Blog by artist/printmaker Dawn Cole
Over the years I have come to realise that a common thread that runs through my work is contrast, contradiction and perhaps the more obvious one of conflict. Sometimes this might be just relevant to the initial catalyst that sparks a new work; words, a contrasting thought or opinion and sometimes it becomes a part of the work itself, in the thought processes and development, the materials used or the final outcome.
Over the past year I have been experimenting with lead. The desire to use lead has gradually been getting stronger for a long time but up until quite recently I was not entirely sure why or what I was going to make.
Lead as we all know is extremely poisonous to us if ingested, and historically many artists became ill from using paints containing lead and particularly lead white. It is used to make bullets and was used to make the bullets contained within the shrapnel shells used during WW1. However, it also has positive uses for us; it is used in the protective aprons in X ray rooms, to line nuclear bunkers and lead lined coffins have been used for centuries to slow the bodies natural decaying process.
I should add that making things from lead is not new for me. As a child my brother and I would melt down the old lead type that my Dad, who was a compositor, would bring home from work, to make fishing weights. We would set up a stove in the garage, without any form of protection and make a variety of weights and shot. It is very scary to think how awful the consequences might have been.
With a small nod to the nostalgia of those happy (if somewhat dangerous) days I began my ‘playing’ with lead doing exactly what I did as a child, melting it down. Although this time with extreme caution; mask, protective clothing, gloves, goggles and proper ventilation. I even used old type found in my Mum’s loft. Melting down letters to make work in response to Clarice’s diary – it feels appropriate.
I bought lead flashing, used in building, and experimented with embossing and printing onto it, with some fairly inconsistent results. So I tried making the flashing thinner by putting it through my etching press numerous times, increasing the pressure each time, very like making pasta! But the lead became very unstable and brittle so i abandoned using the lead flashing.
My research into buying lead has put me in touch with some interesting companies and I have become adept at writing emails that begin with ‘This may seem a strange request, but I am an artist and…..’ However, I have found so many helpful and interested businesses this way (and a few unhelpful). the Nuclear Engineering company who advised me on the thickness of lead that would work best for what I wanted and to the discovery of lead foil, the fishing equipment company who sought a sensitive pair of scales so that they could weigh a single piece of lead shot to calculate to tell me how many shot was contained in a 1 LB bag and the Stamp making company who did trials with some samples I sent them to make sure the embossing presses I had ordered worked properly with lead and then featured my work on their blog.
The link with the fishing industry has set up some interesting thought processes. During my research I discovered lead thread, used in fly fishing. The idea of the flies as a form of enticement, designed to entrap the fish takes me full circle and back to the origins of the word lace – to entice and ensnare. Although I haven’t gone down this root yet I have a strong suspicion that I may have to make some work based on fishing flies.