Stormy Sea: My Biggest-Ever Print

This piece started when I found I had a piece of perspex that was just a little long for the bed of my printing press. Enter the in-house art critic, the Dremel and a tiny circular saw attachment, and it now fits, giving me the possibility of doing prints that are almost A1 in size.

The ink I’m using is an oil-based printing ink that can be cleaned up with water rather than solvent (Caligo Safe Wash). The colour is Prussian blue mixed into my “leftovers grey” (leftover ink I keep in a little glass jar) to make it a bit darker. I put some directly onto the sheet using a palette knife, then use a roller to spread it out, leaving an edge that would become a white border to the print.

To create the image, I worked into the ink using various things to remove parts and create marks, including paper towel, a coarse-haired brush, and scrim (a stiff, open weave fabric). I tried not to leave any area of ink untouched, having learnt that these print as very solid, flat colour, which I didn’t think would enhance the sense of sea. I was visualising the tempestuous sea I’d watched last month as I did this.

When I was happy with how it looked and found myself fiddling with little bits, I put it onto the press, placed a sheet of dampened paper over it (the moisture in the paper encourages the ink to transfer), put in the printing blankets, and ran it through the press. I got so caught up in in all that I forgot to take any photos until after I’d made the ghost print (a second print done to use up any leftover ink). The paper was a little too damp in places and created a watercolour-type effect where the ink has spread; another variable I need to remember.

Ghost print using a sheet torn into three long pieces, which I’m envsaging making into concertina sketchbooks. Doing a ghost print also makes cleaning the sheet of perspex easier as there’s minimal ink left on it.

This is the print as it came off the press, with my hand for scale. It’s hanging up to dry using clips with magnets, out of reach of the studio cats.

There were two areas where the ink had spread because the paper was too wet that I felt dominated the image. The most obvious is on the horizon above my hand. I left the ink to dry before trying to resolve this. I first tried scratching into the paper to see if I could reveal some white, but the ink had soak into the paper and it was blue beneath the surface too. So I took out some white acrylic ink with the hope it wouldn’t be too different a white to the paper, and added some of this.

Spot the ‘fix’

Here are a couple of close-up details, to give a sense of the variations in mark making. When I look at this, I’m trying to remember what gave me which mark.

This is the final piece, the biggest print I’ve every made. I like the dark blue, which I think conveys the sense of a stormy sea, and the sense of movement.

“Stormy Sea”, approximately 60x50cm (32×20″). Available from my studio.

Whether you’d frame it with the edge showing or not would be a matter of personal preference; I can’t decide which I prefer.

This Week: Yellows, Degas’ Monotypes & an Invitation

A mixture of moments from my week.

Stepping out the front door I encountered a swirl of leaves from trees who’ve decided it’s autumn. The yellow of the salt box made the yellows in the leaves seem to pop out. They’ll pile themselves in the corner there and wait for the spring garden tidy.

#SpotTheArtist

On a perfect blue-sky autumnal day, the in-house art critic and I had a picnic at the beach watching waves marching in across the bay, listening to pebbles rumbling, and enjoying the turbulence between the incoming and receding waves at the water’s edge. There were patches of yellow on the hillside where gorse is flowering.

Don’t listen to the wind, don’t look at the wind, don’t talk about going out in the wind to rescue the clematis

Yesterday a red-warning level storm hit parts of Scotland; fortunately our little corner of Aberdeenshire avoided the worst of the wind and rain. This morning I put out food for the birds and straightened the clematis tower (there are some big stones holding the base).

Continuing my explorations with monoprinting, I discovered Degas did monoprints and that there was an exhibition of them at MoMA in 2016. You can read an extract of the catalogue here and see photos of the exhibition here. (Link to video if you don’t see it above.)

A4 size print

I did another set of monoprints featuring the in-house art critic, exploring how what seem subtle marks in the ink translate into more evident marks in the print. This is because I’m using an etching press, and the pressure from the roller lets these transfer. There are bits I like in each, and bits that don’t work for me. Overall they make my fingers itch to try again.

You’re Invited: Next Thursday Fife Contemporary is having an online launch of Life Lines, an exhibition bringing together artists affected by the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and opens up their creative practice on an online platform. Beginning 11:00am, Thursday 26 October 2023 the online exhibition will launch alongside a virtual tour of the exhibition and discussion with some of the artists. Book your free space at the online launch event here. My part of the exhibition features my pebble paintings, many of which I haven’t shared online. Please sign up even if you’re not sure you will make it as it shows support for the organisers.

This Week: A Nasturtium & Monoprinting

A mixture of moments from my week.

A running joke my Ma and I have involves the time my Ouma, who had extremely green thumbs, complained about how nasturtiums insist on spreading everywhere whereas we have been only too happy to have them grow at all. Seeing one tiny flower from the seeds I planted made me laugh about this anew. The grass gives a sense of scale.

I was determined not to let the wind get hold of my paper this week. I took only a brown pencil, an indigo Inktense pencil, a sharpener, and a waterbrush because I knew it was going to be windy. I will either take this concertina sketchbook again another time or add colour onto the headland drawing section in my studio.

My two favourite pebbles on this day:

I also found a U for my pebble alphabet:

In the studio I had a go at monoprinting for the first time, using the A2 press I bought from a Banff-based printmaker earlier this year when they upgraded. Monoprinting involves inking up a smooth surface (I used a large piece of perspex leftover from when I made my roadside tiny gallery on Skye), wiping into this to create the image (working dark to light), putting a damp sheet of paper over this, and running it through the press. Lots of variables and a lot to learn, but I had great fun.

The inked plate

The idea to try this was prompted by this week’s homework from the online Expressive Drawing workshop by Edinburgh-based artist Alan McGowan I’m doing.

The atmospheric results make me think this could well be the technique to use for imagery relating to the in-house art critic’s brain that I keep thinking about. My favourites I hung up on my print rail (there are magnets glued to the clips, which then stick to the was-for-curtains metal rail).

The A4 one was done with graphite ink.

I’m using oil-based printing inks that clean up with water, thus avoiding solvents, but made the mistake of thinning it with water on the perspex not extender, so it lost the tackiness that makes it transfer to wet paper and smeared with the pressure of the press. The effect is interesting, but doing it wasn’t deliberate. All part of the learning curve.

“No, I wasn’t sitting on them a moment ago,” said Little Em.

Printmaking is delayed gratification mixed with the unpredictable; lifting the sheet of paper to see the result is a bit of a birthday-present moment every time. Studio cat Freyja who sat on a chair watching me isn’t entirely convinced.

Foxgloves with Blind Embossing

Detail from Foxgloves painted in watercolour with blind embossing

I’ve had my first go at an idea involving foxgloves, blind embossing and watercolour. Blind embossing is a printmaking technique where you “print” with the aim to create indentations in the paper rather than printing an image using ink. (The appeal isn’t simply that there’s no ink to clean up!)

My thoughts behind using blind embossing are about how white space can be a crucial part of the composition of a watercolour or ink painting, about having something in that area that doesn’t reveal itself unless you look closely, which will add to the overall painting whilst not detracting from the sense of white space.

The results are hard to photograph because it’s about the play of light across the surface. I still need to figure out a good setup for doing it, but the photos below will give you a sense of it.

I started with a bit of cardboard from a catfood box, drawing a foxglove on it to give me a reminder of the overall design I had in mine before cutting out shapes for individual flowers. Studio Cat Freyja had fun helping me with this; she does love to shred cardboard.

I arranged the pieces on a sheet of paper on my new-to-me Gunning printing press that I bought from a printmaker in Banff who was upgrading their press. With a printing bed of 50x100cm it gives me the chance to work considerably larger than the little A3 press I bought I with the proceeds from the first art workshop I taught on Skye.

I didn’t stick down the cardboard shapes, so was hoping a studio cat wouldn’t come to investigate!

In order for the paper to bend around the cardboard and not tear, you dampen it beforehand. Failing to find something that was big enough, I repurposed this unused kitten litter tray which was just wide enough for an A3 sheet.

After blotting the damp sheet on a towel to remove excess surface water, I placed it over the cardboard pieces and ran it through the press. It took a few tries to get the pressure (“tightness”) of the press set so it embossed nicely.

The stripes in the embossing come from the cardboard. The pieces without are where the cardboard was the other way up. A happy accident as I hadn’t realised the cardboard would produce texture within the shapes.

By the fourth sheet the cardboard was quite flattened and I decided it wouldn’t produce much of an effect on a fifth sheet of paper. Part of me likes this limited number; another part wants to try next time with something that won’t flatten as fast, if at all, such as lino or perhaps mount board.

I clipped the embossed sheets to a board on my easel, then spent several days pondering them. Where would I paint, how many foxgloves, would I overpaint any of the embossing knowing from my previous experiments with pebbles and embossing that this tends to make it disappear? Would I start with the sheet that was embossed the best (the first sheet) or worse (the last sheet), knowing that I might well mess it up but also that sometimes the first attempt is more successful as I’m not trying so hard.

In the end I went the second sheet I’d embossed as there was slightly less pressure (no pun intended) not to ruin it. I tried to put aside my doubts and overthinking, and just jump with watercolour in a pipette (magenta, purple, green) without any preliminary drawing. I let the watercolour dry overnight before drawing onto it with coloured pencils.

Overall I am pleased with this. The foxgloves are a bit upright and stylised, and the scale of the embossed foxglove is bigger than the painted, but I like the feel of it and how the embossed element echoes the painted but you only see it if you look closely.

As for the other three sheets, well one is still unused, one I played on to see what would happen if I let the watercolour spread into the embossed area (there’s also some Inktense pencil in this, see bottom right in the photo below). This in turn led me to play with the third sheet to see what would happn if I applied watercolour onto the embossing when the sheet was damp (wet-into-wet) and let it spread. I was wondering how much it’d accumulate in the lines/edges.

PS: I’ll be sharing a “behind the scenes” photo from my studio related to this with my Patreon supporters. If you’d like to see it, and more, sign up now using this link (there’s a special seven-day free trial at the moment).