Printmaking – masks and stencils

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Part of the pleasure of printmaking is the reveal – after the plate with paper on top has passed through the press and you gently peel the paper back, what do you see? With a conventional plate, where a carefully considered image has been made on the plate you hope to see a clear rendition of what you have put down appearing as a mirror image of the plate. With works such as the ones I have been doing recently it is much more a mystery.

The four images above were made by rolling ink fairly randomly – there was some planning involved – onto an acrylic sheet, then strips and small rectangles of plasticised paper were laid across the plate to make a satisfying arrangement. Next, dampened pieces of printmaking paper smaller than the acrylic sheet were placed on the sheet and the whole lot was put through the press, thus making bleed prints, where the ink goes beyond the edge of the paper.

Some of the strips had been used before, so had ink on them which also transferred to the paper, as well as masking out the ink below – hence both stencils and masks. The pressure of the press and the dampness of the paper also caused some of the ink to squish out below the masking strips, creating areas of different depth of colour. The top left panel is a ghost print, that is, a print made by putting the plate through the press a second time without re-inking, so just a light residue is transferred to the paper.

All of these were then printed on the back, to make double-sided images, as shown below.

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Probably they will ultimately be turned into a book or 3D object, so some of both sides will be seen. That’s for a future post!

 

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In Flight – abstract drawing

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The forms in this drawing are inspired by butterflies that I found massed on the ground in Coral Bay, Western Australia. In death they remained connected to one another as they were in life. Their shapes are now transformed, but continue to connect with one another by fine filaments and tracery, still flying.

Drawings in my travel sketchbook were the starting point for this drawing. The basic forms were drawn in very loosely with a straggly brush using watery Liquid Pencil on Yupo paper, with no real attempt made for accuracy, it was more about finding fluid forms.  Once the Liquid Pencil was dry I started drawing in to the shapes, intensifying the curves and adding body to to them, creating linkages and form. There are plenty of stories to find within the details.

Below are detail images – please excuse the colour, photographing monochrome images is a little tricky. The paper is very white and the Liquid Pencil is sepia, so the brown tones are correct. I drew in using an 8B graphite pencil and a Staedtler omnichrom pencil, which is quite sticky, and takes well on the shiny surface of the paper. The paper size is 59 x 42 cm.

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A mix of miniatures

Every year since the late 1990s the Australian Society of Miniature Art has held an awards exhibition here in Sydney. I’ve been a member of the society for longer than I care to remember and have put work into the awards exhibition nearly every year since it has been going. Sometimes I win prizes, sometimes I don’t but it’s an exhibition that is always a pleasure to be part of. The standard of work is incredibly high, the best holds its own with ‘normal’ sized work without any difficulty.

There are eight categories: drawing, watercolour, printmaking, oil painting, acrylic painting, mixed media, 3D and hand made books and this year for the first time, abstract. Members of the society can put in up to 4 works, non-members one. There is a rigorous selection process and work that doesn’t fit the criteria, or is of poor quality is rejected. Prizes are given in each category, plus a Best in Show, Best Traditional work, Most Innovative work and there is also a prize given for a particular theme each year. This year it was ‘In My World’ which could be interpreted broadly. A different judge is appointed each year, and it is always interesting to see the different ways they make their choices. This year it was Judith White, a well-known artist in Sydney, and she gave a great deal of thought and consideration to her choices.

The main ruling that work must adhere to in order to qualify as a miniature is that two-dimensional works can have a perimeter of no more than 40 cm, ie 10 x 10 cm or 12 x 8 cm, or whatever fits within that. Many works come in well below that size. Also, the brushstrokes used must be small, no clumsy marks, and any subject matter must be miniaturised. Three dimensional works can be no more than 15 cm in any direction, including any base or plinth and hand-made books must be made entirely by the artist, and when closed the face be no more than 40 cm perimeter.

This year all my works ended up being abstract, mainly because that seems to be the direction I am taking in all my work at the moment. No prizes for me this year, but if you would like to see the works that won, go to the miniature society (ASMA) website here.

Below are my entries this year.

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‘Fleeting Thoughts’. This is a concertina book in a box, made from etchings, monoprints and drypoint prints, with added pen and collaged names of European cities taken from an old map. The box is 4 x 2.5 x 2 cm, and the concertina opens to 47 cm in length.

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‘Garden of My Mind’. This was in the Mixed Media section and also in the ‘In My World’ section. This is an element from a monoprint that I have worked into and elaborated with coloured pencils. The diameter of the circle is 6 cm.

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‘Opulence’. I put this one in the drawing section. The initial faint base image was created with a blot of Liquid Pencil, which I drew into with graphite, and also scratched into it. This one is 6.5 x 9.5 cm.

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‘Secrets of the Harem’. This was in the oil section, and is oil paint on a piano key, 4.5 x 2 cm.

Odds and ends at the end of the year

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a range of different artworks, in a somewhat disjointed way. I have had the (totally delightful) distraction of the unexpectedly early arrival of my first grandchild, a little girl called Lumi. She was tiny, but is thriving, clearly a determined individual! And now the lead-up to Christmas provides other distractions.

On one day last week I heard that I had made two sales, very different artworks in different places. One was a painting, sold through Bluethumb, an online gallery. I have had work there for about a year and a half and had previously sold two paintings to the same buyer, but that was all, so this was a nice surprise. The other sale was one of my miniature hand-made books which was in an end of year group show, this too was quite unexpected. Neither work is new, but I had faith in them both, so it is good to know people liked them! The painting is called ‘Enigma’ and is oil on board and the book is called ‘Sleeping Beauty in Short, a book in a box’.

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Etching is a print medium I have always loved, but have done little of in recent years. It is time-consuming and heavy on equipment, so when a printmaker friend who is also a magnificent teacher said she was going to conduct two mentor workshops in using aluminium plates (as opposed to copper or zinc which I have used in the past) I seized the opportunity. We had a small group of wonderful artists, it was an enormously pleasurable experience and I was reminded of the scope within etching, and how much I enjoy it. There are a few fundamental differences with using aluminium – the acid for etching is very gentle, and easily accessible from any hardware store, and there is no need to go through the complexities of applying aquatint in order to create tones, as when areas of the aluminium are left exposed in the acid, it bites leaving a texture on the plate. The darkness of the tone can be controlled by how long the plate is left in the acid – it can be pulled out and blockout applied to the areas to be kept lighter. The downside is that it can be unpredictable, and it is more difficult to obtain the clear, fine lines that are possible on copper or zinc, but this unpredictability is what I am hoping to exploit when I make more plates next year. The first image below was comparatively controlled, the second one is the same size (10 x 15 cm) and was more experimental in the way I blocked out areas, then wiped off bits of the blockout in an almost random way.

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Drawing into my monoprints is continuing – a never-ending source of surprise and pleasure! The image below is a small part (about 20 x 20 cm) of a larger piece, with a ghost mono print underneath, worked into with coloured pencils. I am now thinking of simply taking the elements that work from these larger pieces and treating them as small finished works. I haven’t come up with a title for this one, so any suggestions welcomed!

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I am so grateful for the continuing support from the people who visit this blog, and who follow me on Instagram and Facebook. So many developments and new directions have come from the intelligent and thoughtful comments that you go to the trouble to make. I am constantly inspired by seeing the work of artists I follow too, so thank you, have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas, and looking forward to an inspired and productive New Year!

In the air

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Liquid Pencil is a medium I keep returning to. It has an unpredictability that I like, surprises emerge that I can take further. This drawing is on Yupo paper, which has a plastic-like surface, not at all appealing for regular drawing as it is slippery and resists most media, but Liquid Pencil pools and smears in ways that I can use by drawing into with an 8B graphite pencil. I used an old, poor-quality paintbrush to apply the Liquid Pencil. Hairs were coming out and dragged behind adding to the unpredictability of the resultant forms. I twisted and flopped the brush in an uncontrolled way. The only level of control that I imposed was to have the marks diminishing as they came down the sheet. My favourite marks were those that were very light, they offer more opportunities for working into.

The resultant forms are reminiscent of animals, birds, insects, underwater creatures, but none are identifiable with anything we recognise.

Within our world are many other worlds, tiny, incomprehensible, outside our imagining. In a cloud of dust particles may be creatures and lives we cannot know. The creatures in my drawing come from these other worlds – I do not know what they are, but they have a beauty of their own, a history we can create for them but never know the truth of. The truth is what we make, and everyone who sees them will have a different truth.

The paper is 50 x 40 cm. Below are detail images – black and white images on Yupo are very difficult to photograph well, so I apologise for the uneven tonal qualities.

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Small worlds

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One of the monotypes that I made back in May has moved into its next stage of development. It started as an abstract image in cool, soft colours. Then I started to work into it with coloured pencils, developing some areas, adding form and tone, creating depth and texture. This stage was quite pleasing, but I knew it couldn’t stand alone as a framed image, so I put it aside till inspiration struck for its further development, which it did last week.

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The monotype in its original state
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After coloured pencil was added, and turned 90 degrees

One form of social media I am very fond of is Instagram, I only follow artists and find it endlessly inspiring, sometimes scrolling through images something will stop me, and an idea will come from it. One thing I saw recently was work from artists in the Middle East and a small image of a mass of circles joined in a curtain-like arrangement gave me the ‘Ah ha’ moment I needed. I knew the answer to the future of this particular image was circles. I have a small tool that can be set to cut circles of different sizes, so I set it to a diameter of 6 cm and started cutting, completely randomly, deliberately not choosing what fell within each circle. Eventually I ended up with 25 circles. One of the friends that I create art with every Friday offered me some concertina-folded paper, just to see how the circles looked on either grey or white. Serendipity again – I think they look beautiful just on these concertinas! However, there are still 15 left, and these may be joined together with jump rings to make a hanging artwork, or perhaps arranged in a panel like small portholes, or they may stay solitary – the next stage will answer that question!

I have  called them Small Worlds, as that seems to me to be what they are.

Monos and ghosts

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As the weeks go by, the monoprints are taking on a different character, becoming more representational but still have an abstract quality. Most of the forms are stencils, overlaid many times, with each layer responding to the previous one. I enjoy the serendipity and unplanned results, although I do plan the colour combinations with a degree of thoughtfulness.

I don’t clean the plate between layers, so residue from each application of ink remains and informs the following layers. Once I am satisfied that a print is complete sometimes I take a ghost print, which is simply the remnants of ink – some parts will continue to transfer, others will be exhausted. Below is a ghost print that initially was made after I sprayed water on the plate, intending to clean it, then decided to take another print. More layers were then added on top.

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The last image shows a set of 6 postcard sized prints which were placed randomly on the plate that produced the top image. Each one is complete in itself, but they also work together as a set.

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