Printmaking – Disappearing Block

Having tested the water with a reduction lino cut with the Jester (see previous post) I decided to challenge myself with a larger, more detailed work, using the reduction method of cutting a block.  The John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize was coming up.  Entry into the prize stipulates the work must be inspired by the poetry of  John Shaw Neilson, a poet born in Penola, South Australia.  After reading many of his poems, I was inspired by Green Singer, in which he describes Spring, the season, as the singer.  On researching photos of singers, I found a photograph of a young woman who seemed to fit the mental image of who I was looking for.  A woman singing-up Spring.

Spring's Invocation Initial drawing Jenn White

Spring's Invocation Initial drawing

Rather than flowers and foliage decorating her hair, I wanted her hair to appear made of the plants of Spring.  I then photocopied the pencil sketch and set about colouring it in as a guide for the finished print.

Having Spring’s face off-white, the colour of the paper, was not appealing, and nor did I want to have detailed shading.  I wondered how to incorporate some texture into what would be her skin.  Some time ago, I was fortunate to come across a large old book of wallpaper samples at a garage sale.  Several of the papers were quite heavily embossed in an abstract foliage-type design.  I wasn’t sure it would work, but it was certainly worth experimenting.  So, the next step was to glue the wallpaper sheet to a piece of matt board to use as a printing block, to give the singer’s face a pale green random texture.

Before printing the wallpaper block, I wiped the ink from the two top corners, which would be sky and also the singer’s teeth. I didn’t want her looking neglectful in her personal hygiene – no green teeth.  The print turned out to be wiggly lines rather than splotches, but I was pleased with the effect.

Next was cutting away the teeth on the lino block, to make sure they would remain white throughout the rest of the process.  I was in a bit of quandary about her face, as I wanted highlights and shading produced by the inking and printing process.  Instead of cutting away the block to leave the features (at this point) I decided I would clean the ink from her face before printing each successive colour.

Third stage single Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Third stage of the printing process

Not a lot of definition yet.  The above image shows the result of two inkings of the lino block, after cutting away sections I wanted to remain the cream colour of the paper and the lemon.  The first lighter colour was printed after wiping clean sections of her face for highlights.  More sections of the block were cut away to keep that colour before inking the block and printing with the deeper gold, again wiping ink from the block for facial highlights.

Third stage Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Ready for stage four

Above, you can see three of the prints at the third stage, as well as the coloured-in photocopy of the drawing (a reverse of the print, of course) and tools of trade.  A baren, the circular doover, is used for rubbing the back of the paper to transfer the ink from the block.  I also use the back of a wooden spoon and a large wooden rolling pin.  So each print gets three goes with three different tools.  You’ll also perhaps notice to the left a glimpse of the registration jig.

In the printing of any multi-colour or multi-block prints, registration – the lining up of the block in the same position for subsequent pulls – is imperative to get the desired effect.  If the registration is out of whack, it can make the viewer think she’s seeing double, with the colours or elements skewed out of alignment.  This I know!  The jig forms one border against which the block sits, and another to butt the paper against.

For this project I wanted to use oil-based inks, which meant waiting between each pull (transfer of ink to paper) to at least partially dry before proceeding to the next colour.  I did add a drier solution to the ink, but a drop too much and the ink dried on the roller.  It was a bit hit and miss.  I wanted only one finished print for entry into the prize and one for me.  To allow for the inevitable mistakes, I did a very small edition of four prints, one being the test piece – always necessary in a process I had little experience of.

And so the process proceeded.

Fifth stage Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Fifth stage

Working (mostly) with colours lightest to darkest, the procedure repeated.  After printing each colour, sections of the lino block were cut away to ensure that specific colour remained in the finished print.

Ninth stage Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Ninth stage

Printmakers don’t call this the suicide method for nothing.  Once sections of the block are removed, there’s no going back.  And, after several inkings and cleanings of the block, the permanent marker used to draw the design proved not quite so permanent, the lines fading.

Eleventh Stage Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Eleventh Stage

Up until printing the lighter green, I was cleaning the ink from the face area.  It was then time to do the deed and cut away that area, all bar the features of the face.  Scary stuff.

Final Print Spring's Invocation Jenn White

Final Print Spring's Invocation

And there you have it.  Simple.  Well, not quite, but very rewarding as well as fraught with doubts while watching her take shape.  Of the four prints I did, two are good.  The other two are passable, though they have green ‘sky’ – when enthusiasm to see what would  happen next meant me forgetting to wipe clean the top corners  of the block.  These sections remained until the very last cut.  There were thirteen stages in all to the completed print.

A recent conversation with Aussie printmaker Clayton Tremlett made me appreciate how far I  have yet to go with the reduction method.  Would I ever dare, as Clayton has, undertake a reduction method print using 30-plus colours?  And would I be sane at the conclusion?

Did she win?  No.  But Spring’s Invocation did achieve a Highly Commended in two exhibitions.  More than that, though, the print has generated many conversations during which folk unfamiliar with printmaking, and especially the reduction method were intrigued to learn about the process.  All good!

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New Resident Baffles Postie

Studio Sign The Hatchery

Studio Sign The Hatchery

A visitor to the studio told me I was in trouble with the local postman.  When I asked why, he replied, “Your sign.  When he goes past and it’s out, he catches himself waving to it.” Not a bad result, I’m thinking.

Encouraged by my neighbour Darryl of Darryl’s Glass Gallery, here in Sandford, to make my open studio stand out more, I wanted something that would be noticable and also put a smile on the dial of any passersby.  The odd-looking artist, giving a thumbs up, is the result.  Anyone wondering what she’s doing coming out of an egg will soon realise it’s because of the name ‘The Hatchery’ (the same as my blog).  Both are where ideas hatch into creative projects.

The construction was a challenge in recycling – donated wheels from a Weber barbeque, and old drawer, a piece of particle board and other assorted bits and pieces, including two bricks for weight against the strong winds.  Despite two coats of marine varnish, I’m not sure just how well she will withstand the elements.  Time will surely tell.  In the meantime, she serves the purpose well and adds a bit of colour on a grey day.

Anyone visiting the small village of Sandford, in the south west of Victoria, is welcome to stop and say g’day – preferably to me, as well as the colourful woman out front.

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Life’s Like That

The Fingers of Fate - woodcut - Jenn White

The Fingers of Fate - woodcut - Jenn White

The above print was done for an exchange with an on-line international group of printmakers.  When I first did the design, it was a bit of whimsy, but the theme, of being manipulated by outside forces, quickly became reality.

I suppose I’m a bit of a control freak and circumstances, mostly concerning family members and  health issues, soon impacted in unexpected ways.  Weeks led to months of me feeling as if I had no control over any aspect of my life.  I admit, I tend to take on too much.  Between the needs of family, self-care, group involvement, art commitments, writing and editing…  Well things got out of hand.

Letting go, letting circumstances (or the Universe) control one’s life, at least for a while is not always a bad thing.  Lessons can be learned, and expectations, especially of oneself, can be put aside.  The dust on the bookshelves is a landscape in itself.  My ex-mother-in-law would be horrified at  the accumulation of shoes, wood-chips, and all manner of  items waiting to be moved to the shed that currently clutter the back porch.  For her, a neat entry was the sign of a well-lived life.

Visitors may have to negotiate an obstacle course to get to the back door, and clear a place at the table once inside the cottage, but the welcome over coffee is no less warm for all that.  Allowing the Fingers of Fate to move us like pieces on a chess board can be frustrating or, instead of struggling against the currents in a turbulent sea it can be a chance to go with the flow.  I vote for the latter.

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Method in Medieval aka Making a Reduction Print

Jester - Four-colour reduction print

Jester - Four-colour reduction print

It’s time again to sign up for the Solstice Print Exchange.  How quickly six months barrels past.  The last exchange seems only a week ago and here I’m thinking about what to do for the next.

The Jester, above, done for the last Solstice exchange, was my first attempt at the ‘reduction method’, also known as the suicide method of print block making.  The reason for the rather dire description is that there is no going back once the process has begun.  And what is the process?  Complex is what it is.  Not so much in the actual doing, but in getting my head around it, and being completely in the dark regarding how the finished product might look.

All printmaking has that element of mystery.  No matter how good my imagination and envisioning the result of an inked block kissed passionately by paper (it has to be a definite smooch and not a mere peck), the pulled print can be unpredictable and sometimes surprising.  Never more so with a reduction print.

Friends had gifted me a piece of faux lino I decided to use for the exchange print.  It turned out a bigger adventure than anticipated…

I wanted to get away from just black and white, but didn’t want to hand colour.  Perhaps I should have gone that way, as this print run is definitely a ‘variable edition’.

I also wanted my subject to be ‘light’ and something fun.  Had the design drawn for ages before I could screw up the courage to make the first cuts – and get my head around the process.  Nervous about my first attempt at this method, and knowing I had to produce at least 28 usable prints, I prepared 40 pieces of paper, to allow for the inevitable dodgy ones.

The process:

  • Cut away those sections of the block I wanted to remain white, with the paper showing through.
  • Ink the block in the lightest colour, in this case yellow.
  • Pull all 40 prints, ending up with prints 99% yellow with a few dabs of white evident, looking like nothing much at all.
  • Clean the block and cut away the sections I wished to remain yellow in the finished print.
  • Ink the block with red and pull all 40 prints, ending up with the image gradually emerging.
  • Repeat the last two steps, using blue and, finally, black ink.

The block of faux lino, aka ‘rubbery stuff’ although easy to carve, turned out to be a bit too ‘giving’ and spongy in the book press (the only type I own), resulting in uneven ink-to-paper smooching.  It took me a while to discover that if I hand burnished with a barren, before putting it in the book press, I got better transference.  Registration (lining up the block exactly each time on the paper) also turned out to be an issue for me because of the block being the same size as the paper.

I did manage to produce the right amount of decent prints for the exchange, though only just.

I learned a lot, enjoyed the reduction method, and am quite pleased with the marriage of method and subject, despite using only primary colours and black.  There is not a lot left of the block, really only the outline, so I can never produce any more of this particular print – thus the term ‘suicide method’.

Despite the challenges, I’m already keen to have another go at a reduction print!

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Future Legacies

Greetings from Casterton - charcioal pencil and acrylics

Greetings from Casterton - charcoal pencil and acrylics

While watching part of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ on tellie last night, which traced singer Robin Gibb’s ancestors, I couldn’t help thinking of all the ordinary people out there who get no professional help with their genealogy, me included.  Yes, I suppose viewers can gain some insight into the research process, but few of us have the option of travelling overseas or being chauffeur-driven around foreign locations to track down records of our forebears.

At the culmination of the show, after Robin made discoveries concerning his ancestors, he commented that those people had made a difference in other people’s lives.  It made me wonder, if after I’m gone, what legacy I will leave behind.  Will I have made a difference by having been alive?  And if so, in what respect?  Will it be my words that impact on others?  My artwork?  My warped sense of humour that often encourages others to view events in a slightly different light?  Will it be my genes that inspire my grandchildren to make a difference?

The above image is of a mixed media painting I did as a recent raffle prize.  The young chap, about fifteen, who won it was thrilled to have something I thought would perhaps only appeal to older folk, those whose parents or grandparents lived in the area during the early nineteen hundreds, the era depicted in the painting.  I was proven wrong.  It’s a small thing to make a person smile, but it can produce long-lasting rewards.

Having recently turned sixty, and being officially now a ‘senior’, there’s frequently an edge of desperation to get things finished, to reach a stage of completion that is probably not possible, unless I live for another sixty years.  And even then, there will always be more projects – art, writing, family, house and garden – that will inspire me, so I will never be finished, however old I am when my time comes.

When feeling frantic, I pull up short and take a breather.  I pause to look at the dam – if I’m lucky a couple of ducks or a heron have come to visit.  I take a wander around my developing garden to see what new shoots have appeared.  At  present, the blossom is opening on the fruit trees, the jonquils and daffodils are lifting their faces in the crisp morning light.  I count my blessings.  Perhaps it will be a physical legacy I leave, a garden for my grandchildren in which to explore and dream.

The apple tree is no more than a branched stick. I chose a Jonathan Apple because of its associations.  As a child, I used to sit on the seat with my grandmother beneath the gnarled branches of the apple tree.  She would pick a couple of apples and cut them into quarters, making sure there was no evidence of codling moth, and we would share the moment and the ripe and juicy apples.  I doubt I’ll get to sit under my apple tree with one of my granddaughters – though, perhaps in a year or two, a very small chair will be the precursor of a full-size one, on which another adult and child can sit and wipe apple juice from their chins while enjoying each other’s company in the garden I grew.

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