4.11 African design: test collage block

The Brief

Present two prints of your textured collage test block. You may choose to print it on different types of paper or in different colours. Accompany the prints with a brief description of the materials you have used to create the block.


  • your two prints of your test collage block
  • your brief descriptive statement

To support these you will have notes from your learning log.

Test Collage Block selected prints

4.1_collPlate_3 4.1_collPlate_1

For further notes see Logbook 4 Collagraph pp 22 – 28 and Sketchbook 4 ‘Images of Africa’ pp 2-24

Brief descriptive statement

I wanted to do a plate of different images, scenes and designs inspired by African art. Something that would contrast strongly with the more sensitive, subtle and figurative approach I had taken with Assignment 3 inspired by Japanese Art and images. An opportunity to explore geometric designs and abstraction that I feel printmaking can do so powerfully. At the same time I wanted to do something very different from the type of tourist images I see from paintings and many African linocuts (See logbook 2) and what I think are rather too ornate collagraph approaches to African masks and images (See Logbook 4 examples from Groinic and Bamford pp 14-15).

The brief asked me to divide the plate into rectangles and use different materials and textures so I varied the images to make best use of these differences as much as I could, rather than trying to balance or repeat patterns. See detailed description of materials and process below.

On the whole I am quite pleased with the result as a creative exploration – as it was intended to be. But, having now explored, if I were to do this again I could better plan the distribution of shapes and textures – for example I think it would have been better to have:

  • placed the two vase shapes on the third row to the right in order to balance the interesting image at the top.
  • separated the two third row centre similar shapes, or placed them to the side, maybe bottom left to balance the vases and top image.

I could cut up a good printout of the existing plate and experiment. It would also be interesting to do a narrative cartoon strip using the cardboard mesh. I found that isolating sections of the print on plates where printing had not been so successful overall produced many very interesting images that could be used for further designs (See below).


I have quite a few books on African art and design as it is a long-term interest of mine for my work. I looked through:

  • African Art Frank Willet 2002
  • Angaza Afrika: African Art Now   Chris Spring 2008
  • African Art in Detail Chris Spring 2009
  • African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection Iris Hahner-Herzog and Maria Keckesi  2007
  • Traditional African Designs Gregory Mirow 1997
  • The Tribal Arts of Africa: Surveying Africa’s Artistic Geography    Jean-Baptiste Bacquart 2002
  • African Textiles: Colour and Creativity Across a Continent    John Gillow 2009

I had also collected a box of many assorted materials:

– fabrics – netting, hessian, linen, lace, lace curtains

– string – thick, thin, rafia

– cardboard and card of different thicknesses with rough and smooth surfaces.

– carboard packing mesh that could be separated out to produce figures like people, dogs and trees

– polystyrene packing swabs

– carborundum

– gesso

– plastic tape, masking tape

– bubble wrap of different sizes

I cut out shapes and experimented with:

  • different pictures I could make with them – different types of figure from the cardboard mesh, different card shapes and different configurations inspired particularly by the linocut cut-out mask.
  • different positions as small vignettes to make a varied pattern and juxtaposition of different materials and shapes.
  •  different background materials: sandpaper, fabrics, lace etc.

I basically had fun playing around though I had a number of different ideas and images in my head. I felt that trying to plan everything out would have interfered with my creative process for this particular exploratory activity.

When I considered that I had achieved sufficient variation and balance of shapes, textures and designs, I finalised my layout and glued everything down using PVA glue, sometimes texturing further with gesso and/or carborundum if I felt things were a bit too flat.  I then put on shellac sealant, again paying attention to texturing – I found the final dark brown image removed a lot of the distraction of colour of the materials, but also quite difficult to read and ink – more so than the varnish I used subsequently. The image below give details of the different materials on the plate as it looked before putting on the shellac.


I then referred to the different colours on the African designs in my Sketchbook.

My first inking series was in yellow, red and blue to delineate different scenes. I started with specific scenes like the people and trees in sunset, and red mask and night city skyline. Then I coloured the other squares to make what I considered to be a balanced colour composition. I found it quite difficult to judge the amount of ink required and the first inkings were too heavy. It was also difficult to separate out the scenes as the lines were not straight between them. So the overall impression was often a bit messy. Quite some practice was needed in judging the right amount of ink, wiping out where needed without smudging the whole. I also experimented with doing the intaglio first and then overprinting with relief. But found it was clearer if I did all the inking first, starting with intaglio and then going over the relief with a roller, then printed it all in one go. The best is the version above, selected after quite a few trials.

After that I focussed on using one colour scheme for greater unity, but making contrasts in the backgrounds:

– blue and black

– Vandyke Brown, Burnt Sienna and the remains of the blue

– the above but adding some white to make it more opaque and enhance the texture – that is the second version I chose to put in the assessment above.

These more monochrome images I found broadly successful, including the blue image below which I considered as a potential submission for assessment. 4.1_collPlate_2

In the end my selection of the two images for assessment was based on wanting to show very different interpretations. So I chose the best of the coloured prints and only one of the duotone prints: the one that showed the greatest variation and interest in mixing of colours on the plate.

Further ideas

As I made prints I became intrigued also by the multitude of different images and narratives that were suggested by inking accidents on less successful prints. A small selection is shown below, with many more in my Sketchbook. These could be developed as prints in themselves in future work.


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