So I thought I’d log the concluding stage of our printmaking workshops, seeing as I documented the other two so thoroughly. It’s a shame in a way to end on this one as, out of the three of them, it was the one I connected with the least. This is partly due to the fact I didn’t really allow myself enough time to think about my outcome as in-depth as I had for etch and lino, and partly just due to the fact that I find Letter Press just a smidgen too fiddly.
I know, I know. I’m being a bit of a hypocrite and general spoil-sport, but I just can’t really get behind the reasons to engage with letter-press. The outcomes can be truly beautiful, I admit that, but I’m just so aware how easy it would be to create such pieces in a fraction of the time via digital means. And with so much more freedom. I feel so bound by letter-press, firstly by the fact you’re so limited to what font you happen to have available in your inventory, in what specific sizes and that’s supposing that some cheeky arse hasn’t nicked one or two letters (as is usually the case when you’re using a shared press, such as that at uni). And that’s even before we factor in the other variables such as all the right leading sticks being left in the right place, there being enough clamps etc etc etc
THEN, SUPPOSING all that is, indeed in order, you have to painstakingly put the bloody thing together. Letter by letter, line by line. I truly take my hat off to all those poor folk to whom this was a career back in the days of pre digital print. They truly must have had the patience of saints.
But I digress, I don’t think it helped matters any that I’m not overly fond of my outcome. It was rushed, unplanned and generally a little dull, but it is the conclusion to my Henri de Toulouse Lautrec collection, so deserves a mention.
As my lino had gone down so well, I decided to theme the letter-press along a similar bent. For my lino, I’d focused on Lautrec’s alcoholism and fondness for absinthe, and it was through the research for this that I’d stumbled upon the recipe for his famed cocktail. Well, I say cocktail. I think what I actually mean is lethal concoction. One part Absinthe to one part Cognac. That’s it. A 50/50 blend of undiluted spirit, shaken together into a glorious, liver-failure inducing solution that Lautrec refered to as Le Tremblement De Terre: Earthquake to you and me. So called as it was (understandably) assured to shake you up and make you fall over.
So, with this new information to hand, I decided to describe Lautrec, via the press, as Monsieur Tremblement De Terre. See, see what I did there. I put “mister” in front of it. In French. Like a clever person.
It’s hard being this cultured, it really is.
But this is where I met my downfall. Drunk on my own genius, I decided to attempt to echo the effect of the beverage within the type. This started with the typeface itself, where I set ‘Monsieur’ in one font, all one size (I can’t even remember which font that was now, sorry that’s awful) but then jiggled the rest of it about a bit with different letter sizes. The concept here was to create a contrast within the sentence that alluded to Lautrec’s lifestyle change of aristocratic upbringing, to the bohemian life he led within the Moulin Rouge. (Something I then reinforced with the colours: black fading to absinthe green.)
As if this wasn’t a pain in the arse enough (because where’s the fun in making things easy for yourself?) I then decided the piece just didn’t say “off your tits on potentially lethal levels of alcohol” enough, so sought to reconstruct this by setting the letters at different levels and generally making a mess.
So really, it’s my own fault I had such a nightmare with letter-press. This kind of mindless artistic-ness is easy enough on photoshop, but let’s stop to consider what letter-press was actually invented for, for a minute. Had I done that at the time, I probably would have realised how difficult I was about to make things for myself. Letter press once served a very legitimate purpose. To print multiple copies of multiple straight lines of legible text.
Everything about my print is fighting that purpose, and as a result it just doesn’t work. I’ll admit that, I learnt a very valuable lesson. I guess that’s what I find frustrating to an extend. I do not like being restricted, to any degree on any topic. If I want to make something messy and complex, I want the freedom to be able to fulfil that purpose, not be restricted by the natural boundaries of a process.
I mean, true, I did actually get around it. But I know the piece would have been stronger had I conceded and worked with the limitations of the press, not against it.
But I guess though that is part of the charm to old print processes. They could be considered, by and large, redundant, but it’s the level of skill and patience required to master them that has kept them alive. People are desperate to prove their worth in a world where everyone has the potential to be an “artist”, and for many that is done simply by showing that their ability would have been acknowledged to just the same extent in a time where creativity was just that little bit pickier.
Had I paused for a minute to think, I hope I would have come to a conclusion that lead to a different outcome. But my stubborn nature coupled with a shortage of time has led to my discovering something quite different. I don’t enjoy letter-press particularly, but I feel that I’ve learned the secret to any form of print making is an element of forward planning. Concept can get you far under ordinary circumstances, but when relying on processes of the past you must use your head and prepare. Mistakes and accidents can be beautiful, but they are not talent nor skill. If you are to become a craftsman at printmaking, then you must respect the process for the process and work with it.
And at a time when artists like Tracey Emin are being officially titled “Professor of Drawing”, I feel like any process that makes you use a bit of the old brain capacity can’t really be a bad thing.
I’ve finally gotten around to digitalerising (it’s a word) the second and third stage in our Print Making Workshop at Uni. Yeah sure, technically it finished weeks ago, but I’ve been busy. Besides, good things come to those who wait and other such justifying clichés.
So First up was Lino Cut time. Now I’ve had bad experiences with Lino Cut in the past, in that I was forced to give it a go as part of our GCSE Landscapes project in art class. Bear in mind, this was in a school where the facilities were not geared up to cope with the ambition of print making. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to cut out a seascape from a chunk of lino with an old craft knife and the point of a compass (I shit you not) but it is not a creatively invigorating experience. I suppose it was character building to an extent, and it gave me a new appreciation for my health given the worryingly high chance of contracting Tetanus or losing digits, but I can’t really say it was an artistic high point. Needless to say, the project was swiftly abandoned when it became obvious (both to me and my teacher) that is was going to look shit.
As a result, I’ve been stubbornly against Lino Cut ever since, turning my nose up at it in my Foundation in favour of screen print and other seducingly exotic and more health friendly forms of image making.
So this was not one I was looking forward to. But, like a good student, I purchased my strip of lino and haphazardly scribbled out a design. I decided not to make my distaste too obvious by ignoring the possibilities of colour, but equally wanted to keep the process to a minimum so I could be done with it quickly, and found 3 colours to be a decent compromise.
Now, I’m a fan of print making. I love screen printing and I couldn’t be much happier with my first attempt at etching earlier this year, but I had just assumed that this love was to forever be reserved for the more elaborate and high-tech forms of print, and Lino just wouldn’t cut the mustard. Let me tell you now, I will one hundred percent eat my proverbial hat. I will eat it with my face smeared in proverbial egg.
Lino Cut and I have worked out our differences and decided to give our relationship another shot. It’s on the provision that never again do I attempt it without the appropriate materials, but that’s the great thing about mistakes; you learn a big, fat, hand bleeding lessons from them and use said lessons to make improvements.
I love my Lino outcomes. They’re bright and fun and were easy to produce. I found the process enjoyable from beginning to end, discovering the gouging of the lino to be pleasantly therapeutic and indisputably pleasing when all went to plan, and the inking of the plate was just as quick. A quick wipe of chosen colour onto the stone, a few seconds rolling it out into a thin, tacky consistency and you’re ready to (rock and) roll straight onto the lino. Whatever you’ve cut out remains clear, only the spaces left behind catch the ink and then you can begin your process of layering colour over colour, gradually removing sections of plate until an image has built up. It’s at this point that you can give yourself a big old pat on the back for successfully accessing the appropriate side of the brain that deals in spacial awareness.
There’s even a mini press for the mechanically obsessed such as myself. It’s not as big as the Etching beastie, but it’s Becky sized and still creaks in that endearing tone of the past, when processes like this were a necessity, not just a novelty.
I enjoyed it so much, I shelled out for a bit more paper in order to have a few more outcomes. When I made this decision, I’d already cut out my first layer, so some of my prints consist of 3 colours, some 4. Either way, I’m proud of the results and am really happy I approached it with an open mind rather than stuck to my original convictions.
For those who are interested, the image is an absinthe bottle as it was Toulouse Lautrec’s beverage of choice. I attempted to echo the stunted shape of Lautrec, due to his deformity, in the bottle and used the hat to reinforce this.
Alright, maybe not the best print in the world, but damn good fun and an important learning curve I reckon!
Long ago, on a blog post far, far away there was a sneaky peek at my etching plate for my current print workshop. It was brown, it was murky and it was waxy. But today I bring you news of an entirely different nature. Yes friends, today my etching plate is a shining, silver creature, a proud showcase of acid bitten channels and far, far too much time spent wiping, cleaning and polishing.
Basically, it levelled up.
With the power of science, it was baptised in acid, which bit through those little scratchy lines of mine creating ditches in the metal in which the ink catches in the printing process. Which is pretty rad, let’s be honest. I mean that’s pretty hardcore, cartoon style acid right there, to munch it’s way through a sheet of metal. I mean, that’s like Who Framed Roger Rabbit stuff. But real. (Please bear in mind I haven’t had any contact with science lessons now in 6 years. Acid is a great novelty to me. As are bunsen burners.)
Once the dangerous bit has been done, the next step is cleaning off all the wax so that the plate is left all polished and shiny with some new dents in it. Once all that prep’s been done, it’s time for the science lab to step aside so that we can get our art on. And this is, of course, the messy bit.
Unlike my nice, clean buddy screen print, etching is one of those demanding little buggers who requires the use of oil based ink. This is, in my experience, a bit of a dick because it has the ability to get LITERALLY EVERYWHERE, and tends to make a habit of doing so (there’s a chance this is actually just down to my own incompetence of course.)
So we start by spreading the ink over the plate with a little cardboard scraper, followed by blotting it into the grooves so that it catches. Then you wipe it all off again. It does feel like a thankless task, given that you’ve literally just put it on there, but it does get pleasing as you reveal the inked up lines underneath; a little hint at how your resulting print may look.
And when you’re all ready to go, you get to play with this guy. He’s a laugh.
The plate get’s laid on the board, with your dampened paper laid over the top, then held in place by the mad heavy, and even madder expensive, blankets. Then you turn that giant, beautiful, victorian wheel and revel in the sheer mechanical mastery of it all (…actually that might just be for people like me, who harbour an adoration for early 1900’s mechanical devices.)
This rolls the board through the rollers that flattens your print plate to the paper and comes out the other side a brand, spankin’ new print. Brought into this world by your own bare hands. (With the help of a bit of acid and fuck off massive bit of steampunk technology.)
And thus we have print!
I’ve done a fair few of them now, practicing with how much ink to wipe away, the effect when the ink is left on the plate less ink, more ink etc so hopefully by the time I’m finished I’ll be a little etching master.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable process resulting in beautiful, and oddly atmospheric, images. Alright so maybe it isn’t entirely practical for multiple book illustrations or anything like that, but for one of prints, or a series of prints, it’s more than adequate. And I’m so pleased that finally in my artistic education I’ve been introduced to it.
As I said in my last post, it’s oddly satisfying knowing that the process itself has changed so little from it’s conception. After all this time, it still has a place in the world. Even if that place is just the hearts and studios of artists and art students.
Well, for now, while I’m lucky enough to have access to facilities and machines like this, that’s good enough for me. And I fully intend to embrace it.
I’m pleased to announce that once more they’ve allowed me into the print rooms, on the condition that I don’t get too excited (okay, that’s a lie. Although there’s a danger it might be necessary.)
This time my play date is with the foreign exchange student of etching. I’ve never done it before; dabbled in a little bit of very rushed dry-point in the last week of my Foundation FMP, but never gone the whole hog with the acid shebang.
So far I’m getting on with it just fine. As with all forms of printing the first, setting up bits aren’t really the most enjoyable but they’ve not been too labor intensive and, as arty as it sounds, I’m really liking the total disregard for modern technology. It’s oddly pleasing that in the hundreds of years that etching has been a print form, it’s changed so little. Almost feels a bit like a “well if it ain’t broke…” sort of deal, although I’m sure there’s plenty of pragmatic people who would challenge me otherwise.
I’ve gone with a hard ground (as I’m but a wee beginner) and singed it a few days ago. Today I finished scratching into it, which was the most relieving surprise when I think back to my dry-point on perspex days. Wax is a total gem in comparison, none of that teeth on edge nonsense, just lovely lovely, soft, waxy goodness. Easy peasy.
Our brief is simply to do a simple portrait of an artist we admire. No funny business.
So I’ve abliged with an image of Henri de Tolouse Lautrec. He’s a bit of a favourite of mine, not even because of his work but literally just because I find his life so fascinating. I went with a sharp close up so I could get in all the details of his trademark glasses. Plus he has a bit of a wonderful face to draw. Somehow very French (no onions or berrets though.)
So there it is. The wonky eye was genuinely his face by the way, that’s not jut me doing a bad drawing.
It’s nerve wracking knowing how different it will look printed, when it’s not only put back into positive, but reversed too. I’ve been fighting the urge to photoshop it and see how it’s likely to look, but I’ll be good and won’t spoil the surprise.
Just wish me luck!
UPDATE: Okay, I caved. I photoshopped it. I now have a pretty good idea of where it’s going. I’m not going to put it up though. Wouldn’t want anymore cheeky monkeys to see it before it’s properly done!