3.10 Japanese landscape: experimental relief prints

 The Brief

To develop a series of coloured experimental relief prints. Select three impressions which are well alighed and registered and which demonstrate the dramatic use of contrasting mark-making which adds to the impact of the final print. Write a short critical statement about this print.

In your submission include:

  • three impressions of your relief print
  • brief critical statement

To support your work you will have drawings, comments and ideas for further experiments in your learning log.

Brief Critical Statement

What I was aiming for in these prints was a semi-abstract tonal landscape, combining the mistiness of Zen paintings with the sharp incisive streaks of light of Moriyama’s photographs. I wanted to incorporate elements of Japanese aesthetic principles:

  • suggestion – leaving a lot to the viewer’s imagination and interpretation
  • a feeling of fleeting memory and perishability
  • simplicity of light dark contrasts

From my experiments with different surfaces, I though that a combination of foamboard and/or softfoam would work well because of the possibility of combining soft textures and wiping out like monoprint with sharp line like linocut. At the same time they are not very easy to use – it is quite difficult to control the inking. With softfoam particularly you have to go from one colour to a darker colour and you cannot clean the surface in-between so this limits the colour combinations you can use. After an initial trial series trying to combine softfoam and foamboard, I decided to use only softfoam in order to have more control.

The final series ‘Stepping Stones’ is done using one softfoam plate inking several sheets with the same layer, but re-inking with different shades of a similar colour – starting with yellows then going to browns and then blues to produce a range of different prints. Although using softfoam in this way limits the amount of colour contrast that is possible, it does build up beautiful subtle tone and colour variation.

The focus of the assignment was on contrasting markmaking – I combined wiping out for the stones, scratching out with a screwdriver for the bamboos. I also used a drypoint tool on its side and with its point to get a range of different marks. A key issue though was how to make the stones recede into the background through making the outlines and contrast reduce in sharpness towards the back. I do feel that I have achieved a range of dramatic contrasts in the marks from soft edged stones to very fine lines and bold sweeping lines. And also in the three prints selected a good feeling of depth.

On the whole I find the prints very effective and pretty much what I had been aiming for. As prints I find the softer first two more successful. The final much more contrasty print though looks better on screen as for example for the side bar for the blog.

Sketchbook Inspiration First Ideas

I did quite a few sketches in the Japan sketchbook using photos as the source. But experimenting with markmaking and tone using oil pastel and charcoal.

Lilly Lake Series 1

From these I did a first series of prints using mostly foamboard. I found that when I tried to combine foamboard and softfoam it was difficult to register the image because softfoam changes size quite dramatically when it goes under the press. It is also difficult to draw on first because it is so soft so the slightest mark will show. The main technique that is possible is to start with softfoam and then do a print onto the foamboard. Then work with the foamboard making marks where needed from the impression. Then clean the ink off before re-inking. But it still only works if you do hand printing, if you want to use the softfoam again. It also only really works with water-based inks that dry quickly and rather unpredictably.

I also found using too many colours made things very messy – as this was a colour project, I decided to simplify things and use only softfoam. I found that when I cropped the prints below, some of them made more effective images – inspiration for further prints later. It would have been difficult to predict the effect through thumbnails because so much depended on the precise effects of the ink. It is very difficult to see where the ink is drying more quickly and so what prints and what does not – part of the joy but also frustration of the medium. These were the prints I sent to my tutor. But I was not very happy with them – more a work in progress to continue later than anything finished.

Stepping Stones

So I started again with a different set of sketches, again based on a photo. I used only foamboard and a limited palette, building up the tonal colours. I continued to use Caligo water-based ink but I chose to work with thin Hosho paper to increase the misty effect and also to make sensitive hand-printing easier.

Because this was a series and I was using only one plate, I chose my colours and sequencing very carefully – starting with yellow ochre and brown, then going to blue. I was also able to alter my wiping out and some of the details as I progressed. But how much the ink was drying and where as I worked remained a bit upredictable.



Final prints

Other ideas

There are many other sketches and photos in my Japan sketchbook that could be effectively rendered using softfoam. It would be interesting to try some of the townscapes, using punchers to make windows as in the ink drawings. I have also sketched some waterfalls and caves. Another variant would be to cut out shapes and texture then reassemble these as a way of getting very different colours. It would be possible to cut out the same or different designs on a number of different pieces of softfoam and combine multiplate and reduction linocut techniques. Or even combine shapes in different materials and put these together. Fish for example could be masked out and then printed over water etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *