Manicules

Dr Kristin Mojsiewicz

I attended the pochoir workshop, thinking I had some idea of what the process was. I had previously listened to Jane Hyslop describe her research and admired the delicately layered colour in her series ‘The Intelligence of the Flowers’.

As Jane introduced the group to the historical context and uses of pochoir technique from the late 1800s onwards, I was shocked to realise images I had always assumed to be painted, such as Leon Bakst’s costume designs from the 1920s, were produced by this method. More astonishing was recognising the enormous task of producing Blaise Cendrars & Sonia Delauney’s 1913 poem-work La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France using pochoir. I was mesmerised by the numerous fashion plate pochoir workshops of Paris particularly the filigree detailing of the stencil templates, cut by hand in copper or zinc. 

I found myself thinking about how a worker would progress through the ranks of the pochoir studio – how many years might an apprenticeship be for these coloristes? Would it start with mixing colours or painting backgrounds? To me it seemed that might be the hardest thing of all – to create a flawless ground from soft layers of gouache. The variable texture, gradation, depth and density of colour signals the endless possibilities that hand colouring can produce.

Beyond the thrill of learning a new process, I wanted to participate in the Imprints of the New Modernist Editing workshop to think about colour in relation to Virginia Woolf’s writing. With my collaborators in Brass Art I had visited Monk’s House to scan the interior of Woolf’s writing shed as part of our creative research considering the use of colour in her approach to temporality. By coincidence I found myself working next to a renowned Virginia Woolf scholar in the pochoir workshop and these conversations added further dimensions to thinking about modernist text in general, and Woolf’s writing in particular.

Working within the time limitations of the workshop, and my own skillset, I focussed on the page of Woolf’s text and my memory of her Sussex garden. For me, the prismatic qualities of how Woolf uses light and refraction in her writing aligned with the specific sense memory of hands casting a shadow across the pages of a book as its being read. My pochoir endeavour then was an attempt to bring gesturing, reading hands, or manicules, to the text. It became clear that my difficulty creating opaque yet airy shadows meant that the density of the hands could obscure the written words. However, the negative shadow space of the pointing hand still acts like a manicule, elucidating and gesturing towards what is read and what can be read on the page. This is an idea I would like to work with further, in my collaborative research with Brass Art, looking at specific aspects of Woolf’s writing.

Dr Kristin Mojsiewicz
Lecturer | co-Director of Research
University of Edinburgh

Imprints of the New Modernist Editing
Art Editing Modernism