This week in the studio I’ve been bouncing between a couple of projects – making silicone moulds from regular silicone mixed with cornstarch, and starting my woodcut coin print.
Silicone and corn starch moulds
I bought two tubes of silicone and two boxes of cornstarch weeks ago, ready to have a go at making my own silicone moulds. Never mind that I didn’t really have a plan as to what I wanted to cast – I just wanted to see if I could make it work.
It was worth the cost of a few cheap tubes to experiment, but even though I had my materials, I forgot about it for a while. When the summer holidays started, it seemed like a good time to get started on the experiment, if only to get T interested in making. It turns out that he wasn’t too interested in the process, but I was hooked.
To do this, you need acetoxy-cure silicone, also known as Silicone 1. It’s the kind that smells of ammonia, so I did all of my mixing outdoors.
My first tries were random, with a bit of everything thrown in. My second attempt was a lot more purposeful, but more on that later. The silicone picks up a tremendous amount of detail though, just look at the impressions my Bajan 1 cent coins made!
Woodcut coin block
Like many of my projects, this one has been a long time in the making, and has used components from some seemingly unrelated experiments.
The block for this was salvaged and used for a series of silhouette drawings – nothing that I ever really intended to see the light of day, really, just to have around the house. Eventually I admitted that I didn’t like it much and that I could give it over to a worthier cause.
Woodcut blocks are romantic enough but dang, they are hard work! In fairness, I don’t have any actual woodcutting tools (not for this kind of work) and I can only find two lino blades, which I blunted in the course of carving the block.
I’ve got plans for this but think I’ll have to get my hands on some oil-based printing ink, as the second pull I made with water-based ink did gum up the block somewhat. I decided to spray it with a sealant, but that took away a bit of the charm of the block’s original colours… still, it had to go sometime.
The block is a means to an end as it’s a part of my money project, but I like thinking about print blocks as works in their own right as well, so I actually made a silicone mould of the block itself, so I can replicate it in case it gets ruined… or just if I want to!
If you’ve been snooping around the internet for a while, you’ll start to get a bit blog-blind.
What do I mean?
Well, think: what was the last blog you visited that really stood out? Are you getting so lost in a haze of hyper-feminine brush text that you can’t even read what the blog title is? Or have you seen the same image so many times that you get déjà vu every time you go online?
Here are a few reasons why we’ve started to look the same.
The Internet has grown up
Back in the day, web designers used to let rip… with weird results.
Now that the Internet has grown up, and every established company has a web property and knows how to squeeze every last cent out of it, there are established conventions that are more or less followed when designing websites.
Yep, we’re just plain old copying each other. On purpose. You’ve seen a successful blogger whose site you love, so you’ve gone out and found a template that looks like it.
Like when you see someone in a dress you love, so you go find it, buy it, and then dread running into them when you’re both wearing the same thing.
Hey, the truth is that this is a natural by-product of the lowered barrier to entry that web publishing has experienced. Most bloggers are simply regular people who like to write, not coders. Creating a fantastically unique site from scratch would be impossible for them, just like most people go shopping instead of designing and sewing their own clothes, and that’s ok; after all, you don’t expect everyone to walk around naked just because they can’t run up a frock on their own.
Unless you’re developing your site from scratch, you’ll probably end up bumping into someone who’s wearing your dress. Just try to customise it a bit so it’s not so obvious (think chunky jewellery… and by that I probably mean changing your fonts, colours and widgets).
We’re all playing by Pinterest’s rules.
Ever spend any time on Pinterest?
You’ll risk overdosing on brush script fonts, flowers and PINK.
Pinterest is a huge driver of traffic to blogs, so we’re all dancing to their tune: all vertical images (usually 735 x 1103 or longer), flat lay photography, and things that women are meant to like.
Spending too much time on Pinterest gives me the visual equivalent of eating too many sugared almonds after a wedding… it hurts my teeth.
Stock photos have taken over the world
We’re all swamped with all of the things we’re told we need to do for the sake of our blogs. Is it any wonder we have no time or energy to take our own photos?
I’m not going to knock stock photography. With my other blogs, especially when I first started, I’m not gonna lie – my photography stank. I’m a writer and a painter. I’m not a photographer. So yes, stock photography has saved many a blogger’s butt, including mine.
But… I’m sick of seeing the same photographs over and over andoverandoverandover. I’m sure you are too, or you will be once you start hanging out on Pinterest more. If you need to use a stock photograph, try to make sure it’s one that hasn’t been overused, or try to edit, crop, flip or change it a bit to be more personal.
This is one that’s easy to get wrong, as even if you source a little-used photograph for your article, it can become popular after the fact. However, if you’re settling on the first few images that pop up in Canva, then you can be sure that lots of people are doing the same.
That’s why we’re all starting to look the same…
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on what works well when it comes to blog design and using those principles for yourself. Still, we ought to try for a bit of originality… although remember, the thing has to be legible if you want to actually get and keep readers.
Personally, I’m pushing it a bit with my current typeface of choice – it’s nearly illegible but I love it! Very, very naughty.
Well, what do you think? Is looking the same a good, or bad thing?
I was given a Lumi Inkodye Sunfold kit by a very generous friend, and I finally had a chance to play around with it during a recent heatwave. After waiting for ages to try it out, I was totally hooked!
When I started blogging seriously in 2015, I didn’t really have a clue about the craft of blogging, or that there even was such a thing. The concept of writing vs blogging didn’t cross my mind.
Doesn’t good writing conquer all?
I assumed that good writing would translate to good blogging, and good blogging would eventually translate to a successful blog. However, I failed to appreciate the conventions that have grown up around commercial blogging, that have separated it from other forms of writing or even from personal blogging.
I’d been chipping away at a blog since 2014, putting together posts with witty, intriguing titles and sparky, self-referential language: posts that I was pleased with, and thought would be helpful.
Little did I know my writing wasn’t helping anyone at all, and it definitely wasn’t helping my blog. What was I doing wrong? I hadn’t grasped the difference between writing and blogging.
Literary Vs Literal
Blogging – and by this I mean commercial, or ‘for-profit’ blogging (whether you make a profit or not) does not function in the same world as literature. This doesn’t mean that it’s inferior; it means that to succeed at it, you must learn its conventions and why they exist.
Blogs exist online, and their functions are primarily to entertain and inform. Some people read blogs to gain an insight into the blogger’s personal life; others read blogs to learn something that they think will be valuable for their own lives. So far, we could say that we read books for the same reasons – isn’t that what biographies and how-to books do anyway?
The internet changes everything
Well, yes, but the fundamental difference is the medium – the internet. The internet changes everything. It makes that chunk of information immediate, accessible and (usually) pinned down to a point in time. If you want, you can follow in real time, never miss an update, and it’s usually all for free.
And there’s the other difference – the cost. The internet appears free. I say ‘appears’, because there’s always someone paying – not just for the monthly broadband connection, but for the content itself. Just like tv, those being entertained or informed aren’t the consumers, they’re the products; the real paying customers are the brands who want to advertise to readers/viewers.
So because information is free, and you can find almost anything, the internet is the place to turn for answers to all of your questions. Solutions come fast and easy (and because of fierce competition from an ever-increasing amount of content, will only get faster and faster) so no-one has any time for slow information. Readers go online to search for answers and solutions, not to browse idly until they find you.
Blogs have got to pitch their answers and solutions in a crowded marketplace. Print authors don’t need to worry about titles, SEO and keywords, but bloggers do.
In this world, the literary yields place to the literal.
When I took some time to look at some successful blogs, I was initially shocked by the low quality of the language structure, grammar and spelling used… but it dawned on me that it simply didn’t matter to the people who counted – the audience.
The readers of a mummy blog or a fashion blog aren’t likely to care about the mistakes that will be certain to rile the readers of a blog about grammar.
That’s not to say that these readers won’t notice the mistakes; what I mean is that if they do notice, they are willing to make concessions for them. When readers connect with a blog author, they are willing to skip past typos, spelling and grammar mistakes.
They want to connect with the author’s life and experiences, and formal writing skills aren’t necessarily the key to that emotional connection.
The Craft of Writing Vs The Craft of Blogging
To adapt successfully from literary writing to blogging, bear these essentials in mind:
1: Straightforward titles.
Titles which are clever allusions to the body of the article might work well for your novel’s chapter headings, but your readers of your novel are already invested, and they’ll read that chapter anyway. If a blog reader can’t tell what your post is about when they encounter the title on a cluttered search engine results page or Twitter feed, they’ll click on something they can decipher more easily.
Reading online is different to reading on the printed page; keep your paragraphs short – even a single sentence if necessary.
This might depend entirely on your audience, but if you’re writing for the general population as opposed to a technically minded, specialised group, you will have to adapt your language to be simple and easily understood. This is not the same as dumbing down; it’s just a question of selecting the right tools for the right occasion.
My art posts tended to suffer from the kind of academic tone I’d been using for my MA essays, until I realised that this gave me the appearance of being a lot more stiff than I actually am, and also put me off writing anything for the blog in the first place!
4: List articles.
I used to rail against these, but they are successful for very specific reasons: they deliver a bite of their content immediately, hooking the reader’s attention, and they let the reader know how much time they will have to commit to the article.
Take it easy with the listicles though – too many and you’ll disappear into the homogenous blog quicksand.
The internet has fuelled a surge in pictorial communication. Your blog posts will need images in order to stand out and be shared on social networks… even if these images are simply a mashup of coloured fonts.
As for search engine optimisation, keywords and marketing – these are things that artists and writers may be reluctant to get to grips with, but can’t be ignored. I’ll get on to those in another post, but I’ll leave a question for another post as well – do you really need a blog anyway?
What do you think about my ideas? Let me know – leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Usually what I consider the most successful work comes about when I stop obsessing about the reasons I feel interested in something and simply explore the idea.
Give yourself permission to experiment… and fail.
The major editing has to take place during the creation, or even afterwards, or else I have the tendency to talk myself out of every idea. This excess of thought is probably what kept me away from painting for many years. Only since I have given myself permission to fail have I been able to see results.
Having a visual record of a thought gives me a chance to assess its strengths, weaknesses and future development… and these infantile records often come to have their own lives independent of whatever work they may have triggered.
You only figure out what you should be painting by trying a bit of everything.
Over the years, because of knocking around and trying different things, I’ve realised that I gravitate towards depicting the human figure, and that everything surrounding exists in its orbit. The landscape exists because it is viewed by the person. The objects have been arranged by, or carelessly left behind by someone, who may reappear at any moment. Although the places, rooms and objects hold their own value, it is the people populating the spaces I return to instinctively.
Just how to use this, now, is the thing I’m continually working at.
The world outside of the figure
Of course, not all of my work revolves around painting portraits; some of my recent text-based prints focused solely on handwriting and colour. It’s possibly a strange departure, but when I consider how much a part of me my writing is as well, the text pieces are a natural progression of my words flowing into the visual.
Why I paint portraits…
I love examining the nuances of faces, and the angles and relation of each part to the next. Portraiture has fascinated me since I was a child. The capacity to render another person’s likeness is a tremendous thing to discover as a young person, but the discovery that that capacity in itself is not enough, is even more so. That’s what spurs you on to make art.
When a painting is finished, and it represents many hours of contemplating another person’s face, attempting to conjure up some representation of their personality, you are left with the realisation that it is incredibly fragile.
What should I paint?
I should paint the idea I can’t do without. Here’s what it is for me:
A portrait – a depiction of a human being – can lose its meaning in a second, all because of what the subject does, or perhaps no longer does. The person changes continually whilst their image remains the same. It will never remain an accurate representation of that person; it can only be a representation of a subject at a single point, as seen through the mind of the artist.
It’s an exchange between two people who will never be the same two people again.Then, when either the artist changes her mind, or the subject changes himself (or is unwillingly/unknowingly changed), that representation can crumble into something quite meaningless.
That brief glimpse of meaning is what I want to paint.
What should you paint?
Ultimately it’s the meaning of the object or image, more than the object or image itself, that will give your work purpose and lead you on to the next step of your work. Start with something – anything – and mess around until you know what you don’t want to paint and what you want to.
The next time you think, “what should I paint?”, think about it as, “what do I want to say?”