Art & Design Magazine

New Mixed Media Pieces

By Ianbertram @IanBertram

Some time ago I was a member of the now defunct Spectro Arts Workshop in Newcastle. On a photography course there, I studied the Zone System first devised by photographer Ansel Adams. The key to this is the concept of 'pre-visualisation' – knowing before you take the photograph, where in the image you want to place particular tonal values and setting your exposure accordingly. In theory this did away with the need for extensive dodging and burning in, although I suspect Adams did more of this than he was willing to admit to in public. In one discussion, I recall someone joking about 'post-visualisation' – the idea of finding a photographic composition you didn't know you had until you looked at the processed film. I recalled this discussion while thinking about some recent small works on paper, which began their lives as monotypes which for one reason or another didn't make the grade as finished prints.

I make a lot of monotypes. Many of these are quickly made to test out color combinations or to get a feel for compositional structures and are never meant to be 'finished' works of art. Some nevertheless turn out quite well and often have an intense jewel-like quality that appeals to me. Others are less successful. They may be very flat with little tonal variation (a common problem for me), the composition may not work out or if the inks are too thick they may 'squish' out (technical printing term!) and end up in the wrong place. I tend to hang on to these 'failures' for a while since what looks wrong at the time may well appeal six months later, when the memory of what I was attempting has faded and I can look at them with fresh eyes. Even after that review I don't throw them away. At worst, I can cut them up to use in collage or to make collagraph plates. Sometimes it is possible find a workable print within what is otherwise a failure. My daughter has used pieces of old prints as a backdrop for assemblages of shells or other objects in box frames.

I've now started using these failures in a new way – new to me at any rate – by working into them with oil pastel. I did a few a little while ago using soft pastel, but recently I have been working with oil pastel. I can change tonal relationships, modify the composition, add visual texture or simply use the rejected print as an underpainting to a new piece of work. All these approaches are reflected in the new set of works posted on Flickr and embedded here in slide show format.

I have scans of some of these in their original state and where possible I will post these on Flickr for comparison. Some of these pieces will eventually also appear in the shop, but before I can do that I need to get them mounted and into protective bags otherwise as with soft pastel the surface may get damaged.

My next step is to try this as an explicit technique, planing the image from the start, rather than relying on serendipity

Postscript: Scanning these proved slightly problematic. Like soft pastel these pieces are prone to shedding particles from the surface and I was concerned that these might leave smears on my scanner bed. I solved the problem by cutting a piece of acrylic the size of the bed and laying this in place first. This can be cleaned, if need be with moisture, without running the risk of damaging the scanner.

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