New Works in Papier Maché

Those of you who follow my instagram, already know that in the recent week(s) I have been very busy working with papier maché. As usual I am working on several projects at the same time which are all in different states of completion.

For those of you who don’t use instagram, here’s a brief summary of what’s going on, paper sculpture wise:

Flight

The ambiguity of the title is deliberate: is this bird woman pushing off to leap into the air any minute? To fly or to flee? Or is it her children who have fled?
This piece is the result of my ongoing work surrounding pregnancy, miscarriage, and perception of women and their bodies in public and prescription of norms by the public, especially in the context of procreation.

Before I go on to tell you how I interprete my own work, I want to stress that I strongly believe in the right of the viewer to interprete a piece in their own mind. I can well imagine that for some of you it means something different than for me. And to me, this different interpretation is just as valid, if not more so, than my own explanation. To me this t is ultimately the strong(est) point of visual art: The fact that it invites personal experiences and approaches, that it is not as precise in the meaning it can take as a scientific treatise.

That being said, I want to spend a few words on what went on in my mind while making it:
For me “Flight” is about the freedom of a woman to stay herself even in the context of pregnancy, whether failed or successful; about the right to feel about it in whatever way she does, and stay in control over how to deal with the outcome.
When I started, I set out to create a sculpture about miscarriage and IVF. I first placed leftover syringes, shredded prescription leaflets, and empty medicine bottles on the bottom of the piece. While finishing, however, I realised that this was too much, and I took them away. Because I like the possibility of a wider interpretation: It doesn’t have to be about IVF, my message applies everywhere. Nevertheless, the trials of women who only – if at all – get pregnant after several rounds of IVF were at the forefront of my mind when I started to create this. The blackness inside the eggs, the image of a beginning pregnancy, the gold on the nests which nevertheless seem tattered and abandoned stand for unsuccessful attempts. In this trail of thought, it is life, offspring, babies who are fleeting and fleeing here.

But look at where I placed the bird-woman: She is perching on top of it all. I could have put her between bars, imprisoned and surrounded by her nests, but I very deliberately didn’t. Whatever happened, however much it might shape and influence her, it doesn’t have to define her. It is her choice to stay or leap off, leave it all behind, and set off to something new.
So she, too, might be fleeing, or maybe just flying away.

Untitled so far

Untitled Artwork, Kurzke 2019

I am currently making 10 such eggs with something that resembles an early pregnancy ultrasound scan inside. These are fairly large paper mache sculptures, about the size of an ostrich egg.

This work is still very much in progress; I intend to add sculptural elements to the eggs which will feature as a central element. This piece(s) draw on work on prints that I did a while back, where I used indirect printing with unbaked polymer clay to achieve a look of an ultrasound image. I printed computer processed images of the prints and put them inside these eggs. After added layer upon layer of paste and paper, the print itself became really faint, thought, and I painted over the image to enhance the contrast. But in theory these are still copies of those prints.

Backlit Open Studio 2018, H. Kurzke

on the walls from left to right: computer processed prints, the original prints, and computer processed prints with added asemic writing

More heads

I am also working on an installation piece with several “talking heads”. I made two which were talking about human rights last year (see photos below), and I am going to make an even larger group for this one. The project is quite ambitious, and I am not entirely sure whether and how I’ll be able to pull this off. So I’ll rather not talk more about it. But the first heads are in the making, maybe you’ll see more of them in the weeks to come

In Conversation, artwork by H. Kurzke 2018

Bookbinding Courses and Competition on Skillshare

A screenshot

Valentine’s Day is over, and you might be wondering why I have not drawn a prize winner of my announced competition yet.

Just to remind you: Two weeks ago I published my new Skillshare class “Coptic Bindings. A Beginner’s Course”. You can watch the teaser below. And I also announced a competition: For every project posted in the project section, you get one entry in my drawing. (For details on the prize drawing, go to the last blogpost or to my skillshare class.)

I am pleased to announce now that the deadline for entries was extended. Instead of closing the entries on the 14th of Febuary as announced, you now have two more weeks, and I’ll pull a winner on the 28th.

Skillshare is a paid-for platform of learning. You can access all kinds of high-quality content there.

If you sign up to a year’s membershop on skillshare through my class referal link: https://skl.sh/2RYKqsk you’ll get the first two month’s off, and I’ll earn a referal fee. Signing up to skillshare gives you access to all my classes and to tens of thousands of more classes on all kinds of subjects, whether you want to get crafting, want to take a life-coaching class, or learn a language.

In addition, here’s a link through which you can sign up for my class only for free. (It will only work for three people, so hurry up): https://skl.sh/2D90qxH

In the meantime, I started to work on a follow up class already, introducing different stitching variations of 2-needle Coptic bindings. – I hope to see you in this course or the next!

some examples of Asian style bindings

On March 16th, I will be teaching a bookbinding workshop at the writer’s studio in Nottingham. Here’s a link where you can also sign up: https://www.nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk/event/creative-bookbinding-for-writers/

Obviously, it is targeted at writers, and as such I will be talking a bit about how to print content to put it into such books, and what kind of content I think would be suitable for this structure. But other than that – it’s just a bookbinding course, and everyone is very welcome


Coptic Bindings. A Beginner’s Course – Competition Time!

It is already Febuary, wow, how the time has flown! I used January mostly to film, edit and upload my newest skillshare class: Coptic Bindings. A Beginner’s Course. The following is a teaser for the class. Make sure you check further down for ways to see it for free, and how to win a one year premium membership on skillshare.

Skillshare is a paid-for platform of learning. You can access all kinds of high-quality content there.

As I said, normally you have to pay for access to classes posted there. If you sign up to skillshare through my class referal link:

https://skl.sh/2RYKqsk

You’ll get the first two month’s off, and I’ll earn a referal fee. Signing up to skillshare gives you access to all my classes and to tens of thousands of more classes on all kinds of subjects, whether you want to get crafting, want to take a life-coaching class, or learn a language.

A screenshot

In addition, if you are one of the first lucky three to sign up to my class through this link:

https://skl.sh/2D90qxH

You can see this class completely for free. (You won’t gain access to other courses, though).

And last but not least: It’s competition time!

Here’s how to win a one-year premium membership on skillshare (worth £87 or 100$):

  1. Enlist in my class as a student. (Here’s the link again: https://skl.sh/2RYKqsk)
  2. Finish the class project (a book bound in the taught style) and post a photo of it in the project section. Each book counts as one entry.
  3. On the night of Febuary 14th*, I shall put all names/books in a hat and pull one name from it. Whoever I pull out wins the prize.

Obviously you’ll have to trust me that I am doing this as fairly as I can, and can’t take me to court over the decision afterwards.

Winners will be announced in the community section on skillshare.

*evening means evening in the UK; I’ll post in the community section when I am closing entries, and the specific time I am doing this will be depending on my family life on the day and cannot be predicted at this moment, not even by me, sorry for all who come just a little too late.

I hope to “see” you there as one of my students!


Happy 2019 to Everyone!

I wish you all a happy and creative 2019. I wish for you to have a wealth of experiences, many joyful ones, and that you may grow from those which are challenging, unpleasant, and sad. It is customary to wish for a happy year (and I did so in the title), and I do hope 2019 will be a good year for you all. For all for who this won’t come true, I wish we will recover from whatever will make it a hard year, and come out at the end as better, wiser, stronger, and hopefully we’ll be able to turn all of it, the good and the bad into great art.

Title Page of First Book in 2018

Five years ago I talked to a grandmother of a three year old with brain cancer while we were both waiting for a MRI brain scan for the kids. That three year old had a life expectancy of another two years. And what that gran said, still rings in my ears: “It is just impossible to be sad all the time. He is still growing and learning things, he’s curious, he’s laughing. And what good would it be to be sad all the time? And so we laugh with him, and show him that life is good, and there are some days in which we really believe it.”

My daughter this summer – proud to achieve a red belt in Ju Jitsu

The year past has been a tough year for us as a family, and I felt unable to do write my usual wrap-up before Christmas because looking back felt too hard a task. There is this saying “you are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child”. I have quoted this line a lot for the past six months or so. But of course this is ultimately not true, it’s too general a statement to begin with. I think I was much happier than my child since her surgery in the summer. But to make up for it, other than she, I worried the whole year approaching it. So as a rough guideline, I do believe in that piece of wisdom.

The surgery she had in early August was meant to maintain her motor function and hopefully, ultimately it will do that. Her surgeon tells us it’s still early days. But as things are now, it has brought her from independent walking to being a full time wheelchair user who hardly can weightbear. With it her care needs and thus my workload (and M’s) increased. But graver than the physical scars and effects has been the psychological impact this has had on her and us. Although since August as many as four (or was it five?) people have written letters asking for psychological support, some of them twice, as far as I know she still is not even on even on a waiting list for the children’s mental health service. For the first time I feel like we have been let down by the system.

headbands in silk

I don’t want to burden you with my children’s troubles, and to be honest, I don’t really want to talk in publicy about their specific health issues. I mention it here because it did have a major impact on my work: I felt unable to respond to calls for art, and was awful at keeping deadlines. When I found the time to work, I really just wanted to be alone in my studio, rather than putting my work out there.

But my memory often fails me, so let me take a walk through the year:

Cats “helping” while photographing in January

In January I was mostly occupied with shop care for Büchertiger Supplies: I added jute twine and cotton twine to my range of threads, and started to scout for silk threads I wanted to add. I also worked on completing the scrolls for my long term project 346.

My work table in Febuary, drawing maps

Technically I started my instagram account and photostream December 31st 2017, but I really started in Febuary when I drew my daily maps. I love instagram, and with the maps-project, I started a “picture a day” stream which – although I am less strict with myself by now – I still try to maintain: One picture a day which best summarizes what I did that day. So if you don’t already, you may want to follow me there for a glimpse behind the scene and in-process pictures.

Making a map a day, adding illegible and often asemic writing, lead me to discovering asemic art in a broader sense. I read and thought a lot about usage of text in art, and about asemic art and writing. It also resulted in three little books with fantastical maps and drawings. (The first of them is in a photo above.)

four bindings, three in limp parchment technique

In March I finally added silk thread to my stock for Büchertiger Supplies after testing it on headbands. I learned to bind books in limp parchment technique. I also started investigating screenprinting more and especially in combination with lino prints. The first version of my Nottingham prints came to life, very much inspired by my daily map drawing which at that point I still maintained.

City prints

End of March, beginning of April I started to cut up a slice of a Nottingham street map. I then continue to make photos and sunprints from the cut-paper. But somehow this never amounted to much. But I still have all those photographs and prints, and maybe I’ll make soemthing of it yet.

I also started to learn Japanese in April: Inspired by my writing / map experiments, and thinking about how to encode language and information in marks on paper, I became interested in the Japanese way of using three different “alphabets” (if you want to call them that) to encode language.

Handprinted Business Cards / ATCs

I had some more fun printing in April, most of it in preparation of my first open studio event. I printed my first set of business cards completely by hand: fish in a jar on a water-colour background.

I first dyed my hair blue in April.

Open Studio in May

Then in May, finally, the open studio itself. It didn’t seem like much of a success at the time, with only a handful of visitors, but I had some very insightful discussions, which changed my view on my own work. Which is always interesting and helpful. All in all May was a good month for me:

Nottingham print by H. Kurzke

In May I finished my Nottingham print, finally finished the edition of 346, my long term project, worked on eggshell panels (and published a skillshare class on it), and (re-)started work on my project about miscarriages. (But didn’t get to finish it yet.)

Backlit Open Studio H. Kurzke
one of many mini monster rocks made during the summer

End of May I participated in Backlit’s Open Studios as a guest, and in early June we spent a weekend at the seaside to celebrate the twin’s 7th birthday. There on the beach I found a painted rock from #nottsrocks which then let me to paint and hide a lot of rocks myself during June and July.

In May I also started working on finishing my second model for 346, and as a part of it I made miniature kidney bowls. This lead me to experimenting more with papier mache. I made a whole variety of different things, including cups, something like an asemic/fantasy globe, starting a new project that consisted of hiding filled paper mache things in libraries (this is ongoing, I think, but has been put on hold for the time being; I still have a good number of eggs here at home that wait to be placed.)

Message in a papier mache sphere in a sphere in a sphere in a sphere

I layered coloured paper and cut into it, and made pictures like that. The sphere I made is finished. I also tried some planar images with the same technique. The building up of layers is time intensive, as you can only do a couple of layers per day, and then it has to dry. My first outcome was not very satisfying, but I still have some more experiments to do in that regard!

the image is cut into the sphere which is made up of layers of coloured paper


I also made three “talking” heads, and another paper mache sculpture: “sailing”. I have not properly photographed all these, although they have been finished for a while now. They are my most political work so far. – Brexit, the general climate it has generated in the UK, the evil it has come from and will lead to, this all got me deeply worried and although I don’t usually work politically, I poured all my worries into these pieces.

Sailing, by H. Kurzke

In July the school term ends, and thus – mostly – my work time until August. August then turned out difficult due to hospital stay and subsequent coping – or not – with the new situation. I had long before decided to dedicate the second half of the year to my writing: – As you might know, I am currently working on a novel (I hope I’ll eventually finish it!). All of this took me well into October, when I took a couple of days off my care load at home and instead resettled for three nights (five days) to a hotel in Sheffield where I indeed got a good chunk of writing done, and also posted a number of messages in bottles.

A couple of bottles I made for dispatching them in Sheffield
visitor at Backlit looking at the talking heads

End of October then was the next open studio event at Backlit where I again had a chance to participate as a guest. I showed my “talking heads” as well as 346, but had the most interesting conversations and interactions about the heads.

The two heads each “spit out” part of a scroll, and by superimposing the two images, you can read a declaration of human rights. At the end I left space for people to sign, and indeed did gather some signatures from visitors.


talking heads

In November I started my robot a day challenge, made books and prints and prepared for the small Christmas events at Backlit and the German Academy. I tried my screenprinting for real, I experimented with suminagashi, I made some books, and I bought myself my very first letterpress.

My first Letterpress – Adana

And then – it was already Christmas!

(Christmas) cards in 2018

So, in summary: It was a year of firsts and a year of learning. I worked with eggshells, my work got more politised, I printed more, I used my screens for screenprinting, I learned to work with papier mache, I started to learn Japanese, I started to experience suminagashi and papercuts. I learned about asemic art, thought a lot, about language and writing and politics, and the medical system. And I thought and wrote about what makes a person, about the connection of memory and identity, because that is the content of the novel I am working on.

I also started a new blog on the a-n website (with only one post so far) where I want to write about artists I meet. Although not a first in a strict sense, as I have been writing interviews for a long time, I still feel that this is a another first step into the world of art writing

suminagashi, first experiments

What I didn’t do was promote myself enough to get into any exhibition, which I feel really bad about. I did not even manage to get one of my postcards into an postcard show which will open this Friday, and I feel especially regretful about that.

some prints on suminagashi trials

I know I should be out there, finding ways to show 346, my papier mache, maybe even my maps. – I just felt too much drained of energy. And with the lack of exhibiting came a lot of doubt: Am I really an artist? What am I doing, spending years on trying to write a novel? Can I really be writer? What am I doing and why? Does this all make sense?

And less philosophically: Maybe I should concentrate fully on Büchertiger Supplies. It could do with more attention, it brings in real money, and maybe should be my main professional focus. But I do feel more like an artist than like a retailer! Also, who knows what Brexit will bring.

I also have been teaching German in 2018, and I blame this among other things for the lack of time, the chased feeling, and lack of energy in this past year. Thus I quit. In 2019 I won’t be teaching, at least not German. – A bookbinding workshop is already planned. (Sign up here. ) I hope this will make it easier to make art, and equally important, to get it out there.

Robo Business Card by H. Kurzke

And for my writing: My mentor (I am currently participating in a mentoring scheme) recommends I start making contacts in the publishing world now. I should research which kinds of publishers are interesting for me, who they are, and how to approach them, show up at networking events, talk to people… – All the kind of things I have failed to do for my art now come up for my writing. And thus it officially stops being the evasive thing it started out to be.

I have a lot of plans. Whenever I make anything, I come up with a thousand other things I want to do. Finding things to do is the easy part, and I won’t bore you with going on any further in this blog post which is already much too long. The challenge for me this year will be not just to learn things and to make things but to get them out there.

So this is my aim for 2019: For me to be more daring, to make an effort to get out there, meet people, put my work out there. I don’t know yet how I am going to do it, or where to find the strength to do so. But I want to make a real effort to get it done!

What are your plans and challenges?

Christmas Time = Printing Time: Cards, Giftwrap and Robots

Drawing for Santa by my son

This year Christmas sneaked up on me, ambushed me in the middle of trying to feel a bit more relaxed about my work, and completely everhauled me in a matter of days. I can’t really explain how it all happened, but suddenly it was alreayd the 2nd advent Sunday, my kids were complaining about a lack of christmas baking and M. was sneaking out for an intensive work week in Barcelona, leaving me to make sure all Christmas presents were bought and eventually wrapped, biscuits baked, kids with the correct Christmas outfit in school – it’s amazing how many different Christmas events they manage to fit into a week with a different arrangement for dressing (uniform in the morning, party outfit in the morning; school uniform with christmas sweater all day; christmas sweater or headgear for quick add-on during lunch…).

My table at the Christmas Party at Backlit Galleries

I quit participating in craft markets a long time ago (a decision I’ll have to re-evaluate for the coming year), but I decided to join in at two mini fairs: one at Backlit galleries, for which I decided to bring printed Christmas cards, and I let myself be persuaded to bring cards and some pieces of art to the Christmas fair at the German language school where I was teaching.

First lot of cards: dowloaded a lot of flags, added my own distress pattern, then print this car on it by hand: voilá, travel themed greeting cards.

And so my December was suddently full of delightful – and busy printing. Some of those prints were robots. But I failed to get the full number of 12 full. Nevertheless the challenge was fun, and I might extent it to January.

For now I would like to show you the different printing I made and finished in the last couple of weeks.

my pupil’s booth at the Christmas market at the German Academy Leicester

First up was the printing session with my 7-8 year old pupils at the German academy. They made wonderful Christmas cards and giftwrap together, using different alternative printing plates and – which made things hard – child safe inks and paints.

After the first printing session at school, I started printing my own Christmas cards at home. I decided to finally try out my printing screens. I bought screens, photo emulsion, as well as drawing fluid and screen filler already two years ago, and then was always afraid to actually try it out, because I wasn’t sure I could successfully reclaim my screens afterwards. Finally I overcame my anxiety: What good does it do not to use something out of fear of not being able to use it again anyway?

It was surprisingly easy: I made a drawing first on a piece of paper which I then placed underneath the screen I was going to use.I propper up the screen slightly, and then, with a brush, put my drawing on the screen with the drawing fluid. The fluid is slightly sticky, it’s a bit like drawing with liquid glue, but easy enough. When this is completely dry, the screen filler is dragged across the screen, and when this is dry, you can simply wash out the drawing fluid with some warm water. – And the screen is then ready to pull the first prints. I rather liked the quality of the image produced, and can well imagine to experiment a bit more with this.

Reclaiming the screen was also easier than I feared it would be: I used a filler that can be removed with a mild abrasive household cleaner. After about 15 minutes of scrubbing, the screen looked good as new.

printing with an “easy printing plate”

The other printing plate I experimented with this year was a so called “easy printing plate”. This plate consists of a foam, mounted onto a piece of card. You can then either score this with a pen, and then the marked line won’t ink up. I used this technique with the kids in school (see above the card with hearts). But with a paper scalpel it is also easy to cut and pul the foam and then just unk up what remains. – I am rather pleased with the cat print I made in this way.

Cat print

For the rest I stuck to familiar block prints, carving some text, more cats, paper crowns, and a more traditional Christmas card. Here are all my different cards in one image:

And with the cats prints still slightly wet, I then set off to the first Christmas evening at Backlit. At the table directly beside me, someone had set up an Adana and offered self-printed (letterpress) Christmas cards. I was hit by an extreme case of press-envy.
I firmly believe in not buying anything for myself from October onwards. What I don’t get for Christmas, I wish for my birthday in January, and if there’s still something I want after that, I have Christmas or birthday money to spend it on. However, this year, I couldn’t resist the urge: I knew that there was an unused Adana sitting in the basement at the writer’s studio, and I knew whose it was. A few days later, I brought it home together with a lot of type:

Bringing home my first letterpress

Unfortunately a lot of the type is in disorder, and I’ll probably spend the next year sorting type. – If I can finish in that time! I am also looking forward to using if for printing lino. The format is good for printing cards, too. So maybe I’ll have to produce more cards in the coming year.

The Adana sitting in my studio

What are your Christmas gifts – self-gifted or received by others? And what are your plans for the next year?