The art of happiness

“The art of happiness” is the first print I attempted after my adventure in Beijing.  I came home at the end of September with so many photos, and no idea how I would find inspiration to start printing! The whole experience was sensory overload from day 1, so my head was almost too full of ideas to begin with.  However, after several weeks things settled down.  My “ideas book” has been scribbled in, and now the printmaking journey begins. The text below serves as an explanation about the inspiration behind the print.

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About “the art of happiness”!

This is a hand-inked collagraph print.  It was created using a collage block made from various materials, such as textured wallpaper and rice!  I used a knife to score lines into the block. I also painted on PVA glue to create the highlights and ripped away top layers of the mount board to create the darker tones.  Then the block was sealed with shellac varnish, which protects the block and its materials from repeated inking without blocking up all the necessary cracks and textures.

The inking technique for this print is known as “intaglio”, because ink is worked by hand into the cracks and crevices of the block using an abrasive cloth called “scrim”.  Then all the surplus ink on the surface is wiped and polished away.  The ink left in the cracks and crevices is what prints onto the paper.

The print was created using specialist lightfast linseed oil-based inks on Somerset 300gsm paper, which has high cotton content and is acid free.  Using this type of paper for collagraph printing ensures the paper really moulds itself onto the block and doesn’t tear easily when put through the press over bulky materials.  Rice was quite “bumpy” on the block, and I wasn’t sure how it would react through the press.  Some of the rice grains burst, but most stayed intact! I was pleased to see that the paper is nicely embossed by the rice grains.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my time studying Mandarin in Beijing was the lunchtime meals with my classmates after 4 hours of conversation and character classes!  We all sat together in our favourite restaurant near the school with our bowls of rice and chopsticks and various other dishes – all different nationalities, different ages, and different cultures.  Yet we all laughed about the same things.  I decided to use the bowl of rice and chopsticks as a starting point for my first new print after China, because it reminded me of very happy moments with new friends.

In addition to my own personal response to a simple bowl of rice “The art of happiness” has several other layers of symbolism.  I used the opportunity to play around with Chinese puns; the word happiness in Mandarin is fú. The character is:  福.I have used the character for happiness as the pattern on the tablecloth.  Fú is also the word for a width of cloth (幅) so this felt even more appropriate.  I then discovered that fú is also a measure word (classifier) for pictures/prints!  So this is how the title “the art of happiness” was conceived, referring not only to the pun but also to the fact that happiness really is just about being with nice people and eating food together!!!

The other symbolism in the print refers to the historical context of rice, which has been eaten for centuries in exactly the same way in China as it is eaten today, and will continue to be thus for centuries into the future …. This is one aspect of Chinese culture and society that provides continuity and stability when the modern world engulfs almost everything else!  The two vessels floating in the background are particular vessels I saw whilst in China; the pouring jug on the left was photographed in the museum of the Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an.  Shang dynasty if I recall – but don’t quote me on that! The second was a huge iron cauldron I photographed at the Forbidden Palace, Beijing.  I was struck by their shape and outline.  In modern design these curves are often replaced by angular forms due to mass production.  In my print, both these vessels are enveloped by the “auspicious clouds” pattern, which in ancient China was used for embroidery and weaving and was also seen on coins, charms, and wallpaper. When clouds are repeated in a pattern it is considered a symbol of never-ending fortune. There are various “auspicious clouds” patterns in existence, based on the same symbolism – presumably changing to suit different eras/fashions.

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