Roy Lichtenstein

As there is a large retrospective of Lichtensteins work on at the Tate Modern at the moment, and I am a particular admirer of his work, I thought I would do a little more research into his work. My husband has been lucky enough to visit (and bring me back the exhibition catalogue), and I saw a number of the pieces in a Pop Art exhibition in the 1990’s at the Royal Academy.

Lichtenstein’s work was contraversial as he challenged people’s view of fine art as part of the Pop Art  movement. He was largely influenced by Picasso, and his contemporary Warhol. It was after visiting Warhols studio in the 1960’s that he produced works based on advertisements of the time. His work has been referred to as “mechanised impressionism”, using Benday spots (after their inventor Benjamin Day) and smooth blocks of colour in the manner of cartoons on a massive scale.

He started working entirely in oil paint, using a home made metal screen from drilled aluminium to push the paint through with a scrub brush. In his earlier works such as “The Kiss” 1961, the size of the screen and irregularities caused by excess paint pushing through are quite obvious. He later switched to using a pre-fabricated mesh with larger holes with a cleaner result. He also tried using water based Liquitex, but later settled on a turps-soluble water-based paint called Magna for the block colours as it remains smooth as more layers are added. He used Magna based varnish in between layers. For the spots, he stayed with oil based paint as it stayed wet for longer, which was important where colour adjustments were needed.

Lichtenstein The Kiss 1962

“The Kiss” 1962

"Little Big Painting" 1965

“Little Big Painting” 1965

I am particularly interested by his series of paintings based on brushstrokes, including “Brushstrokes” and “Little Big Painting”, both 1965. He described these as “…the depiction of a grand gesture”, where expansive expressive brushstrokes are replicated in a flattened, dispassionate way. This work was considered by some to be a parody of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, and for me is a meditation on controlled and contrived marks versus free expressive marks. I imagine it to be a huge challenge to produce a piece that is deliberately flattened (I am thinking also of his black and white consumer products series of 1962 “Sock”, “Tire”, “Portable Radio”, “Golf Ball”), and yet still visually arresting. He does this with bold line and sheer scale.

"Seascape" 1964

“Seascape” 1964

I also find his seascapes and later Chinese landscapes of particular interest, especially with printmaking in mind. The use of Benday spots for shading is very effective, and it remains fascinating to me how a uniform area of one colour spots on another can appear to change, affected by the adjacent colour used.


N Dunne “Lichtenstein” Tate 2012

“Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” Tate Modern 2013 exhibition guide


More masks and back drawing

My main aim following on from my previous work was to concentrate on achieving a clean even print, with good registration. Intellectually this appears a simple task, but I have learned to my frustration that it is actually really difficult! The image here was the best in terms of the above points, although I still struggled with getting clean shapes at the edges of the masks. The print is far more even than my early attempts, mainly as I have switched from using the wetter textile screen medium, for a more putty like block printing medium. The slight tackiness of the ink helps to stop the paper sliding about. I have reverted to an earlier mask design without the fanned wings, but still think it was a challenge using relatively small masks (each bird is approximately 8cm beak to tail). I am happy that I have mastered registration, and have been using a piece of paper under the glass to line up the printing paper with. I felt that my designs are working well in both their positive and negative forms.


Whilst working on this project, I have been printing multiple prints and ghost prints simultaneously. I particularly liked this negative space print overlayed with a ghost print. I had reinforced the mask with cellotape, which accounts for the appearance on the bottom left of this print.


I also made this A5 patchwork of prints, and used it as the inspiration for a larger print.


New masks were drawn and cut on a larger scale than previously. I drew out a macquette on an A3 sheet for registration purposes, and placed it beneath the printing glass.


The final print was made on heavy smooth watercolour paper with torn edges to an approximate A3. I marked and lined up the same corner each time for registration. This is made up of five seperate prints, both positive and negative shapes, and using the same positive mask in mirror orientations. I like the contrast between positive and negative accurate registration on the lower bird compared to the movement of the top. I have also paired layers of colour in the top right against a ready mixed similar colour in the bottom left. The areas of overlap and white are also interesting in terms of shapes and composition.  If I did this again, I think I would try to give each of the three positions of the top bird more even prominence, rather than the central position being quite so dominant.


Next I moved onto back drawing, and combined it with my masks as below. The print was produced by backdrawing at the ghost printing stage, after printing with a positive mask and removing the mask from the plate. I wanted to add texture with my marks, and feel this worked well. The only annoyance was my slight misjudgement of the position of the birds, causing me to draw across one of the bird heads. Again, the drier block printing medium with acrylic is working better than my previous attempts, and the drawn marks are cleaner. I was also finding with the wetter medium that the drawn lines were pushing the ink out of the way, drawing a discharge line rather than an inked one.


This print was made in two stages. The first print was a ghost print with back drawn details in red. The yellow was added afterwards, and I laid the dry mask gently on the reverse to guide my drawing. I feel that these details are really bringing the design to life, but without being too fussy.


I finished up by drawing from life in two stages. I used a coloured pencil on the reverse to give me a better idea of how the image was looking. This was much easier in terms of planning and layering colours as there are not the same issues with registration. I thought about adding another layer to add shadows, but didn’t want to ruin it. I was aware that however lightly the paper is laid on the plate, there remains a minor amount of colour transferred to the undrawn areas. I felt that by adding too many layers, there was a risk of the background becoming muddy.