5.3 Developing a series of four combination and experimental prints

The purpose of this was to create a series of four related prints drawing on the learning, skills and techniques acquired during the earlier exercises. The aim of this project for me was to demonstrate my skill in designing, printing and evaluating the printmaking process.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Begin by exploring themes, subjects and ideas
  • Explore textures in collage and print, and develop different approaches to the same subject
  • Include designs for colour combinations, textures and composition
  • Write a supporting statement (about two A4 pages) describing your final work
  • Include comments on how the prints appear and any technical difficulties you encountered.
  • Describe the reasons for your choice of method and technique and a few paragraphs about your choice of theme. Review what you have learned and experienced during your course
  • You will have a series of four (or more) prints displaying a rich mixture of technique and creativity

Supporting statement

The final series of prints explore the paradoxical relationship with have with our smart mobile and digital devices, and the way we consume information that is pushed at us continuously in an ever more targeted, tailored and personalised fashion.

Almost half of smartphone users spend more than 5-hours a day on their mobile device (Reference: www.counterpointresearch.com), and whilst I don’t consider myself a heavy user, (no Facebook or Twitter), my daily usage based on data from the Moment app (an app that records how a phone is used), is 1-hour and 44-minutes or 11% of my waking life. Given these statistics and a wealth of other research, the way in which we use or misuse our digital devices is materially important to the quality of our lives.

The central premise of the prints is the idea that as our consumption of digital content increases, (I pick up my phone an average of 36-times a day), our ability to discern between serious and the trivial content is reduced to the point where we are almost totally desensitised to what we’re looking at. This is not surprising given the volume of tailored tweets and posts that are thrust at us every time look at our phones. Fake news, the echo chamber effect, (unless you take particular care, you’ll end up sharing opinions and digital relationships with people that share the same or similar opinions to yourself), and the proliferation of unregulated content makes the situation much worse. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the world is becoming a more polarised place.

The prints are built on two layers. A background layer consisting of an image for a news story that was current at the point the prints were being made using news imagery as reference. The foreground layer is the image of a child’s doll, with open welcoming arms and vacuous fixed grin; this is a metaphor for how we view, ignore, use, or dismiss this information.

The prints are all roughly A3 sized and combine several techniques. The foreground layer is always a woodcut printed in black and carefully registered against the white base paper. The background uses drypoint and a combination of chine collé and monoprint.

Most of the printing was done of the large press in Kew Print Studio in three sessions. The paper was the studio’s bread and butter heavy cartridge paper and the inks were all from Intaglio and were mixed with Extender.

There were a number of technical challenges that needed to be overcome.

  • All of the printing had to be done using dampened paper soaked for 8-minutes. This is because paper expands when wet and I needed to achieve fairly accurate registration between the drypoint layer which used a mask for the front woodcut layer to fill.
  • The damp paper meant it was critical to get the pressure on the press correct when printing the woodcut. Even slightly too much pressure was enough to not only transfer the ink from the plywood plate, but also to emboss the paper. An effect that looked terrible.
  • The way I used cross hatching on Print 1 was too random and didn’t work. I modified this after looking carefully at the work of Albrecht Durer.
  • I found getting the right balance between over-wiping the drypoint plate, resulting in a thin ghostlike print, and under-wiping, that resulted in a very heavy dark print difficult. In the end I decided to live with a bit of ink left of the plate which seemed to give a good balance.

I chose the different print techniques in order to emphasise the difference between the two image layers. The realistic high fidelity ‘news’ layer was achieved using drypoint and this was contrasted against the courser more cartoon-like woodcut.

I experimented with adding further contrast by using colour in the background that was added using chine collé and monoprint. In hindsight I think printing in just black and white is enough.

The theme was first explored in my earlier commuter prints. I noticed how much smart devices are used by most people when they’re commuting for most of the time.

My job is in the area of digital development, and I’m concerned that software designers and developers are not paying enough attention to the negative impact on their customers/users from the applications they produce. So, for me this is also an area of professional interest.

Overall, I feel pleased with the series. The composition of the images leaves some work for the viewer to do to interpret meaning, and I hope this this causes them to reflect on the subject rather than viewing and dismissing the images.

I also think the combination of techniques works well to achieve their intended effect with the quality of the prints improving in the order in which they were created.

What I did

This final exercise was as much about research and the generation and rejection of ideas as it was finally doing the work, and it took me six weeks of trying things, changing my mind and indecision before I knew the direction I was going in.

I considered three different routes:

  1. Commuters and masks – an extension of my previous project
  2. Anxiety and depression – exploring this subject through text, image and narrative
  3. Social media will eat itself – exploring how we consume content on our SMART phones and digital devices

Route 2 and 3 are described below because they feed into each other, and elements of each were taken forward into the final prints.

The turning point for me in terms of knowing where to take the ideas was presentation at an OCA Discussion Forum on 12th August.

The three different approaches and supporting imagery were published into a single page in my Learning Log. I presented the three ideas, explained that I was stuck and needed advice and guidance.

The feedback was interesting and not what I expected.

Almost all people liked Route 1 – Commuters and masks and Route 3 – Social media will eat itself.

This surprised me because at the time I was focussing all my attention on making Route 2 Anxiety and depression work because I thought it was the strongest idea.

The comment that interested me the most was that the Route 1 commuter pictures felt more like illustrations, whilst the route 3 images were more like art. I asked for clarification was told that the commuter pictures felt complete and resolved whilst the social media will eat itself pictures were asking question of the viewer.

This feedback made my mind up; I was going to develop Route 3. It was also a valuable lesson. It is interesting and with hindsight unsurprising that route 3 felt riskier to me and I was uncertain how viewers would respond.

How the idea developed

Route 3 came about because I was playing around with some of the subjects, themes and research from the previous ideas trying to make them gel.

The root elements of the idea are:

  • The use of dolls and mannequins in the work of Paula Rego, and my exploration of masks and their metaphors
  • The dystopian landscapes and bleak subjects in Marcella Haanslar’s ‘The crying game’ series of etchings
  • The theme I was exploring in the commuter series of prints about how we consume social media
  • Using different print techniques to represent/ delineate between different elements with the prints and to set up a dialogue between the different ‘layers’; in this case the drypoint, cine colle, monoprint background and the contrasting woodcut foreground.


Marcelle Hanselaar – etchings

Punch magazine

Creative development

The fundamental structure of the prints is based on the image being built up of two layers that are clearly separate but interact together. The immediate impact of the prints is the juxtaposition of these layers one on top of the other.

The separation of the layers, foreground and background, is strengthened by using different print techniques for each. Drypoint, cine colle and masked monoprint for the background aad woodcut for the foreground.

I developed the approach for the subjects in Route 2, and the lightbulb moment came about by trying to make this initial idea work.

Route 2 showing layered approach
Sketch for Route 2 showing the two layer concept

In this case the use of the layered technique was to emphasize the feeling of dislocation someone with anxiety disorder feels.

I thumbnailed a number of ideas for the news/background layer.

The background images were chosen because they had at some point made an impression on me.

The thumbnails were worked up into larger sketches and the child’s doll with the fixed toothy grin was bought from a charity shop and sketched at different angles to work with the background news pictures.

I mocked-up reference images to actual size in Photoshop and used these to create masks and to transfer the images to the perspex drypoint plates and plywood blocks.

Engraving, cutting and printing

Print 1

The continuing Palestinian/Israeli conflict is an intractable situation with deeply complicated politics and history. Images from the Friday days of rage are powerful representations of the situation. This was the ‘news’ subject for Print 1.

I had several drawings of the doll so knew the composition of the image that I needed and I created various mock-ups in Photoshop to check how the image would work before engraving the image into the perspex plate.

The printing was done in an 8-hour session in Kew Print Studio.

I wanted to achieve quite a layered tonal image and experimented with multiple layers using masks and monotype to create the background.

I tried combining monoprint and drypoint on the same plate in order to get the easiest/best registration between the drypoint outline and monoprint fill.

There was a lot of wastage with this print. I discarded 4 x prints, either because I’d made masking mistakes or because the pressure on the press was wrong.

Print 2

The day before I worked up the ‘news’ image for the second print, the Saudi air force bombed a school bus in the Yemen, killing 40 children.

This became the subject for print 2.

I didn’t think the cross hatching on Print 1 worked and watched a couple of youtube videos about the engraving technique. This led me to look at the work of Albrecht Durer. I studied The Holy Family closely.

I tried to reproduce the wall that is behind the seated Madonna in the mid ground of Print 2 using the same engraved marks. This was a lesson for me in how to carefully choose different types of mark to represent different textures and tonal values, and how to use them consistently. Random doesn’t work well in drypoint for the kind of image I wanted to make!

The printing was done in a single 4-hour session in Kew Print Studio. For this print I drew on lessons from 5.2 Investigating combination printmaking and incorporating chine collé collages and used chine colle to help distinguish between the different layers.

Picture showing print process 04
Partially completed print showing masked area for woodcut

I tried and failed to run the woodcut through the press in the single session, so the final woodcut layer was added at home.

Print 3

The ‘news’ image for this print came from a current news item where a far right white supremacist rally was held in Washington. For me the fact that this happened in such a brasen way (albeit with a huge counter rally), is an indicator that politics in the US and more general in Europe is becoming more and more polarised. There seems to be an increasing failure of liberal democracy to address the needs and concerns of whole sections of society that feel left behind or ignored by the traditional mainstream policies/ parties.

The woodcut took about 4-hours to complete.

Print 3 and Print 4 were both done in a single 4-hour session in Kew Print Studio.

Print 4

I wanted to add an additional parameter fence element to the woodcut layer to give the impression of looking through a fence at a desolate landscape (in this case Raqqa in Syria), completely destroyed during the battle to remove ISIS from their last major stronghold in the country.

The fence is a metaphor for the barrier that we unconsciously erect between ourselves and the subjects we watch on out smart devices; a kind of desensitised, indifferent voyeurism.

Final prints and materials 01
Print 4 – Drypoint and woodcut – image size 360mm x 302mm

My final selection of 4 x prints

Social media will eat itself print 04
Print 01 – Drypoint, masked monoprint & woodcut – image size 400mm x 305mm
Final prints and materials 06
Print 2 – Drypoint and woodcut – image size 420mm x 300mm
Final prints and materials 02
Print 3 – Drypoint and woodcut – image size 360mm x 302mm
Final prints and materials 01
Print 4 – Drypoint and woodcut – image size 360mm x 302mm
%d bloggers like this: