It is high time I finally wrote about my latest set of prints, and the direction my work is currently taking! From late 2012 through the early part of this year, I worked on a set of stone lithographs on the theme of Selkies, or seal people. Three things came together for this series: theme, technique and style.
I have long been interested in myths and fairytales, and more specifically in mythical beasts, monsters and shape-shifting, part-human creatures. I knew of the Selkie myth before I moved to Scotland, but since living here have become more familiar with these dual-natured creatures. Selkies (also Selchies, Silkies) are a mythological people who live as seals in the sea, but can take off their sealskins to walk as humans on land. There are many tales in which the Selkies are portrayed both as gentle, benevolent people, but also as more uncanny and even dangerous creatures. An underlying theme I have found in all the tales is the desire and necessity for humans to live sustainably in harmony with nature, sharing the world with all creatures.
These prints are done with the technique of stone lithography, which I learned – and am still learning! – from master lithographer Alastair Clark at Edinburgh Printmakers. Though I took part in the weekend course almost by chance (friends were doing it also, and I wanted to expand my repertoire of techniques), I became quite enamoured with the beautiful stones. In the end, I admit, the materials and the process draw me to lithography as much as the marks I can make with it. Lithography is one of the most direct ways of using drawing or painting in print, and is most often used in a very painterly way with Tusche washes or crayon drawings. I started out in this way also, but was not happy with my results. They looked too much like derivatives of Toulouse-Lautrec or Kaethe Kollwitz, and not like the type of prints I wanted to make. However, I didn’t exactly know what I wanted my prints to look like!
This all changed when – another chance encounter – I saw a retrospective exhibition of the Cape Dorset/Kinngait workshop at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver in 2011. The stark and simple imagery of the Inuit printmakers, particularly the early works, is incredibly effective, and was just what I needed to see at the time. I realised that I was putting a lot of unnecessary detail – lines, textures, layers – into my lithographic efforts, and the work of these Arctic printmakers (notably Kenojuak Ashevak and Lucy Qinnuayuak) allowed me to greatly reduce all this visual noise and let the nature of the stone and the technique take over. This idea of reduction helped me bring together my theme and my technique into what I hope is a coherent and enjoyable visual narrative.
I’ve always felt an affinity with hybrid creatures that live in two realms. I have read and heard many stories and songs about the seal people, but these images are not illustrations of any particular one tale. Instead, the visual effects available with the lithographic technique and ways of arranging pictorial elements inspire the combination of figures, and the stories invent themselves.
More recently, I also produced a screenprinted artist’s book on the subject of selkie transformation. The lithographs and the artist’s book are currently available at Gallery Ten, Edinburgh (the book also through my online shop). A new set of selkie-themed lithographs is in the making, this time with some photo-litho work mixed in. We shall see where this goes!