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.

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Enchantment Version 2

Version 2: Softcut Block A4

I sketched the same scene onto softcut, rather than risk cutting the first one and regretting it- I wanted to try approaching it with more open space, leaving outlines in relief. This would leave more potential for introducing colour in various ways, such as through monoprinting, or chine colle.

This is it with a bit of scratching into the ink.

Chine Colle

I went a bit silly with the tissue paper at first, layering it in strips in the open space, the area where the narrative takes place and which was meant to evoke a magical feeling. The strips of tissue work ok, but they create areas of relief themselves which stop the ink going on smoothly where they end, so the result is messy. I’ve already been through this kind of over-complicated approach to using tissue paper in my experiments with the Gauguin still life, and my conclusion there was that less is more, something I seem to have forgotten momentarily…

So I went back to just using one colour of tissue that would shine through the open area and light it up in a different colour.

At the same time, I was wondering about adding text. I wanted something simple, suggesting a fairy tale, but not actually telling anything, so came up with “Once in a pool of light”. Having no verb, it doesn’t say anything about anything happening, nor does it mention any people: just the circumstances, with the rest left to be told by the picture. I felt it added a dreamy, timeless atmosphere, so added it at the bottom, in simple handwriting in a fine line, as if written with a pen.

I only have primary colours of tissue paper here, so chose to print it in yellow, to emphasize brightness and sun, and in blue, to echo the cool moonlight feel of the previous print. The tissue is delicate enough to pick up the writing clearly, and also creates interesting texture on its own, additional ripples on the water, and cracks in the colour where it has wrinkled. It looks like the cover of an old leather-bound book. This is simple but I like it.

I also have a selection of coloured tracing paper, one of which is silver, so I printed on that too. It has no wrinkles, being a firm paper, and it has the advantage that the colour, and hence the mood, can be changed by varying the colour of paper placed behind it. It’s also shiny, so changes according to the light source.

Here are some variations using different colours behind the print.

It was actually here that I first thought of combining the tissue paper and the tracing paper. This picture uses the same combination as the Facebook print- white ink on blue tissue, overlaid with rainbow-rolled (white – pale blue) ink on clear tracing paper. The wateriness of the colours and the depths suggested by the layers seem to suit the subject matter.

Lino- and mono-print

This version is a plain print in a single colour printed firstly on Chinese calligraphy paper and then on plain drawing paper. After the inking, the colours were added by brushing colour onto the plate. This has come out rather insipid. Perhaps it’s the water-based inks- they dry quickly in the heat.

Linoprint with inking

This version is on mulberry paper, very soft and absorbent. The colours have been added by painting on drawing inks with a brush. I diluted them so that they wouldn’t jar too much with the linocut. This is probably my favourite one of them all. It, again, has the look of a quite faded old comic book or children’s story book, and so fits the retro boy’s-own-adventure feel I was after. The absorbency of the paper creates a much softer  and more even finish than the dry brushed inks in the versions above, and so the atmosphere is gentler as a result.

Chine Colle: Facebook

Facebook: Four faces

This is a large print, on roughly A1 paper. It is four versions of the self-portrait, as I did before, but I decided to try again and improve the quality of the chine colle finish by using a spray-on glue that could be used with water-based inks. As I said before, the water-based glues were just causing the tissue paper to disintegrate on contact. This is using a spray-on very strong bonding glue that I found in the hardware store- it’s not the mounting spray you get from art shops.

This is meant to be variations on a theme, using the primary colours of red, blue and green with white as a contrast. Each of the versions creates a different interplay between the colours, as well as the textures of the chine colleed print.  I was thinking of Facebook, of the different personas people construct online, each of them more or less artificial, geared to an audience. None of these faces is “realistic”, but makes a statement and forces the eye to look and read the image in different ways. It was also a nice way to experiment with different ways of using chine colle all in one image.

 

Top left

This is red ink on white papier de soie. I like how the print definition is so clear using this paper, and also like the tight wrinkles created in the non-inked paper. This one is inked in red and wiped, obliterating some of the face. The observer will still be able to “fill in” the missing parts however, so the effect is perhaps of a casual attitude or conscious mystery-making.

Bottom left

Below it is a jarring colour combination which confuses the eye due to the red and the blue being the same tones but contrasting in hue. (The photo is making the red look darker than it really is.) This is red ink on blue papier de soie, so again there are small wrinkles that compete with the fine lines in the inked colour. As mentioned before, the design of this print, portraying my own bleached white hair, confuses one about the positives and negatives already, so here, the eye is not sure what to bring forward and what to send back. This gives out a bold, even aggressive image.

Bottom Right

This one is printed on coloured tracing paper, so is rigid and has no creases. On the other hand, it plays with the eye because of the contrasts of the primary colours, and then has some movement created by the rainbow rolling of the blue and green colours. This has the effect of “changing” the colour of the red background as the eye moves over it, and the result is a very rich glowing colour that seems to have depth and fire to it.

Top right

This one is contrastingly cool. It is the most complex image, one that should have most depth as it has two paper layers. The first is white ink over blue tissue paper, then rainbow rolled white/ pale blue on grey tracing paper. The effect is a bit like an iced pond, as the eye can see down through it to the darker blue below.

The effect of the whole is a bit unsettling, I have to say!

Portrait 2

I do like this woodcut print which is hanging on the wall at Krys’s house- the artist name is Hasemann, and my research suggests this is Arminius Hasemann (1888- 1979) who was a printer and illustrator. I couldn’t find a copy of this one online, but he illustrated an edition of Don Quixote, and I wonder if this print is from there. I love the style of this, and the character it manages to convey: I could make several comparisons with the self-portrait I tried to do, all of them to the great detriment of mine.

The use of contrast is striking and unexpected- the focus is on the single open eye and the bright white shirt (which is strangely appearing orange in this photo), and the composition of the whole is a pleasing balance of geometric shapes. The image has both character and drama- the woman is giving him a wary look, as if distrustful: he has a shifty look because of the one open eye, which is looking sideways out of the picture (the other eye is presumably closed due to the smoke coming up from the stub of a cigarette in his mouth, which also has the effect of twisting his lip). He is an insalubrious looking character, and the bright white shirt perhaps belies a corrupt nature.

The carving looks rough and gestural, as it comprises mainly straight lines. These are fine lines, and are used to define geometric shapes. Sometimes the lines follow the contours of the face, sometimes not: the cheeks of both characters have been cut in straight lines as if they are flat shapes, and this tension between flatness and three-dimensionality creates interest. The hat only just stands out against the dark, scratched background, like the jacket, both emerge from the darkness in a quite sinister way. The shirt highlights, cut with a broad blade, create a real shock.

This was one of the images that came up on Google search, and I would suspect comes from Hasemann’s series of prints on a circus theme. It is a rich, in fact busy, composition, and shows a wide variety of marks: thin lines evident also in the portrait above; straight lines made by different widths of blades, marks made by rocking the blade, crosshatching used for pattern, strong contrasts of solid black and white, tension between flatness and three-dimensionality. It’s busy, as I said. I prefer the more concentrated portrait, but as a sampler of wood/ lino cutting marks, it’s excellent.

(Addendum: Information provided by Krys:

I think the 3 wood cuts on my wall incl the Matador portrait are from the cycle “Himmel und Hölle auf der Landstrasse: mit 41 Holzschnitten des Verfassers” (Heaven and Hell on the Country Road, with 41 wood cuts of Hasemann)

>> if you search for the book title and hasemann google pics shows you the matador from Page 117 books.google.com link. The wood cuts are published in 1915, but they had been done before the 1st World War, 1912 -14 on his travels through Europe, where he apparently travelled with 2 violinists and he himself played the lute in order to get enough money to live.

http://books.google.com.hk/books/about/Himmel_und_H%C3%B6lle_auf_der_Landstrasse.html?id=kQstAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminius_Hasemann is the German wiki link – there is not much info on him there either)

I decided to go back to my self-portrait and try another using more of an atmospheric style. I also wanted to have a white “shock”, so chose to make the hair (which I have, shockingly to some, bleached white..) and the chest stand out. For the face, I worked within geometric shape, also varying between following contours and making flat areas. I used a thin blade and a nail to get the rough scratched effects. The large white areas were cut using a broad curved blade. The result is more interesting than my previous one, which I think was just too much about giving information. But it’s not got a strong character,  and isn’t in the act of doing anything, so lacks drama. I’m probably not the best person to make a caricature of myself! Although it does look evil. Nuff said.

The shock of white hair is a bit reminiscent of Andy Warhol, so I’m tempted to print this in multiple colours.

Et voila.

It’s printed on sheets of papier de soie- which does translate as tissue paper, but is really different to the tissue paper I have in Hong Kong. This is very delicate, and simply can’t be used for Chine colle following the procedure I used before. It disintegrates on contact with anything water-like, therefore glue. These were printed first then placed onto the backing paper, hence all the wrinkles. As I have observed, this paper stretches. Anyway I like the wrinkles, and I think this will look interesting behind glass.

Self Portrait

Breaking new ground, subject-wise. But I’m not engaged in making pretty pictures, so why not??

Self- portrait: soft and hard effects

This was a sketch in coloured pencils, then a painting in acrylics, then a carving on a piece of softcut. Each stage was done sitting in front of a rather small portable mirror. It’s my first attempt with this material, and with this subject matter, and you can possibly see how hard I was staring! (This doubles as the professional teacher’s death glare..) The softcut is shinier than the vinyl I use in Hong Kong, and has two sides, one rougher- I wonder if it’s reversible like the stuff I have at home? I don’t think so- the rough side would make a very uneven colour surface.

Here’s the process so far:

I had blocked the sketch to indicate different directions of cut lines to suggest contours, so working towards a single colour print initially, with hatching to create form. Of course, using hatching on a face always comes out quite brutal. Anyway, I wasn’t trying to flatter myself with this, and wasn’t too worried that I made myself look like the wild boy of Aveyron. I took a few prints using some water-based inks, and made modifications. The first print version has a lot of texture, then for the second one I reduced this- I painted on a print with white acrylic in order to decide where to make the additional cuts. However, I felt that this was an image that needed softening, and that this could possibly be achieved through modifications to the block or to the printing surface.

This was an experiment in using:

  1. Wet and dry paper
  2. Different types of paper

I used cartridge paper, Chinese calligraphy paper, banana paper and “papier de soie”, which reminds me of nothing more so than the old Izal toilet paper.

Dry cartridge paper

Wet Chinese Calligraphy paper

Dry papier de soie

Dry banana paper

Wet banana paper

 

The soft papers give very sharp images, but are thin and inclined to crease. I like the “papier de soie”, but it can only be used dry, as it just disintegrates when wet. The Chinese calligraphy paper is good- it’s strong enough to be soaked, and has nice definition when dry too. The wet banana paper produced a very nice soft image, but lost definition as it dried. Wetting the paper went some way towards softening the lines, which I saw as a good thing.

Another technique that softened the image was double printing in slightly different colours.

 

Blue on green

 

  1. Combination mono- and linoprinting

This arose because of the failure of another modification- I tried to soften the lines by using sandpaper. However, unlike the vinyl I use in Hong Kong, which was very sensitive to being rubbed with sandpaper, this softcut material just shrugs it off. I tried rubbing harder, but to no avail. As an alternative then, I took a dry hard brush and brushed off some of the ink after it had been rolled on. This is a way to achieve some painterly effects on a linocut, as, with a hardish brush, the marks are visible.

Dry brushing on lino block

Similarly, I then used the brush to apply a second contrasting colour to the block after it was rolled with the first. This is another way to modify the inked surface, allows for more colours, and doesn’t present problems with registration.

Second colour painted on lino block

Another modification, possible using water-based inks, is to wet the brush slightly and paint on the block, to create hard and soft areas of the print.

soft and hard areas

  1. Reduction printing

The next modification was to cut away more of the block, aiming to make a reduction print. The second block is shown below.

Registration was lousy again. I seem to get it so wrong every time, even when I can see clearly where to place the block. This soft tissue paper moves easily though, and may have shifted on turning it over.

Blue over green reduction print

My favourite out of them is the one with the strangest colour combination- light over dark- pink over green.

Pink on green reduction print

  1. Chine colle

Finally, I had the idea of making an “identikit” effect by placing glued coloured squares of paper onto the printing block. It looks quite pop-arty. It seems like a cheap gimmick, but I prefer the chine colle used in this way, rather than for “colouring in” as I did earlier.

Chine Colle

 

The softcut is very absorbent of the ink colours. In the end, I actually prefer the softcut block itself to the prints, as it has picked up all the colours of the various print experiments!

Softcut block

Again, it’s been a journey!

Chine Colle; double printing

Chine Colle; double printing

So far, my Chine colle technique has involved using only a single ink layer. According to the course folder, creating multiple print layers “adds depth and interest”, but I’m frankly not convinced by the example shown.

But I could see the point in creating a first layer to help place the second. So I dug out an old lino cut- my first one, of Lalinde canal, and decided to use my hand-coloured hand-made paper once more. Two colours, yellow and blue, no overlap, so no running. I used an edge part of the dyed paper, and a portion which had some white patches, so that it would help suggest the reflections on the water. The lines of the trees form the first print do create a bit of depth. The ink on the rough surface of the yellow paper adds texture and the glue has made the blue run a bit into the white, so there’s a pale blue that has emerged as well.

I’m not overly fond of it though. It’s just a bit decorative and bland perhaps.

Chine Colle: the whole picture, success..

Chine Colle: the whole picture, continued

This was a return to the Kneeling Woman, and an attempt to simplify. Just do the obvious. Sky blue, body beige, ground, red, suggesting bleeding. Yes, ok, that last bit maybe not so obvious.

I really like these. The simplicity has paid off and the missing parts/ overlaps add meaning- the way the woman is imprecisely framed, the way the sky presses down along with the cut marks, the way her body is inexactly defined and is doubly wrinkled and worn, and acts as a channel for the blood that flows out of the frame. I see her as a symbol, a faceless everywoman and the ordinary commonsenseness of the colours accentuates this. The limited range of colours also is reminiscent of old children books, which in my memory were often printed in black, red and blue, but I could be misremembering something. Anyway it feels retro.

I find this a very powerful image, and in fact it even shocked me when the first one emerged. I wondered if it was too overt and maybe distasteful. But even if that’s the case, I’m sure these are the best prints I’ve produced so far.