Collagraphs Revisited

Feedback for my last project was that the final images were too abstract to fulfill the brief for a representational collagraph, and I have therefore revisited this project for assessment. I really enjoyed working with the wood glue and tile adhesive grout in my initial experiments, and decide to work mainly in this medium for this plate. Living where we do, the sea is an ever present influence, and I spent some time during dog walks taking photographs of the beach. During a recent holiday to Anglesey I also spent time on a monochrome sketchbook, including looking at ripples and patterns in the sand formed by the tides.

I made this painting of a generic beach scene based on these contemplations. I used heavy body white acrylic medium to build up some texture on the sand, and dilute ink washes with water soluble metallic pastel over the top. I also printed some gold acrylic with a small eraser to indicate texture.

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The collagraph plate was based on mount board sealed with Modpodge. I made some fine texture in the area for the sky at this early sealing stage. Dried split teabags were glued in place with Modpodge, and the sea drawn quickly with wood glue, directly from its squeezy bottle. A fine layer of tile grout/adhesive was mixed with PVA and manipulated with a pointed palette knife to create the ripples in the sand. I then used a rhinestone in a metal setting from a Christmas decoration to impress rough marks in the foreground. After 48 hours drying time, I then sealed the plate with acrylic varnish on the front and back. This was left for several days before printing commenced. I also admit that I did not intend to end up with a reversed image of the original sketch design!

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I remained mindful of the other criticism that I hadn’t really been very adventurous in the inking of my previous collagraphs, and having looked at the work of other artists at Dorset art weeks, I approached the inking more like a monoprint. I used a brush initially to really work the ink into every recess on the plate in lighter tones, and wiped excess away in the style of intaglio printmaking. I rolled deeper tones lightly over the relief elements, and used a combination of brushstrokes and cloth wiping to create the clouds in the sky. I stippled white ink at the shore line, and dabbed black ink in the foreground to heighten the contrast on the rough textures. The dark areas here also helped keep the composition together balancing with the buildings in black. I printed on a warm cream paper to help give the feel of a warm day. As I am using Caligo inks, I dampened the paper and blotted it rather than leaving to soak.

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In printing different versions from the same plate, I thought it would be interesting to paint a sunset scene with lights from the shoreline reflecting on the sea. I kept the majority of the plate in a very deep violet, with the bright yellows and reds concentrated at the horizon and backlighting the buildings. I inked up in a similar way to previously, by working the ink into the plate with a brush, wiping and rolling a slight tonal shift over the relief. Having inked the plate in violet, I wiped away the areas I wanted in other colours with a detergent wipe. I selectively inked with a brush, working from light areas into dark. I worked in this way for two prints, first on grey paper and allowing more mixing of colours, forming a dirty green in places, and then on the cream paper, with less mixing. Each have their own merits, but I will be only submitting one. On balance, I thing the grey print is the stronger of the two.

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I experimented with printing on a naturally dyed ‘leather paper’ purchased in India.I  The paper is very strong, and has deep creases in it. I soaked it for a little and stretched some of these creases out. The dye didn’t run as much as I had feared, and the paper had a slightly slimy feel when wet. I have not been able to determine what sort of leather the paper is manufactured from. As the paper was wetter, the ink marks were more indistinct, and the creases in the paper also obliterated some of the marks. The lack of contrast between the paper and the violet added to this. The yellows however stood out wonderfully, and the marks from the wood glue worked really well. The overall feeling was more like a night scene as darker details are obliterated, and the focus is on the glints of light reflected on the ripples of the sea.

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More Butterfly Prints

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First off, I completed the second of the ‘framed butterflies’ prints, with chine colle butterfly leaves. Looking back at the blue print, I have decided to present the image with just two layers rather than three as the registration really was too far off. Partly for this reason, and partly because I loved how vibrant this picture was after the second layer, I have decided to do the same for this print. Some of the marks on the picture frames here were made with a soldering iron, and I think it has worked really well. If I were to rework it, I would make the clearing cuts on the large frame all in the same direction so as not to detract from the butterflies. The collage pieces didn’t quite match up with the cut marks, but I didn’t think that this mattered in the subject context.

Overall, given the technical difficulty of the prints, I was really happy with the final prints, and I feel that the design is strong. I was pleased that I have also been able to demonstrate a variety of cutting marks and use of the soldering iron.

Across the four prints, I wanted to demonstrate a narrative of butterfly collecting, so decided to use the other two prints to firstly portray the insects in among meadow flowers, as I usually enjoy seeing them; and secondly caught in a jar before mounting. I made a quick cut using a softcut alternative to lino in order to try out a design idea, and experimented with chine colle. I had done some preliminary work in my sketchbook on the best material to use for the collage, and ended up working with the same as for the print above. I also thought this helped keeping the four prints loosely together.

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I printed quite a few versions of these test prints, altering the shape of the chine colle pieces, but somehow I felt it wasn’t really working as I had hoped. I thought back to a page of overlapping butterflies in my sketchbook, and placed butterfly silhouettes on the plate in offset positions, overlapping the printed ones. I originally used solid silhouettes, then repeated the exercise with crudely cut lacy versions. This was much more appealling, and I felt it interesting enough to incorporate into the final work.

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I made a few composition sketches of how this idea could sit within a monoprint of a meadow. I made a few test monoprints, starting with a number of different flowers and the grasses painted. This was simpliflied to the most consistently successful marks only, which depicted poppies. The grass also looked really messy, and was replaced by collage wide strips of handmade green tissue paper. The collaged butterflies in blue also became confluent, and I cut these from a single sheet of tissue paper with a scalpel. I’m not sure if this can still be considered as chine colle, but I have also used monoprint in the final piece.

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Next, I worked on how the linocut butterflies would look, a made one with all cut marks, and one with a large proportion of marks made with a pyrography tool. The entire lower half of the wings on the red butterfly were marked in this way with a mixture of different toolheads. This was my favorite of the two, and I felt the veiny marks were particularly successful.

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I made a cut of three butterflies to use on the final print, and tried to leave some clearing marks around the insects inked to convey movement. I planned the exact composition before cutting by printing individual butterflies onto tracing paper laid over the cut shapes.

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The light has unfortunately caught the iridescent cutting in this photo, but you get the impression of how the final print looks. 2014-06-28 18.36.02

For the last print of butterflies in a jar, I decided to combine a lino print of a jar with a monoprint of the butterflies. I thought that this would help to portray the hard solid glass jar with the delicate flitting insects within. I thought that backdrawing would be the most appropriate way of doing this, as the lines needed to be strong in order to sit harmoniously with the linocut print. I had considered using partially sheer chine colle over the monoprint to mimic light catching the jar, partially obscuring the contents, but decided that this was not necessary. I had two attempts at cutting the jar, using a sketch in my sketchbook of a Kilner jar as a reference. I also practiced the backdrawing using various colours in a rainbow rolled fashion. I initially used contrasting colours, and then worked with various shades of blue. I thought that this worked well in creating the illusion of light and shade on the jar. I played with different thicknesses of ink on the plate until I arrived at the optimum shading on the print.

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Of all four prints, this was the simplest in terms of execution, but I think the end result is strong. I am happy that the characteristics of the subject have been portrayed in the way I intended in my selection of printing technique, marks and tones.