I decided to enter some work into the Surface Gallery Postcard show and have been working on ideas for a couple of months now. I’m going to submit the ‘Caliban’ print that I prepared for Laine at the Leicester Print Workshop (see previous post). I also prepared a set of collagraphs at LPW and have been working on some monotypes over the holiday period.
Now I just have to choose three from the following set of nine.
Decision, decisions! I know, I’ll get wife & daughter to choose
The artist in residence at Leicester Print Workshop, Laine Tomkinson, is working on a project around Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She asked members of LPW to contribute images printed from 6″x4″ linocuts. After dithering about whether someone at my level of expertise ought to contribute, I eventually took a piece of lino home to work on.
I had a number of thoughts about the tempest itself and then about the feast but, on reading through the play, was struck by the stage direction at the beginning of II.2: [Enter CALIBAN, with a burden of wood. A noise of thunder heard].
My study of Shakespeare at school predated the arrival of feminist, post-colonial, psychoanalytic, etc reading of texts. But I’d read a lot of such analyses since and decided to produce a more sympathetic image of Caliban than would normally issue from a straight reading of the play.
Caliban lives on an island on which Prospero, a European intellectual, and his daughter, Miranda, are marooned. Prospero promptly enslaves Caliban, forcing him to do his bidding using his ‘magical’ powers, torturing him if he disobeys. Most of this is explicitly stated, though with the explanation that such treatment is justified because Caliban is a savage (read, non-European).
I wanted to make an image that made this slavery explicit. I drew some ideas on the iPad using ArtRage (my main art program on the iPad now) based on images found on the internet and out of books. Since the final image would be b&w, I loaded ArtRage with a black canvas and drew using a white pen. I exported this image, printed it as 6×4 and then traced the image onto the linocut using Tracedown White. After a couple of proofing prints, I found the right pressure on the hydraulic press and left the block with Laine to work with.
I also printed one fair copy for myself on nice paper:
The cut has a few problems — the lines on the face are too fine to reproduce easily. The pressure has to be just right. And the mouth did not work properly — bit too big. But not too bad for my third or fourth linocut.
I’m thinking of placing this in the Surface Gallery Postcard Show next year, if I can think of two more images to produce. We’ll see if anyone thinks it is worth £15
I spent yesterday at a wonderfully enjoyable workshop – Introduction to Letterpress – run by Sat Kalsi at the Leicester Print Workshop. The day itself was very well organised and expertly run. Sat is a great teacher: knowledgeable, helpful and always encouraging. But she must have been exhausted by the end of the day.
We began with an introduction of how to set metal type using a composing stick. Sat had set out a number of type cases of different sizes, from 18pt to 36pt. I gravitated to an 18pt case as I had come prepared with some longish texts. I’d asked my wife and daughter for some texts that they might like set in addition to the Donne poem I was taking, The Sun Rising. Maggie chose Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 116 while Vick gave me some favourite extracts and poems.
It was obvious that I needed to choose the shortest piece to set and so began on the sonnet. Sat looked at the poem and recommended that I count the number of e’s and a’s in it to see if there was enough in the tray – there wasn’t, so she fetched me another tray, 18pt Garamond.
The composing stick has a sliding end which is set to the maximum length needed for the whole text, in multiples of 6pt, and is left there for the whole page. So, I first set the longest line of the sonnet, the line beginning ‘Whose worth’s unknown…’. This took a long time. The type was set out in an ‘Improved Double Case‘ (though a few of my letters were in slightly different places), so each letter was a matter of hunt and pick using the layout sheet provided. Unfortunately, a lot of the letters had been previously replaced in the wrong slots so I had to check each letter as I took it out.
It turned out I needed a 36pt line length. I wasn’t going to reset that line again so placed a spacer underneath it and began on the first line.
When one of us had enough lines ready to take off the stick, Sat showed us how to remove the lines from the stick and slide them onto the galley tray (a metal tray with raised edges). I did this in sets of four lines. The composing stick got incredibly heavy. It is held, resting on the left arm with the thumb of the left hand holding the last placed type in place. Since all the type is cast in lead, you can imagine what a six inch by 2 inch lump of lead feels like resting on your hand and arm all day long!
This is a shot of the first eight lines of the sonnet in the galley tray. Each line has spacers at the end so that the letters are held quite tight and magnets (very powerful magnets – they take quite some effort to shift).
After the lines are taken off the composing stick onto the press, a proof is taken to check for mistakes. Sat rolled out some black ink (the same as for linocuts and other relief printing work) and showed us how to roll it onto the type. The whole galley tray is then taken to the Galley Press (a simple roller on guides) and a proof taken. Any mistakes then have to be corrected. This was not easy for someone with my clumsy fingers – I could have done with a pair of tweezers but I guess they aren’t used as they’d damage the lead type. Luckily, as my tray had so many letters in the wrong place, I’d been closely checking my work as I went along so only had about four mistakes in the whole text, e.g.:
By the time I’d set the whole poem, my back was killing me. Standing up, leaning over a desk all day is not fun. I’d got used to hunting out the letters so was able to sit down towards the end, but was still very sore.
Sat hunted out a nice gothic-style face, 18pt Light English Text, for me to use on the title for the poem and I set that and proofed it.
Setting such a longish text took me a long time. Others on the workshop set more sensible length texts and were able to do more than one. A couple of people moved on to setting wooden type to make sizeable posters. Another woman had brought some paper onto which she had painted a few colours and printed onto that – it looked great.
After checking the proof, I transferred the text to a chase – a heavy metal frame which takes your text block and uses quoins and other furniture to lock it into place in a much more stable way than with the magnets in the galley tray. I then used this on the Britannia Press to print onto stock paper:
This is my second-best printing. The best one went to Maggie.
I’d like to thank Sat for all the help she gave me during the workshop. It was a fantastic day and I’m very pleased with the amount I learned and with the printed results.
I have been working on a set of collagraphs, recently. When I attended the Leicester Print Workshop ‘Introduction to Print’ evening class (see here for next class), my attempt at a collagraph was rather a disaster.
We worked on mountboard card. Nichola showed us how to make dark lines by scoring into the card (using craft knifes) and how to add texture by removing the top section of the mountboard to expose the slightly fluffy card below (middle grade shading), adding carborundum (heavy shading) or just adding PVA glue (light shading, near white-out).
My attempt was to try and create a shaded version of a photograph of my daughter sitting on a bench in Sherwood Forest. I got the lines pretty much in the right place and some of the shading looked ok but the image overall was, frankly, crap. That’s why I didn’t post about that class. The medium did not lend itself to representation imaging — not at my level of expertise, anyway.
I was determined to learn more about what I could do with collagraphs. I had the excellent book, Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking by Brenda Hartill & Richard Clarke (one of the brilliant Printmaking Handbook series from A & C Black) and wanted to try all the techniques described.
I had bought a stack of offcut mountboard from Ferrers Frames, picked out five that arranged pretty well on an A3 sheet, and thought about what to do. I originally started with the idea of a series based on landscapes from our recent trip to NZ and did pretty much keep to that theme. I also tried several techniques. One plate had most of it lifted out and filled with polyfiller which I sculpted and tried to make into landscape-y shapes. With another, I took a photograph of windswept trees, laid it over the plate and cut through photograph and plate: it was interesting when bits of the photograph fell away as I was cutting so I could not use it as a guide any more. Another plate had bits of corrugated card (from an Amazon delivery — something we have plenty of), ripped paper and cotton threads glued to it. One long one, I cut on the coarse side of the mountboard to retain that texture. A fifth and final piece was simply built from geometric shapes. I added texture to the images using some fine sand since I’d been unable to get any carborundum (it cost more for the shipping than for the grit itself).
I varnished all the plates and they were ready only a day before I was due to go into the workshop (I planned to go in on a Wednesday as the workshop is open late so I would be sure to have enough time to get at least one print looking right).
I inked the plates up, laid them out on a piece of newsprint to which I had transferred the plate locations and printed onto a sheet of proof paper. It was a complete mess. I had not removed anywhere near enough ink and passing it through the rollers squeezed ink all over the paper. I was able to run a second sheet through and get a complete image without any re-inking. But I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I got on with a second print that I’d made — see below — and worked on that through until the early afternoon when I had that one right.
Then, even though I was knackered, I decided to have one last go at the 5-plate print again. I spent more time inking and wiping down this time. And it paid off. The print was much better. Still not brilliant, though. The top left plate was too dark so that the lines did not show — I ought to have wiped the surface down much more but had only put one coat of varnish on because of the thin lines and I think the ink had seeped into the plate. The corrugated card had made a nice shape but the carved polyfiller was a bit naff. The geometric shapes plate was okay but the vertical water flow one did not really work though I liked the texture of the reverse surface. Not a good set of plates but I learned a lot from making them.
I had made another, completely different, plate on the day before going in to the workshop. I just had in mind the image of a crow standing on a desert floor with a huge sun in the background. I couldn’t find an image of a bird I liked but did find one of a bird flying away from the camera. I created this one differently as well. I painted the mountboard with a couple of coats of acrylic gesso to provide a nicely toothed surface then used a drypoint needle to scratch the sun and outline of the bird into the plate. I liked the rough way the needle scratched into the surface: not making a clean line but a jagged, coarse one. I laid down some sand and glue into the image for more texture.
I managed to get a really good colour mix with this image, printed it and, again, had the ink run. This time from the bird where I again had too much sand embedded so that it was impossible to remove enough ink. I scrubbed the plate clean of ink, re-inked all the areas around the bird and asked Nichola how I might ink the bird to avoid making another mess. We looked at the plate and it seemed, even after all the cleaning that there was a lot of ink left so I ran the plate through. This image printed well but I didn’t like the colours.
I spent a long time on the third inking, trying to get the colours to blend and work together. I also rubbed the bird down quite a lot, even using cotton buds to remove ink from in the sand. I was very nervous wen lifting the paper but it turned out pretty good. All the hard work had paid off. Not perfect, but encouraging.
Overall, I was very pleased with the day, especially with the bird image. I may just have another go at collagraphs!