My attempts to work with ink on supports/grounds other than paper continued this term and I came across a pot of absorbent ground so decided to give it a try. Absorbent ground is a thick white gesso-like substance that can be painted on to a support. When dry it creates a highly absorbent, porous, paper like surface.
I cut up some pieces of MDF and started by coating them with gesso. I then painted on four or five layers of the absorbent ground, allowing at least 24 hours between coats. I did the same with a couple of small canvases. I was aware that putting it on canvas would be an unusual and slightly risky thing to do, the absorbent ground being brittle and the canvases being flexible, but I was interested to see what happened.
I started with the MDF supports. The first thing to note was that the ink was almost impossible to control. Had I not had plenty of practice using water based materials I probably would have given up in the first hour or so. I didn’t give up though, and as I continued I got some really lovely effects with the ink bleeding and pooling. Things I didn’t like were easily removed with water, unfortunately the things I did like were also removed at the same time! Every time I got something I liked I ruined it because the ink was so difficult to control and by the end of the day I really thought I had wasted my time.
The effects I liked though were so lovely that I didn’t want to give up and a few days later I decided to try again. As with all these things, practice is the key, and after many more hours of experimentation I eventually got something I was happy with.
My experience with the absorbent ground on canvas was similar, although the ink was slightly easier to control. The main thing was that on canvas the absorbent ground became covered in tiny cracks causing the surface to look something like the crackled glaze you see on old ceramics. I had anticipated that this would probably happen, and actually I really liked the way it looked. Obviously there is a risk that the surface will crack too much and actually come away from the support but I suppose you could varnish it and that would give it some protection.
I will definitely keep using this method, probably with the MDF as support. Although it’s incredibly difficult and time consuming to work with I think the effects are really exciting and worth the effort.