Project 10 – Experimental Print

So far in relief printmaking, we have concentrated on layered prints where separate layers are used for each colour of a single image. I have seen some prints on sale where a single print is made up of different layered images. Separation in blocks of subject rather than just colour. I was exploring this further whilst occupying our usual space in the back row at a music festival. I made this sketch with a fine pen of the crowd, and planned to use it to shape a sillouetted foreground in my print. My aim was to have a sillouetted strong foreground, a background of finer marks of the scene, and a final semi-transparent layer to unify the two previous layers.  I was quite pleased with the sketch. The only part that didn’t really work is the rucksack at the bottom right that I found difficult to describe.

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This was an initial development sketch in white ink on a watercolour ground, prussian blue caligo ink printed with Funky Foam, and rays of light printed with a thin strip of lino. It is a very quick and rather crude study, but was helpful in formulating my ideas.

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From here I made a final full size sketch that I would use as a cutting plan for my blocks. The top left area was going to be impressions of a hole punch tool in Funky Foam, but I later decided that I liked the rays of light extending out of the frame, without a stopper.

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As I skipped over talking about the colour decisions stage in my last project, I thought I would post a photo of my working process this time. I do small test prints with the palette knife, making notes on how I have arrived at a tone, and look at how the chosen colours work together in layers.

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I cut the first block in lino. The main stage and first row were cut with a v-tool for strong defined marks. The rays of light and rest of the crowd were drawn with a pyrography tool with various amounts of pressure. The light sources were finally printed with a shaped pyrography head.

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I felt that this works really well as an experimental print in it’s own right. There is an area of high contrast and sharp lines depicting the stage, and the thick cut line for the front row depicts the glare from the lights of the stage. The pyrography marks in the crowd get gradually lighter and larger towards the foreground. I like the slightly unpredictable line and this context reminded me of camera flashes going off. This photo was of a proof print, and I have since made some cleaner bolder prints from it.

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I chose to work with the Funky Foam despite the awful name as I wanted a really sharp clean print for the sillouette. I stuck the foam to backing from a clip frame, cut to the same size as the lino for registration purposes and because it is easier to print with a rigid block rather than a flexible one. The marks were added to the final layer with a single prong of a kitchen fork. I refined the cutting of the final block after an artists proof, and thinned the ink with more linseed oil so that more details from the initial print were visible.

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I feel that I achieved my objective as set out at the start in terms of unifying two design elements. I like the way that the ink behaves so that the initial print is still apprecible through the sillouette without detracting from it.

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Experimenting with printing block materials

For this part of the assignment, I made some experimental prints using Funky Foam (a thin modelling coloured foam for children), cardboard, polystyrene and upholstery foam.

Upholstery foam was very difficult to cut accurrately as it tended to compress and distort with the pressure of the blade. I tried inserting screws and pulling them out, which made small holes in the surface. I had expected to get quite a clear print with this material, but the structure is coarse and fine, meaning that very little ink was picked up on the surface. Only very faint printed marks were achieved, and any attempt to make the marks stronger by applying more pressure caused blurring and smudging of the image.

More succussful was the polystyrene. I cut it into a small block, and secured the edges with a layer of cellotape around the edge. I drew a loose continuous line sketch of a bottle and cut around it. I was surprised how well the polystyrene held fine lines together during cutting, as I was cutting a positive image to print. The initial prints were successful, with a textured finish that I had expected. The block was not durable enough to withstand cleaning and was disintegrating slightly with each print.

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Next up was cardboard sealed with a light layer of PVA. I had expected a print with more uniform flat areas, striped areas where I had stripped away the top layer, and blank areas where I had cut the corregated material away. Unfortunately the cardboard had a slightly ridged texture all over, making the differentiation between intact and stripped areas less obvious. Fine cut details were also lost in the print. This was perhaps the most disappointing of my experiments as I had seen some really good examples of cardboard prints. I think that a thicker ink such as acrylic may have been better for this.

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The piece I am most impressed with is the funky foamblock. I used a variety of materials as indicated in the cartoon below. The pyrography tips were used without heat applied. It took impressions really well, and much more defined than I had expected. The dressmaking pins on their wheel, and the slightly roughened areas with the zester were so shallow that I wasn’t sure if they would print at all. The unmarked areas were really smooth and clean in the final print, in contrast to the slight texture of lino.

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I was thinking about using styrofoam cups as a printmaking medium as they take impressions in much the same way as the foam. Rolling the cup would create a shaped print similar to Japanese fan prints. The logistics of getting a clean even print would be a technical challenge.

Project 9 – Experimental Mark Making on Lino

I approached this project by first listing destructive processes and tools that I could use to make marks. I thought about the more obvious cutting and gouging implements such as those pictured in the course materials. I had a look around the house and studio collecting together a set of hole punching and brad setting tools, stilletto shoes, kitchen implements, keys, etc. I also thought about things such as folding and breaking up the lino (taking to extremes such as running over a folded lino with my car!), and methods of heating and burning the surface. I have a heat gun and pyrography tool that I thought I could use.

Some marks such as those made with steel wool and a lighter pyrography tip drawing didn’t show up on my initial print, so I added marks with more implements. The final print was made by inking very lightly with burnt sienna Caligo ink on Japanese paper. Closely cut lines with a craft knife and some pyrography started to print in an intaglio fashion on successive prints, which added to the texture in an interesting way.

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The lino was divided into squares and marks made as listed in reference to the print below.

Row 1: Various pyrography tips

Row 2: Fine pyrography, zester rocked and rolled, zester light strokes, zester firm strokes

Row 3: Wine bottle opener, fine pyro tip for 2 squares, bottle cap twisted/scraped/hammered in

Row 4: Circlip pliers pushed in and opened, craft blade, wire cutters, brad tools

Row 5: Saw scraping, stiletto shoe heel, keys, hole punch tools

Row 6: Hack saw, kitchen fork, screwdriver and screws, folding and picking the lino.

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I was very pleased indeed with this piece, although it was quite difficult to get two prints of similar appearances due to ink build up in the marks. The lighter inking worked particularly well to show up fine details. The pyrography was a bit of a breakthough, and not something I have seen done before. The marks can be very variable, and in general more subtle than cutting. The shapes gave interesting results, particularly where the lino around the marks was also affected in a way that seemed to repel inking.

Blind Contour Sketching

To improve my drawing, I have invested in Mack Maslen’s book on Experimental Drawing, which includes a number of exercises as well as examples of artists work. A number of the exercises are variations on the theme of blind contour drawing, where the drawing is made without looking at what you are drawing, but rather the subject you are looking at or feeling. I have done a few of these, and moved onto to starting the sketch in this manner, and refining or highlighting details at the end. Below is a sketch I made in the pub (hence it is on the back of a quiz sheet with other doodles infringing on the border!) and another of a dressmaking model in my basement. I like the free quality of the drawings, and think the portrait worked particularly well. I struggle with noses, and approaching the nose as a contour map was effective. I was also particularly pleased with the ears and hair, that were all drawn blind.

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Project 8 – Reduction Method Linocut

I have had a couple of false starts with this project as I have been practising the technique. I have wanted to keep the design bold, but large areas are difficult to print evenly without the ink becoming too thick, particularly as you add layers. I have since had advice that multiple very thinly inked prints on top of one another can be an effective way to overcome this.

This attempt was based on a sketch in my small sketchbook.  It has its merits but I’m afraid I lost faith in it half way. I preferred the design at the 3 colour stage, but some of the colour decisions don’t quite make sense without the final layer. The ink got thick and gloopy after this and looked awful. I also think the image would have benefitted from more rigid ruler-straight lines rather than the freehand approach I went with. It may be horrible but I learnt from it!

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I really like the appearance of the block after printing though – the copper brown against the oxidised copper green looks great.

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In my final print, I used a picture of Hatchett Pond in the New Forest as inspiration. The sketch was made with watercolour and aquarelle pastels, and sepia ink painted with a dropper, credit card and a toothbrush. The photo has sentimental value as I took it whilst stood with my late father towards the end of his life.

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I planned the design and cutting by tracing elements of the sketch onto layered tracing paper, and used these to transfer the design to the lino. I have been looking some more a Japanese prints, and wanted to evoke the calm and majesty of these landscapes. I thought I’d take the opportunity to experiment with blending colours as I have blogged about before. To do this, I made a dabber as in the course handbook, and used this to apply colour at the transition point. I then used the small roller to blend by rolling from one edge of the block to the other, moving fractionally up and down the image each time. It was interesting seeing the effect on the overall image when the blended junction was moved slightly up the print. The colours were carefully planned for maximum impact, and the final black layer was half and half with red for a richer finish.

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I inked the block quite lightly overall, resulting in a slightly textured sparse print, though hopefully in a fairly evenly distributed fashion across the print. I printed eight copies of the final design to give me enough choice for submission. I think there is one stand-out success amongst them, and two reasonable prints.

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I also printed a version with just the final two layers, which takes on a whole different mood. It looks more like a woodcut, and somehow a more austere feel.

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Reduction Linocut Printing

The invention of this method of lino printing has been attributed to Pablo Picasso. One of his favoured techniques was to print a solid black base from an uncut lino block onto white paper, and start by carving a very simple line drawing. He would then print this in white over the initial black base, creating an interesting ground to work on. He would then print the coloured areas in blocks sequentially by removing sections of lino between each print from the same block.

I started with a simple A5 design to try the technique for size. Rather than use the Picasso approach outlined above, I went with the more common approach, starting with the paler hue, and printing gradually heavier colours. It took quite a lot of thought and planning to think about which areas needed to be cut each time.

I tried a lino ‘softcut’ substitute as I have found it prints more evenly and is easier to cut. I abandoned this though as it is so easy to carve that I kept making mistakes, and I think it is harder to make interesting varied marks. I also used much finer paper than in previous exercises, as I have managed to purchase a large pack of Japanese simli paper (90gsm). I found that this was lovely to print on, and you could see the ink sinking into the fibres of the paper. I do however need to use a lot less ink than on the heavier papers, and had a few problems with raised ridges of ink and loss of detail in places.

Despite these problems, I was pleased with the results as an early effort. I also used a jig this time that helped ensure good registration (although I still managed to mess this up a few times!). I my next attempt I need to work on getting a clean edge, as the loose fibres at the edge of the block picked up ink and made a mess. I will avoid immersing the block in water when cleaning it between cuts. The final colour is actually a very dark indigo, giving a slightly richer finish than using black.