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.

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.

Series of Prints on a Theme: Enchantment Version 1


Version 1

One block, grey lino. A4 block. Printed with oil based inks.

This was going to be two blocks, but once I started, the delicate, perhaps more of a woodcut style, just became irresistible. Actually, I did try out a sketch in coloured crayons, so see how a multicoloured version would look, but decided it would be unsatisfactory. I would just be comparing it with the acrylic, and it would fall short in terms of the colour range and subtlety. So, a single colour print, cut with fine lines. I’ll print it on tissue to pick up all the details. I’m currently keen on the combination of delicate cutting and delicate tissue paper.

Here is the completed print, in dark blue on white tissue. I’m told it suggests moonlight, and that it evokes the sense of a traditional Irish story, the King of Lir, a tale of children turned into swans which ends with a fateful meeting on a lake. Well, I didn’t know this story before, and had already named the print “Enchantment”.

Printed on white papier de soie.

It does evoke moonlight, and that’s because it’s somewhat darker than I had originally planned. I’m torn with this one, whether to cut more or leave it alone.    The trees on the left are very dark, and it’s tempting to put more detail into them, but on the other hand, they’re unimportant, and more detail would just detract from the central image. Another thing I could do is just cut off an area to the left, so that here’s not so much dead dark space- but is that space atmospheric? I like the small cuts, but wonder too if I have after all fallen into the trap of making it a bit too stylised, too patterned, just what I wanted to avoid after looking at Escher’s prints. Yet the bird-shapes in the reflection in the water add to the strangeness too. I don’t know. I’ll come back to it.

This is ti printed on mulberry paper. Also very soft, it has a texture of its own which has added some interest to the dark areas, and it’s softness means it picks up the details really well.

Series of Prints on a theme 3: Enchantment

Series of Prints on a theme 3: Enchantment

So, I have a design in front of me. It’s another figure in a landscape, one that I have already drawn in pastel, and painted in acrylic, and now I have rendered it in black and white (and grey), and in the process, have made some conscious choices about shapes and contrast, envisaging this as a one- or two colour print. Actually, I’m already thinking about it in black and grey, which is odd, as the acrylic is a riot of colour. Well, maybe not so odd: the print does not give such opportunities for communicating through colour that the acrylics do.

I’m now thinking how to interpret this image through cut lines, as I have already transferred the sketch to a piece of A4 lino. I have in front of me a catalogue of prints by MC Escher. As I was saying before, these are meticulous and admirable, and are wonderful examples of pattern making. They do feel stiff though- I’m talking here about early works, such as “The Sixth Day of the Creation” (1926), which shows Adam and Eve rendered in outlines filled with horizontal lines, or “Portrait of G Escher-Umiker (Jetta)” 1925 which uses vertical lines with mathematical precision to render degrees of light and dark.

It is the sort of thing that can be done by computer now, but the carving skill is awesome. I was tempted at first to let this kind of style guide me, but am worried that it will result in something very stiff and formalised.

A less stiff rendition, and one that would be quite fitting for the magical quality that I’d like to have in this print is this one by John Buckland Wright “Tiptoe Night” 1944. It’s very fine and detailed, and is essentially flat, but has much more fluidity than a similar cutting style used in Escher’s prints. It’s illustrative, I think, and I also find that appropriate for the narrative that I’m after. I’d like to have a children’s book  or boys’ own adventure sort of feel to this picture.

(Images: London Original Print Fair iPhone App)

This more contemporary work by Anne Desmet RA, Derelict Warehouse, Olympic Site 2010, has a similar geometric precision, using the framework of the building to throw shadows and reflections, and maximising the contrastive potential of solid black and white shapes, and two types of marks- fines lines and dots. Limiting the types of marks used is a good way of unifying the image and avoiding overload of information.

This image by Anita Klein uses two blocks and very effective interplay between the lines on the outline drawing and those cast by the shadow. It’s a case where slightly off registration actually works too. Here, the two colours absolutely communicate different messages, and it’s making me question my idea of using two colours- why? What is added by the second one?

Tobias Till, P, Picadilly, on the other hand is s riot of colour. A bit mindbending figuring out the process: I can see there’s some rainbow rolling of yellow and white? I wonder how many of the colours could be combined on the same block by selective rolling.

Can I after all try something in several colours? I now have had another couriered delivery of lino: A3. Will have to cut them in two, as I simply don’t have paper big enough to print A3 on. But I have enough block material. I’m encouraged by what I see as the success of the Hunter print but need to think a bit more if it’s an appropriate style for the subject matter.