Last year, when I was on a residency in China, I made a series of fifty water-based woodblock prints (mokuhanga prints) which ended up becoming an animation called Smiley Rock.

Smiley Rock still frame

The technique of printing successive thin layers of watercolour is called bokashi and some of the frames for the animation were made from progressive stages of the printing process. I took photos of the print, while printing fresh layers of colour, so that you can see how the colour builds up. I edited the piece in the Royal Academy Schools in Piccadilly, London, and talented musician Eliot Kennedy made the music for me.

Smiley Rock frame being photographed for the animation

The animation is currently being shown in West Yorkshire Print Workshop, as part of their group show called Japan, until 1 September. Read about the show here or at https://www.wypw.org/blog/japan/

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Smiley Rock is also coming with me to the IMPACT conference in Santander, Spain next month… I’ll be showing the animation alongside some of the frames. Watch this space!

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You can watch the animation here or go to https://vimeo.com/237974015

 

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I’m continuing to make prints that record some spare moments, absurd situations and interesting encounters. It’s like a slowed down version of the instant sharing of selfies with a sanitised/selective commentary on what its really like, over here, in my world. Since March I’ve made another half dozen or so, though some have been abandoned half way: ironically work or life got in the way…

This Granny Can is a print about the grandma I met in China who raises pigs, runs a small vegetable farm, makes home rolled tea, smokes ducks in the kitchen, and has hands hard as sun-bleached wood. She says she can’t read and has never been abroad, with a self-deprecating chuckle. I think of all the things she can do, how we are sitting in the same space, sharing the same tea, but that our lives are completely different.

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My last day in China, my friends Lan and Tang Wei took me to a pottery village in Changsha, where we spent a morning happily browsing ceramic goods, buying cheap shoes and enjoying the sun. The store at the end of the village sold practically everything, from kites to underwear to dried fruit, as well as having a small snack area where we ate chicken feet and drank barley tea on tiny chairs, watching the world go by.

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Since my favourite pool in London, London Fields’ Lido, has been shut all summer for renovations, I’ve been searching for an alternative place to swim. The heated Lido, 50 m long, surrounded by trees and tower blocks, with glittering water and the illusion of the Mediteranean, is hard to compete with. Of course, the Olympic pool in Stratford in a good contender: the air is heated with the crisp smell of a sauna, the water is like silk, and the magnificent Hadid roof makes you feel like you are in the belly of a whale. However, the “village-change” for mixed ages and sexes tests my prudishness each time. Why exactly did they feel they had to put up a sign that reads, ‘These hairdryers are solely to dry your hair. Please do not use to dry your body or other items.”? IS this normal?

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I have to say that York Hall is much smaller, closer and friendlier, and fairly beautiful on a sunny morning, when the light tracks through the water giving off the illusion of the outdoors. It has wooden benches and generous splashy showers that cycle between scalding and lukewarm. The funniest thing is that the main mirror in the changing room is a piece of stretched and polished metal, that shocks everyone who catches a glimpse of themselves. It’s like the reverse of vanity sizing, where people go shopping and buy clothes that tell them they are slim, smart and attractive. This mirror tells you are too far gone to even try.

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So imagine the joy that users felt when a new, normal mirror, with a bank of free hairdryers, popped up in recent months. Imagine the happiness of hanging out in the changing room and seeing your not-too-shabby reflection. She Doesn’t Care (If We Stare) is about that lady who loves to do her face and hair while naked at this new mirror. We all pretended not to, but we did all take a look. I couldn’t work out whether I thought it was empowering and celebratory, or if I thought this was a bit too much showing off…

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Meanwhile, at the vets, I’m always amazed at how people work so seamlessly together. I expected the art world would be creative by nature, but the vet world strikes me as more fluid, adaptable and kind. I admire the clear and honest communication, the humour, the teamwork,  the lack of ego. I particularly like that in the vet world, women speak, and are heard. Women do, and get results. Words have face value: no one second guesses your agenda because everyone has clear goals: the pursuit of truth; reduction of suffering; compassion. How these things are achieved requires plenty of lateral thinking and creativity…

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The Royal Mint year of the Sheep Lunar coin is now officially out. (Mint and Lamb go well together don’t they?)UKH15GP_-_2015_Lunar_Year_of_the_Sheep_1o__Gold_Proof_Reverse

I spent a lot of time making pictures of rams originally, as that was what they’d asked for.

“Are you aware that rams have rather, erm, large testicles?” I asked.

” I think you’ll find that most heraldic beasts are male… and often erect” came the reply.

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I avoided the subject by making their tails discretely long and eventually cropped the offending area out…

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Then came the challenge to link the ram with the British Landscape. Henry Moore’s monumental figures in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park came to mind, but it was difficult to convey this in the limited space of the coin, and I abandoned the idea.

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However, pictures of trees in the morning mist of the park made me think: hmm, wouldn’t it be interesting if I replaced the trees with the Chinese character for the word sheep? This would be an in-joke that readers of Chinese would understand, and the number of trees would make a pun on the whole ritual of counting sheep in ancient Celtic language (Yan Tan Tether).

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After a lot of alterations, involving various re-carvings of many different versions of sheep faces, horns and bodies, I spent a fun day in the Mint working alongside engraver Lee Jones to create the final piece, and in August visited again to watch the minting process. IMG_4040_eweb

Minting a proof coin involved pushing two buttons simultaneously, much like the slot machines at Vegas. A glass screen went down and the silver was transformed into a coin with a pulsing sigh. When the screen rose up you could reach in, like Willy Wonka, and pull out the warm shiny glittering coin.

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The Lady In Charge of The Machine then inspected it for marks, dust and other aberrations, and then placed it either in the good tray (like a tray of chocolates, with all the patterns facing the same way) or a bad tray (smaller, with the offending slights facing upwards this time) and pressed the good or bad button on the machine to tell it, presumably, whether it had done a good job. Then she sprayed the dies with compressed air, gave them a wipe with alcohol, and put the next silver disc in for the next coin.

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JUST like printmaking I thought!

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1oz fine silver proof lunar sheep coin

To read an interview I did for Coin World on the commission, written by Chief Editor Jeff Starck, please see here

And to buy a coin, please see The Royal Mint’s website, where it will be live soon.