Updated: Sep 23
In 1953 Bowater Paper Mills set an art competition.
I was sent a piece of vintage paper - Whatman Deed Loan Imitation Parchment*- and it was entirely up to me what I did with it.
A MISCHEVIOUS SMILE
The open call caught my attention because my Grandpa worked for Bowater from the early 1940s to the late 1960s. He was the Wharf Superintendent at their Northfleet mill, which, as I understand it, means he was responsible for the docking and handling of cargo, maintenance of the vessels and wharf personnel.
Here he is in his office at Bowater looking very stern.
But to me he was Grandpa. A knowing look. A wink. A mischievous smile.
From a child’s point of view he was very tall (6ft 5”), never not wearing a tie and more often than not had grazes on his head from walking into doorways and low hanging light fittings. I also remember proper sailor’s tattoos winding round his long arms and at the end of them enormous hands that would create delicately detailed sketches, always from memory.
I only have one of these sketches. It’s personalised to me (although he did spell my name wrong, oh Grandpa!) and I’m not sure why, but as a teenager I used to carry it around in my wallet, folding and unfolding it from time-to-time.
I knew that I had to somehow incorporate this into my entry for the exhibition.
WHY A CYANOTYPE?
Paper is indeed a versatile material. From writing a shopping list on the back of an envelope to weaving strips to make fabric. There isn't room on this blog to list everything you can do with it.
But I wasn't after a "clever" solution for my piece and I didn't want to detract from my grandpa’s sketch - that had to be the main thing - so I decided to keep it simple and reproduce the image using a printmaking technique.
Printmaking lends itself very well to duplicating images. Cyanotypes, a Victorian photographic process that produces a blue print, were first used to replicate scientific notes and later architects’ drawings, hence the name blueprints.
To make a cyanotype you need; light sensitive chemicals (potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate), a porous substrate (paper) a negative and a UV source (the sun).
I could have created the negative by simply scanning the sketch and printing it onto acetate. I was worried that by digitalising it I'd loose the lightness of the pencil strokes. I also wanted to feel connected to him. So I traced the same lines he had drawn years ago onto acetate.
CUTTING IT FINE
I then had to wait for a sunny day, which just happened to be the day before the entry was due, to expose the treated paper to the sun with the negative placed on top. 20 minutes or so later and the print was done. Chemicals rinsed out, paper dried and with a covering letter I manged to catch the last post and send it to Fourth Portal at St. Andrew’s Art Centre where the exhibition is currently showing until 1st October.
8 September - 1 October
Fourth Portal @ St Andrews Art Centre
19 Royal Pier Road
Autumn opening times:
Wednesday-Saturday 11.00am - 5.30pm
Sunday 11.30am - 4.00pm
Please check their website in case of any changes
If you can't get to the exhibition or you've stumbled across this post after1 October 2023 then here's a snapshot of some versatile paper pieces.
*FYI the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Articles of Confederation are written on parchment.