Caligo monoprints


With some left over ink, I thought I would do a quick sketch by drawing into thin ink with a cocktail stick.

I also wanted to rework my nautical print, as my tutor felt that the design was ‘a triumph’, but that a bleed of ink into the frame of my acrylic version made it look a little messy.


I am really pleased with this and feel it has a lot more atmosphere than my original. The richer tones give it a more authorative feel, and the various tints of blue look lovely rolled in to each other making a patchwork effect under the burnt sienna.


Final Monoprint Ideas

I thought I’d post a couple of prints that I have made along the way and not yet recorded. In response to my research on Lichtenstein, I was inspired to print my own version of his seascape using positive and negative prints of bubble wrap to represent the Benday spots. I used a series of simple masks to acheive the stripes.  The final result was quite pleasing, albeit in a different way to the original source material!


At the start of this module I said that I had treated myself to small etching press. I wanted to try printing monoprints with it, but only had a large glass plate – not a great idea with a press. A friend was throwing out some heavy plastic blinds, and I liberated a length of it to make a plate. I cut rectangles from the blind, snipped and sanded the edges, and scratched the surface with sandpaper to create a key. I then drew my design ino the plastic with watersoluble wax pastels. The design was based on the struts of a roof at Chatham Dockyard.



I used 300gm watercolour paper that had soaked in water to print. The plate was good for 3 prints until I redrew the plate for a further print. I used greaseproof paper between the plate/paper and the newspaper and blanket layers as I was a bit paranoid about (a) printing the newsprint on the watercolour paper, and (b) messing up the blanket. The action was smooth, but I had to be careful not to move the press as the handle was turned.  Care is needed to ensure that the two ends of the roller are at an equal height setting.


Further Monoprint

For my final example of mixed techniques, I chose to work from a sketch of a half pulled down brewery building in town. It had been taken down in sections such that a patchwork of outlines were left on the remaining wall. I then masked of a small area of the sketch for further development.



I tried redrawing this section in A4 format with gouache and watersoluble wax pastel overdrawing, but it wasn’t quite working in it’s existing form. I wanted to bring some brighter colour into it rather than sticking to neutrals, and took inspiration from my recent visit to Kaffe Fassett’s exhibition. I have a copy of ‘Glorious Knitting’ and referenced this pattern as colour inspiration.


By extending some lines and creating a patchwork of shapes, I came up with this acrylic ink design for the print. The added surface pattern was meant to help keep the two main shapes well demarcated.


The final print was printed a colour at a time, using a sketch beneath the glass as a guide for blocking out the shapes with a roller and silicone shaper. I was purposely not too strict about the exact lines, but paid care to achieve good registration and enjoyed the interaction of overlapping colour versus white gaps. I also used blockprinting medium alone to give a crisp bold colour with a more textured print rather than uniform blocks of colour. Finally, a few areas were carefully inked thinly and backdrawn.


I’m not completely sure how successful the backdrawing was, and wonder if it would have been better to enhance the pattern in the initial colour application.


Gravestone Monoprint

My starting point for this print was a very personal sketch I made last year, at a time when I had a significant health scare that resulted in my hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries at the age of 32. I had taken photos of weathered gravestones in Beverley, Yorkshire, and I had recently acquired an old home family doctor book. I combined the two ideas and drew this ‘in memory’ on a page with titled sections ‘womb’ and ‘will making’. I felt that the flourishes on the stonemasonery were similar  to the illustration of the uterus and fallopian tubes.



I liked the idea with using a collage of torn pages from the same book for my print, and selected a number of sections on consumption, convalescence and contagions. I also tried out a few colours on a test page to see how they interacted with the paper and each other, and their relative opacities.


I made this initial bleed print to try out a few ideas, and although I liked some elements, I felt that the backdrawn writing in black stood out too harshly from the rest of the print. I liked the way that the backdrawn lines pushed through the ink in a tramtrack fashion by using a slightly thicker layer of ink. I wanted the text to be slightly difficult to read, similar to the weathered stones. The negative space around the stone was masked and printed in yellow-green, a layer of iridescent gold with leaves pushed into the ink was printed over the whole page, ivy leaves were used to print the positive leaf shapes, and lastly the black lines were backdrawn.


For the final print, I printed an A4 area in the centre of an A3 collage. I started by printing a positive masked ghost print of the gravestone in black, following the backdrawing from the previous print taken from the same plate. I then printed the masked green negative space. I printed the darker positive green leaves over the top, followed by a layer of textured iridescent gold as before. Further positive leaf shapes were printed in gold. I then did the backdrawing in burnt sienna followed by black.


I am not sure that I have completely resolved this piece, but can’t quite identify why it isn’t working. I think it may be improved by printing a portrait orientation picture of a whole stone, rather than just the top. The leaf shapes are a little less distinct than I had intended, but I do like the effect of the black ghost print over the collaged paper. It really does look like weathered stone.

Japanese Prints

Prints have been made in the ukiyo-e style since the 1650’s, and originate from Edo, now known as Tokyo. Ukiyo-e translates as ‘picture of the floating world’, and the floating world was the culture developing in Edo at the time, mainly formed around the stage. The prints were produced and sold as art objects in their own right, rather than the western view of a print as a way to reproduce and sell paintings cheaply to the masses. In fact, very few original drawings survive, as they are destroyed in the printmaking process. Early prints were handcoloured, until the development of the kento system of carved registration marks and ability to use multiple coloured blocks on a single print.

There are books full of things to say about these prints, so I am focussing on just the printmaking process for this piece. Having read about them, I also visited the Victoria and Albert Museum to look at some examples for myself. Printmaking in this style is a hugely skilled task, and apprentices would start by clearing areas on colour relief blocks, moving up to cutting details, the highest skill level being the cutting of the nose of faces, which was cut in a single action. Apprentices in printing from the blocks would start by printing the colours, and the master printer would print the keyblock with all the outline detail on it. Individual printmakers were rarely identified, with the publishing house being the main credit.

Prints were made from blocks of cherry wood, carefully selected to ensure minimum knots in the wood, and grain patterns matching on all blocks for a single print as much as possible. The wood was prepared carefully and sundried, with warped blocks being discarded at this point. The surface was plained to a polished smooth surface, and prepared by spreading thickened rice starch (nori) with the heal of the hand over the whole surface. The original drawing was then flipped face down and smoothed onto the block. Once dried, the top layer of paper was removed, and the surface painted with camelia oil leaving a transparent reversed drawing adhered to the surface enough for cutting. This will become the keyblock.

The keyblock is cut first with a hangito knife, held like a dagger and supported by the other hand. A slanted cut is made towards this cut to carve a v-shaped channel. The space around the design is then cleared with a selection of specialist tools and chisels. Registration marks are cut outside the frame of the picture, and the edges of the printing paper will rest in them for printing. Several prints are taken from the keyblock, and these prints are in turn used to cut the colour blocks by a similar method. Some colour blocks were carved in with patterns, and these blocks could be used to emboss without ink by rubbing the reverse with the elbow (kimedashi) or printing with ink using a baren in the usual way (karazuri).

"The Fifth Month" from the series "The Tale of Genji in the Twelve Months", c1850-1858. V&A Museum Collection

Detail from “The Fifth Month” from the series “The Tale of Genji in the Twelve Months”, c1850-1858. V&A Museum Collection

Printing would start with the keyblock, and colours would be printed in turn, paler tones first. Any embossing would be done last. Water-based inks mixed with nori were painted onto the block with a brush, and printed on dampened washi paper. Heavy even pressure was applied on the reverse with a baren in zig-zag movements so that the ink is pushed into the fibres of the paper. The prints were allowed to dry naturally by layering in specific formations. If ink was present on the surface of the paper, too much ink had been applied to the block. The design would be visible on the reverse of the paper. It’s also common to see areas of graduated colour on Japanese prints. This effect was achieved by painting a block with water, and drops of ink applied at one end. A line of rice nori would also be applied as a stopper for the colour half way down the block. A brush was then used to slowly draw the colour into the water, diluting it slowly across the block. This was a highly skilled task to achieve an even graduation of colour. This effect is shown in the fan below, in black fading to translucency, and in another area where blue fades away and red emerges.

"Yoshiwara O-mon Gate" from the series Five Seasonal Festivals" 1855 V &A Museum Collection

“Yoshiwara O-mon Gate” from the series Five Seasonal Festivals” 1855
V &A Museum Collection

The thing that struck me most by seeing the prints for myself was the scale of the marks. The detailing around the faces and hair has marks as  fine as hair. Mosquito netting is often depicted in Japanese prints, and these were printed with two seperate blocks of parallel lines to avoid clogging of the block during printing.


Salter, R. “Printmaking Handbook: Japanese Woodblock Printing” A&C Black, 2008

Tinios, E “Japanese Prints” The British Museum, 2010 (Victoria and Albert Museum website)

BBC DVD “The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Katsushika Hokusai: The Great Wave” first aired 2004, BBC2

Final Textured Monoprint

I have continued to work in my little sketchbook, which has taken on a rather nautical theme, with most of my work based on Chatham Dockyard and my weekly walks on Portland.



For this final print, I thought I would work from an idea based on HMS Gannet at Chatham. I had started looking at the patterns caused by oxidisation of copper on the hull, and in later sketches combined this with silhouettes of windows and fixtures in other parts of the dockyard.




I come up with an idea for a composition, and did a couple of goauche sketches to make final decisions on placement and proportion of the elements. I then made a couple of small test prints of the techniques I hoped to use to see how it looked. Here they are posted onto my pinboard.


I am using a textured heavy watercolour paper with deckled edge for this print, as I felt the added texture would be interesting, and convey a feeling of rust and weathering. The turquoise and a lighter shade were brushed onto the glass plate with the brushstrokes all in the same direction mirroring the watermarks on the boat. This was then overprinted with a layer of burnt sienna, which was rolled thinly onto the glass and manipulated with a credit card-type piece of plastic. The texture of the paper meant that parts of the print were more sparsely printed in turqouise, allowing the red tones of the burnt sienna shine through. I enjoyed the contrast of turqouise with it’s near-opposite reddish-brown, and the interaction between the two when layered.

The black circles were printed onto the glass plate with a jam jar lid, and transferred onto the paper. I then inked up the plate in a very thin triangle of black, and used backdrawing for the chains.


Overall, I am pleased with this piece and think that the composition works well. It felt quite brave leaving such a large area white, but I think it balances with the heavily coloured and textured element. The high contrast between the colours also works against the black and white, with few grey tones. I can’t decide whether I was disappointed with the turquoise ink bleeding to the left of the print. Part of me likes to embrace it as part of the fun of monoprinting as opposed to more precise disciplines like block printing.

Kaffe Fassett: A Life In Colour


I visited this exhibition at Zandra Rhodes’ Fashion and Textile Museum in London this weekend. As a child my family lived in his sweater designs, knitted by my grandmother, and I have therefore been aware of his work in colour and design from an early age. He is a colourist, painter, mosaicist, and designer of knitwear, fabrics, tapestry and patchwork. Complex combinations of colour and pattern within pattern are trademarks of his work, which has been influenced by a lifetime of worldwide travel. The overall presentation of the exhibition had a circus feel with large black and white striped pillars, with work wrapped around them. I liked the ‘feeling wall’ of fabric and knitted samples, an opportunity which is often lacking in textile exhibitions. The pieces worked really well with the boldly painted walls of the FTM.


Kaffe Fassett was born in California, and moved to the UK as a young painter in 1964. His career in textiles started with a train journey to Scotland with a fashion student at St Martin’s college called Bill Gibb. He was inspired by the colours of the countryside and on a visit to a wool mill bought a selection of 20 yarns in these colours. He planned to commission a sweater, but soon realised that he would be unable to communicate how he wanted the colours to be combined. Another friend on the trip taught him to knit on the train journey back, and his first sweater incorporated all 20 colours. Where other designers work to simplify designs to create visual impact, Kaffe layers pattern on pattern to maximise the breadth of the palette used in any one piece. You can clearly see how his travels have inspired his colour choices and motifs in his designs.


Even the simplest designs have a deceptively large number of shades, and designing the different colourways for each design looked mind-boggling.


His pattern design process begins by painting still life compositions with a narrow colour theme. He looks for patterns emerging and develops things from there. His tapestry designs are mainly botanical, and he will start by painting the subject with the aid of reference images. I enjoyed the painterly shadows in his tapestry designs. This is also seen in a series of computerised machine embroideries included in the exhibition.


I have taken a number of notes and photographs on how he has dealt with the edges of his pieces. I was left invigorated by his designs, but also baffled as to how he has managed to make fluorescent hues work adjacent to warm and earthy tones. I will at least be more open to experimenting with brave and bold combinations. I am reminded of the embroidery at WEFT that married magenta and cyan with forest green and burnt sienna.