibiting structure for displaying artwork that bypassed many of the stresses and obstacles encountered by those wishing to show their work to the public. Using public spaces; creative exhibiting ideas and utilising social media and cheap production methods to publicise their ventures, CollectConnect  developed a curatorial ethos that was spontaneous and inclusive to all. Joined by fellow artists, Bryan Benge and Stuart Simler, the quartet have gone on to host 25 exhibitions, displaying over 4000 artworks by 1200 people.

My involvement with CollectConnect began in 2010, when I exhibited in the 'Freezchester' show;  a huge collection of miniature magnetic artworks by artists and non-artists alike, displayed all over Manchester city centre, in prominent public spaces. The artworks themselves were free to those that found them and it was this creative method of distributing a wide array of limited edition art to the public that has inspired me to involve myself in their projects, wherever possible. I have since exhibited with them in Nottingham (2011), New Hampshire, USA (2011) and as part of the Bath Arts Festival (2014). 

The CollectConnect retrospective exhibition runs until the 8th of December and is open Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm. There will be a series of artist talks on Wednesday 6th December from 5.30pm - 8pm when the organisers will be talking about some of the artists and artworks, as well as their various projects. I wish them luck with the show and look forward to working with them all in the future.

Congleton High School: An Artist Visit

I was asked recently by Congleton High School, to come in as a visiting artist, to speak to a group of students about my work and my experience as a creative practitioner. 

My experience of talking about my work has previously been limited to contexts where audiences or visitors have either come to view or purchase artwork (mine or others) such as exhibitions, open studios or art fairs, or else to curators, retailers and other artists. Going into a school and talking about my work from an educational standpoint; communicating my ideas and methods, as well as my influences and creative processes, involved a different kind of engagement with my own work.

In preparing to present to the students, it was interesting to look at my work from a standpoint of retrospection and to critically unpick it, in order to communicate how it came to me made and how it has developed and evolved over the years. In doing this, I was able to identify how printing (and my experience of screen printing, within a manufacturing context) had informed my painting methods and how in turn, that had led me full circle back to printing again. Looking back I was able to see how my artistic influences had shaped my progress and how I learned to wear those influences less heavily as I developed my own techniques and discovered more personal sources of inspiration..

The students were briefed with the task of critically evaluating my work and making a piece of their own work in response to it. To be entirely honest, it was fairly nerve-wracking having my work critically dissected in this way but I really enjoyed talking to them and discussing their responses in a short follow up visit. With the exception of one student, who was herself a tattoo artist, the others had little or no experience of painting or print making.

Their responses were entirely individual and they’d all taken different aspects of the work I had shown them as starting points. One student used the digitally manipulated, painted textures that I sometimes use as backdrops to some of my print work, as a jumping off point. She then followed the process, informed by her ‘mistakes’ (what began as a moon became a banana) to create her final piece. I’d discussed the influence of pop-art on my work and her painting reminded me of Warhol’s famous ‘Velvet Underground’ album cover. I was told this wasn’t intentional and that she hadn’t, in fact, seen the cover in question. Another student chose the more cartoon-like aspects of some of my work, while another had begun with the elements of pattern and repetition that appear in my paintings.

It was a pleasure to see the end results and thank you to Congleton High School for asking me and to the students for the consideration they put into their responses. Hopefully they learned a little about what I do and why I do it. I know I did.

James Ensor: Art of the Carnival

A short trip down to London will soon be in the offing, as last month saw the opening of an exhibition of work by one of my favourite artists, the Belgian painter James Ensor, at the Royal Academy. It’s curated by a fellow countryman of Ensor's, the artist Luc Tuymans, who has brought together a collection of paintings, drawings and etchings, including some key works.

James Ensor’s work is a surreal, theatre of grotesques; absurd, satirical and profound, populated by carnival masks, skeletons and demented demons. His colourful palette, black humour and vivid imagination certainly had an influence on me as a painter. To me, he seemed out of step with his time which was, of course, what made him unique.  His fantastical scenes and his tendency towards satire, place him in a tradition of artists that includes Hieronymous Bosch, Goya and Hogarth - also amongst my favourite painters and printmakers - and he signals their influence through his work.

I acknowledged Ensor's influence on my own work in 2007-8, when I painted my ‘Starmen’ series of paintings. With that series of work, I was interested in storytelling within the context of fine art painting. I wanted to create a narrative that would evolve with each new painting, which would ultimately have as much in common with the sequential story of a comic book, as it would a series of paintings. The paintings together would (I hoped) suggest a continuous journey and I was searching for a figure that I could use as a guide for my central characters (the ‘Starmen’); a hero that I could create my own mythology around. Ensor’s recurrent reference to religion and his depiction of himself as a latter-day Christ in some of his paintings and drawings, gave me the idea of using the Belgian painter as a lead character in many of my paintings. In so doing, I intended to further embroider a story around a fictitious ‘Ensor’ that the artist had already created for himself.

This current exhibition is the largest collection of James Ensor's work to be displayed, since I finished that series of work and I’m excited to see, first-hand, so many of my personal favourites before the exhibition closes in January next year.

Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans runs until 29th January 2017.

Eat My Art - New Print Editions

I’ve recently been working on some new drawings with a mind to developing existing prints into a themed series of works.

The limited edition screen print, ‘Eat My Art’ proved to be a popular print at the recent Manchester Print Fair and I’d already been playing around with further imagery based around the ‘Eat My Art’ slogan. The original image was a play upon vintage fast food adverts (particularly American ads of the forties and fifties) and I liked the idea of developing alternative brands, logos and characters around the same theme and turning it into a recurring motif.

I wanted the images to retain a slightly retro feel to them and I’m particularly attracted to signifying colours employed by fast food advertising (I’m thinking of the reds, browns and yellows of popcorn and hotdog vendors and the pastel shades of fifties American diners).  Beginning with the popcorn motif, I did some drawings of young children wearing oversized, fast food costumes. The crying child I’ve used is something of a recurring motif in itself, as it seems to have the right mix of humour and pathos when placed in the right context. I’d previously done a number of drawings on this theme, with only one image being developed into a final print but I wanted to use it within the context of a brand image, undermining the superficial ‘positive’ message of a traditional brand.

When I’d settled on a final image I inked my drawing and played with background text and imagery in Photoshop. I’ve used a ‘diner’ theme in my choice of font and for the colour combinations I played around with some ‘popcorn’ browns and yellows. I may experiment further with the colours, depending on the type of print - I’d like to see this as both a screen print and a risograph - as well as trying out some different paper stock to print it on. My intention is to create a collection of these images, which will include a limited edition Christmas themed print. The ‘Popcorn Girl’ will soon be available as a limited edition print in my shop.

The Papergirl Project - Free Limited Edition Art on the City Streets

I've recently put together a few prints to send to Papergirl Blackburn; just one of the cities taking part in the worldwide 'Papergirl' project.

Papergirl is a non-commercial, guerilla initiative, originated by Aisha Ronniger in Berlin in 2006 in reaction to tightening German graffiti laws and now adopted by over forty cities worldwide; including Bristol, Belfast, Cardiff, New York and Barcelona. Papergirl (literally) takes art to the streets by distributing donated original artworks and distributing them by bicycle to random passers-by. The project is a not-for-profit venture and the art is free to the public, with each artwork having the artists' name and website details to identify it for the lucky new owners. The organisers ask that artwork be no larger than A3 (allowing for it to be rolled for distribution) but can be any work on paper, including collage, limited edition prints, photographs or drawings.

For the project I submitted four prints from my recent risograph series, which will soon be free to new homes. If you're in Blackburn and you receive one, be sure to drop me a line; I'd love to know where they end up. The big giveaway on the streets of Blackburn takes place on 15th of November but before that there will be an exhibition of all the artworks submitted by artists and makers by Bureau Centre for the Arts in Blackburn.

The deadline for entry is the 31st October.

Manchester Print Fair's 5th Birthday

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to be an exhibitor and seller at the Manchester Print Fair, as they celebrated their 5th birthday at London Road Fire Station. As part of Design Manchester's 'Design City' festival, MPF played host to over 100 artists and creatives, alongside The Manchester Artist Book Fair and Hotbed Press and I was there over the two days selling a selection of my most recent prints.

Manchester Print Fair is always one of the most exciting events in the art calendar, whether you are an exhibitor or a visitor but this time round it was truly a remarkable event to be a part of. Within the courtyard of the old Victorian Fire Station, there were DJs, food stalls and a specially brewed 'festival beer' on tap, whilst over the weekend there could be found workshops and live art installations. Over the two days 7,500 visitors walked through the gates to show their support for the diverse range of artists selling their work; which included posters, limited edition prints, cards, badges and an array of booklets and zines. The doors were open at 10am each day and what began as a steady stream of visitors, very quickly grew to a capacity crowd; filling the venue until lights out at around 5pm in the afternoon.

As a seller, one of the biggest joys of taking part in an art fair is receiving direct feedback from visitors, which has been invaluable in providing me with ideas for new work and thoughts on how I might develop existing prints. With some prints selling out over the weekend, I'll be turning my thoughts to possible new editions, so keep an eye out on the website and my Facebook page for updates. A big thank you to anyone who purchased a print and for all the great feedback over the course of the two days.

Thanks also, to Jake Beddow at Fred Aldous and the guys at Marc the Printers for the great job on preparing my prints for the fair. Oh, and also to the Hip Hop Chip Shop for the wonderful chippy breakfasts.

 Congratulations to Alessandra Mostyn, all the MPF team and their collaborators for a job well done. I hope to see you all again in Spring 2017.

Return to the figurative: Limited edition screen prints

Over the last couple of weeks I've been hunkered down in the studio working on the first of a series of two colour screen prints, developed from original pen and ink drawings. It's been a learning curve getting to grips with the limitations of my studio set-up and there have been set-backs as well as some pleasing results. I've been documenting the process as I find the best ways forward.

The artwork begins as a pencil drawing on paper and I've been playing with new ideas and developing motifs from some of my paintings. I like to use tracing paper in the early stages so I can get an idea how I'm going to compose the piece and separate it into its constituent parts when it gets to the print process. The finished drawing is then inked and scanned into Photoshop where it is cleaned up, separated into layers and turned into positives to be burned onto my screens.

After printing my artwork onto transparencies and transferring  them onto my screens under the UV exposure unit, I soon discovered that the larger screens weren't getting enough of the UV light to expose properly, resulting in some of the fine detail of the artwork being washed away. With this in mind, I scaled down the artwork and concentrated on three separate two-colour designs on small screens. I added a counterweight system to the print table to hold the screens upright between prints and was happy to discover that the vacuum table provided enough suction to hold the heavier weights of paper against the pull of the ink.

I wanted to see what results I could get printing onto a range of different paper stocks and so I took a trip out to Fred Aldous and bought in a number of sample paper types of varying colour and density. I've been keeping the print runs to a minimum, so I can see what the most (and least) successful outcomes are and correct any mistakes in the process. Initially, the fine lines and halftones were printing successfully but they blocked with ink in the screen very early into the run and needed to be bolder, requiring some correction in the artwork.

By and large, I'm pleased with the results of these first set of prints. With some small modifications to a couple of the positives, I'll be adding the first of these limited print runs to my shop. In the meantime, the original artwork can be viewed under 'Print' in the 'Portfolio' section of the website.

Manchester Print Fair No. 11

Last weekend saw the return of the Manchester Print Fair at The People's History Museum in Spinningfields. It was a two-day event and the work on show was of an exceptionally high calibre. It was a pleasure to meet many of the exhibiting artists, some of whom had come a long way to take part in this wonderful event, and I had some interesting conversations with some of the artists about their individual practices. The works for sale were many and various, ranging from screen prints, linocuts, risos and giclées and there were also printing and framing workshops taking place over the weekend.  

The Manchester Print Fair returns this October and I'll be be keeping an eye out for news in the forthcoming months.  Future updates on the Manchester Print Fair can be found on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

New Year, New You

It's been a busy few weeks and I've made a number of changes since my last blog post, back in December. As detailed in that previous post, I've been taking some time out since the new year, to experiment with the new screen printing set-up and the production of new artwork. The results of these experiments and the early outcomes have brought me to some decisions about the way forward with my work and with the Hand Drawn House project.

After I had been through a period of technical testing and ironing out some early teething problems with the screen printing process (exposure times, modifications to the printing table, finding the right paper stock and screen meshes etc.), I began to think about the artwork I wanted to produce. The drawings I've been producing have been leaning back toward the figurative work of my larger paintings and looking further forward, I eventually came to the conclusion that having two separate artistic endeavors, (under my own name and under the banner of Hand Drawn House), may eventually result in some confusion and conflict; if only for myself. 

From this point forward, I've therefore decided to collect all my work together - selected paintings under my own name and recent HDH works. The website www.simonnaish.co.uk and the Hand Drawn House domain have now become one (both addresses will navigate to the same website). For the time being, I have separated the work in the 'Portfolio' section of the website but from this point onward, there will be more coherence to the featured work, as I transition over to a single website.

I still feel it was necessary, to separate the Hand Drawn House project from my figurative work, as the typography work was more playful and conceived with a different audience in mind. Quite simply, it just seemed distinct from my other work. There has been some relief in bringing it all together however, as I was beginning to experience a blurring of identity, as I pursued both of my artistic ventures simultaneously. From this point forward, I envisage the influence of Hand Drawn House to be present in my work but in increasingly different forms. The incorporation of text into my figurative work, is certainly a direct response to my experiments with typography. In the spirit of re-branding, I've created a new logo for the website and in the next blog post will be sharing some of the processes I've been undergoing, as I produce my first prints from my new studio.

 

Back in Print

In the mid-nineties, shortly after completing my Fine Art degree, I worked for a period of two or three years as a screen printer for a small, family-run business making educational toys. As a period of employment, I look back on it quite fondly now, as I was allowed almost complete autonomy and was left to manage the print side of the business alone (with only the short-lived introduction of one hapless assistant), whilst also having a small degree of responsibility for some of the design work.

Although it was almost entirely production-focused, with very little scope for creativity, the job had introduced me to all aspects of the screen printing process (I had specialised exclusively in painting during my degree). After I left the business to relocate to Manchester however, I took up my brushes again and left the artistic potential of screen printing, largely unexplored. Fast forward 20 years to 2014 and I attended a course, entitled 'The Screen Printed Poster',  hosted by Hot Bed Press and led by screen printer and graphic designer, Nick Rhodes of Switchopen. The idea was simply to reacquaint myself with the process but Nick managed to fire my imagination with his own wonderful prints and his generosity in knowledge sharing; and the potential of the screen printed artwork became an exciting prospect once again.

Based upon design plans that Nick was generous enough to share, I recently decided to build my own vacuum table and establish a small screen printing set-up, within my recently installed, home-based studio. A vacuum table uses air suction through tiny holes in the table's surface (think of an air hockey table with the air current reversed) to hold paper or other lightweight supports, flat to the table and prevents it being lifted by the application of ink. I've included here, a selection of photographs documenting the stages of the construction. I've omitted any detailed descriptions but there are a number of instructive tutorials online, for anyone who would like more information.

 Drilling the air holes. This was the hard bit. Due to the poor battery life of my old drill and the sheer tedium, I had to split this task into three sessions.

Drilling the air holes. This was the hard bit. Due to the poor battery life of my old drill and the sheer tedium, I had to split this task into three sessions.

 On the reverse, an air chamber is created, which will be then be sealed with the base panel of the table. 'Spacers' are added between the holes to distribute the air flow.

On the reverse, an air chamber is created, which will be then be sealed with the base panel of the table. 'Spacers' are added between the holes to distribute the air flow.

 The base is then fixed and made air tight, with only an air hole for the vacuum.

The base is then fixed and made air tight, with only an air hole for the vacuum.

 I bought this shower rail flange from Ebay, for a couple of quid. It holds the suction tube in place underneath the table. Again, it had to be sealed.

I bought this shower rail flange from Ebay, for a couple of quid. It holds the suction tube in place underneath the table. Again, it had to be sealed.

 An old vacuum cleaner, provides the suction. I actually had one stored away, that I'd forgotten about. The roller had broken but the tube attachment works fine.

An old vacuum cleaner, provides the suction. I actually had one stored away, that I'd forgotten about. The roller had broken but the tube attachment works fine.

 Hinge clamps are then attached to hold the screens in place. After this, it was time for testing. Hey, it works!

Hinge clamps are then attached to hold the screens in place. After this, it was time for testing. Hey, it works!

 Superfluous, 'man-at-work', hazard stripes.

Superfluous, 'man-at-work', hazard stripes.

 Up in the gloom of the loft, I've installed my screen exposure unit. It was made with MDF, supported by a timber frame. It has a halogen site light fixed above, to provide the UV needed to expose the screen emulsion. The glass UV filter has been removed. The table base is painted black to absorb the the light and stop it reflecting back through the screen during exposure.

Up in the gloom of the loft, I've installed my screen exposure unit. It was made with MDF, supported by a timber frame. It has a halogen site light fixed above, to provide the UV needed to expose the screen emulsion. The glass UV filter has been removed. The table base is painted black to absorb the the light and stop it reflecting back through the screen during exposure.

Over the last few weeks I've completed a number of exposure tests, to establish the times required to make the screens under the UV lamp. Having got some decent results transferring artwork to screen and investing in some essentials from Manchester supplier screenstretch.co.uk, it's time to get down to the business of printing once again.

I'll be posting the results of my experiments, early in the new year...

 

Christmas Carbooty

On Saturday 12th December at The Wonder Inn in Manchester, the team at Carbooty present a Christmas pop-up event; showcasing local artistic talent and making work available for purchase, at affordable prices.

Carbooty is the work of artist and illustrator, Tasha Whittle and Helen and Elizabeth Wewiora (Wewiora Projects). Working in collaboration with local artists, Carbooty is a free event, combining visual art, crafts, live music and performance. 

As a visitor, I've enjoyed every one of the Northern Art Carbooty's, which take place on the August Bank Holiday, at its resident spot on Primrose Street in the Northern Quarter. It's always a summer highlight and so I'm very pleased that this year, I'll be taking part in their pop-up, Christmas event.

As with any Carbooty event, the emphasis is on the affordable and as well as some Christmas bargains, I've also managed to get my hands on this pin badge maker; so there may even be the odd, little freebie for those who can make it down on the day. 

For more information on all things Carbooty, visit: www.carbootymcr.tumblr.com

 

The Sale Arts Trail's Christmas Bazaar Weekend

 

Last Saturday saw the Sale Arts Trail host their second Christmas Bazaar, with help from all at the The Life Centre in Sale, who provided the venue for this year's event.

From its 10am opening until the doors closed at 5pm, The Life Centre was bustling with visitors looking to pick up original and limited edition artwork by a range of talented artist and makers. 

Work sales aside (which is always nice), it was a pleasure to meet many of the other artists selling their work on the day and to chat with many of the visitors, who had braved the rain to come down to show their support.

Congratulations to all the Sale Arts Trail team for putting together an incredibly well organised event and thanks to all at The Life Centre for their hospitality.


Sale Arts Trail Christmas Bazaar 2015

There's just one week to go until the Sale Arts Christmas Bazaar and as one of just over 30 exhibitors, I will be selling my work, alongside a host of artists, craftspeople and designers at this annual event.

Sale Arts Trail was set up in early 2014, by three local artists; Sophie Nixon, Sarah Malone and Jo Lavelle. The concept of the Sale Arts Trail was to create a trail around Sale, providing the opportunity for the public to visit artists studios, quirky and unusual display spaces, gardens, local shops and local cafes; all exhibiting and selling the work of professional artists and makers in the Trafford area.

Following on from the success of the trail, Sophie, Sarah and Jo launched the first SAT Christmas Bazaar; an art fair where the local community, and further beyond, had the opportunity to come and meet the artists and makers and purchase their work at affordable prices. There is some incredible talent on show this year and I'm thrilled to be a part of this festive, arts extravaganza.

With only 7 days to go, I'm busying myself with work to take along to the main event.  I'll be selling some limited edition works and affordable originals, exclusive to the Sale Arts Christmas Bazaar and I'm currently putting the finishing touches to one or two of the pieces, whilst preparing some final work to begin next week.

For more information and a full list of the 2015 exhibitors, take a look at the Sale Arts Trail's website:

http://saleartstrail.com

Hope to see you there.