When undertaking the Painting module I found I had an interest in observing and painting dead flowerheads. I am particularly drawn to the aesthetic of decay and in particular the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi: ‘beauty in impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection.’ (Koren, 1994) I wrote an overview of this theoretical framework here.
I am interested in ideas represented by Eastern philosophies and their acceptance of ‘what is’ exactly as it is. They observe the passing of time and the fragility of life in a sensitive, reflective way, which coveys a bitter /sweet dichotomy. This is what I am trying to convey in my own work and is something that I feel would lend itself well to printmaking.
I had some dead flowers that I found particularly beautiful that I wanted to work from. I produced some very quick rapid sketches just to get my eye in, these were not particularly good but were a starting point. I then moved to closer look at the subject in more detail. I found myself being particularly attracted to the textures of the dry petals and leaves.
I wanted to do some research into how other artists have depicted plants in print form. I looked at the work of Anselm Kiefer, William Morris and Katsushika Hokusai in my sketchbook. Each artist had looked at their subject in different ways. Morris’ art is all about design and decoration; Hokusai is similar as design is also important but there is a sensitivity in the handling of the subject and careful arrangement of the composition that creates a feeling that is missing in the former work. My preferred example was the expressive power conveyed by Kiefer in his sunflower woodcut. I liked the way that he had depicted the form of the flowers much less detailed and more rough, reminiscent of the German expressionists woodcuts from early 20th century. I also liked the more monochromatic use of colour and feel this adds to the atmosphere.
I decided to do some more observational studies with inks and then paint working very loosely. I was not grappling with the composition at this point as things were not working. I needed to do some reading into composition and looked at ‘Mastering Composition’ by Roberts, I (2008) for inspiration. This presented the idea of underlying compositional armatures to creating a pleasing picture. This was useful reading and helped provide a starting point which I could then fit other elements into. After producing a number of small thumbnail studies in my small sketchbook, things were starting to take shape.
This starting point then led me to a closer graphite sketchbook study. I wanted to look closer at the details and gain an understanding of form, and so worked carefully and closely from life. I feel I produced a successful little study that had the feel I was after.
But how was I going to translate this into lino, which is a much bolder medium?
I gridded the drawing up and produced a sketch using a thick black marker which would be my outline. This I felt was not working – the subject looked too clumsy and not the fragility I was after. So instead, using Kiefer’s work as a reference I choe to work with large shapes of dark and use hatching for the lines. I translated the drawing onto black paper and used white ink to get a sene of how I would cut the lino. This was moving in the right direction.
But now it was looking more like a single colour linocut – how could I translate into a multi-block?
I looked at this print by Prunella Clough (Black Peony) for inspiration. The way the artist had used one dominant darker motif of the flower but with paler looser organic shapes behind appealed to me. So I used this as a starting point.
My intention was to have 3 blocks:
1. Background – with a small amount of mark-making for interest.
2. Leaf-like organic shapes –very light / transparent.
3. Main Flower design.
I carved my main design first and then printed in black.
I scanned this into the PC and worked in layers – playing with colour & transparency to build up how the image would look.
I transferred the layers onto the other two blocks and carved.
The background layer I used a bit of experimental mark making using a V-cutter and also the dremel engraver to create some organic marks. I didn’t want too many as otherwise I would loose the base colour.
For the leaf layer I used a variety of cutters to cut the design. I didn’t want to overcut the block. I realise layers of texture are important to me rather than pristine clinical cutting so I was very rough with my carving to ensure that the marks from my gouges were still visible in places.
Proofing with watersoluble inks went quite well, as they are much more transparent in nature and I seemed to use the right amount of extender through chance.
The final printing with oil-based inks proved more of a challenge:
• Leaves – not transparent enough
• Therefore not enough contrast with the final plate.
Instead of throwing all of my prints away I decided to overprint with opaque white ink to try to fade out these prints and then be able to print the darker ink over the top. This actually worked quite well.
After these other variations in printing I tried were:
• Using a lot of extender and only small amount of pigment to produce a very transparent effect.
• Using paper mask to cover the area where the flower would sit so that the overlap wouldn’t be too distracting.
• Double printing – Overprinted a darker flower with lighter – found the 3D effect quite appealing.
• 180 degrees – turned the plate upside down and printed – my favourite print which worked very well to show the ghostly layer that I was after.
What worked well?
• Subject matter with the fragile mark-making provided a cohesive connection.
• Use of colour: I feel this is becoming a strength. I am able to mix the colours I need quite happily and using the PC to play with how colours work together in terms of transparency really helped with that side.
• Design – I took a lot of time over this in order to get this right and did a lot of reading to understand how I can improve. This meant that I had a reasonably strong composition from the start. I feel this area is improving which is pleasing as it was one major aim I had for the course.
• Registration – I have learned various methods of registration through the books I have read and feel that this has improved greatly.
• Initially mixing transparent and pale colours were a problem. I now realise that a tiny amount of pigment goes a long way, so I need to add the colour slowly and gradually.
• Due to all of the above issues and learning things took longer than anticipated so I was not able to keep going developing many layers of printing which I would have liked to.
• On closer inspection I am questioning whether I have met the brief fully. Perhaps all of my layers needed to fit together as a jigsaw as in a traditional multiplate to demonstrate that I can register effectively. I plan to produce another quick multi-block just to demonstrate this correctly.
Koren, L. (1994) Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Berkeley. Stone Bridge Press.