Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

While making the linoprints, I was often struck by how attractive the actual linocut block looked, so made some monoprints from it as I was going along.

The second lino block

Some of these were painted onto the lino block, some used backdrawing. I used tissue paper for all of them because it was delicate enough to pick up details, even of the cut marks painted over. Here are two examples. Painting directly onto the lino allowed me to create three-dimensional effects to contrast with the flat colours of the original lino prints. I used three colours on the bikini to suggest light and shade, and was able to round out the body shapes with shadows and contours. The inked cut lines in the background now suggest a soft surface, and imply a different orientation of the body, as if she’s lying down.  The second print here is lifted off as a ghost print then backdrawn over a second inking of the lino, in red. This one does not aim at three-dimensional effects, but combines flat colours, patchy and distressed, with line.





Prints on a Theme: The Vamp: Kitty Cougar Linocut

Kitty Cougar: Lino cut

This was unfinished work from before the trip to Bucharest, so this is a bit of a recap before going on to discuss how this print eventually developed.

This was a departure into a different style, because the figure has a very different character. This is a burlesque dancer whom I sketched at life drawing. I’ve already used one of my sketches in a jigsaw lino print, and this is another pose that I found interesting. It’s a complete contrast to the introspective feel of “Meditation”, or the quietness of “Enchantment”. It could suggest movement, like “The Hunter”, but this is a still position, rather bold and provocative, not to say risqué.

In my earlier jigsaw print, I used brash unnatural colours, experimenting with green and blue for the skin, and reduced it to simple flat colour blocks. These colours were probably inspired by prints by Philip Sutton. I felt that the green skin and pink hair emphasised the commodification of the female body, and also gave the image something of the gaiety theatre air of a Toulouse Lautrec poster.

I had in mind something similar for this one, and wanted to arrive at something that would reference a promotional poster.  I also envisaged applying gold leaf to the background to make it both gaudy and ironically iconic. I was envisaging white skin- printed, not the white of paper, as I wanted it to be a positive shape, a thick viscous look if possible. The bikini in a garish colour- emerald green. Gloves in black.  A yellow background, which I would then apply gold leaf to, like a religious icon, to reinforce the boldness of the pose.

I had in mind here lino prints by Gary Hume. When I saw these at the Hong Kong Art Fair I was impressed, first of all, by their sheer scale. That I can’t aspire too, obviously. The other aspect of them that I would somehow like to emulate is their – I’m not sure what to call it- thickness, plasticity.  Their sheen. They have no need for outlines, as the layers of ink create edges in relief. The ink is built up in layers, it seems. In order to try to do something similar, the only ways I can think of using are:

  1. Using my oil based inks, which seem to be shinier and more viscous, and
  2. Layering colours one over the other, as in a reduction print
  3. Using a less absorbent paper, perhaps with a sheen.

I decided to use the biggest size lino I have, which is A3, and which would be harder to handle, printing by hand.

My problem at the time was lack of suitable paper of a size to print on. I had to scratch around for anything  that might do.

Now I’m just going to show the different versions of “Kitty Cougar” in order to talk about  the different finishes that arise from using different papers at the linocut stage.

I printed this in oil-based inks, and used the following papers- white tissue, coloured tissue, newspaper, wrapping paper and cartridge paper.

Printed on dark blue wrapping paperThis worked quite well, with the ink sitting on top of the paper and preserving its sheen.  There’s a lot of texture in the ink though- not a smooth finish at all- due to that resistant surface. The ink shows the suction marks where the paper was pulled from the plate- I’m not sure if there’s a name for these kinds of marks, but there needs to be…! I’m sure in professional printmaking terms, these are to be avoided like the plague, but I have a certain liking for them- they do serve to draw attention to the medium, pinpoint the relationship between print and surface, and yell out “This is an artificial construct” but I’d be worried about submitting it for assessment as it would probably be judged as inept, and I can’t in all honesty say it was a planned effect. I like the colours though- it’s garish- the yellow is battling against the blue in strength of hue, as well as showing its viscosity/ tenacity.

This was another one I liked. The transparent yellow background couldn’t hide the newsprint, so it has a back story and another layer of pattern. I like the contingent fact of it having a centre-fold too, and, like the wrapping paper above, it has a texture of its own from folds and creases. The paper is shiny so the sheen I wanted is there. It is a smoother finish than the wrapping paper- no suction marks this time- well stuck!

This next one is on plain cartridge paper. It has a less smooth print and no sheen because of the surface of the paper, and I’m altogether less keen on it. It has a lack of definition.

This one, above, is one tissue paper. I printed some on white and some on yellow tissue paper. They have a good sheen on them, and some wrinkles- they look both delicate and brittle.

Finally, a ghost print on red tissue. Since the tissue paper is so sensitive, it can pick up the remnants on the printing plate, including the texture that is created by lifting off a previous print, here on the skin tones. This is a less brash image and I like the contrasting tones on the flesh itself as well as how they contrast with the flatness of the clothes.

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.

Enchantment Version 2

Version 2: Softcut Block A4

I sketched the same scene onto softcut, rather than risk cutting the first one and regretting it- I wanted to try approaching it with more open space, leaving outlines in relief. This would leave more potential for introducing colour in various ways, such as through monoprinting, or chine colle.

This is it with a bit of scratching into the ink.

Chine Colle

I went a bit silly with the tissue paper at first, layering it in strips in the open space, the area where the narrative takes place and which was meant to evoke a magical feeling. The strips of tissue work ok, but they create areas of relief themselves which stop the ink going on smoothly where they end, so the result is messy. I’ve already been through this kind of over-complicated approach to using tissue paper in my experiments with the Gauguin still life, and my conclusion there was that less is more, something I seem to have forgotten momentarily…

So I went back to just using one colour of tissue that would shine through the open area and light it up in a different colour.

At the same time, I was wondering about adding text. I wanted something simple, suggesting a fairy tale, but not actually telling anything, so came up with “Once in a pool of light”. Having no verb, it doesn’t say anything about anything happening, nor does it mention any people: just the circumstances, with the rest left to be told by the picture. I felt it added a dreamy, timeless atmosphere, so added it at the bottom, in simple handwriting in a fine line, as if written with a pen.

I only have primary colours of tissue paper here, so chose to print it in yellow, to emphasize brightness and sun, and in blue, to echo the cool moonlight feel of the previous print. The tissue is delicate enough to pick up the writing clearly, and also creates interesting texture on its own, additional ripples on the water, and cracks in the colour where it has wrinkled. It looks like the cover of an old leather-bound book. This is simple but I like it.

I also have a selection of coloured tracing paper, one of which is silver, so I printed on that too. It has no wrinkles, being a firm paper, and it has the advantage that the colour, and hence the mood, can be changed by varying the colour of paper placed behind it. It’s also shiny, so changes according to the light source.

Here are some variations using different colours behind the print.

It was actually here that I first thought of combining the tissue paper and the tracing paper. This picture uses the same combination as the Facebook print- white ink on blue tissue, overlaid with rainbow-rolled (white – pale blue) ink on clear tracing paper. The wateriness of the colours and the depths suggested by the layers seem to suit the subject matter.

Lino- and mono-print

This version is a plain print in a single colour printed firstly on Chinese calligraphy paper and then on plain drawing paper. After the inking, the colours were added by brushing colour onto the plate. This has come out rather insipid. Perhaps it’s the water-based inks- they dry quickly in the heat.

Linoprint with inking

This version is on mulberry paper, very soft and absorbent. The colours have been added by painting on drawing inks with a brush. I diluted them so that they wouldn’t jar too much with the linocut. This is probably my favourite one of them all. It, again, has the look of a quite faded old comic book or children’s story book, and so fits the retro boy’s-own-adventure feel I was after. The absorbency of the paper creates a much softer  and more even finish than the dry brushed inks in the versions above, and so the atmosphere is gentler as a result.

Chine Colle: Facebook

Facebook: Four faces

This is a large print, on roughly A1 paper. It is four versions of the self-portrait, as I did before, but I decided to try again and improve the quality of the chine colle finish by using a spray-on glue that could be used with water-based inks. As I said before, the water-based glues were just causing the tissue paper to disintegrate on contact. This is using a spray-on very strong bonding glue that I found in the hardware store- it’s not the mounting spray you get from art shops.

This is meant to be variations on a theme, using the primary colours of red, blue and green with white as a contrast. Each of the versions creates a different interplay between the colours, as well as the textures of the chine colleed print.  I was thinking of Facebook, of the different personas people construct online, each of them more or less artificial, geared to an audience. None of these faces is “realistic”, but makes a statement and forces the eye to look and read the image in different ways. It was also a nice way to experiment with different ways of using chine colle all in one image.


Top left

This is red ink on white papier de soie. I like how the print definition is so clear using this paper, and also like the tight wrinkles created in the non-inked paper. This one is inked in red and wiped, obliterating some of the face. The observer will still be able to “fill in” the missing parts however, so the effect is perhaps of a casual attitude or conscious mystery-making.

Bottom left

Below it is a jarring colour combination which confuses the eye due to the red and the blue being the same tones but contrasting in hue. (The photo is making the red look darker than it really is.) This is red ink on blue papier de soie, so again there are small wrinkles that compete with the fine lines in the inked colour. As mentioned before, the design of this print, portraying my own bleached white hair, confuses one about the positives and negatives already, so here, the eye is not sure what to bring forward and what to send back. This gives out a bold, even aggressive image.

Bottom Right

This one is printed on coloured tracing paper, so is rigid and has no creases. On the other hand, it plays with the eye because of the contrasts of the primary colours, and then has some movement created by the rainbow rolling of the blue and green colours. This has the effect of “changing” the colour of the red background as the eye moves over it, and the result is a very rich glowing colour that seems to have depth and fire to it.

Top right

This one is contrastingly cool. It is the most complex image, one that should have most depth as it has two paper layers. The first is white ink over blue tissue paper, then rainbow rolled white/ pale blue on grey tracing paper. The effect is a bit like an iced pond, as the eye can see down through it to the darker blue below.

The effect of the whole is a bit unsettling, I have to say!

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.