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….


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.

Collaged printing paper


These prints explore another way of applying colour to the print- using collage on the printing paper then printing onto it.

The differences between collage and chine colle:

Whereas the chine colle paper can move en route to the printing page, the collaged paper can be better controlled.

The collaged paper can be left to dry, to avoid problems with the glue interacting with the printing ink.

Both can use transparent papers, but thicker papers may be used in collage.

My experience of both chine colle and collage is that the page gets buckled. (There may be ways of stopping this) Whereas with chine colle, the ink will always print directly onto the chine colle paper, when it is a collaged paper, the printing block may be inclined to move during printing, making the print irregular. The layering of different papers for the collage also creates an irregular surface which will affect the print quality.

The collaged prints here also involve double printing: the first print establishes where the shapes are and guides the application of coloured paper. If the paper is transparent, a double print effect will be achieved.

Spanish Landscape

This print from a linocut (Spanish Landscape: one I prepared earlier!) was done by printing one layer on white paper, using water-based inks for quicker drying. Tissue paper was then cut/ torn to fit, glued down and left to dry. The final print is in oil-based ink. There is a slight movement between top and bottom prints, so that the lines are slightly blurry in effect. The tissue paper is thin however, so it has not created a very rough surface, therefore the print is quite regular. On the other hand, there are some wrinkles in the tissue paper, which has created texture.

I wonder if this particular linocut is a bit too fussy for this kind of treatment however. The sheer number of lines and colours are quite confusing to the eye. Personally I prefer this print left as it is, printed in a monotone. The layering of tissue does have nice possibilities for creating glazed effects, and intermediate colours. The sky here has worked well, with the layering of blue, beige and lilac.

Kneeling Woman

(Second photo to be added)

These two prints were also made by printing onto a page which had coloured paper pre-glued. The coloured paper in this case is a type of fancy gift wrapping paper which is fibrous and highly porous, so, if it had been made as chine colle, the glue would have gone straight through and affected the ink. As it is, the glue shines through and creates a slight sparkle. The ink also has a sheen where it has printed on the fibres of the paper. I like both of these, as they look soft and suggest skin. The printing paper, a Sakusi smooth paper has resisted buckling much better than the cartridge paper used for the other prints. Or perhaps it is the collaged paper, which, being so fibrous and open-weave, has more give in it.

Gauguin woodcut

This is done by combining the open weave gift wrap with tissue paper, for interesting effects. The tissue paper resists the ink slightly and leaves it with a shiny finish, whereas the fibrous gift wrap absorbs the ink and has a dull finish. This creates a contrast of soft and hard which works quite well for the highlights on the fruit.

Rood Tree

The one I think works absolutely the best however, is the rood tree print. For this, I mixed ink and paint, and soaked some layers of Chinese calligraphy paper.  Making brush marks, scrunching and blotting resulted in random marks, pools of ink in folds, and uptake of ink marks into the texture of the paper. I chose from these the parts that I thought best fit the shape of the letters to be overprinted, as well as trying to form them into a pleasing shape that was suggestive of a tree but still open to ambiguity.

The buckled collaged paper, as observed created an uneven printing surface which meant there was movement during the printing. To create the effect of wear on the type, I also brushed over the ink with a dry cloth before printing. And I think this works well. It’s reminiscent of a roughly printed sack- the texture suggests this too. The colours are slightly muddy, but atmospheric and evocative of woods, moisture and gloom. I like the interplay of softness and hardness, of surface and depth, and the feel of being “abras’d”, or ill-used. The red inscription “idolatrie” is now toned down a little, struggling to emerge from the background. Whereas all my earlier combination mono/lino prints of this theme were clearly two distinct layers, I feel this print integrates the two much better.

Chine Colle: the whole picture, success..

Chine Colle: the whole picture, continued

This was a return to the Kneeling Woman, and an attempt to simplify. Just do the obvious. Sky blue, body beige, ground, red, suggesting bleeding. Yes, ok, that last bit maybe not so obvious.

I really like these. The simplicity has paid off and the missing parts/ overlaps add meaning- the way the woman is imprecisely framed, the way the sky presses down along with the cut marks, the way her body is inexactly defined and is doubly wrinkled and worn, and acts as a channel for the blood that flows out of the frame. I see her as a symbol, a faceless everywoman and the ordinary commonsenseness of the colours accentuates this. The limited range of colours also is reminiscent of old children books, which in my memory were often printed in black, red and blue, but I could be misremembering something. Anyway it feels retro.

I find this a very powerful image, and in fact it even shocked me when the first one emerged. I wondered if it was too overt and maybe distasteful. But even if that’s the case, I’m sure these are the best prints I’ve produced so far.


Chine Colle: the whole picture

Chine Colle: the whole picture

I now felt I’d learned enough about the techniques to try and chine colle a whole picture. I had the ambition to create a “stained glass” effect, which would be achieved by covering the whole image and printing on black, or dark coloured paper.

I tried various processes. I realised how difficult it was to handle a large number of pieces of tissue paper, and that the process had to be simplified. This one was done by creating two large blocks of white and lilac tissue paper for the background and foreground areas. A blue shape would be enough to suggest the shaded part of the jug. Then, I cut a yellow piece in the shape of the apples, and then prepared the other colours to be stuck to this one, so that in the end I had a single unit of different colours for the apples. I cut only one piece for the pear and planned to have the lilac underlying the shaded part.

Good plan. Trouble is I forgot the first lesson, and place the shapes in the wrong order on the inked block, so that the apples and pear landed behind, not in front of the larger areas. Pity, because the apples came out quite subtle, even though they were also the wrong way round.

Version 2.

This time I got the parts the right way round. But my cutting is a little too close to the shapes and in some parts have fallen short. I’m thinking though that it’s starting to have a medieval look to it.

Version 3

Here, I tried gluing the colours to a large white piece to keep them all together. The placement of the colours is a bit off, and it looks very rough, but not in a good way….


Version 4

Much more exact- the white paper fits the frame and the colours have landed about right.

Version 5

This was rough. Roughly torn colours. They all started peeling off the block and I ended up glueing them down by brushing glue over the top. So the whole thing is shiny, which does suggest glass.


By this stage I’d got a bit fed up of the picture, to be honest.

Chine Colle on coloured paper

During a hangout with OCA fellow students, Mary Adams suggested just printing on a single sheet of coloured chine colle paper, saying it would be a worthwhile transformation. She was right.

The Gauguin woodcut overlaid with lilac tissue paper and then printed onto a purple/ blue paper now has colour variation and texture. The ink has a shiny finish it wouldn’t have on the coloured paper alone. The roughly cut tissue paper is an additional frame. The glue marks are obvious though.

Green tissue paper on white- darker paper over light, avoids the glue problem, and instead, the glued areas create colour variation.

I went back to what was left of my reduction print “Yellow Bag” and tried putting the solid shape back using tissue paper. It’s a bit weird but might work as a companion to those prints.

(No picture yet)

Then, despite having decided that the kneeling woman woodcut needed no more, nothing in the way of colour, I decided to try it too.

I used a pale coloured tissue as the chine colle paper- this was from a gift pack and was very crumpled, so it would exacerbate the worn look of the woodcut – and printed it on red paper. The irregular sticking creates texture and roughness, and I think this works. The red colour chimes emotionally with the subject matter.

Next, having decided that colour did work after all, I used abstract shapes to provide a pool of colour. The first was the flesh-coloured wrinkled tissue, torn into a rough shape that would only partly correspond to the linear outline and that would bleed outside the frame. It helps to focus on the figure, making the ink more shiny, but avoids “colouring in”, suggesting instead a presence that is not limited to the body’s outline.

This was repeated using red tissue paper on white. The torn edges contrast with the cut ones, and the rough fit with the exact one. The effect may be of a reversed spotlight, or drowning in blood. Anyway, I feel it has emotional power.

Chine Colle: making to make do

Chine Colle: making to make do

I read about Chine Colle paper online, but still didn’t know what it looked like, but had the impression of something handmade and precious, something nurtured by several generations of Japanese using the same mulberry trees.  The “terroir” philosophy applied to paper.

The one video I found online (Youtube as teaching tool.. hmmm… no option it seems, but not happy about it..) suggested that Chine Colle paper was much more firm to handle than tissue paper, which I was finding curled into a soggy ringlet once it was glued.

I had found a fancy paper in a shop- I can’t say what it is as the writing is all in Chinese- but it was fibrous, with lots of large bits caught in it- some even looking almost insect-like! It was a natural colour, uneven, and quite transparent. Here it is:

I thought I would try to dye it different colours using inks, and perhaps create something akin to Chine colle paper. (I might be totally wide of the mark, never having handled the stuff!)

Here are some pictures of the process which I modified as I progressed, from making a saturated sheet of pure colour (difficult to handle once it stuck to itself) to lifting ink off a glass plate, leaving the edges bare for handling, and also incidentally creating colour variations and texture.

For my first attempt, I thought I’d be careful, and attempt to colour in again… (“Don’t go over the lines!”) And took care to put the colours in the right order, starting with the darks- the dark red, green, peat brown and vermillion, and ending with the yellow. The shadows were to be in angular shapes, to contrast with the rounded fruit, but the yellow would be rounded and reasonably exact. I knew I had to glue each layer carefully- my previous trial had seen bits peeling off.

The results were dire. The colours ran into one another once they were glued, of course, being water-based inks, and the multiple layers were muddy and indistinct. The inks had not printed clearly because of the amount of glue creating a resist. The pear, only two layers, worked best. The glue made colours change, but that’s not a problem necessarily. But the tissue paper I’d added to the front worked best of all, as it was more transparent.

Next, to avoid the multiple gluing problem and to replicate what I thought was the reasonable success of the more abstract colouring, I tried just tearing rough shapes to suggest colour as distinct from form and line. The dyed sheets were very brittle though, and would only tear on one direction. The colours are unsubtle. I ended up making something that looks like a sample colour card for the inks.

Next I tried to combine the tissue and handmade paper, using fewer layers, while trying to use drier glue. It was reasonably accurately cut (the technique for cutting the paper shapes was to place a tracing of the print, reverse side up, under a sheet of plexiglass and cut shapes to fit that.)

This definitely worked better. Still problems with glue lifting off, and the rough texture of the handmade paper makes some parts too lumpy to stick. But I think the rough nature of it suits the finish of the woodcut. The angular shapes match better than well rounded ones. I reckoned I could touch up the glue afterwards.

Still not entirely happy with it, but it was progress.

Meanwhile, with the tracing still under the plexiglass, I tried painting on some pools of ink directly to the glass, then printed onto a black and white print, for a monoprint version. Hard to control where the liquid will end up. I could just paint onto the print with inks of course, but I’ve got addicted to the accidental side of printmaking!