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The Travelling Studio

You know when one of those super cheap travel offers pop up on-line? Do you ever wonder what the catch might be? It could be an experience you were not expecting.

Lauren and I went on a quick trip to Bali last year lured by a deal that seemed too good to resist. A superficial look at the Balinese calendar whilst packing showed it was New Year, but festivals are a commonplace and everyday occurrence in Indonesia so I didn’t investigate too closely but looked forward to the spectacle.

We had a lovely little villa with its own pool surrounded by high walls in a village on the edge of Seminyak. Lauren speaks Bahasa so she quickly learnt from our driver that our three day trip was going to be curtailed by a whole day of house arrest for the Balinese festival of Nyepi or ‘Day of Silence’. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Nyepi New Year celebrations are a three part ritual towards spiritual purification. The first part involves a cleansing of oneself and sacred objects in the sea or rivers. The second part is the driving out of evil spirits and the third part is the day of silence for self reflection.

Before our lock-in we had a day of driving about and the ubiquitous trip to Ubud. In every village along the road we saw preparations for the festival with enormous statues of the Ogoh-Ogoh – often a grotesque witch like female with pendulous breasts and bird like claws. They had been created out of wire and foam and papier-maché. Some figures were contorted in battle with other evil spirits and were fantastically painted and elaborately dressed with wild hair, gold paint and staring eyes .

Nyepi, Bali, Balinese New Year, Ogoh-ogoh, Seminyak, Travel, Bali review

On the night itself we watched with the celebrating crowds as the Ogoh-ogohs from the surrounding areas were carried into the main street of Seminyak and paraded to the beating of drums and fire crackers. There was much maneuvering and sweating as the huge floats were moved with teams of traditionally dressed Balinese all trying to outdo the other groups while men with bamboo poles strategically held up the overhead cables .  There was Balinese dancing in front of the temple and then a heart thumpingly loud re-enactment of a traditional story from the Ramayana. The cacophony of noise rouses the evil spirits until the ceremonial burning of the statues in open ground just before midnight.

The following day the whole of Bali shuts down from 6am for twenty four hours. The evil spirit, having been driven out the night before, fly over the country and fooled by the quiet, fly away thus ensuring peace for another year. This national inactivity is strictly enforced with patrols to ensure that no one, excepting medical emergencies, is on the streets or beaches. Shops are shut and local radio and television is closed down. Even the airport and airspace is closed. Traditionally speaking there is a ban on fire, activity, travel and entertainment.

Within the walls of our villa we floated in the pool looking up at the sky surrounded by the falling flowers of the frangipani trees and marveled at the utter peace. I couldn’t imagine such a day being enforced in either the UK or Hong Kong but I thought how wonderful it would be for us all if it could. It was deeply quiet in a way we are quite unused to. The un-owned itch of noise that surrounds us; distant traffic, overhead planes, voices, radios, slamming doors was not just absent but were as if they had never been. Instead there was the sound of birds, running water and the breeze in the trees.

Nyepi, Bali, Villa, travel, artist, traveling studio, Louella Odie

 In the evening, moving about in the unfamiliar kitchen trying to compile a picnic type meal I absent mindedly switched on a lamp and quickly a knock at the outside door asked us to switch it off. Then there was nothing to do but to lie back and watch the geckos racing about the roof space in the deepening gloom until the density of an unlit sky revealed stars so bright it was like being on a boat far off shore.

We had come to Bali with an overly ambitious list of things to see and do and in the end we did almost none of it but found something much more memorable. We were fortunate we were staying in a villa. I understand in a hotel guests are not permitted to venture outside the grounds although they can use all the hotel facilities. For us it was bliss to loll in the shade all day. The following day there was a sleepy return to a semblance of normality. For the Balinese this is a family day so for tourists many places remained closed. I wasn’t sorry, I found the peace addictive and had to be cajoled out by Lauren who wanted to explore on foot.

This year Nyepi is on March 28 and if one of those bargain flights suddenly appears and

you need a shot of tropical meditation you know where to go.

what is original art, print, print maker, louella odie, karen mead
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Fine Art Prints, what is SO original about that?

Its Art Fair time in Hong Kong again.

Of course I love the idea that lots of people aspire to own real art. Part of the reason I am passionate about print making is because I like the democracy of multiple images meaning prices can be lower and more accessible to buyers. However Fine Art printmakers get all hot under the apron when they see galleries selling Fine Art Prints, all convincingly signed and numbered, which are not true originals but reproductions. It may be difficult for the uninitiated to understand the difference especially when galleries themselves are keen to blur the distinctions, and in some cases the people working there are quite uncertain themselves.

Here is my cents worth;

print, printmaking, Karen Mead, Louella Odie, in the studio, artist

To make a lino print, I draw directly onto my sheet of lino ( my plate) then I carve or cut the plate, or plates. I roll ink onto the surface using a brayer. I place a sheet of paper on top of the inked surface. I burnish (rub) the back of the paper with a spoon, or a barren, and this transfers the image to the paper. The first completed image that I consider finished is called an Artists Proof (AP) and there may be a few of these as I tweak the final details. Essentially the Artists Proof is the standard that the rest of the edition will follow. Some artists sell APs and sometimes they attract a premium price.

I decide how big my edition will be – as few as five to as many as 100 or more for some artists who sell well. The edition size is the artist’s promise that only that number of prints will be produced. Printing the same plate in very different colours can be a new edition or be marked EV (Edition Variable).

I keep my editions very small so I may repeat the process of inking and burnishing the image about 5 times and certainly less than ten times. The prints that make the grade are numbered and signed in sequence 1/5, 2/5, 3/5 etc, with the edition size being the second number. This, with variations in the process, is what makes an Original Fine Art Print; lino cut, wood cut or engraving, etching or silkscreen. The hand of the artist  (or their assistant, but in any case, a human) is involved in the production of the image.

print, print making, in the studio, handmade, art, artist, Karen Mead, Louella Odie

A digital print designed on a computer and then printed through a printer also counts as an original work of art- the original being in the computer doesn’t exist elsewhere in a different medium. The process that changes all this to a reproduction is where an artist producing a painting or a drawing (the original) then has the work photographed or scanned and printed using an inkjet printer. This is a giclée print (French for ‘to spray’ which is what the jet in ‘inkjet’ printing does). Essentially it is a high quality photocopy.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong in a giclée print – there is a place for posters and all levels of consumable image but a giclée is not an original, numbering and signing doesn’t change things and this should be reflected in the price with galleries making buyers aware of what they are purchasing. It is important to realise that if the art work, once photographed, were to be manipulated significantly in the computer to look very different from the original and then printed on the inkjet it becomes an original digital print again.

The question the potential buyer needs to keep asking is ‘where is the original?’ If you can point to the identical image in a different medium the chances are the print is not a Fine Art print.



Lino cutting demonstration-reduction cut-ernes Burton buttons-registration
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Lino Cutting – you thought it was relaxing? Reduction Printing explained

I am often asked if lino-cutting involves some sort of brain gymnastics because of the idea that working with the image in reverse seems to imply a need for slightly deviant thinking. The back-to-frontness of relief printing is nothing however (unless you are using text), compared to the terror which strikes beginner printers when they have to think in coloured layers which happens with multi plate prints. Then you suggest to them that these layers all happen on the same piece of lino in a fixed order with no mistakes allowed and I suppose what seemed like a relaxing, even meditative process becomes a test with one false move potentially ruining hours of work. Hence the bleak alternative name of ‘Suicide Cut’. Some people react with meticulous planning of each layer to prevent mistakes but I prefer a less rigid approach which does sometimes lead to disaster but keeps the whole process alive and exciting.

I thought I would demonstrate with a little lino cut of a dove using soft-cut vinyl. A reduction cut is exactly as it sounds, you cut away reducing the lino and print the colours in layers usually from light to dark. Obviously by the end of the process you will have very little of the plate remaining and lots of shredded lino on the floor.

You can see in the right hand image how much of the lino has been removed – everything in fact except that which I wanted to print in black.
But to begin at the beginning; I draw directly onto the lino with a biro. The image will be reversed when printed of course but unless you particularly need the image to face one way this need not be a issue.
Then, looking at my drawing, I cut away anything I want to remain white (assuming you are printing onto white paper) Often there is very little to cut at this stage – perhaps a few highlights.
Then I ink up the plate (1) in the lightest colour of the image – here that was  a soft purple/pink. The plate is registered to the board so that in each of the subsequent layers the plate and the paper come together in the same place. I cut a lino-plate sized hole in the cardboard which holds it in place and the paper is secured using the clips you can see (which are called Ternes Burton tabs)

To create the next layer (2) I cleaned the ink from the plate – the original biro drawing was still visible on the lino and I cut away any part of the image that I want to keep pink; the breast feathers and the lightest parts of the face.
For my second inking I mix up a greyish lilac. This covers the pink except where the new cuts are. Of course what was cut in the first layer stays white. The process is repeated with layers 3, 4 and 5 with progressively darker colours. If you don’t get the paper in exactly the right place you get a blur which can look quite interesting if the subject involves motion, or a double vision which implies drunkenness which is less useful. Any marks from the cut surface which transfer accidentally are called ‘noise’ and some printmakers revere them as a sign of the artist’s hand while others freak out at what they consider ‘mess’.
What I always find fascinating is how colours vary hugely when put alongside other shades. This can be manipulated using translucent layers of ink so that the colour from below blends with over-printing and makes a third tone. This is where my lack of planning leads me astray as strange colour combinations are a frequent result. However I am a great fan of the happy accident and nothing is ever really wasted.

The finished print!

I’d be really interested to hear from other printers about their techniques or if you do anything different to me when it comes to reduction print cuttings. Happy printing!

eleanor mccoll-hong kong artist
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Artist in the Spotlight: Eleanor McColl

Could you tell us a little bit about your work and how you came to be in Hong Kong? 

I am a multi-disciplinary artist, focused on collage, photomontage and painting.  I first came to Hong Kong with a great friend from University who grew up here. We did a two month work placement for the amazing Lindsey Macalister at the Youth Arts Festival and a fabulous costume designer (Roberto Conti), who had us making 18th Century wigs, horses heads and dyeing ballerina’s leotards. It was a whirlwind of experiences and I fell in love with Hong Kong and the creative energy I felt then, and still do. I came back to help set up an art school the day I’d finished my degree and two years after that I set up my own art school Chameleon Workshop which I ran for 11 years before changing the business to make room for my own art.

How much time do you spend each week working on your art?

I divide my time between working as an Artist in Residence in schools and my own art practice. I also launched a range of Fine Art kits together with a toy company a few years ago, so I try to dedicate time to growing this side of my business too. There’s not a enough time in the day to do everything that I want to do Art-wise, but I’ve learnt to  catalog my ideas and prioritize what I can do now and what I need to leave for time when life is less hectic (with three small children!) and I can give the ideas the space they need. I am a bit of a workaholic, although I’m not sure I’d be calling myself that if I were in any other profession, I absolutely love what I do and so I find it hard to sit still. I love the diversity in what I do as every day is different.

What inspires you about Hong Kong?

Anything and everything! From the peeling walls, graffiti and washing hanging from the windows to the shimmering reflections on the tallest skyscrapers. I am constantly inspired and I love the ‘can do’ attitude and open-mindedness that makes Hong Kong so unique.

Are you part of a creative community in Hong Kong or is there a supportive community of creatives you can turn to?

I am lucky to have some very talented friends teaching art and also pursuing their own art careers, all of whom are hugely supportive. I love meeting people and over the past 17 years I do have a lovely group of arty friends. However I wouldn’t say I am part of the larger art community as such and that’s partly my own reserve and reluctance to network. It’s definitely something that I hope to connect with further. Being an artist is very much like running your own business and that doesn’t come naturally to most creatives, but like anyone in business you have to go and get it, it doesn’t just come to you. I feel ready for that now.

Funnily enough, it’s been on my to do list to try and set up an informal creative community or collective, but again…I just need a longer day!

What’s next for you in 2017?

This year I’ve been asked to join the Micro Galleries team as a Creative Associate (Global), which is hugely exciting. Micro Galleries is a free global arts initiative that brings together international and local artists and sets up open-air galleries in urban spaces that are in creative and/or social need. I can’t wait to work with them this year (you can see more at I am also working on a new collection that I am hoping to show later this year or in early 2018 – watch this space!

Keep up to date with Eleanor’s latest news and collections
here and here.

How to Start a Sketchbook, or Drawing for the Anxious

Drawing is a little act of discovery. It helps you to see what you are looking at more clearly and it makes real what you can only imagine.

It unblocks creativity and it calms a restless mind.

That’s quite a tall order for a bit of scribble.

I have drawn quite compulsively all my life, anywhere on any scrap of paper – in cheque books (when they were still a thing) and in the margins of every newspaper.

About 15 years ago I was feeling stuck artistically and decided that a more disciplined approach was needed. I bought a sketch book, not too big as I planned to carry it with me every day and not too small as tiny pages are the equivalent of pursed lips – a little ungenerous.
I decided the rules of this new experiment were that I would draw daily even if there was nothing specific to look at. I would keep it private and I wouldn’t judge or even look at my own work until I got to the end of the book.

It turns out that drawing and looking are just muscles – the more you exercise them the more natural it feels. Like anything that takes time to master, you need to be kind and patient with yourself. The sketch book is a private place for you to do wonky drawings, to record the world anyway you feel. It is not meant to be high art, it can be a doodle or a list of words.

You are developing lines that are a code for the world as you see it and which perhaps only you can decipher. Those scribbles are the visual equivalent of musical scales; practising aims to make your fingers dexterous enough to describe what your eyes can see without going through the filter of your brain.

Ever since that first experiment I have continued with the drawing habit and I developed my rituals and idiosyncrasies. When I am really motoring creatively I can fill a book in about eight weeks but other times I might carry the same one for eight months. I date them on the spine when they are full and I keep them all. When I look at them I can remember very clearly how I felt at the time of doing the drawing so they work almost like diaries for me.
Nowadays I am quite fussy about the exact dimensions of my book and when I find the landscape shape I like I buy a few so I know I won’t be forced to draw in a book that is ‘wrong’. I can’t abide spiral bound books as that spine feels like a fence to me and I can’t get my left-handed claw over it.

The paper must be smooth and the cover plain and I prefer to begin at the back and I favour the left side of each double page.

Then there is the ritual of starting a new book. Once the old sketchbook is nearly full I can’t wait to start a fresh one, but still, all those empty fresh pages unnerve me and I have to get over a sort of performance anxiety. I have two solutions – one is to start the first drawing a few pages into the book and the other is to take a drawing or print that I like out of the old book and paste it into the front cover. I think of it like a drawing-probiotic- seeding the new book with a healthy, scribbly-yoghurt culture of elegant lines and accurate observations – that at least is the wish!

Once I established that habit of jumping into the book instead of starting sensibly on the first page I realised I had to go backwards towards the front cover as well as forwards towards the end and Lo! the oppression of chronology was broken as well – freedom. Now I draw on any page and often,any way up and frankly I can’t find anything in a hurry. Still, I like the way the landscape of the book can be varied depending on where you open it and I enjoy the juxtaposition of images drawn non-consecutively.

used to write in my books as well but I have tried to stop that as supermarket lists are a waste of nice paper and always mundane. Nowadays I include photocopies of my lino prints or pictures of more complete work as it helps to contextualise what else was going on at the time. As I constantly wonder what I have done with the years this is a reminder that I am not always staring out of the window.

For others who may want to develop the habit I say don’t  over think it, just grab a pencil or a biro or a pen you are comfortable with and sketch something. Draw what you can see from where you are sitting now. Draw the back of the head of the person in front. Draw the empty corner of the room.

Look at what you are seeing, only glance at your drawing. Squash your inner voice and keep going until you think you have finished then slam the book shut without a considered look at your work.
Thats it!

Do it again tomorrow. Leave it a week until you check today’s drawing- you will have done seven drawing since then and today’s effort will be a mere waft of memory- the volatile angst has evaporated away and you can judge your work for what it is – just an idea of something to work on and improve. Not a reproach that you are not Leonardo.

lattice wool scarf- winter style-organiser bag- small handbag
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How to look stylish in winter

As you may have noticed we have recently moved our studio from tropical Lamma Island in Hong Kong to the slightly chillier Isle of Wight. After six years of living in constant humidity I had forgotten quite how many layers an English winter requires. Scarves can (and do) stay on all day, regardless of whether you are inside or out, so it makes sense to pick a nice one.

Our Lattice scarf is 50% wool and 50% silk, giving it just the right level of snuggle factor, but with it’s sophisticated print it helps tie your whole look together (Karen and I call this an ‘outfit maker’) Here are a couple of our suggestions of different ways to style it:

Wear it loose, looped or knotted, it will go with anything. (Styled here together with: Vegan friendly faux leather jacket from Miss SelfridgeJ Brand Grey JeansRoberto Festa Boots (on sale!)Trouva Freedom Watch in black and goldIphone case from Skinnydip LondonOrganiser Bag in Lattice from Louella Odié)

Shop Greige Lattice Scarf

The Lattice Scarf comes gift boxed and with free shipping for all orders – don’t let your neck go cold this winter!

(Styled here together with: Camel coat from Walker White and Warren turtleneck jumperPaige jeansSaint Laurent suede boots Stella Mccartney cat-eye sunniesMulberry Postman’s Pocket Lock Book)

Shop Cocoa Lattice Scarf

Lattice pattern-lattice scarf-fuck weasel brooches
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100 Days of Pronoia

New Year and all its resolutions is supposed to be an optimistic time of year, which is a burden if you are habitually negative. Like most pessimists I believe I am a realist, that is to say I don’t think things will always go badly but I do think a bit of shit in life’s sandwich is to be anticipated, and moaning about it and hearing others worry about potential bogey-men is one of life’s secret pleasures and essentially what gin and chocolate were invented for. All we can often do for our families and friends is to just be there to help stiffen their resolve and pour the drinks as they wade through horrible times.

That was really the function of the original Fuck Weasel that I made for Lauren. A reminder to her that your attitude is both armour and sword. I find shit-deniers much harder to understand than those who have a colossal venting whinge about life’s unfairness and then plough bravely on. In our family my husband is an optimist of frankly heroic proportions. This is surprisingly annoying to live with. He sees every domestic calamity as minor and most major disasters as mere irritations. Like the cartoon where the character can run off the cliff and keep going in mid air until he looks down and falls, my husband just refuses to look down. Ever. We call it his pronoia – a belief that the world is conspiring to help him or a belief that everything is great despite the evidence. I don’t understand it at all but I do envy how much more simple his universe is. For him there is only fixable-shit and ignorable-shit and therefore he gets things done.

For me there is shit-happening, shit-that-might-hit-the-fan, old-shit-that-I-haven’t-dealt-with, and worst of all; The-Big-shit- that-I-cant-yet-see and every shade of brown in between. It is often paralysing.

At the start of 2017 I have decided I would like a taste of this pronoia stuff. I don’t think I could sign up for a whole year but I am going to commit to 100 days of positive thinking and shit-ignoring which by my calculation takes me to April 10th, by coincidence the date of the first human-cannon ball act in London in 1877 and if that isn’t an act of positive thinking I don’t know what is.

For the next 100 days I will be wearing the rose-tinted specs and posting every sparkly and frankly tenuous grateful thought to counter the natural procrastinating grump which is me in the months after Christmas (sans gin and chocolate). If I promise not to use #blessed (to which I am severely allergic) please please can you point me in the right direction for some grateful thoughts?

Rats! already two days behind…..

1) Positive thought: two days behind on my positive thinking and therefore only 98 to go.

2) Positive thought for today: found a forgotten box of new pencils and got that ‘start of term’ feeling.