Here are the links to the YouTube versions.
A future blog post will include some details about sourcing materials and equipment used.
Part 1 'Preparation is Everything!'
I have recorded a few things about the way I prepare for and develop a linocut - using the XCut Xpress.
Here are the links to the YouTube versions.
A future blog post will include some details about sourcing materials and equipment used.
Part 1 'Preparation is Everything!'
A post to document this print: ‘A Mother’s Eyes’ - edition of 15 on 300gsm Smerset.
Technically the print was fairly straightforward. The process was a five stage reduction linocut which was then overprinted with transparent screen inks.
In making the lino reduction, I used blends of colour rolled on the slab (I hate the term “Rainbow Roll”!) from top to bottom; and also a little spot colour on the otter’s head.
TIP: For small areas of spot colour I use little cheap soft rubber rollers, which are actually sold for rolling wallpaper edges flat.
This print was also to be part of a couple of demonstrations I was to give, where I wanted to use the XCut Xpress to print the lino (see several previous blog posts). So I made it the maximum size I could fit on the extended XCut base board – about 40 x 15 cms. I also used a set of three Ternes Burton registration tabs and pins (also previously talked about on here). Once again these made sure all 20 sheets were exactly in register.
Pic below shows the working out of the fourth tonal reduction and the three TB tabs on the proof.
Once the lino reduction was complete, I used hand painted screen stencils and very transparent inks – also blended - to overprint; again using a reduction process. The idea was to leave only the glint in the eyes as the only white. I could have screen printed these tints on my portable table top screen bed and used the TB pins to both register and also to hold the paper flat in the absence of a vacuum. But enough is enough. I went back with some relief to using my proper vacuum screen table!
The image and words are from a short poem I wrote in response to what was a really rather wonderful wildlife moment. One which will probably stay with me forever.
A mother's eyes denounce me
With a dawn-light glint
Brighter than the river's shimmer.
'I know you' they say
And a single pipe-note melts her cubs
To flow away from me forever.
Early one late winter/very early spring morning I was walking a regular route of ours along a stretch of the river Annan – just a few miles away from our home and studio in SW Scotland. It’s a favourite short walk, as the estate bailiff keeps the paths well maintained for the many fishermen who come from all over the UK and Europe to fish the Annan for salmon, seatrout and grayling.
Also fishing that morning were two well grown otter cubs. As I came to a gap in the riverside trees, there they both were. Slipping and sliding in graceful short feeding dives into a relatively shallow stretch of the cold, shining river. Seemingly oblivious to me standing on the bank, not fifteen yards away, every few seconds or so, one or both would pop up, give a few, clearly most enjoyable crunchy chews on the small crustacean, or whatever it was they had found; and then slip, in wet curves, back under the black fast water in search of another.
It was only after a few minutes of silent watching that I noticed, among the dark tree reflections over the salmon pool on the opposite bank, another pair of eyes appear and examine me with such a hard, glinting focus, my own eyes were drawn, over thirty yards, right to them. It was surely the mother of the hungry cubs, and she was not so trusting. Twice – then three times, over the course of my silent and still quarter of an hour of watching she appeared. Each time fixing my gaze - like a fierce headmistress who knows it was you, but is waiting for the confession. The twins fed on, apparently unaware.
Then, audible even to my blighted ears, above the ripple and trickle of the river, she gave a single sharp short musical pipe note. More than a squeak and yet not quite a whistle, yet clearly a command of warning.
And, as if a film of the scene had been roughly edited, suddenly all three were gone. I saw not one dark shape swim away in the clear two feet of water. No black shining shapes climbed the bank. They had all, like dissolving sugar, become again part of the river from which they were made.
And so, the following morning, I revisited the site. Not expecting to see them again of course, but to photograph - for reference for the print I already had in my head - the reflections of the trees where herself had been.
And think about what she looked like.
And come up with an image.
And some words.
Not something I do often, but having two or three colour proofs which varied slightly from the main edition, I decided to cut them down and remount them on some more Somerset paper, to make a three EV's
Readers of this blog (if they have been patient enough to wait for my somewhat sporadic offerings) will know that I have been interested in seeing what printmaking I could achieve on the simplest of ‘table top’ equipment. They will also note that I like to combine linocut and screenprint in my own work.
My latest project followed hard on the heels of my earlier experiments with the little XCut Xpress and simple home made non-vacuum portable screen printing beds. I had already combined the XCut’s effective printing of lino with the speed and versatility of hand painted screen print stencils to apply or underprint colour; but only on a small scale. When doing so, I had also experimented with using the very effective Ternes Burton pin and tab system to accurately register both methods of printing on the same image.
Just a note on these TB pins: Made initially, I believe, for registering the overlaying of pre digital animation ‘cells’, they are made and sold here https://www.ternesburton.com/
However the enterprising Shirley at ‘Handprinted’ printmaking suppliers in the UK will supply both pins and tabs at a very reasonable rate http://www.handprinted.co.uk/printmaking/relief-printmaking/tools/ternes-burton-registration-pins-pair
Although a little tedious to apply and set up initially, they are wonderful at keeping accurate registration of multiple colour linocuts; particularly on roller type presses where there is a tendency for the pressure to shift the paper.
They work by attaching thin plastic tabs to each sheet to be printed. These then clip neatly on to metal pins which are fixed in constant position relative to the block.
Most people use just two pins and tabs. This is fine for small scale, squarish images. However for larger – or rather, proportionally longer images (such as I make on the XCut Xpress) I have found it necessary to add a third set on the ‘furthest’ edge, in order to prevent any sideways twisting of the paper as it goes through the press. In the picture below right you will see I have actually attached four pins and tabs - for reasons i will explain later.
A ‘combined methods’ project.
One of the potential problems with screen printing without a vacuum pump to hold the paper flat to the bed, is that the natural tackiness of the screen ink will tend to temporarily adhere the printed sheet to the underside of the screen mesh when the screen is lifted. Although it is possible to simply peel off the printed paper (before flood coating the stencil again) this is tedious and can smudge the edges of the image. In fact, the printing of crisp fine detail to a high and consistent standard through a screen stencil requires each piece of the stencil to only be in contact with the paper for the split second the sharp edge of the squeegee is ‘cutting’ the layer of ink from the open mesh areas down on to the surface to be printed. The mesh should ‘snap’ away immediately and cleanly from the paper as the squeegee passes.
Screening small areas of ink is not too much of a problem – especially printing on heavier papers. However, stencils with large flat areas - which may cover much of the paper - are tricky, even on the heavyish 300gsm paper I tend to use.
Some people have used a light spray of glue on the bed of the non-vacuum press to overcome the problem. Personally do not want to be trying to stack and handle prints with a gluey reverse side, or have to remount each print on a suitable support paper before sale.
It helps somewhat to print with fine meshes; which means less ink deposited with each flood and pull and therefore less ‘tack’. I am in fact in the process of re stretching most of my screens with 140T mesh (having been used to using 90T from the old days of smelly oil based inks, which dried in and blocked the mesh more easily on very fine meshes) as I find other advantages when using modern water based inks.
TB pins instead of a vacuum?
I talked a little about this particular print of Hern the heron in my last blog post. And I have to say, that although I did produce a second version, the first one don’t look too bad now! Part of the plan all along with this print was to further develop the capabilities of my ‘table top’ equipment; utilising the maximum print size of the XCut . But I also wanted to try and use the TB pins and tabs system to actually hold the paper down, in position, in the absence of a vacuum.
As long as the underside of the screen mesh is protected, with a little pad of tape from potential damage from the edge of the metal pin if the squeegee runs over it, the TB system is just as accurate, if slower, than the conventional flat 'stops' or 'tabs' I usually use for registration when screen printing.
The key block was printed in straight black using Caligo Safewash ink at full strength. All four TB tabs were used on the longer bed of the little XCut XPress. As you can see, at 15x40 cms, this is just about the maximum image size possible on the little press (unless I make an even longer bed!!)
One of the stencils for this print was a background blend that covered virtually all of the paper area. Without a vacuum to hold the paper down, this would normally have meant every print sticking to the underside of the screen.
In fact, just as I'd hoped, the four tabs held the paper - if not quite as well as a vacuum table - down in place so the screen could be carefully lifted. Luckily too, I just managed to fit the width of the tabbed paper on to my widest 'scrap wood' portable screen table!
Quick post about the project that has been occupying me for the last couple of weeks.
I have been asked to do a couple of talk and demo sessions next month regarding my “practice” (more details will be on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/colinblanchardprints/)
So rather than just showing a few bits of work and explaining how they were made, I thought I’d expand the theme of ‘Table Top Printmaking’ and take along the wee XCut press and also one of the simple screen printing set ups I have made (from scrap wood and some cheap, but highly efficient, Chinese hinge clamps) and actually do some printing there and then; in order to show what can be done in a ‘non-professional’ printmaking studio setting.
I therefore set out to come up with an idea for a combination screenprint/lino print; that would also show how I sometimes use a computer to initially manipulate images in preparation for a print.
I will not show the whole process now, as that can be better done in a later post – after I have prepared the talks. What I want to talk about here is an example of the potential disparity between what we plan and hope for when making a print – and what we finally get!
I have mentioned before that I believe that no printmaker worth their salt really knows exactly how the image they plan so carefully will actually turn out. If they do, I suggest they have either become formulaic or are simply reproducing something that might has well have been copied by a machine. I venture to suggest that this is a huge part of the appeal of the occupation to many of us: the constant challenge of trying to achieve a planned goal – but without the advantage, as with painting for example, of being able to scrub it all out, or just go back a step or two and change direction.
So I had this idea. It would be of an image I’ve thought about for a while; a wading heron, reflected in the water. It would utilise the ability of computer graphics to ‘wobble’ the reflection and use the control of screen ink blends and transparencies to suggest rippling water by overprinting the reflection. Moreover, it would have to be produced entirely on the XCut and use only one small screen; on a homemade non vacuum bed.
All went well to begin with. Initial pencil drawing; composition and size planning; initial carving; computer manipulation; another great printing performance from the XCut; the use of the same Ternes Burton tabs to register and secure the paper for screenprinting….
The end result though, was – well, I wanted to say disappointing. Indeed I nearly binned all fifteen, such was my frustration on realising the several wrong turns I had made earlier in my carefully planned journey. However, after a day out of the studio and some thought, I realised that this would make an excellent addition to my talks; as an example of the magic of the ‘controlled unpredictability’ which drives us printmakers. Sometimes it just don’t turn out right!
However, I will keep and sign the edition and see what the reaction of others might be. I will though, recut the block and make a new set of screen stencils and try a second version.
What was wrong with it? Well, just two things really – but both irretrievable without a restart: the reflection as it is might have worked as a smaller (black and white only) print. Here, there is just far too much of it. Also the screen ink colours are just wrong; too strong and the wrong colours in the wrong places.
Of course I could be wrong.
That’s what keeps me going!
There are many ways we can give ourselves a guide to follow when setting out to carve a lino, or indeed wood, block.
I should say from the outset though, that I personally can see no point in simply tracing and drawing a ‘line’ image (one colour with no tones) – whether a drawing or a simplified photographic image – then slavishly carving and printing it as basically a reproduction of the original. Why bother with lino at all? Just an inkjet or photostencil screen print will look pretty much the same.
What appeals to me about linocuts etc. is the way the actual carving process can change, revise and develop the image. I have never made any secret of the fact that I often use a computer and Photoshop as a vital development tool in the early stages of my prints. But I also conventionally draw and tonally interpret from the computer-generated images’ - sometimes directly on the block. I will perhaps trace more precisely for certain elements such as text. But I then always allow the very ‘craft’ of the printmaking process and media being used to produce an image with its own unique character and textures.
However, I do like to be accurate and precise if possible. I do not believe in the ‘happy accident…if it’s a bit messy it must be art’ approach. But I also like to avoid tedious effort where I can!
Usually then, for lino prints, I will have some sort of an accurate ‘map’ from a or key drawing and/or photo-collage. Most often I will then use ordinary carbon paper and a fine ball point pen to trace down the key. I will then have source material in front of me: original tonal drawing and/or processed photo reference, and work on the block with pencil and pen – often as I go along with the all-important creative process of ‘drawing’ with the gouges.
The tedious effort part of this process then is clearly just the tracing and transfer part; whether using carbon paper or ‘Tracedown’, or simply rubbing soft pencil on the underside of the key drawing. It can also lead to a degree of inaccuracy and a mess of confusing carboned lines; especially for some elements; for example when, as I often do, wish to incorporate and interweave text. On one occasion, I even went as far as making a reversed stencil and screen printing the complex image on to the lino block! But mostly I rely on the carbon paper plus pencil method. Here is the block I am currently working on.
So – what else?
I know it is possible to adapt the Japanese woodblock method of basically gluing an inked image down on to the block and then wetting and rubbing away the paper supporting it. This is also quite long winded as well as a bit messy and really more suitable for solid wood.
The problem too with the now almost ubiquitous inkjet prints most of us use to create such reference is that, being water based, the inks do not really dissolve as such. At least not sufficiently to give a good transfer to lino. As well as the gluing method I have tried printing inkjet on to non absorbent paper like baking parchment (too thin) or the backing paper from a sheet of used sticky labels or plastic sheet (too shiny) and pressing that on to a block - with no real success.
Many years ago, as a student (many many years!) I had played with using solvents or heat to ‘melt’ photocopies and print ‘collaged’ monoprints. I once even pressed images like this on to a lithography stone and got good results. Many photocopiers now do not use the heated roller or solvent and carbon powder method of producing prints, but ‘Laser’ printers do something very similar. These (at least at A4 size) have, like inkjet printers, become relatively cheap. So when I saw one reduced to less than £40, I thought I’d try and transfer some images printed on it down on to lino.
So for the last couple of days I’ve potentially been wasting my time, as well as lots of bits of lino blocks of various types, trying to get a clean transfer of relatively complex images printed on this little laser printer down on to lino. I say ‘complex’ as of course, there is little point in trying simple outline work which can be done simply with carbon paper or similar. Clearly though, the images had to be made initially fairly ‘tone free’, as I was not expecting miracles! Here are the first results.
First attempts. Mixed success.
I began by using solvent to melt the laser carbon ink sufficiently to press down and transfer to the lino. The solvent (I know, I know , its horrible toxic stuff, but needs must and its tiny amounts) has to be acetone or screenwash or similar; white spirit etc won’t work. It is applied to the back of the laser print paper sufficient to soak through but not drip and run. I used a spray screen cleaning solvent and also brushed on screenwash.
Now the tricky bit: the excess liquid solvent must be evaporated to stop smearing but leaving the ink of the image still sufficiently sticky to print down on to the lino. I tried using the press, but got better results with spoon/baren rubbing the paper – just like taking a print from an inked block. As you might guess, first results were either a) too much solvent and a smudgy useless transfer, or b) patchy, with bare areas which would have to be hand drawn in.
I then tried a slightly simpler image (the text for another experiment – lino printed T shirts!) and used the ‘iron-on’ method: The laser print is placed on the block, covered with baking parchment and ironed down with a domestic iron - using sufficient heat and pressure to melt the ink on to the block. This was slightly better, but again, a fine balance has to be arrived at between using enough heat and dwell time and overdoing it to actually scorch and blister the lino.
The result of too high a temperature and too long ironing!
I continued to try different options and also different lino surfaces. I normally stain/colour my preferred ‘Marmoleum’ flooring lino, but tried some without and also some plain grey ‘artist’s’ lino. I doubt whether the vinyl type lino alternatives would stand up to either solvent or heat (and I hate the horrible rubbery stuff anyway!)
Best result with the iron.
left: laser print
right: transferred image.
Best result with solvent and rubbing down.
Top: grey artists lino with reversed image OK for carving.
Bottom: smudged laser print (not reusable for multiple blocks as the ironed ones might well be.)
As always – more work needed. I can see heat transfer of laser prints being useful for simpler, bold images that would be tedious to trace down accurately. And it might well (with more practice at getting a good transfer) suit more complex imagery which could then be subject to ‘on block’ conversion with the gouges in much the same way as my pencil tone work.
As always – very interested to hear how others get on!
For many years now I have enjoyed the immediacy and control of making screenprint stencils directly on the screen by blocking the mesh (where I don’t want the ink to pass through) by painting, dabbing, sponging, and even splattering, some sort of mesh filler on to the screen.
With many of my prints in the past, I have made multiple ‘reduction’ stencils; by leaving the screen locked in register and gradually working on one stencil to produce several tones of one colour range; before making the reduction stencil for the next colour range of the print – and so on.
Quite complex images can be created this way. This print 'Late May' used something approaching 30 different stencils – many with blended multiple colour inks.
Of late I have tended to use screenprinting simply as a way of ‘tinting’ linocuts, this has been a quick and accurate way of making simple flat colour areas. For example in this series - where the background tints were put down over the top of strong black key linocut images.
And a few times I have explored what can achieved by deliberately thinning the filler to the point where it only partially blocks the mesh and with care (and luck!) an almost lithographic wash effect can be achieved.
My latest print ‘Crucial Pause’ was made entirely with hand painted stencils in this way; building up the image with around thirty layers of ink in varying transparencies. For the text I used art masking fluid - applied to the mesh first, then painted over with filler and the masking fluid rubbed off to create the stencil.
In the past, when I was using the old stinky oil based inks, the ubiquitous ‘blue filler’ was the weapon of choice. It could be thinned with water, but more importantly, even when dry it could be worked on, or even removed completely, very easily indeed.
Since I converted to ‘non toxic’ screen inks (which I have to say are much better in many other ways too) the screen filler I have been using is this bright orange stuff, made by Lascaux.
Now – the main problem with this stuff is its very efficiency. Once even a trace of it is in the mesh and has dried, it’s there pretty much for good! Make a mistake when painting a stencil on a screen that cannot be moved from its registered position, and the only solution is a laborious scrubbing and dabbing with a strong spirit solvent.
When the stencils are finished with and the screen needs to be reclaimed, I have to use solvent ‘screenwash’ and a pressure washer. Lascaux do sell a remover which is very expensive and doesn’t work as well. As for the advice to use household surface cleaner…simply forget it!
I do feel uncomfortable still having to use chemical solvents. But what sets my mind at rest is that I believe that (apart from some initial potential danger to me) the nature of my screenwash means that our ‘soak away’ drain system (my studio is in old farm buildings) breaks down the washed off solution before it enters the water catchment; unlike many ordinary household chemicals and cleaners washed down main drains.
To date I have tried one alternative to the Lascaux filler, and that is the ‘System 3 Removeable Screen Block’ made by Daler Rowney. I have to report that the word “removeable” is very accurate!
I wasted a whole afternoons work. I proofed a stencil I'd painstakingly painted, then cleaned out the ink as normal.....and the damn filler just washed off the screen too! Admittedly I use very fine meshes (120 and 140 but properly degreased etc) and I do thin the filler with water as described. But I have no problem whatsoever with the Lascaux product when I do this. I can only imagine that they have only tested their filler when used very thickly on coarser mesh.
Next I intend to have a go at using sensitised photostencil emulsion again; which I found previously very 'gluey' to apply and again surprisingly weak after repeated ink cleaning processes.
I am interested to hear if anyone else has tried anything else for this method of stencil making?
A number of people have asked questions about felts or blankets on the Xcut Xpress. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.
Let’s examine what the ‘blanket layer’ does as part of the ‘sandwich’ a printmaker puts together when taking a print on any roller press.
The two tasks of a blanket relevant to any printmaking method are: firstly as a ‘friction’ layer; enabling the smooth metal roller to grip the print ‘sandwich’ and feed it smoothly through the press. Secondly, evening out to a degree the pressing of the paper down on to the ink and taking up some of the variations in surface of plate/block and paper.
Then we come to the key factors in the choice of an appropriate blanket layer: the method of printmaking being used; and the particular requirements of each different pass of a print through the press.
The blanket layer is potentially very flexible under high pressure and this flexibility can be finely controlled according to the results desired. So, for example, the plate/block might be required to be printed ‘intaglio’ - either a deeply bitten etching, or a collograph with several different levels and textures. In these cases the paper will probably need to be damp (and therefore more flexible) and the blanket’s job is to push the paper right down into the inked areas to pick up all the marks and textures of the image. Hence, over the years the typical combination of a thin, smooth but flexible ‘swanskin’ topped with absorbing and ‘driving’ layers of coarser weave blankets have been adopted on most ‘etching’ presses.
If we then compare that with the other extreme of printmaking technique: a ‘relief’ print; such as lino or woodcut, with fine detail – both positive and negative – carved on a smooth level surface. Here the artist will only want the (probably quite thinly rolled) layer of ink to be transferred cleanly, but totally, to the (usually dry) surface of the paper. Here the blanket must act as a ‘driving’ layer in the sandwich and at the same time even out the roller pressure; but not bend the paper at all down and around the edges of the inked parts of the image. So – in this case one layer of thin felt or even just a layer or two of thickish paper might well do all that is required.
So….what will the average printmaker user of the XCut Xpress need to have to hand in the way of blankets?
As always with creative printmaking, personal experimentation is a must. (But I would add here that all trials and proofs should be done as far as possible using the same paper, ink and other elements as are planned for the final version. A quick proof on thin copy paper in the wrong ink will tell you very little about the real potential of your block/plate!)
Think about what you actually want to happen as the rollers press the paper to the ink and try different combinations to make that happen.
One piece of non-woven 5mm felt such as that sold in the UK by Handprinted https://goo.gl/dJStK3 will probably be a good all round starting point. It is thick enough to push dampened papers right down in to intaglio plates, but can have a piece of dry thickish paper placed between it and the paper to be printed if a lightly inked relief surface only is being printed.
Personally, for printing my lino blocks, I still use just one piece of thin craft felt, perhaps with an additional layer of thinner paper between it and my preferred 300gsm Somerset. And such intaglio as I have printed on the XCut – which is not a great deal I have to say – seemed to work fine with just one medium density 5mm blanket and one sheet of acid free tissue over well dampened paper.
As always – interested to hear of and see others XCut Xpress XPeriments!
I have just completed a 5 day ‘residency’ at the very lovely Whitehouse Gallery http://www.whitehousegallery.co.uk in the ‘Artists Town’ of Kirkcudbright https://goo.gl/qIz7Nn
The gallery recently opened some additional nice bright spaces upstairs - and gallery manager Lynne Atkinson and I decided that it would be a good opportunity to show some of the actual process and methods of making original prints, as well as finished work.
Despite having my well-equipped studio at home at Craigshaw Barns, I also have a bit of a current interest in showing what can be done with small scale ‘table-top printmaking’. So, as well as the XCut Xpress (with its longer bed), I took along the simple screen printing set up - as mentioned in an earlier post. I also took previous lino blocks, preparatory drawings etc. as well as all the tools and materials I would need to progress my next planned print.
I began with setting up the screen printing unit to print some background tints for the little greetings cards of the hare and squirrel. At least twenty people over the five days – young and old – had their first go at screenprinting. Many more were interested to have the process explained.
An advantage of having several base boards for the XCut (as well as its all-important pressure adjustment dial) is that one can have several prints on the go at once. So, as well as one set up for the cards, I also brought along the key block and all the pre screenprinted sheets of the ‘Bullfinches’ print. (see images below).
I had also saved a proof of every stage of making this little print, so I was able to not only explain and demonstrate actual carving and printing of a linocut on the XCut, but also show how screenprinted colour can be registered with the lino in what is a common method for me: utilising the speed, control and convenience of screen printing, in combination with the graphic and print qualities of linocut.
So over the five days, I finished editioning the Bullfinches and was also able to let many folk ink up, register and print their own cards. Folded, put with an envelope in a nice little cello bag, they made a nice thing to take away (for a charity donation!)
All in all, a very enjoyable few days; perhaps a day too long and I never expected to make a lot of print sales. (Although, must say, I can’t complain!) Really I just like ‘spreading the word’ and one meets some really interesting and interested people. Well worthwhile! And thank you to Lynne and The Whitehouse for the opportunity.
Back in September last year, I got myself quite enthused with the project set out below. I shared the original polemic and received quite a bit of positive interest. However, as I said at the time, I knew that I did not have the energy to pursue it with the energy it deserved. So i just let it lie and got on with more important personal work.
But since then I have started this blog and thought it might be worthwhile putting it on here in the hope that someone somewhere might want to pick it up and run with it. So here is the initial piece:
Through this initial discussion I want to explore, and hopefully also offer the germ of a solution to, the issues surrounding giclee (computer inkjet) prints, or other photo-mechanical reproductions being signed and sold as "limited editions" to the detriment of those artists who produce genuine, original, most often hand printed, work.
Most printmakers and some galleries and curators continue to be plagued and annoyed by this issue and often discuss it amongst themselves; usually to very little end other than to continue to feel angry, smug or both; as well as having to constantly explain it to potential buyers. My idea set out below of one way this question might be addressed may not be original. There may well already be an ongoing scheme similar to that which I outline. If so, my research and questioning has not yet revealed it.
Let me first make one thing clear: As far as I am concerned, the issue is not with the sale of 'giclee' prints as such. I have no problem at all with art being made affordable by the use of reproduction. And there are of course an increasing number of artists who are creating and printing original images digitally. My concern, as with most printmakers, is the confusion brought about when reproductions of works created in another medium are sold as so called ‘signed limited editions'; simply in order to confer upon them a spurious rarity value.
Here is not the place to describe all aspects of the making what I will call ‘original’ prints. Similarly I think it would be almost impossible to capture, in one simple explanation, every single aspect and types of image making that could be defined as an ‘original’ printmaking. In many ways, of course, it would be preferable to identify and clearly label those prints that are not originals, but are simply reproductions. But clearly that is never going to happen!
Such a definition of an original print has already been attempted many times. I doubt we will ever be able to please everyone or include every relevant aspect, but there is a need to at least attempt a new and brief contemporary definition on which a majority can agree. From this could also evolve more comprehensive summaries for wider general use.
Having thought about this at length, I believe that what we need first is a way in which original artist’s prints can be simply, quickly and clearly identified and promoted at point of sale/exhibition. Not, as some have suggested, in a tedious legal, trading standards way, but something more akin to the way CAMRA – The Campaign for Real Ale - managed to successfully promote a product with many variations but a clear identity. (Indeed, I did think of ‘Campaign for Real Artists Prints’ as a title for this project, but decided the acronym ‘CRAP’ was perhaps not what we needed!)
What we do need is a brand. A recognisable and widely promoted quality mark/logo which would only be associated with original artists prints. This ‘badge’ would need to be linked to, and explained by, the agreed definition and explanatory material mentioned above, of what an original print is (or what it is not).
I imagine it working something like this:
A sticker or stamp with the easily recognisable and widely publicised logo of the scheme would be applied to original artists prints – and ONLY original artists prints - at point of sale. Not on the work itself, but on associated price labels, cello wrapping, frame backing etc. Somewhere close by – in the gallery or studio - would be displayed and obvious the same logo; along with the agreed definition of an original print and brief but fuller explanations. This could be on small, durable wall display cards, leaflets etc. Those doing the selling or supervising would also be able to explain the definition and the scheme itself at greater length if required. I have in mind, for example, the way the ‘Own Art’ system is displayed and promoted. In due course, the identity of the scheme and its uptake – and thus the identity of genuine original artist’s prints would grow to the point where potential buyers and collectors would hopefully begin look for the logo on work they were interested in. Galleries and printmakers would be stimulated by the commercial advantages of this and be keen to become part of the movement and happy to make the effort of applying the logo and displaying/explaining the scheme information.
As it would only be linked to works meeting the broad criteria of an original print (and at the moment I see it only practically applying to conventional fine art printmakers producing ‘normal’ signed editions) it would still rely on the integrity, honesty and knowledge of the seller and the back-up of a wider education and information programme that we still need.
Personally I would not want anyone to try and police the scheme in any strict legal way. I would not want to see it ‘owned’ by some grand membership ‘Society’ or other. Certainly after the initial involvement of printmakers themselves, galleries and other outlets for such prints would need to come on board. There would probably need to be a loose association of users and supporters and some means of providing (at cost) the materials. Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but in these days of instant communication, perhaps this could operate on a communal web based system at very little cost; maybe just with some ‘crowd funding’ or similar to kick it off?
So - there it was. I still think its a great idea. I would be more than happy to see maybe even an adapted and changed version attempted. Anyone????
This post is about the two little greeting card/prints I have created for visitors to ‘have a go’ with during my upcoming ‘residency’ at the Whitehouse Gallery in Kirkcudbright this Easter .
I apologise for its complexity of explanation in places. I’ve tried to simplify but I know some people will be interested. And never did know when to stop!
As always – even these little things needed some preparatory drawing. I believe it is the essential basis of much printmaking – especially linocut, to allow ones brain to explore the image in detail first; before beginning to carve. Of course some lino printers work every part of the block out first and then simply remove the non-image areas. Of course, with things like text, I do this too, But most often, I like to ‘draw’ the image with the gouges. And I find to do that I need the almost subconscious preparation of having already translated the source material into graphic form – albeit initially in tones. For one of these prints I had a hare drawing already prepared, but decided she was a bit serious looking, so I drew another.
This exercise was partly personal experimentation and partly preparation for showing the use of the XCut Xpress during my gallery residency. Also the intention was to combine screenprint with linocut. (see below) so I used the white plastic base board supplied. And, because I needed a registration method that was transferable to screen printing, I didn’t use the Ternes Burton pin registration system, but reverted to my more usual method of three thin card ‘stops’ to fix the position of the ‘lay edge’.
The two wee blocks were carved and proofed in register and just in black.
It is my habit now to print on the XCut in one direction only - from left to right, handle turning clockwise. And I tend to register to the farthest edge of the paper; believing the card stops to help keep the paper in position. Of course, with the Ternes Burton pin system the other edge is used, as the tabs help stop paper drag as it goes through the rollers.
I later flipped the block around 180 degrees, to how it is shown in this pic, so it was still printing in the correct place to make a greeting card, but this allowed the block to pass under the rollers first – thus reducing the risk of paper movement and mis-register.
In over 40 years of screenprinting I have never seriously tried to print on paper without the use of a vacuum suction print table. All that is about to change!
First I bought a pair of these https://goo.gl/17NOgV on EBay. Less than a tenner including delivery. OK I had to wait for them to come from Hong Kong, but they looked sturdier in the pictures than some others I had seen. And so it proved. They seem remarkably well made and efficient for the price.
The screen is a 140t mesh 30mm aluminium section and the base board is a ‘re-purposed’ bit of old kitchen unit melamine surfaced chipboard, with a prop and support made from offcuts.
The black proofs from the lino blocks were used to trace and hand paint six stencils on the screen (I will have to explain this process in another post – this one’s too long already!) The ‘lay edge’ i.e. the corner of the sheets of paper which will go into the registration stops on the XCut is made with thin plastic stops taped firmly to the base board for each of the six stencils (three colours per print).
This part of the experiment was crucial. Modern water based screen inks are not only non toxic; they are thixotropic i.e. they pass fluidly through the screen mesh under pressure from the squeegee, but do not flow much when in the screen. Thus, not only are they less messy (and less smelly!) than the oil based inks I used for many years, but they are less ‘gluey’. I hoped that if printed thinly (hence the very fine 140 mesh) and in relatively small areas, they would not stick the paper to the underside of the screen; thus enabling heavyish paper to be printed cleanly without a vacuum, with no smudging from having to peel the print away from the underside of the screen after each pull.
The results were even better than I hoped. Sometimes I had to just wait half a second for the paper to drop back to the bed before lifting the screen and doing the ‘flood’ stroke, but overall a perfect result. It will be interesting to see if larger areas of flat colour will be just as successfully screen printed without a vacuum.
And so a few sheets of 300gsm paper for each image were proofed with three carefully planned colours of transparent screen ink, which also overprinted each other in places to produce extra tones.
The next and final stage was the most interesting. Would the screen printed tints register with the lino block through the XCut? Would the colours work? Was it all worth it when I already have perfectly good and efficient kit that will do all of this with no problem??!
Two different but more subtle dark browns of Caligo Safewash were mixed for the key blocks and a mask cut to keep the margins clean (note the use of vinyl tape on the ‘forme’ made to fix the block’s position. This makes for easier clean up). The same lay edge goes into the card stops and away it went through the press.
And so…I can just about say that this experiment was a success! The combination of method and dual registration worked just fine - at least at this scale. I will now cut a few hundred bits of paper to size; seal up all the final ink mixes; and prepare for mass public production over Easter!
Thoughts of an artist, printmaker, countryman and incidental poet