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…

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.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Now that I have reached the last assignment, the one that involves drawing together what has been learnt and done over the course, it’s fitting to start by taking stock of what that is.

A quick brainstorm of headings first:

Monotone and colour

Drawing skills: stylisation and technical drawing, gestural marks

Relief Printing

Masks

Transferred lines

Different surfaces for relief printmaking: texture and hardness

Different mark-making tools

Laid colour- print surface and collage/ chine colle

Printing surfaces (paper types)

Registering print layers

Hand printing and pressing

 

These are the techniques I’ve experienced. I have practised some things until I feel reasonably competent, but am far from being skilled. On this course, I’m really conscious of the lack of tuition and would have appreciated the chance to attend workshops. I think my progress has been slow and hesitant some of the time, simply because of not having practical guidance.

Content

As always, the biggest issue is choice of subject matter. At least it is for me. This leaves me paralysed with indecision. Throughout this course I have chosen to portray subjects in my immediate environment : fruit, trees, still life, figures, landscape, my handbag, my dogs… Convenient, and with personal import. I have used sketches drawn on travels- fresh subject matter, and the process of making art enhances the experience- Spanish landscapes, Chinese landscapes and figures. I’ve also taken designs from other artists, Paul Serusier, Picasso  (bulls), Gauguin (Yellow Christ and Still Life with Apples, Pears and Jug, Self Portrait, among others). At times, I’ve made images that came from intuition or dreams, subjects which seemed to have a symbolic meaning (Bonfire of the Vanities). There was an activity just making marks and then seeing what they looked like (that was a process that I was initially most resistant to, but which was surprisingly fruitful). I’ve been concerned though, to come up with images that did more than describe, and perhaps this has been the reason for going so slowly. A recurring theme has been symbols and icons – Standing Stones, Christ, Hitler. I engaged in a thought process involving talking through marks, starting with runes and ending up with typeface, going via stages in the English language, but again related to the image of a crucifixion. Latterly, I’ve been trying to incorporate sketches of figures- these come from life-drawing sessions- and I’m interested in their emotional content. These are generally individual female figures. I’ve done some more personal work recently too which I wonder about trying to translate into prints- a self-portrait, sketches of my mother…

The point here, I feel, is that when you start with a sketch, a subject that interests you, you have to work towards making that printable and often the subject matter seems on the face of it not to “lend itself” to printing, or at least not easily. If one worked the other way, from the material and the techniques first, the results would probably be different, privileging  skills over subject matter. That process would most likely involve more learning from others- copying the techniques and thereby imbibing the style of someone else.

I’m always torn by which way to work. If this were described as a craft, the way to go would be to copy. On the other hand, we have professionals in the art world (as well as several wannabes studying in OCA) saying that skills are not so important. I don’t agree, but know that my life is probably too short now, and my eyesight too bad, to develop, part-time, very high levels of technical skills. The danger is, though, trying to work from scratch, being driven by the “what” of the work, rather than the “how”, and without a proper “apprenticeship”, that one tries to achieve effects in the wrong way or with the wrong medium, like trying to achieve fine lines with an oversized crayon.

On the other hand, by focussing on the “what”, (how many hands is that now? If I really had this many, printing would be easy!) there’s more chance of producing something original. (Although influences are hard to avoid, as was the case when I found I had made a design that I thought was original but had actually been channelled from the work of someone else.) If I were to ask for advice on this, I would no doubt be told that it should be a bit of both, studying the work of others, and developing your own sketchbook work. But that’s just shorthand, and doesn’t address or analyse exactly how these different activities support/ undermine each other.