3. Making marks

The exact origins of the Nene are unclear, but it is generally accepted that the river rises from two main sources (1). From the highest point in Northamptonshire it gathers water from a number of seemly insignificant streams and, at its outset gives no indication of the powerful flow which ultimately empties into the North Sea at the Wash.

So it is at a tiny trickle of a stream, meandering its way gently through the village of Newnham that I collect my first upstream sample of water for exploration. This quiet sparkling flow will inform the first print of a series of monoprints.

First water sample collection point at Newnham

First water sample collection point at Newnham

My work frequently involves the use of the unbroken line. The monoprint process begins with the inking of a flat surface with a soft roller.

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A single sheet of paper is then gently placed on the inked bed.

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Lines and marks are then made directly on to the paper back .

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The pressure of the drawing pencil or mark making tool, causes the ink to register on the paper front,  imprinting a single mirror image which remains when the paper is then carefully lifted from the plate.

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Mono prints possesses a characteristic immediacy in which the result is always just beyond the artists’ control.

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These shadows and unpredictable impressions around a softened line are an integral part of the work.  This process is particularly suited to creating an  impression of life within a microscopically viewed droplet, revealing contrasting areas of shadow and light, and areas of sharp focus alongside barely distinguishable shapes deep within misty clouds of vegetation and sediment.

After several unsuccessful attempts involving scoops and bottles, I have assembled a basic but efficient set of equipment for water collection. A small playdough pot wired to a long stick ensures that the pot can be lowered and submerged to the required depth from any position along the bridge- while reducing the likelihood of my falling in during the process. With the addition of a long length of string in a tin attached to the dry end of the stick, the pot may be cast or dipped, and when lifted, removed. With a close fitting lid in place- the first precious sample is ready for transportation. 

Under the microscope, the clear droplet now held between the slide and its cover, reveals its secrets. Between the cover and the slide, amongst grains of sediment almost invisible to the naked eye, the droplet is teeming with life.

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Silently gliding like long slivers of glass, elongated organisms emerge in open water before disappearing back into the shadows.

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The light shining through vegetation illuminates their steady purposeful progress - sometimes alongside each other, or crossing paths as carefully as vessels in a busy shipping lane. 

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Around them, smaller creatures spin and dart, going about their business unperturbed.

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I set about creating a visual impression of what I observe. The precise nature of each print will depend entirely on the nature of the water sample taken from this location. The work is truly an ‘unknown’ waiting to be discovered.

(1) Phillips, D. (1997) The River Nene: from source to sea.  Peterborough: Past & Present Publishing Ltd