Project 13: Combination mono and linocut- preparatory work.- Design 1.

The initial starting point for this project came about after a recent counselling session regarding past grief and trauma memories. My father passed away in quite traumatic circumstances, relating to his continued battles with alcoholism in 2002; which is taking me a long time to process. Perhaps…probably..this is why I am drawn to the subject matter regarding absence/loss and hauntology. I wanted this series of works to be relating to “lost futures” representative of my father’s absence and presence throughout my life, but also his own personal loss of a happy, fully satisfying life due to his ongoing addiction.

Addiction within a family has a huge impact on childhood and it isn’t something that was openly discussed, so there is a certain amount of vulnerability in exposing these aspects of my life within a public space. And yet it feels important to work with it and express my feelings through my art, as an act of cartharticism.

Feeling inspired by my therapy session I was moved to work directly from a photographic reference of my father holding my sister and I as children. I manipulated the image on the PC and converted it to black and white.

[With hindsight I should have also spent time cropping the image to create a slightly better composition]

Choosing to work with a limited palette I felt that would create atmosphere and mood. Using process blue and extender I mapped out the different tonal values. In terms of scale, I was working small because firstly the original photo was small and intimate which I wanted to recreate and secondly I could then use the embossing machine at this size.

From these initial studies I liked the ghostly, distorted photographic quality from this technique.

I photocopied the prints and used these as a basis for working out the linocut layer by drawing various detail over. I decided the more realistic, figurative option worked the best as it made sense and connected the figures to the space.

The linocut lines worked well with the inked figures of the child figures, but I was not comfortable with the blank central figure- even though it fits my theme, this empty space seems to dominate the composition. Also I felt I needed to pay more attention to colour and the background.

Investigating colour options initially playing with the image on the PC. I then looked at the work of Robert Tavener, who I had been made aware of through an artist friend of my mother. By employing a carefully controlled limited palette to create a strong atmosphere in his works. The image that I was most drawn to was the lithograph “Fishermen with baskets” where the artist uses a lighter cool blue against a warmer darker blue to provide interest. The faces and arms have been left white with faint features showing which create a ghostly appearance.

Further printing trying different effects with mono prints and linocut template slightly offset led to some interesting results but not really achieving what I set out to. Instead focussing on the background and using two different coloured blues – cyan and blue black achieved a better result the most successful of my experiments with my first design. (See bottom left of this page of studies)

I intend to come back to this piece when I have clarified my plans for all 3 of these prints to ensure they all work together coherently, but for now I am quite pleased with this as a starting point.

Research point – Mark Hearld.

I find it interesting that the course handbook prompts research into printmakers who are also illustrators. I find the work of Hearld and Curtis very attractive and with strong design elements but find from a Fine Art perspective, find it hard to identify with their work.

That said, it is useful to look at their prints from a technical point of view to ascertain how they produced certain effects. As I was given an option, I chose to look at Mark Hearld’s work.

I cannot deny I do really like his linocuts. He studied Natural History illustration at the Royal College of Art and so the subject matter is understandably of the flora and fauna around the UK. He uses bold designs; simplifying the form of the creature, he is depicting, into its essential elements. This works well to create eye caching work with personality that is instantly recognisable for the viewer.

The prints that I favour most are those that have a limited palette; one central focus with pattern and decoration around.

In “Spey Salmon” I am particularly taken with his colour choices. The aquamarine is very strongly contrasted against the black. I assume that this is a reduction cut as there are some areas of white inter-weaved with the blue and on the stomach of the fish.

Looking closely at his mark-making in this is also helpful. There are such a large range of marks. The handling of the salmon’s body is a much more textured approach – probably using a gouge in ‘jiggling’ fashion. The background is much more linear and bolder to differentiate between the two areas on the pictorial format.

He uses transparency of ink overlaid for differing effects. The technique used in “Ballindalloch Blackbird “ is interesting in that he layers a lighter yellow ink over the black in areas which created a matte finish in some areas, reflective of the nature of the birds plumage under different light effects.

After watching this video, I had a new respect for the artist. Particularly when he discussed his collage process and how he enjoyed exploring the tensions of the materials he used. Also, I found his relationship with objects, domesticity and his collections fascinating and made me realise that there is more than just an intention to produce decorative pieces to his work; there is more of a critical context underpinning his art practice.

Reduction linocut – Nan print

Design / composition stage

Further to the last attempt, I chose to spend a lot longer playing with designs in my sketchbook before starting the carving process. This meant I knew exactly what I was doing right from the outset and produced a much more satisfactory outcome.

In order to be efficient with my time I gridded up a photo and drew an original version, which I then photocopied a number of times allowing me to refine and work over the top with colours.

As I was working there were many memories and associations of my nan that started to filter into my psyche. I remembered hearing that she had worked for boots at one time hand colouring black and white photographs. This technique creates a rather strange atmospheric effect which I thought might be interesting to explore.

The results were not particularly pleasing but from this exercise I knew that I wanted to use a very subtle palette with very limited saturation. An overpainting in gouache led to an interesting outcome which I chose to use as a basis for my print.

I was unsure how to develop the background so to be efficient I decided to scan the image in and have a quick play with different ideas on the PC in GIMP. I decided the polka dot version worked the best out of these.

Cutting

I really liked the painterly effect of the brushmarks from my little study and wanted to replicate these shapes in my print. I had been looking at the linocuts of Jess Bugler recently and particularly her Nightwatch series. I found her process very interesting. She made clay sculptures of the militia men and then photographed them in bright sunlight, these were then translated into linocuts. The resultant prints had a very sculptural, material quality that I had not seen before in print. I wanted to use this same process but using the painterly marks that I had made.

unspecified3I scanned my painting in and flipped it then printed in black and white. I traced around each shape for each relevant colour and transferred these to the blocks.

Printing

I found the black marker that I had used for the dark areas came through when I printed the pink colour. This wasn’t so much of an issue as I knew it would be covered up with further ink but it is something to remember for the future.

Whilst I worked I referred closely to the photograph of my nan rather than the initial painting. This was because I found that upon reflection the painting was not a very good likeness and I wanted to refine it as I cut. This on one hand worked to get a better likeness but on the other hand I did make some mistakes and so needed to repair the block several times with wood glue and pieces of lino. This is the stressful part of reduction lino – you can’t go back.

I chose to use a lot of extender with my colours as I wanted to emphasize the passing of time and depict that faded look. I felt that layers of transparent ink allowed me to achieve this effect quite successfully.

Through the course of printing the layers I found the more that I cut away that it was easy for ink to get into the unwanted areas. To counteract this I used a baby wipe after each inking to remove these areas. Some ink remained but most was removed so that it wasn’t too distracting on the print.

My initial sketch had 4 layers but when I added a further layer it was a step too far and ruined the atmosphere of the intial print, I therefore took the decision to keep it with three.

Final print - 3 layers

Final print – 3 layers

I tried many different types of paper to print on: Japanese papers, thin tissue and also fabric. The last two materials related to the ephemeral nature of the subject matter that I was trying to capture. Also there was a link to my Nan by using fabric reflecting that she also worked as a dressmaker.

To print onto fabric I had to use a different method. This involved placing the block upside down on top of the material and then using a hammer to hit the lino down. I found the resulting print was quite patchy and faded but actually I like this effect and feel it is in keeping with my initial intentions.

Registration worked well using my mountboard corners, however I noticed on the last layer that there was a slight overlap on the bottom even though the top was in alignment. To find out how this could have occurred I posted on facebook, and was really grateful for the support and response from various members of the group, I wanted to share a few comments here:

“I noticed it is fine at the top so your lino has stretched with cutting and printing which makes registration impossible – this happens to lino once most of it has been cut away” (student 1)

“my painting tutor said to me that a painting should look like a painting not a photo. I think your Nan print lives as a print and the fact that the overlap shows is authentic to the medium! It really doesn’t detract from the image at all, in fact I think it adds to it” (student 2)

Bowing to their greater technical knowledge, I am relieved that actually this is just something that happen when printing lino in reduction and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. I like what Hilary says about how this creates authenticity in the print and immediately makes me think of Walter Benjamin and my initial intentions. I did not set out to create a rigid, perfect reproduction, instead I wanted to embrace the various idiosyncrasies of the medium to produce prints that retained the aura of painting, so this minor blemish is in keeping with these concerns. This has also made me consider the next exercises. I would like to develop this last print into a series of more experimental prints which exploits variation, difference and imperfection.

Evaluation summary

What worked well?

  • Successful outcome in terms of colour and nostalgic / melancholic atmosphere.
  • Strong composition
  • In keeping with intentions of depicting fading time.
  • Printing onto fabric and using transparent layers of ink works well.

What was challenging / not worked so well?

  • It was a challenge to keep a clean print after cutting away large portions of the lino. It took a few runs to realise that it was a good idea to wipe the lino with a baby wipe after each inking and prior to printing. Luckily I had produced a large number of editions initially; otherwise I would have not achieved the result I wanted.
  • The overlap at the bottom edge was a frustration to me, but as discussed in the previous post – I had received feedback from other students with technical experience who explained the lino had stretched and there was nothing I could have done – its just one of those things that can happen through the reduction process and its good to embrace the imperfection.

Development?

Thinking about the idea of imperfection and authenticity has reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s criticisms of reproduction and printmaking. I would like to explore this and take this print further in project 10 when I produce more experimental prints.

Project 7: Multi-block linoprint 1: Dead Flowerheads

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREContext & Planning

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.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

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.

Printing

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.

Outcome

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.

Challenges?
• 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.

Development/ Future.
• 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.

 

References

Koren, L. (1994) Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Berkeley. Stone Bridge Press.

Single Linocuts: Mum

Context and planning

Visiting my mother at New Year was an opportunity to work from life and to improve my portrait skills as she I quite happy to sit for me. My tutor had picked up on my portraiture needing work so I thought this would be good practice.

Whilst sketching I noticed my tendency to rush, as I don’t want to put the model out, so my initial studies were very quick sketches, I also took some photos.

When I came to working light onto dark I found the process very challenging. After speaking to a fellow student she explained it is probably because I am focusing on line too much rather than areas of tone, which I need to address.

In this print wanted to produce a portrait with feeling. As I sketched Mum I noticed the lines on her face. It is interesting that you don’t often look closely at you parent’s face, I think there I a tendency to take them for granted, and it was quite disquieting to notice her ageing. I wanted to try to convey this sense in my print.

My research led me to the linocuts and woodcuts of the German Expressionists who were concerned with depicting emotions and difficulties within their work. I had a look at a number of this group. (See slideshow below)

I wanted to look closer at these artists’ prints so decided to produce a few studies of them in my sketchbook. It was a useful exercise to explore their mark-making and the way they handled the subject. I found they used dramatic lighting and strong contrasts to convey a strong sense of emotion and atmosphere.

A number of these artists were very economical with their use of line, leaving large areas blank to suggest areas rather than presenting lots of detail. The viewer’ mind fills these areas in and makes sense of the work, so simplification is key.

After returning home from my holiday I chose to continue working on the subject from photos I had taken. I cropped these down on the PC and turned them into monochrome studies.

It was important for these not to be photographic in nature, as I was looking for expression rather than accuracy, so I gridded the photos up to get the correct placement of the features but then continued to produce sketches, drawing very freely.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE“Mum 1”

• Problems with this image – I transferred it onto the lino using conte crayon and so the initial drawing rubbed away as I started to carve which caused a few issues.
• Placing the photo in front of a mirror so I could refer to the lines as I carved and meant I could work quite freely.
• I made cutting mistakes due to the lack of initial drawing. Luckily the OCA facebook forum gave me good advice on how to repair a block: – by filling unwanted gap with acrylic medium and then sanding down. I made the mistake of using modelling paste which had a very chalky texture when dry and didn’t take the ink very well. Further advice from the group suggested using cotton buds with ink on to go over the areas that weren’t printing successfully.
• This advice meant I was able to retrieve it from a complete disaster and the result was OK.

“Mum 2”

• Learning from above I traced the image with a pencil and then reinforced with a biro.
• This produced a much more accurate result and I was pleased with my mark-making particularly in the hair.
• Considering the ‘fragile style’ that my tutor had referred to I wondered whether reducing the contrast between paper and ink would create a more delicate atmosphere.
• I tried a number of alternatives using lighter inks or darker paper which provided  different types of atmosphere that I found pleasing.
• I also used a piece of cheap tissue that had some wrinkles in – I felt that these crumples and the nature of the surface linked to the theme of the fragility of life, and therefore added meaning.
• Another technique that I had come across was the use of double printing – this meant producing two prints on the same paper – there were slight differences between each pass which added an interesting atmosphere that I quite liked.

NB – After finishing my multi-block prints I had some spare background prints that I chose to print on, which were quite successful. One with a brighter sky blue colour was the most successful and was reminiscent of a print by contemporary artist Per Inge Bjorlo that I had been looking at.

Outcome

What went well?
• The subject matter and the way they were handled link well together, emphasizing the fragility of life which is a burgeoning theme in my work.
• Mark-making: The hair works well; the hatching is quite successful and the rugged expressive lines work to express a feeling and emotion of ageing and perhaps loss.
• Using a variety of papers and colours provided interesting textures and atmospheres.

Didn’t work so well/ Challenging?
• Issues with initial block transferring the design using conte crayon and losing the drawing alongside attempt to repair the block.
• Inking the lino was a struggle. I received great advice from the facebook group on how to do this – for lino she recommended I either sand the block or clean it down with a scourer before inking and then go over the block with a large number of thin layers. This took time but resulted in much better and consistent prints.

Future Development?
• Other ideas have occurred to me since completing this print – in the future I may come back to it and print onto text or perhaps I will do this as a self portrait when I get to part three of the course.