Assignment 3: Developing Relief Prints
In this task I feel I have made progress with understanding the meaning of the phrase Personal Voice. I found a subject that is extremely personal to me and one that, I’m sure, is not uncommon but rarely discussed. The purpose of this is to raise awareness, understanding and empathy, not to be judgemental or critical.
My process began with brain storming ideas of the theme of my image. This developed from words to symbols, both generally recognised and personally created to represent feelings and events. As I worked with thumbnail sketches, a common shape emerged that could be applied to both aspects of the theme, simply put, illustrating the positive and the negative views. I made decisions based on the importance of my subject rather than purely on the technique of the print. For example, I felt a diptych was relevant and I needed to include text regardless of the complexity.
Making the registration jig went smoothly, until I realised that I’d matched the lino blocks (I had measured and also drawn around each block to cut the apertures), the wrong way round, forgetting that the two images would be reversed. I thought this would have minimal effect as the measurements were the same but some discrepancies were evident during registration.
The early and light layers of ink printed really well and I was excited to press on with the bolder colours. Unfortunately, the blue and red printed inconsistently and I am unsure as to why. The ink was applied evenly, as was the pressure on the paper. There was an instance where I buckled the paper slightly and lifted it from the block in a small patch, and for some reason I could not get the ink to adhere in this area again.
I also failed to notice, after each clean down, that the hessian fibre on the reverse of the lino had frayed in one spot and this picked up some ink on the next print cycle. Another opportunity for picking up ink smudges came from the cardboard jig itself. The border between the two apertures had a slight crease in it, which also printed on subsequent pulls. Consequently, I was unable to find a truly clean print among any of the attempts.
Registration, which previously had been successful, became more hit and miss however careful I tried to be. The minute differences mentioned above regarding the apertures being the wrong way round, along with some slightly misaligned placing of the paper became exaggerated as a combination.
What went right:
Although the end results were disappointing, I am very happy with the development of the idea in this project. The thumbnail sketches suggested previously by my tutor were invaluable. The method of developing the images on separate sheets of paper and then joining them together helped enormously too. I could see the progression in one go, rather that having to turn the pages of the sketchbook and seeing them in isolation.
The research of recognised symbols inspired shapes and direction and also helped me develop elements to illustrate my own journey in a way that related well between the two facets.
The actual reduction method of cutting and printing went surprisingly well, by carefully considering depth of colour and layers of the image, each cutting stage was documented as a guide in my sketchbook.
I got the text the right way round!
My disappointment with the final results are centred on the lack of clean prints and the inconsistency of printing the bolder colours. However, the design and development of the images, along with the message I was trying to convey, I think, have worked well. This was a difficult subject for me, and may make others feel a little uncomfortable, if not defensive, yet looking at the design again, I feel it has an aesthetic appeal in its own right outside of that. I hope that with further experience in these techniques, that my results will eventually measure up to the message it represents.
Tools and Implements Used for Experimental Mark Making Test Linocut
I gathered a wide variety of implements from both tool shed and kitchen. Several of the results were surprising, where some tools, I would have thought should have made more of a definite impression than they did. Observations of each implement’s impression results are below:
- Small flat head screwdriver – Most marks were very straight, even if I tried to force a curve the line became angular as there was no flexibility in the blade. It wasn’t possible to make a mark with the flat end of the tool as it wasn’t sharp enough, most marks were made with the corner of the “blade”. Wiggling the screw driver from side to side gave the most interesting pattern.
- Tile saw blade – as it is a straight blade, I had to bend it into a curve to be able to make any marks. The blade itself is a fine cylindrical shape with an abrasive texture in order to grind/cut ceramic tiles. It is not sharp as such. By using the blade curved, it widened the surface area and the tiny abrasive teeth made a set of lines or scratches that could be varied by applying differing pressure. No deep cuts could be made.
- Stanley knife – Although the blade is sharp and clean cuts were possible, it was very unwieldy to use. I became aware that it cut better by pulling the knife towards me rather than away – a little disconcerting safety-wise. I thought it would cut out shapes easily but I was unable to gouge out the centre of them and the lines were very fine, with varying the thickness of the lines not possible. It was also too easy to cut right through the lino accidentally.
- Dinner fork – This was more interesting to use. I could make the more obvious straight set of marks with the prongs, however, by adding pressure and twisting the fork into the lino, it produced the most successful curves so far. It was difficult to achieve a complete circle but was effective none the less.Thickness of line could be varied also by using the fork flat on or sideways. By twisting the end prong into the lino, nice but small, circular holes could be made.
- Assortment of keys – I had what appeared to be padlock keys – like small Yale lock type. These made some scraping marks but did not cut deep. Other keys may have been for bicycle locks, being stubby and cylindrical with a small notch at the end. These made some interesting, circular marks, particularly where the end notches cut into the surface, by pressing and twisting them into the lino. Neither type of key made a deep impression.
- Pastry cutter wheel – Strangely, this being the tool that I thought would make some of the most effective marks, made barely any impact on the lino’s surface. Although the faint marks were attractive, I doubted they would actually print at all.
- Smaller flat head screwdriver – This was a little sharper than the first screwdriver I tried and made lovely wiggly marks. As this was a little smaller than the first, it was easier to handle. I tried using it as if drawing rather than cutting and it could be useful for textural effects.
- Small pair of scissors – Using the tips of the blades and actually “scissoring” the lino made strong impressions that were, surprisingly, not at all symmetrical. I also used one blade only and “drew” with it – slightly curved lines were possible. I also managed to gouge small circles with a single blade.
- 7cm long brass screw – I thought I’d be able to draw and make lines with the pointed end, but it wouldn’t move well in the lino. It was also very uncomfortable to hold as when exerting pressure on the surface the spiral of the screw cut into my fingers. It did, however, make good stabbing marks on its point and at an angle. The screw head also failed to make an impression in the surface.
- Zester – After the pastry cutter failed, I didn’t hold out much hope for this. Yet it was very successful and had the best gouging capabilities of all the implements, although I think it blunted quite quickly. It could make light marks similar to fret work patterns, or, by exerting more pressure, make deeper ones albeit for not such a long mark. It could also be dug in and turned to give a set of curves. Using it sideways gave fairly ordinary faint lines in comparison.
Further observations on the results and subsequent use of the more successful tools are noted in my sketchbook, along with some experimental printed images.
This time the process began with experimentation of both a variety of surfaces as printing blocks and wood cutting chisels. Effects achieved through this experimentation were revisited after developing the image to be printed, then choices were made of surfaces and tools that were appropriate.
Developing the theme for this print was more of a journey that started with an unknown destination. A dark path was followed for a time until I introduced a song and its lyrics as inspiration. I decided to continue along my original personal voice subject, however, moving in a more positive direction as I realised this is more akin to resolving issues rather than wallowing in negativity.
The use of thumbnails again informed my design development. There were many re-thinks during the process, of which most were tested before being applied to the print run. This was enforced after making a colour choice error on the first print of four. This then became the “printer’s draft” for the rest of the series. Off-cuts of the same types of paper were used to test the more unknown effects before committing to the image itself.
This was by far the most experimental print process I have attempted so far. Three different surfaces were used as printing blocks, both woodcutting and linocutting tools, multi-block and reductive printing, and some rollered, some dabbed ink application techniques were employed. Two different print papers were also used, being heavy weight cartridge and heavy weight, slightly textured Somerset printing paper.
Taking into account the lessons learnt from Project 8, the registration jig was constructed with care and the paper size was also carefully measured and marked around the aperture with pencil lines. My challenge with registration this time was the torn edges of the print paper making it difficult to line it up with the pencil line. The registration was generally improved but still not perfect.
I had a mental block with achieving the wispy, meandering lines I wanted, which on reflection, was complicated by the use of the background polystyrene printing block. I tried to create the effect with dab printing, however, this made the lines heavy and clumsy, the opposite of my intention.
I also struggled with the colours of the textured “flock of birds” in the print. This was a shame as the actual effect of the cutting was beautiful, again, I made this too heavy and dominant. This was also hindered due to the poor choice of background.
What went right:
The textures achieved with the foam rubber tile and wood cutting tools were very successful regardless of my wrong colour and printing choices.
Most of the planet shapes and details were effective and I am happy with the colours here.
I also decided, after completing the print run, to use the excess ink and print from the foam tile in a less constrained way and made a couple of prints in brighter colours using a roller only. These were more successful and the texture effects were much sharper. By doing this, it informed how my image could be significantly improved if re-done.
I enjoyed using the Somerset printing paper and would like to use it again.
From the extra couple of prints taken from the foam rubber tile, it suddenly occurred to me that the effect I wanted, could have been achieved by discarding the polystyrene tile and just rolling the ink straight onto the foam tile and taking the print from there. The meandering lines would then have been in place and been lighter and fresher in style. The “flock of birds” could then have been added to by dab printing to increase tone using the same or toning colour, which again would have made the effect lighter and more dream like.
Regarding the registration, this would be improved if I used physical guides of cardboard or off-cut lino to place the paper each time.
Interestingly, the prints looked more successful in photographs rather than in life. The theme of freedom of thought was entirely lost due to the treatment of the dab printing and the wrong colour choices. The impression is of a dark cloud of despair rather than the uplifting song lyrics I was alluding to. I am pleased that I tried different techniques, surfaces and tools, however, I got carried away and stopped seeing with an objective eye. Once the veil had lifted, it was so obvious where I had gone wrong. I will attempt this again, aiming for significant improvement in the results, before moving on to the next section.
Additional Comments – 09/05/17
From my tutor’s feedback, I now feel that I was too close to the print result to really assess it clearly. The feedback was positive on the paper used and how it helped the inks work better. Regarding the image itself, it was interesting to see that the elements I perceived as “wrong” or not working were the elements that worked better for my tutor, with the planet shapes considered possibly being too obvious. I actually see that myself now and as I review the prints, I am more positive about them. Instead of re-working for this assignment, I think I will leave this as a moment in time and return to the subject in another project. My tutor is keen for me to explore more text and words in my work and I think this would be an interesting route to explore further.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
I think I had an element of beginners luck with the early projects of this course. With the increased complexity of technique, I have made some basic errors which I think are due to lack of experience. This is particularly prevalent with registration of my prints, I have found that I can struggle with the many aspects involved, ie placing of the print paper, keeping hands and paper clean, thinking through the order of tasks etc. I had to make myself slow down and double-check everything before committing to print, mistakes were often made as I pushed myself to do a little bit more before taking a break. I also had struggles with consistency of the printing of the inks, strangely, this was more obvious when I used my oil based inks. I have found a limitation in the availability of materials on the island, so have had to become more experimental and use paint to print with. I have found a block printing medium that can be mixed with acrylic paint that has vastly increased my palette of colours. The technicalities of different inks and papers are something I need to learn and this, I feel, can only be done by making observations and mistakes. I am learning as I go and although I can become despondent and disappointed with my results at the time, later, I often notice valuable lessons that inform my subsequent attempts. I am becoming more comfortable with designing my prints, trying to think in layers, sequencing my cutting and printing carefully, and fully exploring the composition until I am satisfied with it. I am not a natural colourist and this requires more practice. I am currently attending a locally tutored course in abstract painting and we focus on colour, its relationships and importance of place. I struggle with this, however, it is very helpful and gradually, I hope to improve this skill.
Quality of Outcome:
I feel that I present my work coherently and to the best of my ability at the time. That said, I feel very much a novice in the technicalities of printmaking at present and this can only improve with practice. The actual physical presentation and realisation of my ideas from a skill point of view are disappointing to me, however, I am constantly reviewing and learning from my mistakes. I hope to improve against this criteria in time and with experience.
Demonstration of Creativity:
I believe my sketchbook work is crucial to achieving good results in quality of outcome. I begin with a vague idea, brainstorm from the idea, discarding nothing to start and then bringing the dominant themes together, narrowing down my selections. I make judgements all along this process, making choices, re-thinking shapes and colours, experimenting and making drafts before I settle on the “thing”. Even then, I try to keep my mind open for accidental and evolving ideas that may improve the outcome. Some things may not be appropriate for that specific project but are noted for future ones. With regards to my personal voice, I feel confident that I have had an epiphany – with project 8, for example, the emotive subject matter was extremely personal to me. I also found, once I’d got into my subject, that the ideas and symbolism I required to illustrate the concept flowed easily. I was able to recognise evolving elements that connected with each other and clearly related to my subject. It was a cathartic and therapeutic experience that I am convinced is the beginning of a personal journey.
I feel that I am strong in personal reflective learning and that I can express myself well in that regard. Being self-critical and analysing my progress informs my choices and judgements for progression. I enjoy researching other artists and now printmakers, and learning from their working practices and processes. From where I may have made cursory reviews of others’ work, I now look more deeply into how they express themselves and their message, as well as techniques and materials used.
In general, although feeling out of my depth regarding printmaking skills, I think I have grown in other ways that have improved my capacity for creating ideas and implementing concepts overall. I am feeling positive and am looking forward to learning more.