Category Archives: Workshops and Meetings

Papermaking Workshop with Jane Ponsford

Box Hill – 12thAugust 2018

This was a free, one and a half hour workshop held out in the open (although under a gazebo) in front of the Zig Zag café, right at the top of Box Hill. A great location and such a good opportunity to try something new.

Jane Ponsford is an artist and papermaker who creates books, sculpture  and installations. I found out about her from a recent newsletter from Surrey Hills Arts  which is a partnership between Surrey Arts, Surrey County Council and the Surrey Hills – aiming to “engage and inspire people with this outstanding landscape and its unique natural, cultural and industrial heritage through the arts”. One of their recent projects was “Surrey Unearthed” which involved ten artists (Jane being one of them) who would explore and celebrate the materials that form this landscape during 2018.

Jane’s Project is “Terrain”  (running from June 2018 and April 2019) during which she is collecting and cataloguing materials from the landscape and creating installations incorporating these and other pieces (made independently and with others) in four locations . This multi-media/multi-medium approach is one that I have become increasingly attracted towards during the past year and I was disappointed that I actually missed the Exhibition that was held at Leith Hill Place during July. Still, at least I was able to attend the papermaking workshop and there will be some further events.

The Workshop

We were a mixed range of ages – from around 4 years old to me – and all were well catered-for. Given the shortness of the workshop Jane had prepared the paper pulps – one plain and also some others incorporating various natural dyes. She showed us  the mould and deckle – two separate frames.  One is the mould which has mesh screening through which the watery residue of the pulp can strain.  The other – the deckle – is like a wooden box frame which forms the edge of a piece of paper when laid loosely on top of the mould. We were then shown how to dip the frame into the pulp, shake out most of the water and turn out onto a cotton square with some felt beneath it before being pegged out to dry off a bit.  In fact here is a Youtube video that shows the process, except we didn’t have access to a press/heat due to being outside rather than in a workshop – hence the pegging-out.

Then we moved on to trying out the dyed pulp plus placing material such as petals and seeds into the paper utilising a small piece of mesh dipped lightly into the pulp and then pressed onto the material so it becomes a part of the paper.

The next part was to try out some dyes on white paper. I’m thinking of trying out some anthotypes using bramble dye so I tried this out. I mentioned the possibility of anthotypes to Jane and we had a brief discussion as to using paper that had been “sized: (I must check this out in my anthotypes book) Jane said that the dye might not be as intense but she had some ‘sized” paper so I gave it a try using the bramble dye again plus some oak gall dye.

It  was a short introductory workshop but I felt I’d learned a lot and want to do more.  Damp papers folded in a j-cloth then plastic bag; carried carefully to car and then home to dry and begin a new collection.






A Study Visit to Phytology and Bethnal Green Nature Reserve

A Visit to Phytology and Bethnal Green Nature Reserve – 28thJuly 2018

This was the first of the multi-disciplinary “Art and Environment Study Days: Ideas from the Soil “offered by OCA tutors Melissa Thompson and Dan Robinson.

The objective was to:-

  • Meet other creative people and share ideas
  • Think about nature’s influence on art and design whilst recording the experiences
  • Improve and experiment with drawing/photography
  • Have fun with tools and materials, try alternative ways of using a tool
  • Challenge creative thinking; generate ideas and new ways of working

What interested me was that the project is a collaboration between a group of artists and Teesdale & Hollybush Tenants and Residents Association which had been taking care of the land since the late 1990s. the aim being to protect the space, educate the public about home grown food and medicine  and so use these programmes and artistic projects to demonstrate the ecological value of retaining the land rather than using it for building at the time of a housing crisis.  Phytology itself is part of Nomad Projects, “an independent commissioning foundation that provides support for contemporary artists to develop socially relevant work within the public realm”. There is more about their projects here

Information about Bethnal Green Nature Reserve,  its history and its trees and shrubs can be found here  and the Phytology medicinal garden can be found here

The Day

The small nature reserve is hidden away in Bethnal Green and protected by railings around the perimeter which are slowly being entwined by green growth.  The gate is open and I step inside to a wonderful smell of loamy soil as the leaves dance on the trees to sing a welcome.   My overwhelming impression was of light, airy greenness with its delicate overarching canopy.

There were eight of us in the group to be welcomed by Melissa and Dan.

During introductions and initial discussions, I was aware of not only a shared interest in the environment and landscape but also a desire by everyone to collaborate at a multi-disciplinary level and learn from other artists which is so reassuring. Following this Michael Smythe, who established Nomad Projects in 2009, came to say hello and, after we’d been reminded that some liquid refreshment had been brought for us – some soft, smooth Mallow tea (we’d been so busy talking to each other that we hadn’t noticed!), Michael  gave us a brief talk about this particular project and then gave us a tour –  bypassing a group in another small clearing who were learning about the use of medicinal plants – ending up at the garden. It’s quite small actually but, again, with that sense of slight wildness, with plants not quite contained as they butted up against each other. The Phytology site informs that there are twenty-three different medicinal plants.  I knew about dandelion and burdock, remembered eating ‘bread and cheese’ hawthorn leaves; am quite often stung by common nettles (thank goodness I know about the value of dock leaves), but hadn’t heard about most of the others.  I still can’t quite work out how the marsh mallow root was formally used to create marshmallows – those soft, fluffy confections which are often covered in chocolate.

We then returned to our own space to begin the first set of exercises – five of us chose a slip which gave instructions to follow, all of which encouraged us to observe our environment in different ways.  The first set of exercises was about observing growth noticing, documenting and finding relationships with non-human beings in the garden – intervening and interacting. My major realisation was that although I enjoy being in green spaces I’m not good at learning or remembering the names of plants and I discussed with another member of the group how different this is when meeting people – we want to know all about them and knowing their name is important. This made me think about the naming of things, and I mused how much knowing the names of plants might make we humans feel more connected with them as an essential part of our environment.

Actually, this Nature Reserve is one of those places like Dr Who’s telephone box – it takes up a relatively small area yet somehow expands when you’re inside it due to the clever way in which the paths have been created to encourage wandering, explore, discover small artist installations scattered around, bird boxes, small pools. Occasionally I could see fleeting figures flitting behind whispering, leafy screens. Feeling out of time somehow, almost like I’d wandered into a fairy glade – a Midsummer’s Day dream offering some natural healing.

Then it was time for lunch and we joined in with a wonderful shared lunch (held every Saturday from 26thMay to 1stSeptember) cooked and prepared by local residents, using fresh ingredients from the medicine garden.  We were joined by Nick Bridge, Writer in Residence who visits weekly  Secluding oneself away for spiritual refreshment has been known for centuries and what an opportunity to do this by spending some time as a writer in residence within the nature reserve.   A small space which is the writer’s hut offers Nick a time for reflection and writing and his thoughts and exchange of letters with like-minded contemporaries will hopefully appear in book form at some time in the future.  Nick talked about the way he is using his time away from his everyday high-powered job to reflect upon the meaning and value of Phytology at a time when climate change and environmental issues occupy his thoughts.

After lunch Nick joined us in the second set of exercises – again focussing us on interacting  with the trees and plants. I carried on observing quietly, sometimes taking photographs or creating short videos; noticing more of the smaller installations, almost hidden away, some nestling by the small ponds installed to support the newt, toad, frog, insect and bat population. I went to the plant garden again and stroked the soft leaves of the marsh mallow plant.  On the way back for the group de-briefing I visited the writers hut and had a look at a collection of some of the ‘found’ objects discovered in the nature reserve by the artist Ellie Doney when she spent the summer of 2017 as an artist in residence there  .



In many respects it’s difficult to summarise the experience itself because I felt so immersed in the environment.  It’s the kind of green space I would love to be able to visit every day.  In fact the nature reserve isn’t opened to visitors every day because, being a relatively small space the garden needs time to recover and it closes completely to visitors for some months.  I certainly wondered about the smallness of the medicinal plant area. Local residents can go and collect leaves etc for their own use and I couldn’t imagine the plants could cope with being picked too often. I also keep reminding myself that, although the nature reserve itself has been there for several years it is now a partnership with an education and artists project.  It really is an on-going creation, almost like an out-of-time capsule with its own staff and utilising the talents of artists writers and geographers who intern there or spend time ‘in-residence’.  I think it must be this sense of movement, flow and newness that helps to keep it fresh, green and refreshing.

After hearing Nick Bridge talk I’ve also pondered again on the dissonance in the daily lives of many of us – that living in boxes, working in environments that stress and exhaust us and then escaping to nature or other pursuits that we need to keep us in tune with other aspects of ourselves. How wonderful to think of being one of the staff at the Nature Reserve and Phytology or to build a more holistic lifestyle for ourselves. Normally when I go up to London for Exhibition visits and such I come back feeling very tired, weary of the hard pavements, noise and thick air of the underground.  This time, though, I came home feeling relaxed, revived, refreshed and invigorated.

Here’s a video I put together from the short ones I created during the day.  I hope it gives an impression of what it’s like there.


I’m so pleased as well to have been able to participate in one of these Art & Environment Study Days, to be reminded that there are other students within OCA from other disciplines who want to collaborate and exchange ideas and to know that Melissa and Dan want to keep the momentum going and have already set up a Google Drive folder on the OCA student website for us to share work and thoughts.





Bookmaking Workshop with Polly Harvey: May 2018

Bookmaking Workshop with Polly Harvey – 19 May 2018

This workshop was hosted by OCA Thames Valley Group and we were very pleased to welcome Polly Harvey  , Illustrator and Designer and also an OCA tutor. Polly sent us instructions beforehand on what to bring so I spent quite a time at Hobbycraft trying to find what I thought was the right paper and card.

First was a small, square pop-up book with a folded insert of 21 x 21cm squared paper

For the covers I used I used thin greyboard (Polly suggested using some she had with her as the card I’d brought wasn’t thick enough) and some blue wrapping paper stuck on with double-sided adhesive tape as opposed to glue.   There’s something very playful about this book reminding me as it does of the folded pop-outs I used to make as a kid with short messages in each section.

Next was a simple stitched book (8 A4 folded sheets to provide a double spread of A5 pages) with stitches through the middle and a cover with front flap. Polly provided a template for the holes which were created with an awl.

Then a Japanese stab bound book – hard covers (using thin greyboard) with a hinged front This time I used a screw punch awl for the holes – fun to use and surprisingly effective. I was a bit slow in putting this together as I was concentrating hard on getting the stitches right and fussing over the fact that my fold on the front cover wasn’t good enough.

My slowness meant that I missed out on creating an accordian book. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, feeling absorbed in it all. I’ve been to at least three book-making sessions before but this time everything seemed more comprehensible to me rather than an esoteric art that I can’t quite grasp.  Polly’s was a lovely presence to have with us – giving step-by-step demonstrations to begin with, then keeping an eye on each of us and how we were doing, ready to answer questions and demonstrate again if necessary. The atmosphere was focussed yet relaxed enough to have a laugh now and again.


I’ve spent part of the last couple of days experimenting with a larger pop-out book and photographs. 29.5 cm square of paper for the inside and a 15 cm square cover, with photographs glued on each cover and to the inside. I chose two photographs which seemed amenable to being sliced diagonally and stuck on the two folded insets.

One problem, as can be seen, is that the book paper is too thin to cope with the weight of the folded/sliced photographs and split in the middle. I then decided to try printing directly onto Canon high resolution paper which works well on my Canon everyday printer and I had bought some A3 wondered if it would work on my larger Epson.  It worked so far as the actual printing went but the quality was poor as there is no IPP profile for its use with Epson SP-600 printers.

Back to my cutting board and I decided try Ilford Galerie smooth lustre duo. As I have some A4 size, it’s a bit thinner than my Epson paper yet works well with Epson inks as it has an IPP profile for them.

I created a 21x21cm square and the print quality was nearer to that of the Epson paper.  I was able to fold it as well, although it does keep springing open and I’m thinking that if I proceed with this I might have to magnetise the covers/have some type of magnetic clips so that the covers can keep the book folded.

Otherwise I need to find a backing paper which is strong enough to hold glued photographs yet flexible enough to fold. Not a complete success yet but there’s still scope plus I am now more confident with the cutting and glueing.  I used bookbinding glue for the latest experiments instead of the double-sided adhesive tape which drives me quite distracted trying to remove it from its protective layer even though I now have some tweezers to help me!

Now that I’ve actually had the confidence to practice instead of promising myself I would, I think I’ll be able to contemplate making other books.





Ochre Print Studio May 2018: Printmaking with Photopolymer Plates

This was a weekend workshop on 12/13th May 2018 at Ochre Print Studio, Guildford, which is an open access Art and Print Studio   The workshop was lead by Susie Turner, who works as a visual artist and educator specialising in Fine Art Printmaking. During the past ten years Susie has explored the potential of printing with photopolymer plates/Solarplate which is a new form of printing and said to be ‘simple, safe and time effective. Solarplate describes the process of printing with light sensitive plates that have been exposed to daylight or an artificial source of UV light and then developed in water.

I’ve never been to a Print Studio before but have been telling myself I would do one of the workshops run by Ochre Print as they have a wide range to offer.  I was nervous, being a beginner, especially as all the others there were artists with experience of printing in one form or another, including two artists in residence at the studio, whilst another was assisting Susie. The fact that this was Solarplates, and thus an extension of the work I had been doing with cyanotypes, really attracted though, plus there’s something freeing about being a complete beginner, although, on the second day, one of the other participants did comment that I seemed a lot more relaxed now!

As with cyanotypes, natural materials and objects can be used as well as digital negatives.  I chose to use negatives in this case – one of them being of dried poppies which I had scanned. One aspect I found confusing was that the process is different from cyanotypes where the prints result from the negative or object being directly laid upon the paper. With photopolymer plate printing the image is etched onto the plate through the process then ink or paint is applied; slightly damp paper applied on top of the plate and then the whole is put through the press. This means you have to work out where the darks and lights are going to be; whether the negative should be ‘flipped’ and whether to use a digital positive negative or a digital negative negative. I tried to ensure I covered all possibilities when I created the digital negatives.

The process can also produce either a relief or intaglio print with there being a slightly different process with intaglio.  The video below demonstrates the process of creating an intaglio print, using an exposure unit (rather than sunlight) and printing with ink rather paint.

Day 1

Exposing the plates (see examples at the top of this post):

  • Explanation of the plates and how they work plus useful resources such as Intaglio Printmakers, London.
  • Outside demonstration of how to do a test exposure strip in natural light.
  • Creation of a Relief plate. Dust off plate with talc then the exposure. I chose to use an A5 digital negative of an orchid which was placed face down on the polymer side of the plate. Exposure for three mins outside on what was a fairly dull day (much faster than with cyanotypes).
  • Indoors – two trays filled with tepid water (21c). One with a magnetic sheet so that the plate doesn’t move about. Wearing gloves (in case of allergic reaction) agitate plate in the water. The plastic covering should start coming off after one minute – help it with a soft brush until you have shiny metal. Then rinse in second tray.
  • Blot plate with newsprint paper then dry with a hairdryer for two minutes; after which put in a UV unit for five minutes to harden off.
  • Creation of an Intaglio I used an A5 negative of a photograph made on the Second Life virtual world site. This time we used a large exposure unit (the light units required obviously depend on the strength of the exposure unit). A vacuum unit switched on first to ensure the lid was tight, after which the plate was pre-hardened (as in above video) using a dot screen. For this unit it needed 30 light units. Dot screen removed, then digital negative placed face up and plate placed over it with polymer side down).  Exposed for 6 light units.
  • Two water trays as before. This time using a sponge to help off the coating – one minute agitate, one minute sponge off, one minute rinse. Followed by drying-off process.

Creating prints:-

  • Demonstration of mixing the paint – something I’d never done before so I was quite hesitant. We didn’t use a palette to mix but put the paint directly onto cupboard tops which had a special surface and then spread the mix on the plates (as in video above). It seemed quite messy to me and I thought of all the cleaning up which would have to be done later, including the etched plates! The paint was removed from the plates afterwards using oil.
  • Plate and paper put through manual printing press and it was really exciting to watch them rolling through. I was able to make two prints of each from one application of paint. I also understand that the etched plates can be used a good number of times, which is useful because they are quite expensive to buy.

I was disappointed with the relief print of the orchid because there was too much white. Susie said that was because there wasn’t anything in relief on the right-hand side so the paint wasn’t able to spread there.  What people do is to include a border around the image – something I must remember in future.  I’ve inverted the scan of the polymer print and this does look slightly better:

The intaglio print was more successful:

NB the plates are quite sharp so you need to be careful.  I noticed the artist in the video used a file to soften the edges after the plate had been exposed.

Day 2

Same procedures, using larger plates.  I could only create intaglio prints because Susie didn’t think my negatives were dark/contrasty enough – odd because the poppy negatives had strong contrast. Maybe I should print them with my big printer next time rather than my everyday one. I was pleased with the results though, apart from the camel letter – even though I had been successful in working out which kind of negative to use and which way round so that the words weren’t back-to-front.

I felt pleased with both versions of the poppies and bluebells though:

Three of the more experienced artists created double exposure prints using two different plates but that was a step too far for me at this stage.

Overall this was a really enjoyable weekend once I got over my nerves at being a beginner and I think I learned a lot. You can be a member of the studio for an annual subscription which means you can have open access there, paying an additional fee for half/full day and also have a reduction on Workshop fees.

How will this Workshop develop my practice?

I already have experience of creating cyanotypes and so being able to use photopolymer plates in addition will expand my repertoire of artistic techniques/strategies.  I’m thinking here of the work of Stephen Turner as he travelled in his ‘Exbury Egg’ – a really good example of embedded practice in interacting with the surrounding landscape and creating art from a natural habitat and a practice I feel very interested in and have written about before. The idea of being able to use natural materials and also digital negatives appeals to me very much.