When Seasons Meet
© Col Mitchell 8″ x 10″
Artist’s Collection
(The very first work in my technique)

It was early January of 2008

when serendipity brought me to my current practice of pen and ink on sculpted paper. In the Fall of 2014, I was interviewed by Carrie Brummer of Artist Think on just this “origins” topic. The following is from that interview, published on ArtistThink.com The full interview can be found here.

Welcome to Artist Think Col! Tell us: how did you discover your interest in paper as an artist medium?

“I attended a paper on canvas workshop early 2008 (Jan) led by Artist Donna Parlee. I was working in pen & watercolour at the time, and although I had no real interest in working with paper as the workshop information described I held (and hold) the belief that stepping out of one’s comfort zone, experimenting, and trying new techniques is essential to feed and grow one’s creativity. Spending time with other artists can also be highly inspirational.

This workshop project involved soaking in water a sheet of paper that was larger in size than the canvas support it would be applied to. After applying gel medium to the canvas, the paper was spread over the canvas with the edges of the paper  lined up along the edges of canvas, which left a surfeit of paper to “play with” in the center.

It was while Parlee was bunching up the wet paper into a ball that I noticed the quality and character of the crumple lines; and I thought to myself those lines would make great tree branches. Inspired, I deviated from the instruction and deliberately manipulated the paper into a tree (shown above). Fortunately (and I’ll come to the why shortly) I applied tissue paper on top to add variety and a different quality of line.

I could see the lovely tree shape made from the paper: the interesting lines of the creases, the surface quality of the two papers. But while the other participants went on to paint their new works during the class. I opted instead to take mine home to see how it would look completely dry.

A day later I had no idea what to do with it. It was beautiful and I was not all that confident I would not wreck it somehow by painting over it. I worried acrylics would obliterate the finer details, and knew watercolour paint would slide off the surface.

More fortune: Just the previous week I bought acrylic inks. I had no idea inks came in acrylic form, and I found the discovery appealing enough to purchase the 3 primary colours, plus black, white, and a pen-nib. It seemed I had a solution on hand. (In my other hand I had a spray bottle of water standing by in case it all went horribly wrong!)

Proceeding with caution, I first misted the entire surface with water. Then I used the droppers in the bottle to drip the ink. The result was dazzling! The ink spread like fireworks, traveled, hugged crevasses  thinned and paled with absorption. Most importantly, and this was the pivotal discovery which spurred my ongoing practice, I noticed how the two types of paper making up my tree interacted differently to the ink staining.

Excited and mesmerized, I repeated many applications of thinned ink creating even more surface interest. It was all lovely, soft, delicate, yet I still felt I could take the piece further. It needed some definition. So, I pulled out the pen-nib and added even more lines.

Then I sat back and marveled at the possibilities offered by all the different papers in the world.”

Flash forward to early 2014.

My exploration of my technique and the material led quite naturally to an exploration of self. How did I influence the work? What were my strongest influences? Though I’ve expressed it in various ways, I believe I said it best to date as part of a grant application. Here is section from that application that tells the rest of the story.

“Enchanted, I began experimenting with subject matter — from Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker face to a seven foot tall tree trunk, and a curated 8 foot by 6 foot twelve paneled themed exhibition piece. I explored, and continue to explore, my limitations working with pen nibs and their gravity dependant dipping inks, and how different papers influenced the outcome. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed to identify which elements of my exploration could define a technique.

Within my technique it was four years before I could form my smallest bird of three inches, and five years before I attempted a furred animal — a piece that went on to win an award.

In my fifth year I also began exploring how I fit into this dance of mediums. For every piece, before the pen and ink work begins, the interaction of the materials is a source of inspiration, but what also pushes my pen? The final pen and ink stage is especially meditative, and it is there that I found my answers.

It is my memories and my experiences I reach for when art making. Specifically, the summers I spent immersed in the magnificent natural surroundings of Algonquin Park, where the too few amenities of the cottage my grandfather built on Smoke Lake in 1931 meant nature was a strong presence, very much “in my face.” No electricity, and therefore no television,  Gameboys or  iPhones meant imagination was King. My siblings and I planned our entertainment, invented games played on both land and water. We spent time still and enveloped in lush expansive views, or crouched in intense contemplation of tiny life forms or fauna; tickled or bitten by insects, entranced or startled by sound,  buffeted or soothed by wind, warmed or burned by sun.

I have come to realize my art reflects my process of viewing and experiencing nature as I remember it, that random pendulum of intensity and tranquility, the shape, colour, line, and texture I associate with nature’s wonders, beauty and complexity. All coloured by an adult’s remembrance of childhood imagination and fancy.”