Project 10: experimental mark making: the brief

I went back to the image that had inspired me the most.

I decided to redo the crucifixion on red paper, using tracing paper for the figure, which I would leave in place. This would create a three-colour picture. I used grey ink. The effect is again pleasing to me.

I was with blood bedewed 4

And this time it put me in mind of red tops and the Gilbert and George satirical pictures featuring them.

I tried out several sketches, thinking that I could translate the rune into English as a news headline, “I was with blood bedewed!” which would be suitably eye-catching, but also strangely archaic. Of course I would have to find ways of including contrasting marks, to fulfil the brief. I envisage the words, as per Gilbert and George, in red and black capital letters, with a scratched image behind.

On second thoughts, I think that could just end up looking like one of those shouty posters put outside churches that are lacking congregations. Don’t want that. Need to be more subtle, more designer, less risk of being perceived as preachy, as I’m certainly not into any kind of religious message after all.

Could I manage to use a polystyrene box somehow? They  have the virtue of being easy to carve!

Went for a walk. Thought of different alternatives, such as comic book effects, with “I was with blood bedewed” coming out of a speech bubble. Too obvious. I think I might just leave that text out. It’s too shouty. Or maybe if it was translated into old English…? it would seem more foreign and preserve some mystery. And look pretentious too though.

Passed by some kiwi vines, which they stretch like grapevines, using apparatus that make them look kind of crucified. There’s a proper name for it. Can’t recall what it is.  It’s like the apples, the way they’re stretched out flat too. I wonder if I can incorporate that, as a solid black shape, printed over a ghostly figure scratched out of red ink.

Tried lots of sketches, then slept on it, and, as is often the case, came up with a couple of images when half-sleeping…


1. A ghostly tree/ crucification made by scratching with sandpaper through a mask… Overprinted with shape of a vine/ tree/ trained apple (still can’t think of the word for it)- a kind of free spirit, set against the stunted/ cultivated one. An ambiguous relation between the two.

Made several sketches but none that I liked.

2. This photo. (attach later)

It was taken on a hike on the Wilson Trail in Hong Kong, and this is one of many weird sculptures that are sitting in the middle of the woods- no idea who did them or why, but they do seem to be falling into disrepair. It’s the strangest thing coming upon them, especially the day I did, when there was thick mist. They’re gaudy and folksy, and abundant-  humorous and creepy at the same time. There are people and animals- snakes, lions, a giant turtle painted in primary colours. The humans are grotesque, with signs of an obsession with women’s breasts. Some of the figures look like real people, such as this one. It’s like a cross between Hitler and Mao, and maybe a pillar box. Whoever it is, he looks mightily surprised to find himself there. Gloriously kitsch, if it’s ok to say that about a maybe-Hitler …. (it is about Mao: he’s already to be found waving his arm on watches and appearing on soft furnishings.)

Came up with a design which I hope takes the original idea into more light-hearted realms. Taking the first words of the text “I was with blood bedewed” – “I was” but putting them into German “Ich war”- well, the number of letters is better balanced, and it makes the link to the old Germanic language of the runes as well. It, of course, relates to  Hitler.  It’s making a light-hearted comment on being remembered. I put white marks on it, suggesting bird droppings. The eyes should look rather skew-wiff, reinforcing the look of surprise on the face of the original sculpture.

Planned it as a two block print- red and grey/black.

I used lino-cutting tools for the main body and the letters, and used a serrated knife to distress the background, to suggest the undergrowth, but without making it stand out. There would be red shapes shining through the black marks. Nothing too regular or dominating. A patch of red behind the lettering to suggest a plinth or name plate- again distressed using scissors. A patchy look would be appropriate here. I went for a small piece of lino, and like how it looks in a bigger sheet of white.

Here,I think the irregular marks made with scissors and serrated knife work well to create a background. Most of these alternative mark making tools can’t be controlled well, so are not easy to use for anything but straight lines.

But I think I have fulfilled the brief!

Project 10: experimental mark making: not for the want of a nail….

Project 10

After trying out other materials, I went back to lino. Still wanting to do another self-portrait by Gauguin, but aware of the difficulty of doing anything but straight lines with anything that would cut deeply enough to make an impression. But I tried again. If the course designer could inscribe a floor tile with a nail, surely I could inscribe a bit of lino with one! Well, yes I could, and I could also sandpaper it, and use the edge of a scissors on it, but, the fact remained that I couldn’t make any significant marks or anything  worth printing when I wasn’t restricting myself to straight lines. At this point I felt I wanted to give it up and move on. I have produced images I am pleased with by using other markmaking tools. That’s not what’s asked for in the assignment though, for some reason. Instead, one is supposed to produce something that shows contrasting markmaking. I have tried that in the Gauguin “Self-portrait with Yellow Christ” picture already and hoped to improve on that one, but don’t seem to be able to.


Project 10: experimental relief printing: using a wider range of materials


Printing using different materials

I already had one material in mind- a polystyrene packet that had contained meat.  I would inscribe this with the rune “I was with blood bedewed”.  This pack made a nice clear print because it also had marking on it which made a contrast to the scratched runes. These signs and symbols are clear to us now, but are very particular to our time and culture- e.g “ozone safe” and the dishwasher and  recycling symbols. I think the finished print has the look of a hallmark, with the mixed engraving and relief, and the overall shape of it. I find this quite a meaningful image, although it would require some interpreting perhaps. Nevertheless, I think it has a pleasing appearance which might let it stand alone.  I printed it on different colours of paper.

The great thing about this as a printing material is that it’s easy to scratch. Probably limited as to what could be inscribed though, and fragile.

I was with blood bedewed 3


It was good that this experiment in using other materials worked out. The rest of my experiments were a bit pointless, unless the point was to bring me back to my lino with a fresh sense of appreciation.

I tried putting a layer of glue onto mount board to seal it, before inscribing it with a nail.  I had chosen to do a sketch of a Gauguin self-portrait, “les Miserables”- I had the idea of making contrasting marks using this picture, contrasting the portrait in the background (which could be done with traditional lino cutting tools, leaving an outline) with the self-portrait, which I imagined in different textures, made with other tools than linocutters. This little portrait  would be a practice.

It was a complete failure- I scratched the image into the surface, but when printed, nothing very much was visible. It’s partly to do with the texture of the board, but it’s also just a case of the scratching not going deep enough.

I thought I’d try some cutting on wood. I have some offcuts of .. well, I don’t know what to call it, as I’m not a wood expert. Anyway, the surface was reasonably smooth. I tried scratching with a nail. Splinters. I decided to use my lino cutting tools, as they are actually wood carving ones. Tried the diagonal knife and the flat one, trying to make different textures.  The image I chose to do was a mask-like face- something like the Sutton Hoo helmet. Result, more splinters. I tried cutting prepared board before and was confused about cutting with or against the grain. This stuff just split and splintered either way. Here it is. I tried printing it in multiples, as that can sometimes turn nothing into something, as was the case with my practice marks. But not here.

Tried another of the offcuts, this time just slicing with a thin blade. Result, no splinters, but nothing much worth printing either.

At this point, I feel like heartily congratulating the course designer for being able to “inscribe a floor tile with a nail”. A better man than me.


Project 10: experimental relief prints: Runes: mark-making on lino



As planned, I cut some runes into strips of lino (specially cut for the purpose this time, not leftovers!): the words come from the Ruthwell Cross and translate as “I was with blood bedewed.”   (I studied these as part of my undergraduate degree, so it was a bit of rediscovery..)

I used a serrated kitchen blade and could only cut straight lines: this seems to echo how runes were cut into materials such as bone. The words on the cross are carved with no breaks, but I separated them into 3 parts, basically because of the size of my lino pieces and my paper- “I “ “was with blood” and “bedewed”. Unlike my earlier attempts with writing, I remembered to reverse it.

I planned to print these runes over a shape I had used for monoprinting, a standing stone. However, I decided instead it was more pertinent to revisit the  earlier “Yellow Christ” inspired monoprint and incorporate the runes into it. I sketched an outline and then tore it out of paper to make a crucifixion shaped mask. This was then placed onto the paper I would print on, and the runes printed in strips, in stages, over the top of it. The vaguely suggested white-on-white figure, visible as the printing was being done, was also rather appealing.

I like the result.

I was with blood bedewed 1

The runes are barely legible, but the straight cuts make a good contrast with the torn edges of the negative shape, and the straight lines of the lino strips also contrast with the shape of the body. As observed before, this shape is nicely ambiguous- halfway between a suffering corpse and a dancing figure. I think this fits with the ambiguous words of the inscription, which could be read as poetic beauty or torture. Only after I had finished did I realise that I had put the strips in the wrong order, so did another version, this time making the mask in tracing paper, which had a slightly softened look as it was printed over. I am tempted to leave it in place.

I was with blood bedewed 2

In the interests of experimentation, I tried using more cut masks, placing them on the inking plate, and inscribing  the runes into the ink using a nail. This didn’t work at all.  It made no impact as an image. I tried using other implements to make the runes clearer, but they were no better, so gave this up.

While I had ink left over I tried some more monoprints, as I have now realised that the reason I had little success with some of the techniques that I was trying in summer, was the use of water-based inks. The oil-based ones I brought with me this time are much stickier. This scratched crucifixion/ dancer was quite appealing to me.

Project 10: experimental relief prints: Gauguin Self-portrait with Yellow Christ: markmaking on lino

Project 10 Experimental relief prints

1. Gauguin Self-portrait with Yellow Christ

In this self-portrait, Gauguin portrays himself against two images, the Yellow Christ, and a grotesque head, perhaps representing his own savage identity (Gauguin, Maker of Myth, Tate 2010). He is turning towards the latter. I like the composition here- the overlapping forms, and the easy flow from very different images in an ambiguous space. I thought it could be something to experiment with, trying to use different markmaking techniques to bring out the contrasts.

It’s not very successful, because I was being too rough and trying things for the sake of it. I chose mainly the traditional cutting tools for the portrait, using directional cuts to suggest contours, sometimes following the brushstrokes of the original. The sweater is “distressed” using a flat blade. The Yellow Christ was also done with lino cutting tools, with a large blade, to fit the rather simplified rendering of the image in the original. I used sandpaper on the loin cloth and the chest, to soften the ink a bit. I also tried to roughen the wood on the cross. These were attempts to bring the three parts of the picture together in some way.

The main development I tried to achieve with the use of different marking making techniques was a movement from clear definition to a more subtle gradation between light and dark. This was achieved by using sandpaper, scissors and serrated knife cuts on the left side of the picture, while the right side is sharply contrasting through the use of traditional cutting tools. At the first printing, the pagan god image was not clear enough, so I added more cuts to bring it out, and used more sandpaper. This has almost rubbed away the image though, and it’s now too light.

Another effect I like- unrelated to this exercise- is not going right to the edge of the lino, and leaving the rolled ink edges visible. I exacerbate this on one print by rolling the ink on in diagonal lines.