5.15 Combination and Experimental Print Series: Four Seasons

The Brief

In this project you should make a series of four related prints which draw on your printmaking experience during this course. The aim is to demonstrate your skill in designing, printing and evaluating the printmaking process. The final prints should be of a minimum of A3 size, including borders. Challenge yourself to try something different.

For assessment present:

  • your final print series. The prints should demonstrate your choice of technique and materials to express your creative ideas.
  • your supporting statement describing your choices and impressions of your series (about two A4 pages). Include comments on how the prints appear and any technical difficulties you encountered. Describe the reasons for your choice of method and techniques and a few paragraphs about your choice of theme. Also as part of this report review what you have learned and experienced during your course.

Critical Report

For this final assignment I was asked to try something different. During this course I had done a lot of prints already of portraits, figures, landscapes and in the chine colle series started to look at abstracts and imaginary landscapes. For this project I thought I would try a theme where I could do images inspired by music. I was also wanting something where I could easily do more sketches. So I decided that four prints inspired by the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, but using sketches and paintings from along the river where I live would be very interesting. Although obviously limited for drawing by the season I was actually in – summer – I had photographs and sketches I had done before and not used so far in this course.

I had also experimented a lot with monoprint, linocut and different types of relief print, collagraph and chine colle. But one medium that I had enjoyed but so far not really experimented with fully was foamboard where I knew I could combine a range of monoprint techniques (eg painterly markmaking, wiping out, masking and texturing) with experimental linocut techniques using different implements. I was also interested in experimenting with the interactions of different inks using wet on wet as well as dry techniques that I had started to look at in Assignment 1.

My aims in the assignment therefore were to:

  • explore what can be done through printmaking as compared to other media like watercolour, painting, photography and drawing and also the potential for replicating some of the effects I was discovering with digital manipulation of images through blending and layering
  • explore more of the potential of foamboard in enabling a combination of different monoprint and linocut techniques
  • look in detail at the interactions between different types of water-based and oil-based ink, acrylic and watercolour paints and on different types of paper
  • use music as a source of inspiration and possibly abstraction, or explore the contribution of abstraction to more figurative mark-making

Full details of development of the images can be found in Logbook 5: Combination prints. Sketches to the final print can be found in Sketchbook 6: Seasons. Key sources of inspiration included Gerhard Richter, Per Kirkeby, Cy Twombly, Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, the Japanese painter Akashi Takashi and Rose Scott, a printmaker from Cambridge.

My creative process started with sketching, photographs and sketches from photographs. I also had a big collection of print daubs of different colour combinations that I had been collecting during cleaning up from previous projects – good environmental practice to wipe up with paper first rather than flush it all down the sink. Many of these suggested colour schemes for the different seasons. My next stage was to listen to Vivaldi and do both digital and analogue abstract sketches. Then combining these two processes to do a series of concept maps for the different seasons. Finally to compare the different seasons (see Seasons Sketchbook) to see how the four prints might work as a series in terms of contrasting shapes, line and themes as well as colour.

During this process I also tried out some foamboard experiments of small prints for the different seasons.

Spring prints, sketches and photos

Summer prints, sketches and paintings

Autumn sketches, photos and collage

Winter prints, drawings and daubs

Technical issues in producing the final prints

I used four large foamboard plates, a mix of inks and different papers. I had originally intended to do the whole series on Japanese hosho paper for consistency. I particularly wanted to use Japanese paper for the fragility of Spring, but my experiments found it was also suitable for the other seasons – as long as it was well inked. I then reread the instructions and found that I was asked to vary the papers. I had already done Spring and Summer, so I used watercolour paper for Winter. For autumn I had two prints that were better when collaged together.

I did find the interaction of inks and wet in wet techniques more tricky than I had originally thought. Using water-based ink reduced the drying time between layers and is also well-suited to hosho paper. But it is also very unpredictable, particularly on foamboard. It is very difficult to tell which parts of the plate have already dried and which will still print. It is not possible to keep cleaning the plate because it will absorb water and break. At the same time this variability in the ink can produce some very beautiful effects – as in the top of the autumn print.

Assessment of the final prints

Spring

Spring
Spring

This image was  inspired by early Spring walks along the river Cam near my house, past a long row of hawthorne blossom. Spring is also a season of mists rising off the river.  I wanted this print to have a very Japanese feel – echoing the Japanese obsession with cherry blossom as something very fleeting and fragile. I also wanted the print to be rather undefined – like hope. That was inspired by Monet’s water- lillies and the recent Impressionist exhibition at the National Gallery. So I used opaque Schminke water-based inks. I also added some pastel like Kurt Jackson.

I do like this print – maybe because I understand the place and feeling it is of. The feeling I have is of ‘wings’ flying up to the sky through the blossom, with all the energy and hope of early Spring. I like the vague mistiness – like a more optimistic Rothko staring into a sky of hope rather than a black void. I like the texture of the ink and the petals. Also the imprints of the twigs and grasses. With hindsight I might make more of that and maybe give impression of butterflies through masking and very subtle colour changes.

I also like the negative and positive shape contrasts in the foreground. The large grasses were a late addition to balance the branches at the top left. I added them slowly one by one. Originally I had seen a really interesting butterfly shape with lines coming out of a centre like fluttering wings where the pastel had spattered out in a pattern. I tried to enhance this effect. But I should have done it with sprayed acrylic paint, carefully, rather than tried pastel. That is what made the large dark patch that is now covered with the grasses.

I also considered putting a sort of horizon line and some grey mistiness, but then decided against it.

I do not think my tutor liked it (she did not see the finished version) but other artists I have shown it to did and understood what I was trying to do.

Summer

Summer
Summer

This print was directly inspired by paintings of water I did along the river, and also experiments with acrylic paint and oil pastel resist. I wanted something very lazy and langorous with dark leafy shade as well as sun patches.

Technically it proved quite difficult because the wet in wet soaked beyond the edges of the paper – though I found I could minimise this by putting dry J-cloths around the print to soak it up.

Given my tutor’s negative response to the series I was thinking of completely redoing this print. But then my daughter saw it and said ‘I love the dragonfly’. Actually the marks were a mistake where I had gouged out a willow tree trunk but the ink had not taken. Then I looked harder and there it was – the semi-defined dragon fly with indistinct wings fluttering with shimmering wings the way they do. I do not think I could have consciously planned this part of the image.  I enhanced the image by darkening some of the tree in the background to throw the dragonfly more into prominence. And scratched out a little of the paper to increase the highlight on its eye and head.

I now find this image quite successful – it really does convey the atmosphere along the river where I live in summer. The main thing I don’t like is the rather too obvious drip just by the dragonfly.

Autumn

Autumn
Autumn

This print was the most difficult – I ended up with many versions, but it was difficult to control the ink. The idea I had was from the tall beech trees on Royston Heath where we go each October/November just as the leaves turn. It is spectacular – the photographs in the sketchbook do not do it justice.

I started with some digital sketches on site to experiments with different layouts. What I had in mind was also like the ‘Moonlight’ collagraph I had done in my Images of Africa Sketchbook. Very long diagonal shadows, light streaking through the trees, then dark, dank mould and leaves in the foreground. Inspired partly by Egon Schiele’s autumn landscapes, partly by Kirkeby’s dark abstracts.

But technically it was very difficult with this medium to keep the shapes of the white birches (I wanted them white for sufficient contrast) while inking the background. I also wanted to exploit the lovely stem marks you can get with a screwdriver on the foamboard. I ended up with a lot of prints and could not get things right – I was near desperation as the assessment deadline was very close. I cut the early prints up and started to play with collage – to at least get some output for my efforts.

I had two prints where the top of one was very dramatic with the light through the trees but the foreground had gone flat because the ink had dried at different rates in different colours. Another print where I had tried to really plan things out had a very boring top part, but the foreground was more interesting. I reread the assignment instructions and it seemed that collaged prints would be permitted (as in Assignment 14). Also the benefit of combining the prints in this way would increase the feeling of depth through overlaying a foreground with an almost 3-D effect.

I like this image now – though possibly it is too sharp and defined. It would probably have been better with oil-based ink and more transparency, but I was running out of time and oil-based inks take a long time to dry on Hosho paper. I find the light at the top contrasted with the dark foreground very dramatic. I also like the white birch trunks where collaging has made them more defined. Like a row of defiant soldiers walking away from the light towards an unknown dark.

Winter

Winter
Winter

This final winter image is based on feelings from the oil pastel sketches, photos of the frozen river and also inspired by the bleak feeling of some of Toko Shinoda’s abstracts and Moriyama’s black photos. Then also the feeling of the Snow Queen broken heart. Things came together in some of the digital blend mockups I did of the oil pastel sketches (see sketchbook and images above).

I like the textures of the ice done with plastic masks. The triangle look like frozen butterfly wings – echoing a bit the dragonfly from summer. The snow at the back is maybe a bit too obvious – just easy to do with a punch on foamboard. I should have varied this more to make it more subtle. I am not so sure about the composition with the line across the middle. I think this might have been better either lower or higher. But this is difficult to tell before printing because so much depends on the balance of tones – as always a bit unpredictable with water-based ink. Though in this one I did use oil-based inks to get more transparency.

General conclusions

Despite my tutor’s comments on the first versions,  I  feel I have been getting somewhere with these prints. Some of what I am trying to do is easier in watercolour or paint and I still need to think more about why I am using printmaking eg it is difficult to get the sort of paint blends I so enjoy in watercolour. Possibly also these prints would have been easier in collagraph than using foamboard because it would have been easier to define the shapes eg in the autumn print, and also winter. Or I could have used different combinations of foamboard and collagraph as layered prints.  I needed a lot more time to explore, play and discover alongside planning.

I need to think more about what sort of planning I do. When I plan too much then things become very static and flat – actually like a lot of the ‘hotel-style’ prints I do not like by other people. It is a very tricky balance. I still do not have sufficient technical skill to have real confidence always in what I am doing. But I think that with more experience, both in design, contrast and composition and particularly with control of ink, it will be easier to envisage beforehand what something will look like. Then achieve something that builds on that vision including accidents and new discoveries. So that real creativity is maintained.

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