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Perca #6 (Fossil Series)
paper-making installations, fossils of nautiloids, snails, paper tunnels and cavers, permanence and fragility, artwork on panels, etchings, abaca paper, acrylic emulsions, fish species, life and death, fossil forms, printmaking, transforming matter, transformation, making marks, leaving traces, acrylic emulsion, translucent paperworks, trilobites,brachiopods, park outcroppings geological history as artist inspiration, visual inspiration, sources of art conceptual ideas, graveyards as resource and inspiration
description
start quoteFossils that we find are no longer bones or shells because their substance has been changed by time. They are reproductions of themselves.end quote
-- Ursulina Stepan

While Stepan now resides in Regina she draws on two locations near her hometown of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia for her visual and conceptual inspiration. Her first stop on her visits home is at the cemetery where many of her family members are buried. The other stop is Arisaig Provincial Park on Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Strait, a geologically rich area with visible  volcanicOf or pertaining to a volcano or volcanoes; as, volcanic heat. Produced by a volcano, or, more generally, by igneous agencies; as, volcanic tufa. Changed or affected by the heat of a volcano. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  lava flows and fossil deposits. Fossils of nautiloids, snails, trilobites,  brachiopodsA class of Molluscoidea having a symmetrical bivalve shell, often attached by a fleshy peduncle. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  and many other animals can be seen in the sea cliffs and outcrops within the park. The graveyard speaks of her family history, while Arisaig contains geological history going back more than 400 million years.


Nautiloid

Trilobite

Brachiopod

History, the passage of time, transformation, and the relationship between human beings and the physical world we inhabit are at the forefront of Stepan’s art. During her career she expanded her papermaking to construct installations with tunnels and caves that people could walk through, viewing fossil images printed on the paper as they progressed. “The fossil images printed on these  translucentQuality of material which allows diffused light to pass through it.  papers work as signs telling us that this is a  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  for the past and the present,” Eileen Lampard wrote in her notes for the exhibition Papermakings: From the Earth.

Lampard went on to note the  contrastA large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.  in Ursulina Stephan’s work between the fragility and the  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (Artlex.com)  quality of the processes of papermaking and printing and the solid properties of rock. In her tunnels and caves Stepan gives her viewers an underground view of geological pre-history, and a reminder that even things that appear to be permanent will eventually be changed over time into something else. “Fossils that we find are no longer bones or shells because their substance has been changed by time. They are reproductions of themselves,” Stepan once wrote. (Birstins, 1991, quoting a letter from the artist) 

With Perca # 6, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Stepan presents etchings on handmade paper, highlighted with  acrylicSynthetic paints, with pigments dispersed in a synthetic vehicle made from polymerized acrylic acid esters, the most important of which is polymethyl methacrylate. First used by artists in the late 1940s, their use has come to rival that of oil paints because of their versatility. They can be used on nearly any surface, in transparent washes or heavy impasto, with matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes. Acrylic paints dry quickly, do not yellow, are easily removed with mineral spirits or turpentine, and can clean up with soap and water.(Artlex.com)  emulsions in certain areas. “Perca” refers to species of fish, of which the perch family is the most common. On the three panels that make up this work Stepan presents us with fossil images of fish caught permanently in a moment of time. Some of the fossil forms appear to be swimming, while others appear to be floating in place, as fish do underwater. The bodies of some of the fish are split between two panels, reinforcing the idea that matter can be transformed over time.

The fossil forms themselves also tell us a story about transformation. Using her papermaking and  printmakingA print is a shape or mark made from a block or plate or other object that is covered with wet colour (usually ink) and then pressed onto a flat surface, such as paper or textile. Most prints can be produced over and over again by re-inking the printing block or plate. Printmaking can be done in many ways, including using an engraved block or stone, transfer paper, or a film negative. The making of fine prints is generally included in the graphic arts, while the work of artists whose designs are made to satisfy the needs of more commercial clients are included in graphic design. (Artlex.com)  skills and her science knowledge of fish anatomy Stepan takes us inside the skin of the fish to the skeletal framework that gave them their shape. We see both the outside and the inside of the body at the same time. Perca # 6 continues Stepan’s exploration into how we make our mark and leave our trace. It is about both life and death.

“Elvis isn’t dead, just his body is gone.” – Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager

additional resources Creating Fossils
Duration: 2:10 min
Size: 9472kb
Creating Images
Duration: 1:59 min
Size: 8815kb
Current Influences
Duration: 2:20 min
Size: 10474kb
Home and Childhood
Duration: 2:15 min
Size: 10019kb
Using Paper
Duration: 2:30 min
Size: 11306kb
Things to Think About
  • Do you have a favourite spot of ALL spots that you like to return to? Can you describe several places somewhere in the world that you have special feelings about?  Are they nearby or far away? Are they in public or more private settings? What is it about these locations that make them special to you?

  • Have you ever walked or crawled through a tunnel or a cave? What did you look for while you were walking? What makes us curious about the “insides” of things?  ? Why do we want to know more about the interiors of what we see?

  • Have you ever seen a fossil? What did it look like, and did it remind you of anything?  What did you think about as you examined or touched it?

  • Stepan’s works deal with broad themes and expansive topics like life, death, and how things are transformed over time. Do you find this focus unsettling or upsetting? Do you think the topics of life, death and transformation over time are suitable topics for art and artists?
Advanced Activity

Science/geology link

In recent years a fish fossil was discovered by a team of scientists on Ellesmere Island in Canada's arctic. This fish had rudimentary arms and has been thought to represent the transition of life from sea to land.

Find out more about this fascinating fossil

There is a great deal of interesting information about this fossil. Do a Google search for “Tiktaalik Rosea: Images” to find out more, or visit the following sites showing pictures of the reconstruction of this fossil and the work of paleontologists.

To find out more about the latest fossil discoveries on the prairies, visit the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan, or visit their website at http://www.royalsaskmuseum.ca. You might also want to visit the Royal Tyrell Museum at http://www.tyrrellmuseum.com/.

Cross curricular/biological/geological science

In the NASA link, read the description of what life was like in the Arctic 375 million years ago when fish walked about on land. You can also go to the Dinosaur Photo Library to see a picture of what life was like back then.

Using this NASA website description as a source, and perhaps other information you can find, draw and construct a small model/diorama of how you imagine the land looked like.

Topography

An example of how artists create scientific  contextThe varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the colour of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized — i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone. (Artlex.com)  and facsimiles of ancient landscapes can also be found at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum website at Building Exhibits: Earth Sciences Gallery: Making the Mini-Dioramas and Building Exhibits: Life Sciences Gallery: Painting Miniature Models

Advanced Activity

Below are printmaking links on etching techniques and materials

This definition of etching and  printmakingA print is a shape or mark made from a block or plate or other object that is covered with wet colour (usually ink) and then pressed onto a flat surface, such as paper or textile. Most prints can be produced over and over again by re-inking the printing block or plate. Printmaking can be done in many ways, including using an engraved block or stone, transfer paper, or a film negative. The making of fine prints is generally included in the graphic arts, while the work of artists whose designs are made to satisfy the needs of more commercial clients are included in graphic design. (Artlex.com)  is quoted from a printmaking centre in Cork, Ireland:

An etching is a  printAn exactly repeatable visual statement which exists as two-dimensional physical material.  taken from a sheet of metal, usually copper, zinc or steel. The metal plate is covered with an acid resistant  groundA surface to which paint is applied, or the material used to create that surface. A painting's ground is usually specially prepared on its support. Traditionally, for oil paint on canvas use a ground of oil and white pigment, and on wood surfaces either an oil ground or gesso. Within a picture, ground may refer to a surrounding or background area. Also, in etching, it's an acid-resistent compound through which a design is drawn. (Artlex.com)  through which the artist draws an image, thus exposing the metal  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  beneath. The metal plate is then immersed in an acid bath where the acid etches or 'bites' the unprotected metal.

After cleaning off the 'ground', the plate is ready for printing. A soft etching  inkLiquid or paste media containing pigment(s) and used for writing, pen and brush drawing, and printing. Writing inks, even blacks, are rarely sufficiently permanent to be used for art purposes. Black drawing ink, known as India ink in the United States, is especially made for use in permanent works. When it dries it is water resistant, enabling it to be gone over with a wash or watercolour. Also available is a water-soluble drawing ink; though otherwise permanent, it is capable of being washed away with water, and may be preferred to water-resistant ink for certain work. Chinese ink is similar to India ink, although various minor ingredients are added to enhance its brilliancy, range of tone, and working qualities. Most colored drawing inks are not permanent; those made with permanent pigments are usually labeled with names of pigment ingredients rather than the names of hues. Printing ink is actually more closely related to paints than to the pen and brush inks. (Artlex.com)  is spread over the  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  of the plate and then wiped so that the ink remains only in the etched lines. Printing involves the plate being put through an etching press under tremendous pressure, so that the dampened paper is forced into the inked lines and textures of the plate creating an image.   (http://www.corkprintmakers.ie/)

 

For more information on the etching process, and to see some pictures of it, go to the following websites:

Simple alternate method to make prints

Stepan creates her images through the printmaking process of etching. The following activity describes a simpler  techniqueAny method of working with art materials to produce an art object. Often implied is the sense that techniques are carefully studied, exacting, or traditional, but this is not necessarily the case. Examples include basketry, blotting, carving, constructing, découpage, embossing, encaustic, exquisite corpse, firing, folding, hatching, kerning, laminating, marbling, modeling, necking. (artlex.com)   for creating prints, without chemicals and  etchingAn intaglio printing process in which an etching needle is used to draw into a wax ground applied over a metal plate. The plate is then submerged in a series of acid baths, each biting into the metal surface only where unprotected by the ground. The ground is removed, ink is forced into the etched depressions, the unetched surfaces wiped, and an impression is printed. Also, both the design etched on a plate and an impression made from an etched plate. Too often confused with engraving. (Artlex.com)  plates:

Materials needed:

  • found objects with textured or variously-shaped surfaces, for example, pieces of netting, corrugated cardboard, scrunched paper, twigs, leaves, string, clay, coins, cut vegetables, etc.

Methods:

  • Press the inked object to surface for printing. Repeat as needed, for fade-out effects. Try overprinting (overlapping of shapes).

Paper making instructions

To create prints on a textured  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  imitating ancient rock surfaces, try making your own paper. Below is a basic papermaking recipe . There are many others on the Web.

Materials:

  • all types of recyclable paper including paper bags, newspaper magazines, tissue etc.
  • window screening stapled to an old picture frame
  • blender
  • sponge/dishcloths/newspapers/dishpans/containers.

Method:

  • Soak in water, keeping in separate colours etc.
  • Soak for two or three days (heavy paper may need to be cooked in old pan to break it down.)  Take one-half cup of torn paper to two cups water.
  • Blend soaked paper for one minute (creating pulp).
  • Set paper in separate dishes (according to type). Fill dish pan half full of water, add blended pulp-mostly white, but add handful of coloured pulp. (NOTE: the amount of water in relation to the pulp determines thickness of paper.)
  • Dip screen into vat and lift it out covered in pulp. Allow water to drain.

NOTE: Left-over pulp can be mixed with white glue to form papier maché.

Online Activity
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Studio Activity

Create simulated fossils

Stepan uses fossils as inspiration for her artwork. Fossils are fascinating phenomena which provide us with evidence of evolution and early life forms. How would you respond to these paleo-biological objects and images through visual expression? Is it possible to create art and research science at the same time? If you want to see more fossils like the one seen here, go to http://www.fossilmuseum.net/Fossil_Galleries/Dinosaurs.htm

Bird Fossil

Visual techniques linked to Ursulina Stepan’s artwork

You may like to try some of the processes that Stepan uses in your own artwork. Under Advanced Activity you will find information on simple  printmakingA print is a shape or mark made from a block or plate or other object that is covered with wet colour (usually ink) and then pressed onto a flat surface, such as paper or textile. Most prints can be produced over and over again by re-inking the printing block or plate. Printmaking can be done in many ways, including using an engraved block or stone, transfer paper, or a film negative. The making of fine prints is generally included in the graphic arts, while the work of artists whose designs are made to satisfy the needs of more commercial clients are included in graphic design. (Artlex.com)  and papermaking techniques. The following describes ways to simulate fossils which might be incorporated into a visual response/or more inventive artwork.

In some cases, fossils are leftover skeletons buried in mud, clay or sand. The layers of these sediments slowly build up and become sedimentary rock. Eventually these wear away to reveal fossil formations.

When you press something, like a shell, into a soft surface, you leave behind an imprint of it in that surface. Then, if that imprint is filled up with sediment, or some other substance that hardens over time, that  sedimentThe matter which subsides to the bottom, from water or any other liquid; settlings; lees; dregs. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  takes on the  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  of the original form. This is your fossil! So, here are some instructions on how to create a “fossil” using modeling  clayMud; moist, sticky dirt. In ceramics, clay is the basic material, usually referring to any of a certain variety of mixtures of such ingredients — fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet, brittle when dry, and very hard when heated. There is a temperature with ceramic clays at which their particles fuse (vitrification), and this is most commonly controlled by heating (firing) them in a kiln. The most common types of ceramic clays are earthenware (terra cotta when fired, terra cruda when not), stonewares, and porcelain. (Artlex.com)  and plaster.

Go to “How a Fossil is Formed” to see how a fossil is formed over time

1. Imprinting

When you press something into a soft surface, you leave behind an imprint of it
in that surface.

Materials

Twigs, shells, pine cones, ferns, small bones, modeling clay, plastic baggie


Method

  • Place piece of clay in plastic bag and flatten.

  • Place object on top of bag and press into clay to make an impression.

  • Open bag and allow clay to harden.

2. Cast fossils

In nature, fossils form when imprints fill with  mineralsAn inorganic species or substance occurring in nature, having a definite chemical composition and usually a distinct crystalline form. Rocks, except certain glassy igneous forms, are either simple minerals or aggregates of minerals.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  and eventually turn to rock,
retaining the  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  of the original object.

Materials

  • Mix ½ cup of plaster to 2½ tablespoons of cold water per person, add 1/4 teaspoons of salt (helps plaster to harden)

Plaster Plaster 2 Plaster 3

Clay

Method:

  • Make up plaster.
  • Wipe imprint slightly with oil.
  • Place imprint in milk carton and cover with plaster.
  • Leave in warm spot to harden (about 60 minutes).

For more information on creating your own fossils (creating the positive form, casting with sand, etc.), go to the Cast Party section of the Trace Fossil Mystery webpage, on the Nova Scotia Museum website, at: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/TraceFossil/english/sections/activities/castparty.html

Take a look at other fossil artworks at Fossils as Art (some links on this site are below). You could also find pictures of fossils and  sketchA rough or unfinished visual composition, usually to assist in the completion of a more elaborate version.  them for placement on a t-shirt, or for matting and framing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Anderson, Jack. ‘Artist goes under the surface.’ Regina Leader Post, January 23, 2002.

Author unknown. Fossil images. Exhibition catalogue.

Author unknown. <Papermakings: From the Earth.

Beatty, Greg. ‘Handmade paper IS the image for artist.’ Regina Leader Post, December 6, 1984.

---. ‘Down-to-earth paper.’ Regina Leader Post, December 11, 1992.

Birstins, Inese. Papermakings: Ursulina McPhee Stepan.

Lampard, Eileen Egerton. Papermakings: Ursulina McPhee Stepan. Exhibition catalogues. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1991.

Long, Timothy. Groundcover. Exhibition catalogues. MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2002.

Perry, Meta. ‘Ursulina Stepan – Paper Works.’ Craft Factor, Spring 1986, p. 14.

Robertson, Sheila. ‘Exhibition evidence of paper’s potential.’ Saskatoon Star Phoenix, December 7, 1985.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning