A deep dive into the alchemic world of Peg Morris.
Just before Lockdown 2 descended on us, I hurried along to visit Peg at Kew Print Studio where she teaches etching and collagraph printmaking. The light-filled studios are housed in a Victorian former school, all high ceilings and tall windows. Peg is also a founder member of KAOS, (Kingston Artists’ Open Studios), a member of Richmond Printmakers and on the committee of the Printmakers Council. With all that and a one-woman show coming up, she is amazingly relaxed, considering.
Peg studied foundation at the North East Essex School of Art – something she has in common with Grayson Perry - then took a degree in painting at the Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology in Cheltenham. She studied etching at Putney School of Art for many years and became ‘addicted’ to the process, although she also works with collagraph, lithography and monotype.
Peg in her studio
A common thread linking much of her work is an interest in abandonment and decay. A track worn into the landscape by generations of feet, or the peeling paint on a neglected building can provide a starting point for much of her work which is rooted in drawing and observation. While she enjoys depicting the evidence of a human presence, she prefers not to include any human figures. She explores the light and space of places away from people, places which provide a refuge and respite. She hopes the viewer will experience the peace of solitude that she experiences in these locations.
The nature of the subject matter dictates what process she will use to take the idea forward - perhaps etching for a closed, detailed drawing or monotype for a looser style in the case of drawings made outdoors. As she works in series she will be working on several images in one medium, for example etching, and when she finds that the work is beginning to get tight she switches to painting for a while to loosen up. Or she works in monotype, as she did to create a very fluid series of prints based on the marshes in Suffolk and Norfolk, a subject which seemed to require a looser approach.
Salt Marsh - monotype
This process requires the skills of both painting and printmaking and Peg can make this transition with ease. She enjoys the distinctive quality of mark that is produced.
On the day of my visit Peg is making the 8th in a series of etchings of based on allotments – a place of refuge for her during lockdown. They are always quiet, and so, Peg says ‘felt normal, when everything was not normal’. She also enjoys the ramshackle quality of the structures found in that environment, as ‘they can tell you the story about what has happened in that place without that person having to be present.’
These will form part of a series of framed prints for her solo show at One Paved Court, as well as making an artist’s book.
Allotment Series - Etchings
Peg loves the discipline of going through all the processes involved in etching, feeling that it forces her to slow down and think about what she doing, so that the image evolves throughout. She has the essential printmaker’s ability to embrace the unexpected, and work with it.
Peg is using a zinc plate which she prefers for black and white images. She bevells the edges to protect the press blankets, and painted on the back with the delightfully named straw hat varnish, to stop the acid biting into the reverse side of the plate.
The hard ground is applied, and then smoked. This hardens
the ground further which helps to prevent unwanted marks, and enables the
printmaker to see clearly what they are drawing. The ground will resist the
acid used to etch the plate.
Initial tracing and first acid bath.
Peg traces the drawing onto the place with yellow tracedown paper, and then redraws it with an etching needle, removing the ground where she wants the acid to bite the plate to create the lines. A hard ground gives a fine, detailed line and a soft ground can give a softer line similar to pencil or charcoal.
Stopping out before further baths.
Peg initially places the plate in the acid bath for just a couple of minutes, and then uses stopping out varnish to protect the lines which she wishes to be remain relatively light and delicate. Once dry, the plate goes back into the bath for a few more minutes. The process causes bubbles to form, which could affect the image, so Peg gently removes these with a feather.
Once done, white spirit is used to remove the stopping out varnish and the hard ground, and the plate is ready to print. It is inked up, using scrim to press the ink into the lines and clean the surface.
A characterful linear image is revealed when Peg puts the plate through the press.
Then it is time to add tone, through the aquatint
process. Peg degreases the plate and
after turning the handle to stir up the rosin dust, places the plate in the
aquatint box. The box is closed, and
the dust is allowed to settle and coat the plate evenly.
Peg then heats the plate over a burner which melts the dust into an even coat. The acid will bite the plate around the melted resin dust, creating a ‘tooth’ to hold the ink. The tone is controlled by the time in the acid and by stopping out areas once they are sufficiently bitten, creating subtle gradations of tone.
I leave Peg to continue developing the image and step back into the late afternoon sunshine.
Here is the lovely result of her work.
Allotments - Artist's Book
Peg’s upcoming exhibition LIGHT SPACE TIME explores how our perception of our surroundings changes with the light conditions at different times of the day and with the changing seasons. It will feature drawings, paintings and the full range of Peg’s printmaking techniques. Coming at the end of lockdown, Peg reflects that it has been in some ways was quite liberating, giving her time to make work and reflect on it. That should make for a very interesting artist’s talk.
There will also be drop-in drawing sessions and printmaking demonstrations in the gallery and an Artist’s Talk with questions and answers via Zoom.