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 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.

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…?

MC Escher, and printing block materials

MC Escher


Escher’s early linocuts are masterful in their use of different hatching effects to create areas of light and dark, and, thus depth.

At times this looks very decorative, pattern rather than meaning.

Some of it is quite similar to painting in the way solid shades are suggested through shading. It is also quite representational, in the sense that “accurate” information is given about the external markings of a particular form, e.g. a bird in this print.

Printmaking presents so many choices, even when using only one colour.


Not only colour, but also printing materials, present a range of choices. When researching other works, I tend to look at both woodcut and lino, mainly because there seems to be a lot more of the former. I now have experienced making relief prints using vinyl, softcut and “real” lino. The latter I just managed to procure recently, and it’s a revelation- a much, much more satisfying experience than the others. I actually dislike the sliminess of the softcut. By contrast, real lino is crisp and crunchy to cut. It’s a tactile pleasure, as was cutting wood. It feels like “carving” too. Softcut and vinyl, it’s not “carving”, it’s more like some culinary experience, like slicing ham or something. It makes a difference.

Escher’s prints are mainly woodcuts, although he also used lino. His linoprints of reflections in water are beautiful. In the catalogue I have from last year’s exhibition in Granada, which is written in Spanish and English, his prints are mainly categorised as either “woodcut” or “xylography”. I’ve tried to find out the difference, but internet definitions give them both as the same thing. A search for images gives the same results for both. The Spanish translation however, has them as either “xylografia” or “xylografia a fibra”, and I’m wondering if this has something to do with cutting either with or against the grain, a feature of woodcutting that lino doesn’t have of course. I don’t read Spanish, but came across a reference to a contemporary printmaker called Francois Marechal ( wonderful prints on the website at  A search on Google came up with some marvelously fine prints, plus some that actually used the grain of the wood in the image. I can’t see the connection to Escher’s though.

Anyway, that was just an aside….

Picasso, Le Banderillo, 1959

Picasso, Le Banderillo, 1959


I was just going through some of the images from the London Original Print Fair, and was struck by this one. Partly because the bulls were subjects I used earlier, in monoprinting.

Trying to deconstruct this one from the online image, I think it may be done in two layers, as a reduction print. The first layer, which looks greyish/ orange

(Image from London Original Print Fair iPhone App)

in my image, has the cuts that reveal the paper, and these are mainly gestural, with a broad curved blade. They suggest movement. But there are also fine lines in areas which define shapes, around the bull, faces in the crowd, and for the embroidery on the bullfighter’s costume. There is also what looks like sandpapering- cloudy white areas. I think the first inked layer may have been wiped or brushed, as there seem to be texture marks, making it a combined lino and mono-print.

The second layer is black, I think, and again there is evidence of mono-printing effects, as the bull seems to have been brushed to give it solidity. The second bullfighter figure, on the left, has the kind of rough scratched marks that I termed “distressing” earlier in my own lino cutting. All these different marks seem to work well here, whereas when I mixed marks like these (Gauguin Self-portrait), I felt they just “didn’t go” together. Maybe just my own unfamiliarity with the style at that point, combined with lack of confidence. But if Picasso did it, it has to be good…!

And at this point, I do feel a lot more familiar with the techniques of printmaking I’ve been introduced to, and feel capable of choosing from them for different effects. I think I may now use this technique of wiping the ink on a relief print I’m doing as part of my final series.

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 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. 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.