4.12 Return to Goma: collagraph print

The Brief

Present three versions of your collatype collage block print exploring a representational theme and a variety of collage techniques. You may use a variety of coloured inks and inking processes and papers to print your series. Accompany your prints with your sketches and notes as well as a critical statement about your choice of subject and the way you have translated it into print.

The submission should include:

  • your series of related collatype collage block prints
  • your critical statement

For original images for this project see:

  • Sketchbook 4 ‘Images of Africa’ pp 52-78
  •  Logbook 4 Collagraph pp 38 – 45.

Critical Statement

For this assignment I wanted to make an image that was more dramatic and visceral than most of the collagraph images I had found on the web. At the time that I was thinking about this assignment I had a number of trips to Rwanda and decided to use that opportunity to develop an image that would convey some of the complexities of that country.

The development process is described in more detail below but included a non-linear process from sketches of scenes from a car as I travelled to Gisenyi on the DRC border, and sketches from photographs of the same journey. From these I prepared an experimental simple test collage of a woman and baby in a landscape in order to experiment with textures and materials. This particular visit was overshadowed by en eruption of violence in DRC from where the participants at my workshop were coming. Also the ominous volcano that looms on the skyline above the town. My best images of these were photos taken on a car ride with a colleague when unfortunately I did not have any time to sketch as it was getting dark. But as my experiences were so powerful my mind, I decided to do a composite image of the volcano, view over Goma and the original woman with a baby and sketches of poor people walking with sticks. As a refugee returning from the war to her destroyed town.

The plate is composed in roughly three sections: foreground with the woman and baby weary of walking (like so many of the people I had seen on the road), middle section of the charred remains of the city and the volcano at the top. With a half-way line of the fence. The sections are linked by the curve of the road that links to the curve of the islands and image at the top. There is no definite focal point – the eye travels up and down trying to make sense of the relationship between the elements. The plate uses a range of materials including plastic netting, tissue paper, card and different wallpapers and fabrics.

I did not want to just reinforce stereotypes in the final print interpretation. The first print I did of the image was quite bright with green and yellow shoots and blue sky (see below). But it was difficult to make the optimistic coloured version of this particular image make work well – it looked too much like a cartoon because of the cut- out relief that becomes too accentuated if the colours are bright and contrasting. More monochrome images of just greens and yellows or reds and oranges would also be difficult to make work. I intended to experiment further with that version at the end, but I had to give up on that version because the plate was starting to become too fragile.

The three final prints selected I find very atmospheric and in their own terms, I think they work well.

The first print is the most dramatic. It was printed in the same session as the first coloured version re-inking with darker inks and printing on Arches Watercolour Paper. I like the grungy effect – like charred coals from the volcano. I also like the ghosting around the shores and islands as it makes the lake look shiny. The slight yellow of the dawn in the sky echoes the pale yellows and greens of possible hope in the foreground.

The second brown monochrome print was done in a separate session re-inking the plate and printed in Bockingford Watercolour paper. I also varied the red/browns to give some variety within the overall monochrome. I used warmer and higher contrast towards the foreground to give a sense of depth and pale green for the woman as a subtle contrast. I tried to achieve a middle ground between bold shapes and more subtle textures on the background. Interestingly I find my eye drawn first to the glassy red brown of the lake before going to look at the detail elsewhere in the warmer browns and higher contrast areas.

The pale blue/brown print has a more ghostly feel – actually an after print when much of the ink had worn off and just re-inked very selectively. I like the subtlety of the tone in the lake – like methane, and the almost rotten mottling in the foreground foliage. The grey woman looks more tired and much more insignificant compared to the charred landscape and black sky.

I find the differences between the effects of the prints interesting – how does my eye move differently through each and why is this. Sometimes going against established wisdom on primacy of warm and contrasting colours in attracting attention. Something to think about carefully in future in relation to the meaning/s I wan to convey in each image.

Development Process

The Concept: Sketches and Photos

The sketches and photos were compiled during a work visit to Rwanda just after I started this course. My trip was mostly to conduct a 10 days workshop facilitation for very poor women and men farmers from a coffee cooperative in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. The workshop was held in Gisenyi in Rwanda, just over the border from the Congolese city of Goma,  because the security situation in DRC was very bad – and we could hear bombs very near in Goma. The participants listened to the radio every day for news, and had to go back through a very long route because of bombings on the road they normally used. Things were very tense – also stories of abductions, witchcraft and murders.

The other notable thing about the area are the active volcanoes. All through my visit Mt Nyiragango just next to Gisenyi was spitting red fire at night. It had last erupted in 2002 and 40,000 people had been evacuated. Lake Kivu also has large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide gas stored under the lake bed – an important source of income for the government. Every so often the gases escape and kill people. Incidence of a wide range of cancers is also very high in the area, particularly for children. Several of the workshop participants had disabled children.

Gisenyi itself was a city of extreme contrasts – I had never seen so many very rich houses crammed together on the hillside using wealth from the army and smuggling, with many more being built (see the sketch of the building in my account of other ideas below). At the same time there were also some very poor people who were refugees living on the streets. Though not very many as this was forbidden, people were scared of the police and refugees were mainly in camps.

Thus my idea for this work as it evolved included a  number of elements:

– war and bombing

– the glowering volcano

– a woman refugee and her baby trying to return

– is this a picture of hope, or despair. Can I use the same image in both ways through altering the colours?

Exploratory sketches from the Car


It is very difficult for me to sketch from life while I am in Africa as I am working all the time, 24/7, with no days, evenings or weekends off. My main opportunity is on long car journeys as I am travelling. My technique here is to start several pages at once and make quick thematic exploratory sketches to develop ideas and improve my observation. These sketches were on my way from Kigali to Gisenyi. I usually combine sketching with photos as below to record colours and other ideas.

This was my first time to travel to this part of Rwanda. The landscape was conventionally very picturesque – very green. With beautiful curves of the terracing on the hillsides – something the government was encouraging as part of agricultural development. What struck me most though was the fact that everyone seemed to be walking or cycling and the heavy loads. Very few cars apart from ours. I began to focus on the ways people were stooping and how they were holding themselves as they carried different things – from babies to huge baskets of produce and tree trunks.

Exploratory sketches from photos

I took very many photos. These extended my ideas – I was particularly interested in the range of clothing the people were wearing, differences in social status. I also saw a number of very poor and destitute people along the road.

I dipped into this pool of photography ideas as relevant to my concept as it evolved – pasting these in my sketchbook and making thumbnail sketches to look more at peoples’ postures, clothes, colour and the landscape. In particular the woman with the baby and the striped shawl – in response later to ideas that came to me from the wallpaper collection I had.

First collage experiment: Woman and Baby in the landscape

As my image was very complex, I decided first to look further at some of the collage options making a smaller and simpler collagraph plate. I wanted to see how textures would work out with the materials I had. I was particularly interested in the potential of some of the wallpapers I had with swirly patterns and foliage. Experimenting with line, horizontals, verticals and curves.

I also made some quick digital colour experiments with this simple image to start to think of different ink options – red and black, blue and more muted browns etc.

 Goma photos

Some of the most powerful images I had of the area were  photos taken on a car ride with a colleague when unfortunately I did not have any time to sketch as it was getting dark. This trip took me away from the central location of my hotel to places where I could get a much closer and clearer view of the volcano, and also views over Goma and Lake Kivu. Unfortunately as the trip was rushed and it was getting dark (after a day with bombs) the photos of Goma and Lake Kivu do not do justice to the beauty of the glittering still lake and the castle-like appearance of the city. These are effects I wanted to capture in my prints. Contrast between the still beauty of the lake (with its seeping methane) and the violent fire of the volcano.

Ghost buildings

An alternative aspect I also thought of including were the buildings. Just down the road from my hotel there was a large mansion being built – another rare opportunity I had to do some sketching in the morning before work. The building had a spiky and empty ghostly feel – this was the sort of feel I wanted for the town in the image. So I made a couple of pencil and charcoal sketches particularly of the spiky construction poles. But again lack of time forced me to resort also to photos and sketches at home from those.

Thumbnail Compositions

I made a number of quick alternative thumbnail sketches in my notebook and sketchbook experimenting with the relative scale of the volcano compared to the town and the woman. Also with long, square and A4 format. But I suppose I already had quite a clear image in my head and decided I wanted to do a long portrait format as that was how the town felt – huge volcano, lake and city in the middle, then the woman walking into view at the bottom. I also wanted to include enough of the lake as a contrast. Some of my later crop experiments (see below) gave some further alternative ideas with the woman much larger and a volcano further away. But that would have reduced the feeling of menace of the war and insecurity that pervaded my whole visit.




Having made the thumbnails, and having a pretty clear idea in my head of what I wanted to achieve, I started to make the plate – building on the experience of materials I had from the earlier experiments and particularly woman and baby in the landscape. For that I redrew the woman but used essentially the same materials – just adding a stick to support her weariness.

I experimented a lot  with composition at this stage, particularly finer details as I discovered new materials and new uses for old ones. I did not want to make things too messy. So the same wallpaper is used in different ways for the horizontal textured stripes and cut-outs of the front-ground foliage. I found it quite difficult to judge composition at this stage as it is difficult to separate out the effects of colour of the materials from their texture as they will print. Although I sketched out the compositional thirds and middle lines and followed these eg positioning of the woman’s stick, at a number of points I was not certain I had it right until I printed things out.

Digital colour experiments

I then took  a photo of the plate and experimented with some alternative colour schemes using Photoshop Touch on my iPad. These are not at all exact but give some unusual options I would not have thought of. Another (maybe better) option would have been to print out a series of small line drawing versions and coloured these with watercolour or crayon. That would be quicker and easier than a lot of repeated thumbnails at this stage, allowing me to focus on colour relationships in a rather more controlled way than the digital experiments.

The final prints

Return to Goma Version 1
Return to Goma Version 2
Return to Goma Version 2
Return to Goma Version 3
Return to Goma Version 3
Return to Goma Version 4
Return to Goma Version 4

Some crops for further ideas

As with the test plate, I used the prints that were nor successful to experiment with different crops and see what new images I could find in them for future work. As well as alternative ways of seeing the image, I discovered many new abstract options through turning crops around and upside down.


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