Experiments in mokulito

I have been printmaking in a serious way for well over 25 years, and so assumed I knew pretty much all the ways of making a print. To my joy I recently discovered something new! It is called Mokulito, or wood lithography, and it came to light via a couple of artists I follow on Instagram who make wonderful prints. By chance I discovered that this was the method they were using.

It was developed in Japan in the 1970s, and developed some time later for Western printmakers by a Polish father and daughter team called Josef and Ewa Budka. The knowledge I have been using is all gleaned from internet searches and You Tube clips – I am certainly no expert yet, but the process is very straightforward. I have done lithography before, so understand the basic principles, and these are still the same for Mokulito.

The plate is plywood, any size or thickness, but I have been using small (10 x 10 cm) pieces to start with, to get an idea of what will work – or not. First, it has to be sanded with a fine sandpaper, partly to get a nice smooth surface, but also to remove any greasy fingerprints, as any oily marks potentially will take the ink. Then the image is drawn on to the plate, using any oil based medium. I have been using tusche, which is an ink specifically for lithography, and litho pencils. Once I am happy with the image, I wipe some gum arabic over it, and the plate is set aside, preferably for at least 24 hours.

Then, printing time! I set up the press, prepared the inks (which need to be quite runny, so I added linseed oil), put my paper into a water bath, then washed the gum arabic off the plate. The wet plate is then inked up using a soft foam roller. The ink should adhere to the drawn areas and not to the exposed wood, but if any sticks in the wrong places it can be gently wiped away with a wet sponge. Then printed.

I have had a couple of disasters, with two plates no ink would adhere to the drawn image, so I ended up with an image of wood grain. As yet I have no answer to what went wrong, but I was very happy with how most of the others turned out. I decided to make bleed prints using some of my monoprints torn to size to make a background image, so every print was different.

The opportunities are endless – I could also carve into the plate to add white marks if I wanted to. The woodgrain becomes an integral part of the image, giving each one a lovely organic look. Using thin Japanese papers to print on would give new and interesting results too. All the prints need to be made in one session as once the plate dries it will no longer hold the ink, also some drawing media will last longer than others, so there are no possibilities of making huge print runs. I got 10 prints from the silhouette dog, but the line dog was breaking up after seven.

It is so exciting to enter a whole new universe!

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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!

 

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.

Print assemblage – ‘Songbook’

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A pile of monoprints has gradually transformed into a book – or a sculpture. The theme of the prints was music, in maybe an obscure way. Some of the plates were made some time ago, others are new, but all were destined to be made into assemblage artworks for a travelling exhibition called ‘Music Box’. The imagery was derived from the shapes of instruments, such as a violin, and the inside of a piano. I had made four artworks some time ago (see here) and am now discarding one and adding another.

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The images above show the main pieces that went to make the pages, and the first stages of putting it together. The pages are printed on both sides then folded in half to make a double page spread. To join them into a book form, I placed a wooden rod within each fold then wove coloured leather straps through small slots on either side of the fold and around the rod, then in to the next spread, and so on for 6 spreads. Finally, the long ends of the straps were glued across the front and back of the book as both an anchor and decoration. (See the last two photos.)

I also added smaller pages or pieces of print inside or outside each spread. Some of these were altered with cuts, folds or pieces inserted in them, to add interest and give a sense of dimension to the book. Although I have called it ‘Songbook’, I intend the book to stand fully opened so each page can be seen, rather than be ‘read’ as a conventional book.

The last two images show the book closed, with the spine and straps visible.

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!

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.

Monotype miniature book

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With a miniature art exhibition coming up, I decided to continue making monotypes, using the same approach I took in making larger works to make some miniatures. Using smaller stencils and a similar colour palette, I made a set of 16 prints, each 7 x 11 cm. Two of them happily stood alone, so I have framed them, and I decided I would like to make a miniature book out of some of the others. As usual, I went through a number of ideas and approaches before I decided on a concertina. I wanted to keep the torn edges of each print, so made a backing  from a drypoint print, printed in ochre on brown paper (see below), then folded and glued 8 of the prints down. The imagery suggested to me the views you see in Central Australia – bright blue skies, red dirt and huge monolithic rock formations, so I have called it ‘Mapping the Road from East to West’. Once the book was made, I felt it needed more depth and intensity, so with some trepidation decided to overprint it using the drypoint plate that made the texture on the back. If it hadn’t worked, I would have had to abandon the whole thing, but all was well, and I think it has enhanced the imagery, and the sense of Central Australia.

Once the book was complete I made a tag to contain all the details (the colophon), then had to decide on how it would be held together, whether a box, or a tie of some kind. The final solution was to make a slip cover, open at both ends, like the cover on a box of matches, from two of the remaining prints.

The title of the exhibition is East Meets West in Miniature – this is open to broad interpretation, so I decided to make it where East meets West in Central Australia.

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The individual prints
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The book with slip cover. The colophon tag is just visible underneath.

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The back
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The book in its case, with the colophon
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The two individuals before they were framed.