Linocut, done directly with the sankakuto without any preliminary drawing. The brown one is Gmund Bierpapier (Boc) – recycled art paper made from beer. How awesome is that? I’ll tell you how awesome it is. It is AWESOME. The white one is, I’m fairly sure, Fabriano Academica.
This piece was inspired by one of my favourite things in the V&A – a ceramic plate made around 1955 by a Japanese artist, Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959). Their official record has no image, so have this less-than-optimal one I took there yesterday.
I carved this block quite a while ago, but was disappointed with the effect just using printer’s ink. When I decided to try the gold I’d mixed up, though, it looked much better – the texture and gleam give the design much more depth. Of course, I’m also using heavily textured handmade paper here, so that makes a difference too. This is some rather nice khadi paper – it’s not even slightly lightfast, sadly, but I don’t think that makes a difference here.
I took an old printing block – my Celtic Cross block – and made up a large glob of gold acrylic, mixed with fabric medium, to use with it. The consistency is a lot thinner and sloppier than printer’s ink, so it’s harder to control, but that’s part of the fun of it. Apologies for phonecamera pics rather than scanning them – these will dry quicker than normal printed ones, but not this quickly! These are both on Fabriano papers – first Ecologica (Schizzi grade) and then Tiziano black. I also did two onto Gmund bierpapier, which came out wonderfully, but since they’re reflective gold/black on dark brown they’re impossible to photograph till I have proper daylight.
I don’t generally bother cleaning my blocks after use, and just leave the (water-based) ink to dry and form a surface layer for next time. The acrylic paint was actually softening and re-awakening that, and it all prints together, giving a really interesting textural effect. Obviously, it’s not actually printing a layer of black underneath a gold wash (the other way around, if anything), but that’s what it looks like. It’ll be interesting to see how the technique works out on a clean block that’s never been used with ink.
The acrylic stays wet and usable on the block much longer than I’d worried it would – that might partly be down to the fabric medium, which I added because this was mostly a test for printing directly onto T-shirts and so on. On the other hand, it might also just be because acrylic is still completely capable of colour transfer when almost dry.
My first try at drypoint with watercolour pencils has given fairly encouraging results. Not very attractive, but then the idea was to answer the question, Can I print in watercolour without a press?, and it’s definitely that.
This is my first time working with a drypoint needle, so one of the things I learn from this is that I have to use it much more authoritatively. It’s a great deal like using a pencil, and lack of pressure is one of my besetting sins when doing that, too. On the other hand, these transparent plastic plates are wonderful, and I’m already planning several things involving tracing images through them. Well, mostly wonderful – it’s difficult to see where your lines are going without strong direct, and preferably low-angle, light on your workpiece, so that’s going to take some getting used to.
I only have a set of very low-end watercolour pencils, so that’s not going to give ideal results, but they’re still giving quite good transfer to the plate. The scratched portions have about as much tooth as rough paper, but the unscratched portions have none at all, so it’s really easy to confine the colour to the correct areas.
When printing, I used Ellie Poo paper, since I had some A4 sheets of that lying around ready to hand; I sprayed it thoroughly with water, and wiped off the surface excess before laying it on the plate. As you can see from the smear in the corner, the water doesn’t glue it down in the same way that printer’s ink does, so that’s going to take some getting used to. More relevant, though, is that wet 90 gsm paper is very prone to wrinkles and distortion when rubbing (I was printing with a spoon – really ought to use a press, but I don’t have access to one) so it’s important to rub only from the centre outwards, rather than back and forth across the paper as I normally do.
Next time I try this, I’ll do a test with some Ingres paper and with some actual watercolour paper – that’s designed for precisely the same distortion problem, after all.
As I posted here, I experimented a bit with monotyping. Since I’ve finally managed to get a decent picture of it, here you are!
I’m quite pleased with this one. The image of a white tree on a black ground is something I’ve been trying to do for a while now, and not managed to my satisfaction. I did this partly as an excuse to use the new white ink (Graphic Chemical printer’s ink – though having switched to a tin and spatula with the black, going back to the stiff metal tube for the white is painful) – or to put it another way, I got the white ink so I’d feel impelled to use it! The paper is Fabriano Tiziano, which is technically a pastel paper, but is also the best coloured paper I’ve found. The black handmade paper I posted about a while back is very nice, but it’s about as lightfast as your average Ringwraith, so no good there. I’m not sure about the rating of this stuff, but it’s got to be a great deal better.
I’m not so good at the symmetry thing, being thoroughly right-handed – it’s much, much easier for me to draw the network lines going up and to the left than it is to draw them up and to the right. The right hand side of the tree is much more fluid and less cluttered as a result.
I’ve been experimenting today with block printing directly onto fabric, and it’s come out pretty well. I used my cartouche block, with the same printer’s ink (incidentally, using a 1lb tin and a spatula instead of a squeezy metal tube makes things quite a lot easier) and a metal spoon to make sure the ink penetrated right the way through the fabric.
This stuff has proved far too tenacious to wash out of paper once it’s dried in, so I’m hoping it’ll be the same in a normal wash – obviously, I’ll do a test wash first rather than putting it in with my good shirts!
The only problem with the setup I was using is the difficulty of keeping the fabric away from the block once I’ve done the transfer and started to peel it off. The way I set it up was to turn the T-shirt inside out, lay it on my worktable with the label facing down, lift up the top (front) side, and slip the pre-inked block in before letting the fabric down slowly and smoothing it out as I went. That part worked out pretty well, though next time I’ll probably use some artist’s tape to stiffen the fabric around the printing area first.
Another way to do it would be to lay the block down first as normal, then lower the fabric onto it with something inside the garment to stiffen it up and stop the ink from transferring right through. Rubbing it through both layers probably wouldn’t work well, but given that the ink glues the substrate down very effectively it would be extremely easy to turn the T-shirt inside out around the block.
A third way, of course, would be to lay the T-shirt down right-side-out and front-up, and then lower a vinyl block onto it. Whilst I haven’t tried printing this way yet, the vinyl is flexible enough that it should be entirely possible to rub from the back of the plate rather than the back of the substrate.
It did turn out that I could have done with a couple of extra hands when peeling the fabric off the block, but stiffening it up (ideally I’d use a tapestry frame, but finding one large enough to give enough clear space inside but small enough to fit inside a T-shirt and get a decent grip all around might be problematic) should deal with that one too.
This is the print done with a spoon, as promised. It’s slightly different paper (from my stock – I’ve not been keeping as good track of it as I’d like to, so I’m not completely sure whether this is Fabriano Accademia or Atlantis Heritage Woodfree).
Notice the sheer amount of ink on the flat areas, and the way all the internal cut ridges show up – they got just as much ink on them in the first one, but the baren didn’t press the paper down into them in the same way that the hard, solid spoon does.
This was the first one I pulled from the block, done on Daler-Rowney Canford paper with a (cheap) baren. The ones I did with a spoon are still drying, since there’s so much more ink on them (in them, in fact) so I can’t post a comparison picture yet.
I’ve just taken half a dozen prints from the Brigid’s Cross block I posted about before, since I finally finished carving it tonight.
It’s always an amazing feeling to peel off the first print and see the results – once it translates itself from vinyl & wet ink to paper (and reverses itself in the process) it makes it really easy to look on my work with new eyes. It stops being the piece of vinyl I’ve had on my table for the last month, and I can finally see how all those awkward curves and chunky lines, the unexpected holes and the scars where the sankakuto slipped, transform themselves on paper.
I experimented for a couple of them, going back to the serving spoon (solid, sturdy 1950s EPNS) I used when I first started doing this. It’s much harder and gives a very solid line, and unlike the baren it doesn’t have a grain, so that changes how you use it. Also unlike the baren, it wasn’t designed to be used in that position, so it leaves my right hand and wrist aching. And rather warm, because the friction of the plated steel across the back of the paper gets it hot enough to be uncomfortable.
Tomorrow, when they’re dry, I’ll post pictures for comparison.i