Category Archives: printmaking

Precious Non-Metals

Paper is amazing stuff. Historically very special and magical, but it’s so much a reflex these days to think of it as extremely cheap. We say “cheap as chips”, and don’t even think about the paper the chips come wrapped in.

The art papers I use are rather more expensive – I’ve been doing some research to compare what I use to some more traditional jewellery materials. The results surprised me a bit!

Griffen Mill Akbar Brown 115gsm handmade paper : £261/kg
Judd Street decorative paper: £101/kg
“Elephanthide” parchment style paper: £60/kg
Arches Velin: £45/kg
Khadi Atlas White 400gsm handmade paper: £43/kg
Gmund bierpapier: £26/kg
Daler-Rowney Studland mountboard (the base layer I use for most of my standard lines) : £12/kg

Of course, when you consider that a kilo of silver will set you back £860 and a kilo of gold £34,000 (spot prices at time of writing) then even the best & most wonderfully complex of papers are an utter bargain in comparison.

Slate exhibition

For the next six weeks, my work is on display at Slate in Leytonstone—you can walk along Leytonstone High Road and see it in the dedicated street-facing exhibition space on the corner with Church Lane. As usual, you can click through to Flickr for the full-sized versions – they’re not the best of photos, but for December light, street reflections, and (frankly) a hurry to get to the pub they’re not too bad.

Prints on display at Slate

Collages & paintings on display at Slate

Jewellery on display at Slate

London Rowan

London Rowan - Arches 1

There are half a dozen rowan trees along my road; they’re something I used to see a lot back in Wales, and not a tree you’d expect to find here. I’ve been taking photographs of them over the last year or so, and recently I took one of them—from last February or so—and commenced some messing around, snipping out a small portion of the branches and using GIMP to clean it up and convert it to black & white. The image-manipulation took about an hour overall, including using Inkscape to convert it to SVG (which in itself smooths out some awkward corners) and then to the DXF format the laser cutter can import.

Design for a stencil (Rowan tree) 1 Here’s the cleaned-up image, with a frame added. (As always, click through to Flickr for full-sized versions of all these images.) I was originally planning on using it for stencilling, but the initial tests showed I’d have to scale it up to about A3 if much of the detail was going to survive, and I’ve no real use for anything that size.

IMAG0837 Here, it’s laser-engraved onto birch plywood at around A4 size. That’s vector engraving, because with a design this complex the laser cutter software just couldn’t handle the necessary calculations to reduce the white areas and make a printmaking block right out of the box.

With that test done, I could choose a suitable piece of reclaimed hardwood (I think it used to be part of a floorboard) and burn the design onto that. (Just for completeness & my own records: 50% laser power, speed 150, worked perfectly and had the job done in 15 minutes.) That gave me the design transferred to the surface, and since the lines were a millimetre or two deep I could go straight to the komasuki (U-section gouge, more or less) rather than starting with the outlining tools.

IMAG1003 Here I’ve already carved out some of the larger areas, but you can see most of the original surface. This method of transferring the design feels like cheating, but it’s Traditional to use a transfer method (laser paper and peppermint oil, or just pasting the original design down to cut through – that’s how they did it back in the Floating World) so I try to convince myself I’m just taking advantage of modern technology.

Rowan tree printmaking block Here’s the finished block. I was worried I hadn’t carved it out deeply enough, but then I usually am, and the depth you need depends a lot on the width of the open area, the size of your brayer, and the stiffness of the paper. The carving took around eight hours’ worth of work in total, spread over three or four proper sessions and a lot of five-minutes-as-I’m-passing work. IMAG1224 Here’s the block inked up and ready to print. This isn’t the nerve-wracking stage, because once the ink’s on there’s nothing to do except drop a sheet of paper on it and start rubbing; the nerve-wracking stage was deciding it was Done and I should start pulling prints. So this is the first proof, done on some random hard white paper I had in the pile. The one at the top is the 5th from this set, on Arches Velin. They’re all still drying, and will be for a few days, so you’ll have to make do with my cameraphone pictures till then, I’m afraid!

London Rowan - first proof

2010 Christmas (and Hanukkah) cards

It’s September, and therefore high time for are-people-talking-about-Christmas-already?-bah-humbug season.

I make & sell Christmas cards, and can happily supply you with some to send to your friends, relatives, coworkers, archenemies, or complete strangers, at the bargain rate of £1 per card, or 20 for £18 plus p&p (from the UK, if you’re not) if I need to mail them. These are digitally printed on high-quality matte stock (Fabriano Ecologica: acid-free, 100% recycled, very white, and made in Italy using hydroelectric power) with pigment inks. The back has my logo on, and the insides are blank for your own message. They’re A6 when folded, so they fit perfectly into standard C6 envelopes.

I’m happy to do versions with custom text on, and I’ll probably be posting at least one more design over the next month or so, and a downloadable PDF for those of you who have your own printer and very little disposable income.

There’s no minimum order, and I’m happy to mix designs in any way you like. If any of you are interested in hand-printed woodblock or linocut cards instead, let me know in the comments and I’ll try and work up a design; they’re likely to work out between two and four times the price of the digital ones.

Hither Shore misprint chokers

Hither Shore choker (Dusk) 1

Like every other printmaker out there, I get misprints of different degrees of horrendousness whenever I try and do something. I’m lucky; I get more good prints than misprints. But that doesn’t mean I like waste, so I’ve been looking for things to do with the discards instead.

Since I discovered that Mod Podge works really well as a sealant for water-soluble printing ink, without picking it up and smearing it around, I’ve been trying out a few things, and this is one of the results.

Hither Shore choker (Dusk) 2

As I posted about before, they’re lacquered and laminated paper, strong & flexible, with ribbons to tie at the back. You can find the Etsy listing here.

Curves & grids

Woodblock with curves - Tiziano brown 1

I wanted another design to use on cards, and I have a pile of wooden blocks the right size, so I went back to those for it. It’s always hard adapting to carving wood again after doing a few projects in lino or vinyl, and the tools slipped a few times, but part of the reason I do printmaking is to deal with my inherent control-freak perfectionist tendencies. I love the way the medium both benefits from them and subverts them.

Woodblock with curves WIP 2 Here’s the initial design (click through to Flickr for a larger version); you can see some of the changes that happened as a result of “rescue” carving after my sankakuto slipped.

Woodblock with curves WIP 6 Here’s the block carved and ready to print, and below you’ll see another print from it on white paper. (Arches Velin, which is incredibly tactile stuff, and can give wonderful surface effects. The one at the top is on Fabriano Tiziano pastel paper, which I find works really well for relief printmaking.)

Woodblock with curves - Arches white 1 I’m going to have to experiment more with this particular mix of curves and connecting bars, I think, but probably on lino rather than wood. Since I started printmaking, I’ve been doing bordered designs much more often than open ones, which has been a bit of a surprise to me. I’d like to speculate on unconscious artistic or philosophical reasons for that, but I suspect it’s because when I’m planning a design it’s easier to work inwards than outwards.

From the Hither Shore

Water - Murano Dusk 1 cropped This one was inspired by reading the Silmarillion, and remembering holidays in the islands of Western Scotland. From the southwest tip of Mull, you can look out to sea and see the Atlantic curving away into forever over the shoulder of Iona. I’ve posted some of them in my Etsy shop. The one at the top there is actually from the second set I did—originally, the plan was to do them all in white on black, but that ran into two problems.

First, the white ink was giving me a lot of trouble—it wasn’t gluing the paper down nearly as much as the black does, so I was finding it quite a bit harder to keep registration and avoid getting messy ghost images. Water - Tiziano Black 1 cropped That was a problem with the Fabriano Tiziano I normally use for black (shown at the right) and even worse with the Arches Velin Noir I’d got specially for this. It’s incredible stuff, a really rich deep sexy black, and a nice rough texture—but the combination of that and the white ink, which had been oiling out slightly, gave me a great deal of trouble, and I managed about one good print in three from the run. Secondly, I found the sharp contrast a bit much—with that density of line, it gave a very different impression from the one I’d had in my head. I went looking for coloured paper (I’d been planning that all along, but hadn’t thought of using black on colours until I saw how the white on black had come out) and—unsurprisingly—it’s very hard to find paper the colour of a Highland sound in late summer. The blue at the top is Daler-Rowney Murano “Dusk”; this next one is Fabriano Tiziano “Sugar”.
Water - Tiziano Sugar 1 cropped This is actually the first time I’ve re-inked a block with a different colour of printer’s ink, rather than using acrylic as I’ve tried a few times. Since it was black over white, not the other way around, it worked out—in fact, the black woke up some of the white (it had been a few days, so the block was dry) and you can see white foam on the tips of some of the waves in the “Dusk” print at the top.


Knotwork dragon - Disegno 1 cropped This one was truly horrendous to ink & print from. I ended up cutting away most of the plate rather than simply leaving the raised area, since the sheer size of the open areas means it’s almost impossible to avoid inking the cutlines and then rubbing the paper down onto them. In the end, I managed to pull a half-dozen good prints, but produced quite a lot of offprints in the process – I’ll have to find something interesting to do with them. My normal reflex for this sort of thing is to cut scraps, varnish the hell out of them, and turn them into earrings, pendants, or the like, but this ink doesn’t take varnish well. I’m going to experiment with a protective coat of spray varnish before putting the good stuff on, but that will take a warm day and more energy than I have right now.

Hiraeth yr Awen 1

Hiraeth yr Awen 1 - bierpapier

Linocut, roughly 200mm square, posted in my Etsy shop.

This was inspired by a conversation with a friend about druidry, and remembering the mountains of Snowdonia where I grew up. It wasn’t originally intended to be a night scene, and it’s turned out a lot smoother and more Art Nouveau than I’d intended – I want to revisit the sketch with another block, probably in relief next time rather than incised, and see if I can get something closer to my original vision.

I don’t normally make separate design sketches – I usually do my designing straight onto the block – but since I did this time, here it is. I copied it freehand onto the lino, since the original sketch had slightly the wrong proportions for the block I had handy.

Hiraeth yr Awen 1 - design sketch

Knotwork dragon – plate & proof

Knotwork dragon - first proof

That’s the first proof from a block I’ve had waiting on my workbench for ages, waiting for me to work out how the top of the dragon’s head should go. Since I took some WIP pictures of the block, here they are – first, while it was waiting, then all finished and ready to ink.

Dragon print WIP

Dragon print WIP 2

And this one’s all inked up and ready to print. The masking tape is there to stop as many as possible of the traces of ink on the open areas getting transferred – as you see from the proof, it’s only partially successful.

Dragon print WIP 3

As for where next – I’m happy with the image itself, but I need to do more work on the open areas, and get a more consistent transfer of ink from the right-hand edge. The effect there is partly down to the surface of the block – it’s standard with water-based ink on a new vinyl block, and tends to tone down when the block’s built up a suitable layer of ink over time – but I’m fairly sure it’s also in my brayer technique. One of these days I really must find some others in different sizes.