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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Series of Prints on a Theme 2: Hunter

Series of Prints on a Theme 2: Hunter

This print is also based on a quick sketch, one which seemed to have potential for movement this time. I didn’t want to specify the activity, and in fact it could be interpreted as something other than hunting, as the action is taking place off-stage, as it were (a technique I thought was effective in Hasemann’s print).

This time, I used softcut. More for economic reasons. I decided it was going to be printed in blocks, and was quite happy to “waste” softcut if it didn’t work out, whereas my stock of the real lino seemed more precious.

Why colour blocks? Well, I started with some research.

Eileen Cooper RA

I was keen to find some appealing contemporary lino cuts. I did love the work of Richard Bawden, which has that same tension between flat decorative surface and solidity of forms I admired in Hasemann.

The prints I came across by Eileen Cooper seem to have a lively quality- their design has some of the primitivism and movement of Picasso and Matisse. They are unashamedly linocuts, and flaunt their cut surfaces. They are quite complex in their layering of colours.

London Original Print Fair iPhone App

This print, After Midnight, I think must have been done with at least 3 blocks, I can’t really tell. There’s definitely a yellow block, from which certain highlights are cut (hair, face , hands- or are these coloured in a flesh tint?) The background, woman’s shoe and the man’s top also contain no yellow.

The blue is printed over white of the paper on the background and on the woman’s shoe. It seems to be printed over yellow on the woman’s dress, on parts of the background, and in the pinstripes of the man’s suit.

There’s a black layer, or a dark layer- this could possibly be a reduction from block 1 or 2, but I’m confused because the man’s top seems to be another shade of blue, not black.

It’s basic maths that the number of colours that are used increases exponentially the number of combinations that can be produced.

So, on to mine, inspired by Eileen Cooper’s bold style.

My one is printed in three colours, pink, green then dark blue/grey. I used two types of paper, Chinese calligraphy paper, and papier de soie. The whole printing process was completed in an afternoon, in four copies, thanks to using water-based inks and the fact that the weather was so hot that the inks dried quickly.

Layer 1 is pink, meant to shine through the following two layers. It’s a comic caricature kind of pink, fleshy and solid. The next layer, the green, I adjusted after two prints, so that two of them have a slightly yellower hue while the second two are slightly bluer. The green layer was the one where I wanted to use the monoprinting effects I observed in Picasso’s Il Bandillero. After rolling on the ink, I wiped and scratched it.

This added a little time to the process and dried the ink a little more, so resulted in a generally more transparent layer as well, which I had been hoping for. The interaction between the green and the pink created lots of other effects, with varying colours, textures and densities. Also very interesting were the effects of slight creases in the papier de soie. Now, I had ironed this paper in readiness for printing, and I did slide another sheet of paper underneath when turning the block over to rub the back of the paper, but this is a very fine paper and it stretches slightly. But, in fact I like the result. No, really, it’s not just an excuse! The small cracked lines of pure colour, as well as the white scratched effects, give it an aged look. By contrast, the Chinese calligraphy paper has a ridged pattern which shows up in certain areas. What a difference the paper makes.

Papier de Soie

I was only able to use these two papers for this print as it is an A4 block, and the other papers I have here are not big enough.

Finally, the dark outline layer. The registration of all three layers is not perfect, but it’s somehow ok with this print. In the end, I am pleased with it. I feel it references comic book heroes in its style, with its dark outline and its complementary colours, and alpha male archetypes in its subject matter, and therefore stands in clear contrast in both technique and content to the previous print.

This one is on calligraphy paper.

So far, so good. A series is developing… I think both of these are developments in their own way from the Kneeling Woman woodcut. I also have a contrast there- the suffering woman and the Vamp jigsaw linocut. Perhaps these are ideas to develop. Male and female roles. But that would mean bringing back something I had prepared earlier. Probably not admissible…?

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!