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Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
11:08 AM 7th July 2020

Artistry of Lancashire: Jac Balmer

Punch in Jail. Collagraph Print
Punch in Jail. Collagraph Print
Jac Balmer is a truly original and innovative creator, focusing on the exploration of narrative through printmaking and making artists books.

Inspired by a love of reading, but not being a writer herself, she was drawn to illustration by the books she had as a child that incorporated words and illustrations together. Later she discovered an artist online making artists books and was inspired: she could now create books without providing the prose!

Gentleman Jim
Gentleman Jim
Each of Jac’s books tells a story beyond the words. The structure of her books and the materials used are dictated by the subject matter. For example, if the book dealt with secrets, it would lend itself to a structure with flaps and hidden sections, whereas a book dealing with serious matters would call for a more sombre colour scheme without novelty quirks.

Similarly, each project, each creation, conveys a different meaning. Jac does not work around one central theme. She is inspired by all sorts of artists: printers, painters, craftsmen, designers and makers. Her curiosity is piqued by techniques employed by other creatives: she will first work out how the technique is created, and then how she can apply it to her own work.

Jac usually begins with a chosen theme, or a project brief. From there she will make drawings, test prints, consider the influence of the text and all that combines to derive the format and structure of the finished artwork. Sometimes, however, she creates a thematic idea from a structure she wishes to recreate.

Jac is a skilled bookmaker, and increasingly creates the prose to narrate her creations. Making books draws on a range of skills: whilst she is keen to assert that she is not a book binder, which requires a niche skillset, she, like binders, ensures that the structure of a book complements the content; one is as important as the other.

Describing her work as a combination of mixed media and construction, demonstrating a broad and increasing portfolio of techniques, Jac is a collagraph printer, which, like many artistic undertakings, is not a straightforward process.

A plate is created to make prints. This is done using a firm board, onto which is pasted plaster of paris or filler, or fabric, carboard, papers mixed with and fixed using PVA glue. Filler and plaster can be sculpted and carved into for texture and pattern, and the board is left to dry, varnished, and again when dry covered in paint or printing ink to create the end result – a print. But even when a template is created, printing multiple times to produce identical images is a skill in its own right.

Etching is another technique for printmaking; again with many variations. One method requires a design to be engraved into a metallic surface; the plate exposed to acid which dissolves the exposed pieces of the plate, producing a recessed line inscription. Both techniques require use of a printing press, and in usual times people can join classes and courses, or there are “open access print studios” such as the Hot Bed Press in Salford (www.hotbedpress.org).

Currently Jac is working on a group project with North West Book Artists (https://nwbookartists.blogspot.com/) on Magellan’s Voyage. It was to be exhibited at the Liverpool Book Fair; however, the event has been placed on hold. She is also working on an editioned set of books on the theme of Isolation for an international book swop and another set of books on the theme of Collections

In addition to collecting new techniques “like a magpie” Jac is inspired by the work of Daniel Essig (https://danielessig.com/), a bookmaker with a sculptural approach to his craft. She also admires the work of Grayson Perry, its narrative nature and how Perry chooses the technique of a piece to suit the message he is intending to convey.

In the past she has created illustrations for the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake. The prose, to her, is like pictures; very slow moving and evocative. Her response to a novel now would be less direct; working with a theme or a character, rather than the text itself. She has recently reread Natasha Pulley’s The Watch Maker of Filigree Street – finding in this prose again the slow progression of pictures. As a wide reader, Jac seeks escapism through the genre of murder and mystery.

Jac’s work is available to buy. She frequents exhibitions in usual times in venues such as the Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk. She had exhibited at book art and print fairs; however these tend to be held in the USA and Australia, so the cost of shipping can be prohibitive. Even within the UK, transporting her delicate artworks can prove costly, so Jac keeps local with the exhibitions. She hopes to exhibit at the November 2020 CHET (Crosby Hall Education Trust) Art Fair subject to the resumption of normality post-COVID.

She enjoys collaboration on projects hosted by groups such as Preston Arts Society and Lancashire Archives. Previous work has resulted in the books and collagraph prints Voices from the Lockout, Gentleman Jim and Punch in Jail. The work with the archives has been heavily influenced by Lancastrian history, particularly Voices from the Lockout.

Jac feels that the role of art and the artist (across the full spectrum and all industries – those who provide creative input to an end-product) are largely underestimated, undervalued, and underappreciated. She believes the economic contribution to the country from art is also overlooked. It has been said that one key aspect of humanity that artificial intelligence cannot better is creativity, so it is hugely important that “the arts” are not again neglected in the plans to restore normalcy to this country post-lockdown.

Art has helped people cope with mental health challenges throughout the lockdown period and Jac too did absent herself from reality through art for a while at the start. There may come a time, in the future, when Jac chooses to respond to the pandemic with a project, but that will happen when she is ready, when the dust has settled and there has been time to reflect.

Do pay a visit to Jac’s website https://jacbalmer.weebly.com/ her blog http://jacsblog-jac.blogspot.com or find her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/jaccbalmer/