5.13 The Dance: combination mono and linoprint

 

Assessment

Present three combination mono and linoprints. These may be printed on different types of paper and in different colour schemes.

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

The Brief

– choose a subject where colour and line play equal parts – landscape, figurative, abstract. The two printed layers will need to contrast and complement each other.

– get a linoblock and monoprint plate of the same size unless you want a border

– prepare several sketches and ideas in your sketchbook combining colour schemes, line drawings and designs to establish and decide the final idea. Try different colour schemes using watercolours, inks or coloured pencils. Investigate new and unusual colour combinations that evolve from your original idea and original colour scheme.

– print a series of monprints in your chosen colour scheme or schemes. Use different monoprint techniques – scratching and manipulating ink on the plate surface, masks and double colours, painted surface and double printing etc. Print off more than you need in case things don’t work out at the next stage.

– prepare the lino block. Print in one colour over the dry monoprint. Remember linocut will print in reverse.

– can you see further possibilities for combining the two printmaking methods?

 Choosing the subject

My original idea was to use some sketches and photos of dances from Rwanda (See Sketchbook ‘Images of Africa’ pp 79 – 86.). I thought these would have good potential in terms of combining line and colour in a dynamic way.

My first step was to do more sketches in ink and watercolour from photos, but particularly from video clips. Using video clips on a large screen gives a sense of live urgency and energy to the sketching, and also enables exaggeration in poses and form that is not so easy with static 2D photos. This is an approach I would like to exploit further – filming video also with this subsequent aim oin mind. This means going in closer, even if the video itself is less ‘professional’, also not being scared to video in contrasting lighting situations. Very contrasty video – or processing for contrast – can give some very interesting ideas for printmaking.

At the same time I also explored other possibilities using sketches from life drawing inspired by printmakers like Baselitz and Picasso whose work I had seen at an exhibition at the British Museum and then looked at in more detail. (See below)

In the end I decided to focus on further developing my ideas for ‘the Dance’. So I started to look at examples of artists who had worked with this theme:

Paula Rego : The Dance psychological impact  has great psychological impact ‘ plays out ways in which a woman – the main character, larger than the others, to the left of the painting – may structure her conception of herself…As she looks at the viewer a variety of ways of being a woman play across the picture’s surface. The three at the back form a matriarchal hierarchy, a happy triumvirate of child, mother, grandmother, a complete cycle of femininity. The other two define themselves in relation to their men – are courting, the other pregnant’ (source: Tate online article)

Renoir fluttering light did a number of paintings of dancing couples: Dance in the City, Dance in the Country, Dance in Bourgival. These were shown in an exhibition – Inventing Impressionism at the National Gallery. Although I find these paintings in general rather saccarin in reproduction, in the actual paintings the brushwork is pretty amazing. I thought it would be really interesting to explore this lightness and see if somehow I could reproduce the sense of fluttering light in print.

Matisse “Dance” energy I have always been interested in the energy and fluidity of line and sheer joyous abandonment in Matisse’s series of paintings. This joyousness is also carried through in his cut-outs that I saw in the exhibition at Tate Modern.

Apart from these examples, I also got ideas about alternative depictions from a number of exhibitions of other artists:

  • Georg de Chirico : sculpture at Estorick Gallery –  statues that combine the elegance and poise of classical sculpture with faceless militarism.
  • Renato Guttuso and Mario Mafai: ‘Against Mussolini’ exhibition of anti-fascist painters at Estorick Gallery
  • Ibrahim El Salahi who I had looked at in my research on African artists and at a Tate Modern exhibition.
  • Sonia De Launay swirling colours – painting with colour

These gave me the idea of three contrasting versions:

1) Dance of Joy: a light version of swirling colours – yellows, greens combining the lightness of Renoir with de Launay’s swirling colours and energy of Matisse

2) Dance of love: about sexual violence and tension: with the intensity of Paula Rego. Ambiguity – is it a dance or a conflict?

3) Dance of ghosts: about political violence: dancing to the drum beat of someone else. They are both trapped in violence.

I worked on these three ideas simultaneously, exploring things that did not work as I tried to develop each version, applying them to my other versions to push ideas further towards contrasting images.

In the end after many attempts at keeping the overprinting light, Dance of Joy turned dark as did Dance of Love. So the final three prints are:

1) Dance of Love: a pink swirling image of rather sickly colours about sexual violence and tension where the couple look as if they hate each other: looks like a taunting and conflict?

2) Dance of Death: stark black and white image with blue and brown background. The ambiguity in the man’s expression looks as if he is shouting out of the picture as well as at the woman.

3) Dance of ghosts: about political violence: dancing to the drum beat of someone else. They are both trapped in violence. The woman is white and ghostly, the man angry red and violent.

Sketches

Linocut

Some technical challenges

I faced quite a lot of unforeseen technical challenges with this series of prints because of their large size and the specific combination of lino and monoprint:

– the shrinkage and changes in size of the paper from the damp monoprint to the linocut. Also judging the right amount of dampening. I used a dampened J-cloth if I needed a more consistent layer for the subsequent layers, but had to be careful of the join. Any wrinkling in the underlying or top papers showed through to variations in texture of the ink. This was much more noticeable in these larger prints on any flat surfaces.

– I could not find linocut and monoprint plates of the same size – they seem to use different measurements for the same materials and I had problems cutting the perspex. In the end my lino was larger than the linocut and I varied its position to mask this issue. And in order to sharpen the edges I used masking tape.

– in my earlier japanese reduction linocut for Assignment 3 I had mounted the lino on a board in order to keep it rigid and printed on a relief press than could cope easily with the thickness of the plate. However with the monoprint combination and shrinkage issue, this would have made registration even more difficult and the large size of the lino more difficult to manoeuvre than a more flexible plate. In addition this would have made the plate very thick for my etching press – I could have also made runners from the same board and my lino but had neither the time nor tools to do this.

– I had originally envisaged the figures as sanded tones as well as lines, following some of my experiments in Assignment 3. I used a sander to get tones on the images. But in the end this tended to look like bad printing if I tried to get a flat print. So I started to exploit the texture instead and/or combine masking with the linocut. Another alternative would have been to cut more into the lino. But I decided this would leave me less flexibility.

In many ways the print would have been much more straightforward as a reduction linocut. I might try this with the same plate at a later date.

Version 1: Dance of Joy to Dance of Love

My aim in this version was to do a light version of swirling colours – yellows, greens combining the lightness of Renoir with de Launay’s swirling colours and ectstatic energy of Matisse. I wanted to experiment with transparent overlayering of monprint masks to get as many colour tones as possible, overlaid then with the linocut. I decided to use watercolour paper to increase the painterly textured effect.

I had two colour schemes in mind:

a) yellows and greens like sunshine fluttering through the leaves of spring and summer

b) multicolour overlay like de Launay using primary yellow, red (magenta) and blue (cyan)

I used Caligo Safewash inks to increase speed of drying between layering.

But my initial attempts faced a number of technical issues:

– overlayering of the colours even using transparent ink was problematic. Using blue as the final colour made the figures at the front too dark. This made the image seem violent rather than joyful. I found the figure at the back of the first print below most like the effect I was looking for.

– on the other hand if one of the underlying colours was too strong then it would also show through in an ugly opaque line. Even if the colour originally appeared transparent on the paper.

– there was also an issue of the ink drawing from the masks transferring to the paper on the lighter background layers. Although in the final versions of the print this did not show.

I cut up the various attempts and combined them into colour collages. These can be seen in Sketchbook 5 ‘The Dance’ at the end.

These are issues that differentiate printmaking from acrylic or oil painting like that of Delaunay. Or even the subtlety of watercolours mixing and laying on the paper. Printmaking seems much less predictable – though with practice I am starting to get better at judging the amount of extender and transparency medium with different inks, and also the amount of ink on the roller and transferring it to the plate.

In the final two prints I started to experiment with the face. Initially I had wanted to leave the face blank like de Chirico. But this was a bit boring. So I tried a half mask as in 3. And a half face as in 4.

I worked for a while on the other prints and experimented with different facial expression masks. I did not want to cut out the face in the lino as I thought this would not give me enough flexibility – I was hoping to be able to vary this as well as the colours for different moods.

When I came back to this print having done the other two I experimented with a broad range of colours: magenta and blue, reds, yellows and greens.

But still the issue of the ink layering remained – and the plate was getting a bit fragile because of its size and the amount of cutting at the edges. The most successful was a magenta and blue version – but not joy it was instead a rather vengeful and jealous dance of love – the woman’s sharp turned nose in a yellow green face and the man’s raised hand and expression.

Dance of Love
Dance of Love

I cut up the other versions and collaged them as colour studies. These can be found at the end of Sketchbook 5 ‘the Dance’. I also really liked some of the colours on dynamic lines – they reminded me of butterfly wings and I cut those up for my Spring study in final Project 15 Seasons.

Version 2: Dance of love to Dance of Death

My attempts at Dance of Love also seemed to turn violent for similar issues of colour. But also I learned how subtle differences in stance could be with a raised arm from joy to striking, and a twist dance to cowering merely with a slight nuance of angle of the arms and shape of the shoulder. Then also the impact of dark colours separating the figures from their background.

Digital experiments

Although I found the first image above quite impactful, I did not really like the colours. Also I did not feel it really conveyed the full potential of the image as violence. So I started to look at how I could do this. The first stage was to go back to my original linocut. I also looked at the Ghost Dance image below and experimented with digital colour and the face. I like the square mechanical eyes. I also like the sharp tonal contrast as if people have been caught in a flash or strobe. I also like the uneven ragged texturing rather than a solid print. At the same time I did not really want to use black as I thought it would be deadening.

I then tried out the faces on colour combinations that were not working out for Dance of Joy above. I found that the exact angle of the face masks could given very different impressions. The faces needed to be turned towards each other. For the woman’s face I used a mask to print and found the less distinct effect this produced compared to the sharpness of the negative mask for the man. I also liked the off-register of the background lino marks. I found these added to the power of the image.

The final version of this is however too dark to be even a parody of love – so it became Dance of Death.

Dance of Death
Dance of Death

 

3: Dance of ghosts

Ghost Dance 1c
Ghost Dance 1c

This print I wanted to be a ‘political dance’ – Inspiration from RockDrill and Drummer in Tate Britain. This proved to be the most straightforward of the 3 prints, and the first I completed before then going back to work on the other two.

Colour scheme and style from Guttoso and Mafai. I used Schminke watercolour inks and experimented with painterly wet in wet effects and use of opaque white. I started with a painterly monoprint with the orange flesh colours using the shape of the rock drill.

From my masking experiments in Print 1 I masked the two front figures from, the linocut in the first print, and only printed the man in red and background from the linocut. Leaving the woman as a ‘ghost’.

My second version 2 used the ghost print of the first. But on this one the background was not clear enough.

Other possible ideas

I also explored other possibilities using sketches from life drawing inspired by printmakers like Baselitz and Picasso whose work I had seen at an exhibition at the British Museum and then looked at in more detail.

Human figure

Any or all of the below could be further developed using:

– moody monochrome monoprints like Degas combined with sharp linocut line and/or sanded textures.

– using the shape of the body as a linocut outline as in Richard Pimenti (see logbook 5 p 6) and putting contrasting images behind. Or vice versa. I could even use one of the layers as a collage cut-out.

Portraits

In any of the below I could use large linocut portraits, possibly abstracted as in assignment 2 leaving large areas for monoprint texturing. I could also use backtracing as a different coloured background to a linocut image.

Alternatively I could further develop them as monoprints. I really like the effect of backdrawing to produce these large images, also turning the paper over to show the graphite drawing with the ink toning showing through fromk the back of the paper. Also using white subtractive wiping from a black background, combining tonal variation with line.

Figures in movement

At my life drawing classes I have been gradually improving the fluency of line. I find the discipline of painting immediately in watercolour useful for increasing my confidence to just put marks down and work with what is there.

Again more detail on the form could be achieved using a sander on the lino, and with varied line using different tools.

Landscapes

The possibilities for landscapes are pretty endless – my final prints of the Seasons could all be rendered successfully as combination mono and linoprints:

Spring – here I could use linocut to give more definition to the foreground and also add some butterflies.

Summer – there could be a very interesting contrast between the fluidity and depth of monoprint water with more defined linocut ripples over the top. Or use some of the willow sketches. These could be done in different colour combinations as a seasons series on its own.

Autumn – here the trees and shadows could be done in linocut over a monoprint background to give more depth.

Winter – Trees and ice cracks could be done in linocut over a textured ice and snow background. Or something similar to my oil pastel sketches with scratching out.

 

 

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