Sunday 15 October 2023

Making Dry Stone Walling for Hendon & Holborn

For my penultimate MA exhibition, I decided to return to dry stone walling and revisit and refine 'A World We Share?', a piece first presented in December at 'Up in the Air'.

'A World We Share?', 2022, by Carolyn Murphy

This work is fundamentally a large repeat pattern etching, which is embossed and hand-embellished. It's a time-consuming process because of the size of the metal etching plate, which takes time to ink up, wipe and then add a roll-over layer. It is embossed while the paper is still wet. This stage takes about an hour to complete.

Adding the roll-over


The embellishment process involves watercolour painting, ink rubs, pencil and Indian ink - all designed to emphasise texture and depth.

Adding watercolour

Embossed and embellished surface close-up

Because this is a repeat pattern it will create infinite dry stone walling and the design will match up. When I first presented the work in December 2022 it had straight edges and consisted of 3 x 4 panels, hung from an overhead support.

I was fairly happy with the piece at the time but felt it had more potential, so I decided to make one and a half times the amount - another 18 etchings. This gave me a total of over 7 square metres to play with for a new installation. At home in Manchester I experimented with the layout, finding the kitchen floor too small.

Kitchen floor checks

Testing going round corners

I also experimented with going around corners with tests in my studio space.

I particularly wanted to make more of the edges and organic form, so cut and reassembled the sections in Hendon in the BA studios where 'Present Continuous' our exhibition was taking place in September 2023.

Emphasising the edges

The result was a radical shift and the artwork was attached directly to the wall with Velcro and extended
around two corners in the space. It had the feel of a spreading organism. Cutting the work up was a leap of faith, as I had to then reassemble, using the cut piece elsewhere, like a huge jigsaw.

'A World We Share?' September 2023, Hendon

In October 2023, 'A Space We Share?' was shown as part of my first solo exhibition 'Reclaiming' at Holborn Library along with two other installation works. Here it was mounted high on a flat wall, backed by panels to aid the installation. It fitted the space well and seemed to grow out of the Library wall, fitting well with the Festival them of 'Grow'.

'A World We Share?' October 2023, Holborn Library

Friday 29 September 2023

Making 'Below the Pike', my RA Summer Exhibition 2023 print

Since August 2022, I've been experimenting with textured, colourful collagraph techniques to create semi-abstracted landscapes. One of them, loosely based on Stoodley Pike, above Todmorden, in Yorkshire had an extreme vertical composition and a sense of layering which I found interesting and suggestive of depth and space. This is the print I decided to submit for the RA Summer Exhibition. 

'Below the Pike'

I had thought of submitting in previous years - and almost managed it in 2022 - however the MA course gave me new courage and tutors have been encouraging us to get our work out and apply for as many  opportunities as possible, so finally I submitted in January 2023, after making sure I could replicate the work in a small edition.

Drying on boards

I've included a few images of the process of making the work. It's inked up with multiple colours at the same time, later ink is wiped off, firstly with scrim (a mesh-like tarlatan cloth material), then newsprint, before putting the plate through the press. Here's the plate:

The plate

On the press

My work was shortlisted, so I delivered the framed piece to the Royal Academy, with great excitement in May 2023. 

Delivering to the RA at Coronation time!

'Below the Pike' made it to the wall - high up in Gallery 5, where I found it (eventually) on 'Varnishing Day', now a preview event only for exhibiting artists, previously the day when paintings were varnished before being exhibited. 

Exhibitor pass

Varnishing Day with fellow exhibitor Mo Nicolai

It was amazing to see the Summer Exhibition from the inside! I was convinced my work was too high to attract much attention, but I didn't mind because it was on the wall in the Royal Academy! 

It's high up!

However, fabulously 9 of the limited edition of 10 sold during the Summer Exhibition, which ran from 13 June to 20 August. The remaining print is still available online through the Royal Academy sales site, until 30 November. What an incredible experience. I plan to keep submitting every year now, just in case!

A huge thank you to everyone who visited, bought and supported me on this fantastic journey.

Monday 4 April 2022

The Making of 'Staying Local' for TAE22

This year I have been a volunteer blogger for Twitter Art Exhibit (TAE), writing about other artists and their work whenever I've had the time. So I know the 2022 exhibition and charity sale of original artwork is coming up fast! All work is donated by artists from across the globe, for a great cause. In 2022, that's the Encephalitis Society - and the exhibition takes place in York on 25 June, and then online. 

In other years I've submitted a linocut. I usually experiment, as all works are one-offs, so need to be monoprints, in printmaking terms. For me it always feels like a great opportunity to try something new. So this year, I decided to create a hand-coloured etching, based on some of the very local sketches I have been doing during lockdowns in Manchester. 'Staying Local' is an etching with watercolour spot colour. 

'Staying Local' by Carolyn Murphy

Decision between options

First I created the etching plate, working with acid at Prospect Studio in Rossendale. Then I experimented with the plate, adding watercolour to varying degrees. After a few tests, it came down to a decision between two and I chose the one above (on the left here). I preferred the more minimalistic spot colour to bring the natural environment to the fore in a very urban setting.

Other local sketches took me as far as the end of the street or to different angles on the shared garden or 'croft' behind us. This is the scene 'Staying Local' is based on - but with fewer Autumn leaves.

An Autumn view

I hope 'Staying Local' proves popular and raising much-needed funds in June. It's always a pleasure to take part. If you want to know more about Twitter Art Exhibit, their website link is here.

Thursday 24 March 2022

Becoming a Middlesex University MA student

As of January 2022, I'm a student again! I hadn't really expected that, at this stage in my life, but it feels just right and I am absolutely loving it! To be precise, I'm a part-time student on the Middlesex University MA Fine Art Printmaking programme, which runs from January 2022 until December 2023. He's a picture of me at the Hendon campus, on my 'first day', when I went to pick up my student ID and look around.

Carolyn on campus at Hendon

Every Fine Art and Fine Art Printmaking student gets a space in the MA studio in the Grove building, nearby. Although I'm splitting my time between Manchester and London, I was keen to 'move in', so took a number of new monotypes down to Hendon for the studio wall. 

I'm planning to add more work bit by bit. In the last month, I've printed at the printmaking workshop on campus, as well as at home and at Hot Bed Press in Salford. The train journeys mean transporting work is a little tricky, but I now have a plan chest drawer in Hendon, so that's a start!

We have a great group of students on the programme and our first exhibition is coming up fast - opening on 14 April. Details are on my website news page about the (re)FLEX exhibition in Hoxton.

Friday 15 October 2021

Behind the Scenes on 'September Evening'

For this year's 20:20 print exchange I decided to capture a familiar and favourite view. It's one I've seen a lot of during recent lockdowns and on a warm, summer evening, it's hard to beat. Nothing exotic - it's the view to the west from our own backyard in Manchester. Our own little space, haven and outside space. From here we have watched the bats and the International Space Station fly over regularly. The shared garden behind has mature trees, hedgehog residents and an insect hotel, amongst other things.

I've included below some reference photos I took - both day and evening to guide me:

One of the trickiest challenges was how to take the image over the edges of the paper and register consistently. Thank you to printmakers on Facebook's Linocut Friends site for suggestions and tips! I finally went for face down registration - using a basic template. 

I then started by testing gradation colours, to explore how best to create a good illusion of twilight. After deciding on a composition and what to include and leave out, I finalised the design and transferred it to the lino in pencil. The cutting was fairly intricate - especially the section with the leaves. You can see some work in progress shots here:

Trying alternative colours

Starting to cut the lino plate

The tree section starts to emerge

Initial cutting completed

From here I proofed the plate in the my chosen colour way, removed and refined elements to clean up the image. Once I was happy with a proof image, it was time to print the full 20:20 edition of 25 for Prospect Printmakers submissions.

First rough proof

Later proof

One of the challenges I spotted late was that printing right to the edges means you can't peg prints up, which is my normal route. Maybe I finally need to look at flat drying racks after all! In the meantime, I have all the edition drying on the studio floor. And the gorgeous studio cat is temporarily banned! This is how the edition developed:

The gradation - printed from a plain lino block

Printing the edition

The finished linocut edition - drying on the floor

The plate and the image together

Saturday 2 October 2021

Making 'Crosby Beach' linocut

This linocut started a while ago with a visit to Crosby Beach to see Antony Gormley's 'Another Place' sculpture installation, 100 cast iron figures over more than a mile of beach, all staring out to sea. It has an eerie feel, with some figures half submerged in the water, or in the sandy beach itself, some covered in seaweed and barnacles, one even wearing a Liverpool football shirt!

The figures are all life-size and moulded from Sir Antony Gormley's own body. They look out to sea, where the flow of oil tankers and container ships come in to the Port of Liverpool, nearby.  

The beach was busy with dog walkers and tourists on the day I visited. As the tide comes in, some of the figures are full submerged. I wanted to capture this strange place, on the edge of an industrial heartland, in a new linocut. 'Another Place' was a regeneration project, and has been hugely popular, bringing visitors to the area. It's a difficult place to capture because of the emptiness! I chose a composition with multiple figures and the reflections in the pools on the beach, and included the ships and a few people to bring a sense of space and try to capture the feel of Crosby Beach. 

Here are some images of the linocut in development. I used a gradation and was keen to capture the textures and shadows on the figures and in the sand.

Planning and cutting the 4 plates

A gradation from sand to sky

Early stage proof, printing plate 2

More cutting, revisions and a later stage proof

A final proof

Starting to print the edition in my studio

'Crosby Beach' is not yet available, so this will give you an idea of a project that is coming soon.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Grayson Perry's Art Club exhibition

Grayson Perry's Art Club exhibition eventually opened, after various lockdown delays, at Manchester Art Gallery - and it was great to get along last weekend. 

The exhibition runs until 31 October 2021. It was far larger than I'd anticipated, so I'd like to return to spend more time taking it all in, especially as the individual stories were beautifully captured alongside each work. I found it moving to read about so many artists' experiences during the pandemic and it really captured the power of art to heal and help, as well as to capture ideas and moments.

Here are a few photos - the quality is not great, but they will act as a good reminder of some of my favourite works, well the ones I was able to capture anyway!

Paul Green's small wire sculptures 'Lockdown Birds' 

Alex Robinson's clay figurines 'ComputerWorld'

Singh Twins' 'NHS v Covid-19: Fighting on Two Fronts'

Raqib Shaw's birchwood panel 'Ode to the country without a post office'

Grayson Perry's 'Tea Towel'