5.1 Combination mono and linoprint

The purpose of this exercise was to create a print using two printmaking techniques together; monoprinting and linocutting.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Begin by preparing several sketches and ideas in your sketchbook where you combine colour schemes, line drawings and designs
  • Really investigate new and unusual colour combinations
  • print a series of monoprints in your chosen colour scheme or schemes.
  • Prepare your lino block as in previous sections. This will be printed in one colour over your dry monoprints

Idea development

My tutor feedback from PART 3 and PART 4 made me sit up and take notice. There was one particular observation that particularly resonated with me, which I know to be true but hadn’t really thought through the implications. It was in response to the Alone together experimental woodcut:

I would ask you to consider is this image awkward enough? Is it powerful enough? It’s quite tame and mildly humorous. That’s not a criticism just an observation.

For me this was a very positive moment that demanded some action. It also coincided with an OCA study trip to see the Picasso 1932 exhibition at the Tate Modern, which in itself was a master class in how to experiment, develop and produce subjects and themes across many different mediums at an incredibly prolific rate.

Current situation (at the point I received the feedback)

  • I have subject matter that I find interesting, immediate and accessible
  • I have a number of themes that I’m starting to explore although these are still quite conceptual and haven’t really explicitly made it into the work
    • The sociology and behaviours associated with commuting and being a commuter
    • The overuse/misuse of technology; the positives and negatives, addictive design and dark patterns
  • I have an interesting set of drawings/studies that are starting to express a personal voice and are a good starting point

The problem

  • Most of the finished work created during PART 3 Experimental relief prints and PART 4 Introducing collatypes is not spikey or challenging enough. It’s not asking questions of the viewer – ‘I’m not disturbed enough by this work’.
  • For me this means there’s no poetry in the finished work. My observation is that the preparatory drawings tend to carry more energy and expression that the final prints.
  • The work does not explore or communicate the themes adequately.
  • There is not enough ideas development/exploration of ideas/composition/points of view/use of texture and colour before I commit to a design.
  • I’m not exploiting the strengths of the medium – I tend to make the design fit rather than let the medium influence the design. This is why I keep looking for but not achieving the same level of energy and expressiveness that are in the preparatory drawings in the final printwork.

The solution

Question – how do I quickly disrupt the way I’m working to open up new and more fertile avenues of exploration?

My tutor feedback has some good advice:

  • Generate more work at the experimental stage.
    • It may help you to spent some more time making rapid drawings and compositions before committing to print.
    • Explore scale within composition.
    • Include more observational drawing before the ‘design’ stage.
  • Make your research more explicit in your log and writing.
    • I would include even more reflection and underpinning research around your themes. By this I mean questioning what you are bringing to an audience.
  • Take your time to explore a task in greater depth.

To this I would also add:

Research – Paula Rego prints

I first became aware of Paula Rego and her work after watching Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories on BBC2. The film, made by her son in Nick Willing provides a first hand insight into the life and work of the artist, from her youth growing up in facist Portugal, her move to London to attend Slade during the swinging 60’s, her marriage to Victor Willing and her work right up to the present day.

I subsequently visited her solo exhibition The boy who loved the sea and other stories at the Jerwood Gallery and saw some of her large paintings that formed part of the All too human exhibition at Tate Britain.

There is so much to admire and reflect on but what was interested in exploring for this exercise are the subjects and themes in some of her prints and how she uses the strengths of the medium to express ideas and create a tension that is unsettling and/or challenges the viewer to read an image more deeply.

The composition and subjects in the prints I’ve chosen have a number of things in common.

  • They depict scenes where there is an interaction between one or more characters, usually at a critical decision or action point. This narrative immediately creates a tension for the viewer who needs to make sense of what is happening.
  • The characters are meticulously drawn; alot of meaning for the viewer is derived from facial expression and posture and the interaction (or lack of it), between the characters.
  • The images are rendered in a realistic way even though the subjects are often fantastical.
  • Use of scale is used liberally and effortlessly to emphasise different elements within an image.
  • Realistic figures are juxtaposed with ‘dollies’ (the name Paula Rego gives to the dolls and made props that are incorporated into much of her later work), fantasy, mythical and grotesque figures.
  • Most of her images explore the role of women; often their relationship with men.

Approach

So, armed with my tutor feedback and reflections on the work of Paula Rego, I started to think through how to add some depth of meaning and challenge to the images.

My starting point was an initial set of drawings based on a series of photographs taken on my daily commute, that are further developments and studies of the commuter theme.

These images were deliberately created rapidly (each one in less that an hour), using a range of materials and techniques.

Commuter development sketches 09
Commuter study. Sharpie pen. A1-sized

Creative development

The basis for the final artwork was this photograph, taken very discreetly on my iPhone. The woman on middle right of the image and the man with headphones in the bottom right of the picture became the characters in the thumbnails.

Reference photo
Photographic reference taken on an iPhone during the morning rush hour on the Jubilee Line, London

I explored composition through rapid development of a series of thumbnail sketches.

During the creative development process I referred to several Max Beckmann prints that have compositions involving a group of people/characters in close proximity to one another. These reference images are stuck into the sketchbook alongside my own thumbnails.

Creating the woodcut

For this print I wanted to try and use the qualities that woodcut gives rather than trying to over control the medium to achieve a fixed result, which was a lesson from PART 3 Experimental relief prints.

So I approached this in a different way. The artwork was a scaled-up thumbnail sketch, so the marks were quite crude

I used the scaled-up thumbnail as a guide; so rather that trace each mark meticulously over several hours, I used a 6B pencil to drawing through the carbon paper using the artwork as a template. This took about 10-minutes.

This crude or rougher approach to transferring the image to the block meant that I was much less precious and more instinctive when it came to the cut. I think this really shows in the final result.

The plywood block was 30cm x 60cm and took about 7-hours to cut. The series of images below show key steps in the process.

The printing

I printed six test prints (3 x positive and 3 x negative prints) on layout paper. These were needed as templates for the monoprint and backdrawing layers.

The final print process was fairly quick (completed in 3-days). I found that I didn’t need to wait for the monoprint layers to dry fully before layering in the next colour. I think was was mainly due to the Japanese paper that I used that has a very fine but distinct texture that only picks-up ink when pressure is applied. This meant I could work on top of the damp ink without causing unwanted smudging or bleed.

The print process combined a number of techniques:

  • Textured masked monoprinting
  • Monoprinting – painting direct to the plate
  • Backdrawing
  • Woodcut

The inks were all Intaglio Etching, engraving and drypoint inks mixed with 40% Extender to make the ink quite thin and transparent.

The print series has a yellow and blue colour variation.

The following sequence of images describe key stages in the process:

The final print series

The final print series was a run of five prints.

Question

Can you see further possibilities from combining two printmaking methods?

Yes. I’m very interested in exploring:

  1. The combination of collatype and either a relief printing technique like woodcut or an intaglio technique such as drypoint.
  2. After this exercise I would also like to further experiment with monoprinting and drypoint.

Both of these approaches combine the fluidity and ability to create areas of tone and colour (collatype and monoprinting), with an overlay of more precise controlled and expressive mark making (woodcuts and drypoint).

Reflections

What went well

  • Spending more time developing my ideas and combining research with rapid thumbnail development took the work in a much more interesting direction.
  • Juxtaposing different subjects and playing with the scale in the composition is starting to ask different questions of the viewer.
  • I feel like the approach and combination of techniques really meet the brief and have resulted in some interesting prints.
  • After the 10-colour woodcut that took weeks to print these were are real joy to work on. The quality of the Japanese paper that allowed me to rapidly overprint made a huge difference.
  • The backdrawing was really successful. I was very careful to use the thinnest possible layer of ink on the plate, and this combined with the quality of the paper meant that there was virtually no unwanted smudging or bleed.
  • I feel like this series of prints really starts to use the quality of the wood to achieve interesting and expressive marks.
  • The quality, texture and intensity of colour in the background monoprinting adds a lovely painterly feel to the print.

What would I do differently/better

  • I think the final prints still don’t ask enough questions of the viewer and the creative approach can be pushed much further.
  • I don’t think the themes I thought I was developing really made it front and foremost in the final prints. My interest switched part way through the creative development process to the juxtaposition of two subjects together. I don’t think this is a bad thing.