Assignment 3: Mushrooms

TASK

For this assignment you are asked to bring your experience of creating chiaroscuro effects from a photograph or painting to bear on an objective drawing which you will then translate into a print.

Overview and assessment

For this project I set up a Still Life of Japanese mushrooms. Mushrooms fascinate me because of their varied shapes, subtle tones and symbolic associations. They have associations with death and dying because they often reproduce on dead matter. At the same time they represent irrepressible life, spreading their mycelia unseen under the surface and often living for hundreds of years. Some mushrooms have been shown to have chemicals that counter ageing and cancer. Others have links to magic and out of world experiences, having been used by priests in many cultures as a means of spiritual enlightenment. Yet others are extremely poisonous – meaning that mushrooms in general are also a source of fear of the unknown.

In setting up the Still Life I selected the samples that had the most interesting shapes and textures. Then, starting with photographs, I experimented with different arrangements and composition, exploring different interrelationships between the shapes and shadows. Then I did a detailed charcoal drawing, developing this over time and going through several different stages before deciding the drawing was finished. I then further experimented with cropping and colour combinations on the iPad before arriving at the final design. In the process the mushrooms acquired characters and suggested narratives that led to the final concept: the sexual entanglement of the two large ‘parent’ mushrooms at the back, oblivious and separate from the quarrelling and bullying of the smaller mushrooms at the front. Some of the shapes were also inspired by Picasso’s angular violent images in eg Guernica.

For printing medium I thought first of chiaroscuro monoprint and/or Drypoint. because I wanted to explore different tonal variations within and between the shapes rather than the rather more rigid possibilities with linocut. I finally chose to pursue my exploration of possibilities of collagraph and different inking of an underlying shape structure that I had started in Assignment 2. This time aiming for a somewhat more figurative and subtle treatment. Having explored a number of different papers, including emboss, I decided on thin Japanese paper. Partly to continue the Japanese theme, but also because of the delicate textures the paper could produce for the different mushrooms. Using oil-based ink, most of the final prints were produced from multiple impressions, building up particular parts of the final image.

I produced 18 prints of varying degrees of success. The final selection was made to cover a range of colour and tonal treatments, textural interest across all the elements of the image and rejecting 4 where there was slight mis-registration or the border had become dirty. The reject prints I made into collages of the best textures and tonal range, and ‘rejected imaginings’ from cut out shapes that suggested new narratives.

I am quite please with the final selected prints. I really like the textures that can be produced with this technique and the range of colour and tonal inking interpretations that can be produced from the same plate. I could experiment with these a lot more from the now cleaned plate starting with a completely different set of colours, including possibly some drypoint and carborundum work. This would enable me to produce much more variation in the deep shadows that are rather flat in some of the prints. Partly because of the lack of absorbency of the Japanese paper for thicker ink. In the process I could look at other suggested narratives, particularly between the mushrooms in the foreground, and linkages between foreground and background.

Setting up the Still Life, Drawing and Photos

  • First set up a simple still life, (whatever takes your fancy) with drapery behind (curtains perhaps) and drapes on the table in front of you too, with fairly generous folds in it.
  • Work in a darkened space but set up a strong directional light at a dramatic angle onto the still life group. The aim is to create a study with strong light and dark effects in it, to enable you to gain more practice in creating chiaroscuro effects.
  • Once you have set up this group, with dramatic lighting, it might be a good idea to take a photo of the still life with a digital camera so that you can refer back to it as well as your sketch when you are producing your print. Insert a print of it into your learning log. You can then also refer back to the still life to reflect on the success of your project at a later date.
  • Once you have done two or three detailed objective drawings of the still life group, you are ready to translate this into a print.

In setting up the Still Life I selected the mushrooms that had the most interesting shapes and textures. Then, starting with photographs, I experimented with different arrangements and composition, exploring different interrelationships between the shapes and shadows. I was particularly interested in the idea of relationship between the two ‘phallic’ mushrooms, and between the swan-like mushrooms. One of the mushrooms was particularly swan-like with a folded wing and aggressive neck. Others had rather more submissive stalk necks, and the ends of the stalks had interesting mouth expressions in silhouette.

I did a detailed charcoal drawing, developing this over time and going through several different stages before deciding the drawing was finished.

I had intended to do more drawings, but as I did not want to disturb the composition I left the mushrooms over night. Unfortunately – it was the hot spell – the mushrooms had dried and shrunk quite a bit when I came back in the morning. So redrawing was not going to be as useful as I had hoped. When working with mushrooms I need to take this into account in timing in future – doing preparatory sketches of particular elements in advance and putting them back in the fridge. Then doing the final process from set up to photography to composition drawings all in the same day.

However I achieved pretty much the same result through using black and white versions of my reference photos, with some close-up crops together with the digital process below.

Design: cropping and simplification 

Now using all the skills and practice of producing a chiaroscuro print from the previous project, decide what type of printing process will best suit the assignment, and set to work.
Translate your sketches into a design that will work as a print, by redrawing your sketches in a simpler way.

In the photographing and drawing process

I then further experimented with cropping and colour combinations on the iPad before arriving at the final design. I cropped in further, cut and paste some of the mushrooms, eliminated others and examined the image against a thirds grid.

In the final concept design the focus is the sexual entanglement of the two large ‘parent’ mushrooms at the back, with their heads coming together towards an imagined ‘kiss gap’ on the top left rule of thirds intersection. This makes them oblivious and separate from the quarrelling and bullying of the larger aggressive ‘swan’ mushroom towards the (simplified) smaller swan and tortoise mushrooms at the front.

Some of the shapes reminded me very much of Picasso’s angular violent images in eg Guernica, so I exaggerated this in the digital version. And particularly in cutting the collagraph shapes.

Make notes on the effects you want to create, the colours and the types of line and depth of shade. If it is a multi-plate piece of work, make sure you prepare the print design meticulously, in order to get the registration right. Refer back to all the instructions in the previous project to remind yourself how to develop the chiaroscuro effects. Take your time.

I explored different colour variations on my iPad, particularly trying to find quite violent ‘Picasso’ colours. Just as a quick experiment as it would be difficult to exactly replicate these with ink on collagraph because of colour mixing.

Inking and printing process

Decide on the paper that would be best to print onto. If you want, use different coloured papers and a different tonal range, then decide which works best. Do at least five prints, they can all vary if that’s what you intend.

For printing medium I thought first of chiaroscuro monoprint and/or Drypoint. because I wanted to explore different tonal variations within and between the shapes rather than the rather more rigid possibilities with linocut. I finally chose to pursue my exploration of possibilities of collagraph and different inking of an underlying shape structure that I had started in Assignment 2. This time aiming for a somewhat more figurative and subtle treatment.

I constructed the plate paying attention to texture and thickness of the different elements to emphasise for example the smoothness of the parent mushroom caps, and the skeletal spikiness of the aggressive swan, and the different textures on the other mushrooms. This further clarified and emphasised the shapes. In particular the figure-like shadows on the curtain on the right, and the shapes of the round submissive mushrooms and the sharpness of the wing and beak of the aggressive swan.

Having explored a number of different papers, including emboss, I decided on thin Japanese paper. Partly to continue the Japanese theme, but also because of the delicate textures the paper could produce for the different mushrooms.

Using oil-based ink, most of the final prints were produced from multiple impressions, building up particular parts of the final image. I produced 18 prints of varying degrees of success. The final selection was made to cover a range of colour and tonal treatments, textural interest across all the elements of the image. and rejecting 4 where there was slight misregistration or the border had become dirty.

 

The reject prints I made into collages of the best textures and tonal range.

I also used some of the remaining cut out shapes as ‘rejected imaginings’ that suggested new narratives.

 

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.