Project 10: Experimental Relief Prints
30/01 – 23/02/17
By now you will have gained experience in making relief prints in one, or several colours, and in the multi-block or reduction methods. You have also used linocutting tools and experimented with mark making from other implements and tools. With this experience in mind you now have the opportunity to develop an experimental relief series.
I struggled at first for what to use, however, when floor tiles were mentioned in the course notes I knew we had some surplus black foam rubber type tiles that are used for gym floors etc. The upper surface had a checker-plate raised design so I used the underneath which was fairly smooth considering it had been previously used.
I then found some cheap and cheerful polystyrene sheets in various sizes and shapes. I was also keen to try a wood cut, however I couldn’t find anything suitable. I then found an old lino block that had been stuck to a block of MDF, so I used the reverse of that.
This was also a bit of a challenge. There are a couple of art shops on the island, I’ve only found one so far. They had a good selection painting and drawing materials but printmaking was a step too far. As I was after, in my fantasy, some wood carving chisels, I tried local DIY stores but they only sold “big boy” chisels. Despairing I ventured into a huge Chinese bazaar which had anything and everything you didn’t know you needed, including some wood carving chisels in a set of ten. Admittedly not top quality but I grabbed two sets anyway in case of breakages. These I numbered for easy identification.
Experimental Mark Making and Test Prints
Not wanting to blunt my lino cutting tools, I decided to stick with the wood chisels on the various blocks I had chosen. I also thought it would be interesting to see what the same tools would do with different surfaces.
My full notes on this exercise on are page 37 of my sketchbook, however, below are photos of the test prints and results I observed.
Foam rubber tile:
Results: Pleasantly surprised, the ink printed consistently from the tile, the marks were clear and had a pleasing softness at their edges. A good and wide variety of marks – will use again I think.
Results: This was surprisingly effective too. However, there was minimal control over the cutting due to the nature of the polystyrene being made up of particles that would shed easily and unpredictably. This may be useful as a first layer in a light colour to introduce a textured ground.
Results: The block resisted the ink a little, so it was important to ensure good coverage before applying the print paper. Although it was virtually impossible to see the marks made before applying the ink, they actually printed well and clearly. If I was using MDF again, it may be useful to colour the surface before cutting to fully see what marks are being made.
Development of Image
I followed quite a journey before deciding on my theme for the image of my experimental relief print. I returned to my thoughts on female misogyny and batted around a few ideas in my sketchbook. In the current political climate, there were many examples for inspiration, particularly in the US. There, on one hand, it is one of the most forward thinking cultures in the western world and on the other, is so archaic it is almost comical, if it was not so terrifying.
One thought I tried to stick with, was to avoid being overly representational. This would just be too obvious, I needed to think of shapes and images that symbolised my thoughts. I metaphorically travelled around the world, considering differing cultures and their attitudes to women and back again. I began to settle on the life followed by men and women, considering circles and curved lines to denote the feminine and squares and straight lines for the masculine (thumbnails page 39 of sketchbook).
I touched on the perception that men have shaped the world for centuries and by that very fact have also influenced how some women perceive others of their sex. Some still consider the indoctrination they have been brought up with as the way forward and others want to push these barriers over and create, construct and manage their own futures. From this huge subject, I tried to narrow down a concept as a beginning for my explorations, which could easily last a lifetime! My ideas followed along the lines of freedom of thought as distinct from freedom of speech – what one says does not necessarily reflect one’s thoughts. Freedom itself, is I concluded, the basis of all of this. Freedom to be who one wants to be, if not physically possible (because of culture, upbringing, limitations of wealth or education etc), then freedom to dream. There are perceptions of freedom and it can mean different things to different people. Following from my earlier thumbnails I morphed into illustrating these perceptions as different “worlds” or virtual planets that are loosely connected to each other. I also thought of the song “Feeling Good” (A Newley/L Bricusse 1965) and my favourite performance by Nina Simone – I played this and honed in on the lyrics:
“Birds flying high,
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky,
You know how I feel
Breeze drifting on by
You know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
and I’m feeling good.”
From this uplift in mood, I decided to try to concentrate on positives within my concept – it would be easy to drag myself down by focusing on how bad things could be. This will not improve anything, positive thoughts create solutions not problems. This is how I feel I should take this forward into my ideas.
There were many revisions during the development stages, deciding on scale and sizes, positioning etc plus the order of printing.
I began with my basic ideas of using two printing blocks initially:
1 polystyrene to make a ground with texture marks from its natural surface
2 foam rubber tile to create a representation of linking the planets and a flock of birds flying freely
As I worked, I realised that I needed a separate print block for the planets themselves that would give me a stable surface to cut the spheres and the details within them. I decided to return to lino and lino cutting tools for this, using a reductive technique to build the design.
Even during printing, there were re-thinks and revisions along the way that have been documented and dated in my sketchbook. I made several print dabbers to build the tones and marks rather than relying on rollering on the inks. I also wanted to make each print more individual by using the dabbers as this appealed to me after my recent research into contemporary printmakers. I decided on a small print run of 4 as the method was becoming more complex and I wanted to reduce the margin for error.
Due to my recent difficulties with registration, I created a jig from cardboard and was meticulous with my measurements for the aperture and all three printing blocks. I also carefully measured my printing paper, of which I decided to try two different types. Two prints were on thick cartridge paper and two were on thick, slightly textured Somerset printing paper. I had not used the Somerset before, and was interested in the outcome. After cutting all the paper to size to allow a margin of 6cm each side and 6.5cm top and bottom, I had off-cuts that I intended to use to test pieces for the various effects I was attempting.
I also decided to use water-soluble inks that I had, in conjunction with acrylic paint mixed with acrylic block printing medium. As this was supposed to be experimental, I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
As shown in the above gallery, I changed my mind from having merging red/blue interconnecting lines between the planets after my first print. This effectively made the first print obsolete, however, it still had a valuable role as a test bed for subsequent prints and I continued to take it through all the printing stages, making evaluations and changes as it progressed.
After completing the images, which as intended, were slightly unique from each other, my initial reaction was disappointment. Having had the theme of freedom of thought as inspiration, I felt that the final results looked far from free. I didn’t like the black/grey of the bird flock and the interconnecting lines were too heavy rather than loose links between worlds.
Due to my despondency regarding the final prints, I decided to finish up by running off a couple of prints from the foam block using the left over inks and bit of ready-made copper colour. This was a reaction to very considered way I had worked and was actually very freeing as intended. I used rollers in a haphazard fashion to make blocks of colour, after applying a base of yellow ink across the entire block. Having rollered the inks on this time, I found that the paper adhered well to the ink and peeled off the block with a little resistance that felt good and secure – a satisfying feeling!
I enjoyed this experimental play and it proved invaluable in a way that I will cover in my assignment self critique.