Friday, 25 January 2013

A Letter a Week 2013: beginning...

Some time last year I came across the blog A Letter a Week 2010 (the link is here ALAW 2010).  It is a great idea - each contributing artist commits to producing two complete alphabets during the year - 52 letters, one each week - constrained by a maximum size of 7cm square, but using any medium.  Each year  one of the alphabets has been related to a given theme and the second can be anything the artists choose.   Each alphabet should be brought together at the end in some way - perhaps as a small book, or held together in a special box, or in some other format.  There are some absolutely lovely creations, and I found myself really drawn to the idea. 

During the autumn of 2012, I had a go at making some alphabets of my own  (see earlier post  here Letters and Books.  I enjoyed the challenge of the small size and finding ways to keep the idea interesting and producing something complete at the end.  26 letters is quite a lot so it's important to choose something which will be interesting enough for a whole 6 month project: should they all be in the same format, or linked in some way, e.g. by colour, or, or ...

So when the call came for members ready to join for challenge in 2013, I took a deep breath and signed up.   And then panicked!  I am very new to making my own art, and this challenge is very public and therefore very scary.   Some of this year's contributors have already posted their first letters and seemed to be able to plunge in quickly.  For 2013 one of the alphabets is to be on the theme of "Peace" and the other can be whatever you want.   have been pondering quietly about how best to integrate my ALAW alphabets into my work as a printmaking student.

My printmaking course (MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking at the University of the West of England, Bristol) started in October 2012 and the first module has been a series of workshops to introduce us all to a range of printmaking methods as the basis for developing our individual work over the rest of the 3-year course.  In spite of getting a place on the MA course, I actually have very little experience in print-making, so each workshop has been a real adventure for me.  We have experimented with etching, screen printing on paper and textiles, plate lithography, monoprint and relief printing with both lino and collagraph plates, and letterpress.  What a treasure house of possibilities!   We have also had workshops on  book-binding and enamelling, and had introductions to digital photography and printing onto ceramics.  

We have tried laser cutting using images prepared in Adobe Illustrator, which is just fantastic.  I imagined that laser cutting would merely give you interestingly shaped pieces of wood (or card, plastic, perspex, lino, leather, fabric, whatever - but not metal).   What I did not know until now is that you can also set the laser to burn into the material, but not to cut right through it, and also you can take out broad areas of the surface, not just a drawn line.  And  this allows you to make plates for intaglio or relief printing.  

This is the first simple piece I designed and cut.  The piece on the right is an etched version, which should be useable as a printing plate using an etching press.
I have been buzzing about this ever since the workshop, but haven't been clear how I could use it.  

This week I have also discovered that you can create a computer font made from your own handwriting:  I used an i-pad app called i-font maker (the link is here 2ttf ).  My first attempt looks something like this...but the possibilities are endless

So suddenly I found I had an idea for my first ALAW 2013 alphabet:  I have created a personal font (actually, several - it is quite addictive once you start) and will use this to create files for laser cutting, and use the results to make prints.  

Today, after quite a lot of struggle to get the hang of Adobe Illustrator, I made files for letters a,b,c and d, in both upper and lower case, and in two different formats for each letter: one will etch the outline of each letter, and the second will cut out the shape of each one (which of course also gives you the negative shape left behind).   Time was against me but I did manage to get two samples cut - one etched and one cut-out, using some scrap grey-board.

I plan to play with these over the next few days before getting further letters cut at college next week.  

My plan is to use these in various forms of printing - I will cut some of the letters in lino and some in card for use as relief prints.  For some, I may be able to use the cut-out shapes for embossing.  Some I plan to etch into perspex to use as intaglio plates through the etching press.  Some I can print onto paper of various kinds, and some may be on fabric.  Some letter shapes may work better in some kinds of print than in others.  

I may decide that one method works particularly well, and stick to that for the entire alphabet.   I do need to think about the overall coherence of the set, so some of my experimenting may not see realisation in the final set of letters.   There is also a choice to make about whether to use all upper or lower case, or whether to stick to one uniform alphabet throughout, or whether to mix and match between several fonts.  I am clear that I will only use fonts which I have created myself.  

I hope that this project will serve several purposes: first and foremost, it will be my first set of letters for ALAW 2013.  But it also allows me to experiment with lots of different approaches to print using simple letter forms, it will get me familiar with creating Illustrator files and using different materials for laser etching and/or cutting, and will also challenge me to find a good way of bringing all the letters together, in a book-form or otherwise, when all 26 letters are complete.

I think this is going to be a great project for the next few months, and the fact that it is going to be very public, via the ALAW 2013 blog, adds to the sense of excitement.