Recap and looking forward

So, I think that’s about it for this course. I’ve enjoyed it a lot and now would like to try out other printmaking methods which use line- I’ll take a short course in intaglio this summer, and would like to go on to the second level course. I see it offering lots of ways of developing drawings. I really like lino- and wood-cutting, and have come to know and think a lot more about printing surfaces, the effects of different papers. I was a little less keen on monoprinting on its own, and with collographs  (I did feel very enthusiastic at first about the idea of knitting prints, but it fell flat when I didn’t get much feedback on that, so I reckoned it wasn’t really a way to go )- I think that was because both were less than satisfactory without a press. I’m also a lot more knowledgeable now about materials, and how they are affected by external factors such as temperature and humidity. I’ve been struggling getting supplies from the start, and in fact, only now, when I’ve got to the end, do I feel that I have everything I need. My other challenge of course is having everything I need in one place! I won’t manage it all in the case to go back to Hong Kong next week. But now, I have more idea how to improvise, how to redo things, how to solve problems. It’s the nature of a level one course for a complete beginner that up until the end, you’re operating with a partial view.

Now, I have a pile of sketches for a version of a religious icon- I was inspired by the handpainted folk art images on glass in the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. These will link back nicely to my earlier crucifixion pictures, and give me a great excuse to apply more gold leaf…

Print 4: Bucharest

A little detour to Bucharest and Print 4 in the series

As with life, my printing blog is going to take a detour. For a reason, as it has made me change my mind again about my final choice of prints. Bucharest- I visited the city at the end of a hiking trip to Transylvania. It was a city picking up pieces, both from a catastrophic earthquake back in the 1970s which leveled large parts of it, and from the despotic Ceausescu’s era which seems to have turned into two worlds. It’s now a free market, but not as developed as other European cities. It has traces of its past, cracks and fissures where it shows through, but it is also realigning itself with its past, as some of its dispossessed nobility creeps back and reclaims old properties, and its various cultural influences acknowledged and celebrated. It is, as many of us have to do, reinventing itself.

I wondered if Kitty Cougar could also be reinvented as a representation of the city. Relief prints are wonderfully versatile, as I have discovered. It’s not just that you can change the colour scheme to match your décor, but you can alter the mood and the message by varying colours, papers, techniques, even the order of laying down the blocks.

Cities are often personified, like ships and cars, as females. This was certainly the case in Bucharest, where I came across several uses of the “she” pronoun in reference to it. Things which caught my eye were walls, with peeling paint, posters overlaying each other, signs and graffiti.

I particularly liked this wall, up by the university, which is a tableau making various political points about the environment (the fact that Bucharest has less green space per head of population than other European cities), but which has been overlaid with points about the President (who is accused of having cheated in gaining his PhD), and racist messages relating to the Klu Klux Klan, with other tags and remarks appearing, so that it becomes an ever renewing tableau.

Alongside this was the intriguing sign offering “Non-stop funeral services”. The phrase “non-stop” appeared a lot, often in relation to very frequent signs offering “massages”. One of the graffiti slogans I saw quite often was “Verde ca primavara”- green like the spring. It immediately makes me think of Botticelli’s Primavera, and it felt appropriate to reference this, as if the city itself was in a springtime mode, trying to regrow from the cracks of a ruined past.

So, this print is an attempt to personify Bucharest as Primavera, as portrayed by Kitty Cougar… It is printed in spring-like colours, pink, fresh yellow green and pale yellow. The background was printed to look pale and distressed- achieved by making a second print from the lino. (I tried wiping and rolling patchy colours, but preferred this as it was less distracting.)

Wiping/ rolling effects- distracting


First layer- thick ink/ textured surface. The final print was taken from the textured surface of the lino after this first print had been made.


The image of Kitty Cougar is also meant to be worn and pale- like faded paint on a wall. Again, the flesh tones were done as a second inking from another print, so it had picked up specks of pink. The bikini and gloves were monoprinted- painted with a brush onto the lino, then printed, again, to achieve a distressed effect. Rather than add more ink as I did with the Belle du Jour print to add definition, I experimented with taking some off, using a wet brush to wipe the top layers down to the inked surface beneath. This creates a three-dimensional effect, and also thins the colour.

On the walls, I wanted graffiti, specifically the slogan “Verde ca Primavara”. I used a photo of this and tried to copy the handwriting style. Placing it on the background was done using masks over the image of the figure, and inked tracing paper. I used a blunt pastel mixing tool to get the spray paint effect. The poster behind the figure’s shoulder is referencing the more sordid side of things, and the Ottoman past, with the “exotic massage relaxing oriental” advertisement. This is done with Chine Colle. A piece of tissue paper was cut to fit, then the writing done in reverse on a piece of glass. Water-based ink then blurred this to make it less spelled out.

So, this is Print 4 in the series. Bucharest. I’m not sure what my new Romanian friends will make of it… I hope it’s realistically positive.

4 prints on a Theme: the plan

This was my plan:

The final series:

  1. Woman kneeling (woodcut and chine colle, printed on white Sakusi A3 paper)
  2. Belle du Jour (3 lino blocks, monoprint and gold leaf, printed on newspaper, roughly A2)
  3. Meditation (single linocut block, metal leaf, printed on A3 mulberry paper)
  4. Hunter (3 lino blocks, monoprint, printed on papier de soie, or on Chinese calligraphy paper: still deciding which I prefer. The papier de soie is a bit of a challenge to mount. Roughly A3.)


I chose these four to form the series, as they represent different fundamental human experiences, and aspects of males and females- the kneeling woman is in pain and the colours of the chine colle evoke childbirth: matched with this, the Hunter is the stereotypical alpha male, active, reaching outside the frame, and the skin colour is vulgarly pink and fleshy, dominating nature.

Belle du jour is a kneeling pose that contrasts completely with the kneeling woman above, which is why I wanted so much to include that one. Meditation is of indeterminate gender and is meant to be a very quiet print, in contrast to the others. The colour is plain and the mulberry paper soft.  I finally managed to get the gold leaf to stick, and have made various versions using gold, silver, copper and bronze suggesting the spiritual richness which contrasts with the rather etiolated body.

It was very satisfying, if a little unexpected, to be able to draw such links between life drawing and printing, and to find the quick routine sketches such a rich source of ideas for prints that tell stories. I’ve tended to paint in the past, mainly landscapes, painted en plein air, and tended to avoid figures in them. I’m now very attracted to the narrative potential of figures in imaginary settings – even the rather bland and bored straight-line anatomies that are the staple of the Hong Kong  life-drawing sessions can suggest an archetypal pose or evoke an emotion. This is something I will continue to explore.

Prints on a Theme: Meditation, with Leaf

Gold Leaf

Yes, did I mention that I finally got gold leaf to stick?

One of my finds in Bucharest was a little alley way of art shops. There I found different colours of leaf, and, finally, glue to stick it on with. So I went back to complete the “Meditation” print.

I have now been able to decorate it with silver, gold, copper and bronze coloured leaf. Of them all, I think the bronze is the most effective, as it relates to the bronze bowl Buddhist monks carry, and creates the most realistic colour for falling leaves.

So here it is, at last. Here, the leaf has a much different message to the one it conveys in the Belle du Jour print, where it is tawdry, peeling, and ironic. Here it is delicate and sincere, on soft mulberry paper. Worth the wait!

Here is a silver one, with the hallowed gluestuff.

Prints on a Theme: Combination Lino- and Mono-prints- Backdrawing: Belle du Jour

Prints on a Theme: Combination Lino- and Mono-prints- Backdrawing.

Kitty Cougar becomes Belle du Jour

Belle du Jour is the development of one of the earlier Kitty Cougar Prints.

I decided when I came back from Bucharest and reviewed the pictures, to combine the linoprints with monoprinted (backdrawn ) outlines to add more definition to them. I had had to concede that I didn’t have the equipment or the skills to produce the kind of shiny prints that I had wanted, and so the relief outlines just weren’t there, and something else was needed. I had been sketching with graphite sticks during my holiday, and liked the lines and shadows they made. So I chose a steely blue grey mixture for the lines, and used drawing tools with different degrees of sharpness.

This is one of my favourites. It’s on tissue paper and the colours are rich and shiny; the addition of the backdrawing creates an etched effect.

This one is only backdrawn once, pressing lightly for a more delicate outline and cleaner look.

Here, the texture of the original print has created quite different effects and it seems to have movement.   The backdrawing looks like charcoal.

Here, on what had been a very bland print on cartridge paper, the backdrawing and finger-pressing has given a very grainy, smudged image with a much more three-dimensional effect.

I like a lot of these. But I finally went with the newspaper printed one to develop.

I first used an H-pencil to make outlines, sketchy lines, backdrawing on the dark grey ink. Later, having been pleased with the shadows made by being heavier handed with the ink on images, I made shadows using by fingers, this time on a lighter blue mixture. I like how these smudgy effects create some unity with the newsprint underneath, while the lines stand out over the type.

To summarise,  Belle du Jour is glossy, printed on a double page of The London Review of Books which is then inked over in white. Not the Daily Mirror. Too trashy! I’ll be honest, I originally printed it on newspaper because I was short of anything else big enough, but it was the one I liked best, and which set me thinking about a richer, more layered set of references to everyday objects and street art. It’s not exactly aligned with the newspaper type, which was another accident, but one which fits. The ink is thick and shiny, and the paper is shiny, and it has, appropriately, a centrefold. It’s a seductive pose, and the colours are garish, with gold leaf suggesting an icon. She is faceless, only her body is thrust forward. The picture is loud and larger than the others I’ve done, and has monoprinted outlines giving the otherwise flat shapes some depth. She’s on offer. I want to suggest an upper-class tart, hence the title, Belle du Jour, from the book by an academic who leads a double life as a call-girl. The rattiness of the paper, its folds, the peeling gold leaf also suggests it’s been used: I wanted to get an effect like a tattered street poster, but in a good neighbourhood. The monoprinted script on the side is handwritten in style, like graffiti or a marker pen, and might have given a phone number … or a review.

Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

While making the linoprints, I was often struck by how attractive the actual linocut block looked, so made some monoprints from it as I was going along.

The second lino block

Some of these were painted onto the lino block, some used backdrawing. I used tissue paper for all of them because it was delicate enough to pick up details, even of the cut marks painted over. Here are two examples. Painting directly onto the lino allowed me to create three-dimensional effects to contrast with the flat colours of the original lino prints. I used three colours on the bikini to suggest light and shade, and was able to round out the body shapes with shadows and contours. The inked cut lines in the background now suggest a soft surface, and imply a different orientation of the body, as if she’s lying down.  The second print here is lifted off as a ghost print then backdrawn over a second inking of the lino, in red. This one does not aim at three-dimensional effects, but combines flat colours, patchy and distressed, with line.




Prints on a Theme: The Vamp: Kitty Cougar Linocut

Kitty Cougar: Lino cut

This was unfinished work from before the trip to Bucharest, so this is a bit of a recap before going on to discuss how this print eventually developed.

This was a departure into a different style, because the figure has a very different character. This is a burlesque dancer whom I sketched at life drawing. I’ve already used one of my sketches in a jigsaw lino print, and this is another pose that I found interesting. It’s a complete contrast to the introspective feel of “Meditation”, or the quietness of “Enchantment”. It could suggest movement, like “The Hunter”, but this is a still position, rather bold and provocative, not to say risqué.

In my earlier jigsaw print, I used brash unnatural colours, experimenting with green and blue for the skin, and reduced it to simple flat colour blocks. These colours were probably inspired by prints by Philip Sutton. I felt that the green skin and pink hair emphasised the commodification of the female body, and also gave the image something of the gaiety theatre air of a Toulouse Lautrec poster.

I had in mind something similar for this one, and wanted to arrive at something that would reference a promotional poster.  I also envisaged applying gold leaf to the background to make it both gaudy and ironically iconic. I was envisaging white skin- printed, not the white of paper, as I wanted it to be a positive shape, a thick viscous look if possible. The bikini in a garish colour- emerald green. Gloves in black.  A yellow background, which I would then apply gold leaf to, like a religious icon, to reinforce the boldness of the pose.

I had in mind here lino prints by Gary Hume. When I saw these at the Hong Kong Art Fair I was impressed, first of all, by their sheer scale. That I can’t aspire too, obviously. The other aspect of them that I would somehow like to emulate is their – I’m not sure what to call it- thickness, plasticity.  Their sheen. They have no need for outlines, as the layers of ink create edges in relief. The ink is built up in layers, it seems. In order to try to do something similar, the only ways I can think of using are:

  1. Using my oil based inks, which seem to be shinier and more viscous, and
  2. Layering colours one over the other, as in a reduction print
  3. Using a less absorbent paper, perhaps with a sheen.

I decided to use the biggest size lino I have, which is A3, and which would be harder to handle, printing by hand.

My problem at the time was lack of suitable paper of a size to print on. I had to scratch around for anything  that might do.

Now I’m just going to show the different versions of “Kitty Cougar” in order to talk about  the different finishes that arise from using different papers at the linocut stage.

I printed this in oil-based inks, and used the following papers- white tissue, coloured tissue, newspaper, wrapping paper and cartridge paper.

Printed on dark blue wrapping paperThis worked quite well, with the ink sitting on top of the paper and preserving its sheen.  There’s a lot of texture in the ink though- not a smooth finish at all- due to that resistant surface. The ink shows the suction marks where the paper was pulled from the plate- I’m not sure if there’s a name for these kinds of marks, but there needs to be…! I’m sure in professional printmaking terms, these are to be avoided like the plague, but I have a certain liking for them- they do serve to draw attention to the medium, pinpoint the relationship between print and surface, and yell out “This is an artificial construct” but I’d be worried about submitting it for assessment as it would probably be judged as inept, and I can’t in all honesty say it was a planned effect. I like the colours though- it’s garish- the yellow is battling against the blue in strength of hue, as well as showing its viscosity/ tenacity.

This was another one I liked. The transparent yellow background couldn’t hide the newsprint, so it has a back story and another layer of pattern. I like the contingent fact of it having a centre-fold too, and, like the wrapping paper above, it has a texture of its own from folds and creases. The paper is shiny so the sheen I wanted is there. It is a smoother finish than the wrapping paper- no suction marks this time- well stuck!

This next one is on plain cartridge paper. It has a less smooth print and no sheen because of the surface of the paper, and I’m altogether less keen on it. It has a lack of definition.

This one, above, is one tissue paper. I printed some on white and some on yellow tissue paper. They have a good sheen on them, and some wrinkles- they look both delicate and brittle.

Finally, a ghost print on red tissue. Since the tissue paper is so sensitive, it can pick up the remnants on the printing plate, including the texture that is created by lifting off a previous print, here on the skin tones. This is a less brash image and I like the contrasting tones on the flesh itself as well as how they contrast with the flatness of the clothes.

Assignment 5: 4 Prints on a theme

Four prints on a theme

Right, back after a break, refreshed and restocked. I have had new supplies of paper, from Bergerac and Bucharest,  as well as having found a nice selection of gold leaf in different colours (it’s still called “gold leaf” although it’s in silver, copper and bronze) and special paste for glueing it. This came from a wonderful little alley in Bucharest- cobblestoned, arched at both ends with cafes down the middle, and entirely given over to art shops. No printing ink, but it does seem to be very specialist, so that’s fair enough. (Lots of tempura paints though, which must be the in thing in Romania…)

And I’ve narrowed down my choice of prints for the final assignment on a theme. My choice was firmed up after visiting the Storck Museum in Bucharest and seeing the paintings of Cecilia Storck. She painted at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, and the Storck museum is the family home, with rooms entirely covered in her artwork- walls and ceilings.

She spent time in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and the influence of Gauguin can be seen in her paintings of figures in fantastic landscapes, as well as a bit of a decorative motif that is reminiscent of pre-Raphaelites. But her subject matter is spiritual and emotional. Her landscapes are imagined, as she did not, like Gauguin, travel to the south seas, but she created tableaux  that take elements of traditional religious art but which suggest a modern mythology based on the cycle of birth, life and death, and celebrate the fundamental emotions of joy, sorrow, love, pity.

Her figures, like Gauguin’s, are realistic but simplified. They exist in colourful idealised landscapes, and perform simple but dramatic gestures, like characters in a mime.

I want to make my selection of final prints based on simple, elemental poses and gestures. These will all have originated from sketches done from life, and will be placed in different imaginary contexts depending on the emotion or attitude being portrayed.  I will have tried out several versions in order to choose the techniques that work best. A lot of this will be trial and error. Yes, sketching is important, but there is only so much that can be predicted in a sketch. The difference the texture of  paper makes, for example, is not something that can be sketched, and I have found that the more rigorously I plan through sketching, the less successful the print appears to be. At this stage, still a relative beginner at printmaking, I feel it’s better to try things out and respond to results.

I’m going to reorganise the work done so far, and will bring in a print done as part of the earlier chine colle experiments to be part of the final series, as I think it fits too well to leave it out. Meanwhile, I have done a lot of other experiments with chine colle, so can hardly be accused of skiving.  Being mindful of the assignment brief, I’m confident that the final series will show a mix of techniques and materials, while also having clear relationships to each other.