Assignment 1 Willows


For this assignment pick a fresh landscape, natural or urban, figurative or abstract.
Using your favourite print medium execute a set of three colour prints, each using a minimum of three colours.
Each print must be different but connected in some way. For instance it might be the same scene at different times of the day, in different weather conditions or observed from three different viewpoints.

Overall assessment

The landscape view I chose for this image was a close-up scene of some willow trees along the river Cam in one of the sketches I had not used for Project 1.1.  This clump of trees faces eastwards and has endless variety and possibilities – sometimes the skies behind are very dramatic with beautiful light breaking through grey clouds, at dawn and reflections in the water on moonlit nights. The tangled roots at the waters-edge are different on each tree. And the water has many different types of reflection depending on the strength of the current, wind and passage of swans and rowing boats. The trees are particularly interesting in winter with the bare branches against the sky and early Spring as the buds just start to show brilliant green. Then autumn when the yellow leaves have dropped onto the river.

I did a new sketch of these willows with a very different feel from the Dutch landscape style I had used in Project 1,1 and explored different crops and inverting the tone in Photoshop. I decided on three winter images:

  1. dawn with a low horizon to focus on the trees against the sky
  2. gloomy grey day (the actual sketch) with a mid horizon focusing on the relationship between the trees and reflections in moving water.
  3. moonlight with a high horizon to focus on the moonlight on the water.

As it was winter – a key feature being the skeleton trees – and too cold for me to do much colour work, I took photos to look at differences in colour. Also later to investigate in detail parts of the image that I had not understood so that I could improve the colour and mark-making in relation to my observations rather than just fudged.

I chose to experiment further with Monoprint of softfoam – a technique I had very much enjoyed for hazy Japanese painting effects in Printmaking 1. Here I wanted to take things further with colour and mark-making following some of the work of Impressionists like Cezanne, and to a lesser extent Monet.

At the moment these images are still in draft. In general I like the feel of the media and the varied potential styles I can achieve using palette knife, water-based ink on softfoam. They have a distinct painterly quality and texture that is different from watercolour or acrylic/oil paints. But the media are quite difficult to control and I need more experience. I want to see if I can get some white softfoam that will make it easier to assess the colours and marks. These prints highlighted gaps in my observation of trees and water that I have since addressed through further photographs. This could not be a linear process of recording everything through observation – some things I could not notice – then print and happy finish. It has to be more iterative – first observations, then exploration of how the media work and the effects that are possible, then going back to look in much more detail at the bits that are messy because I do not know what happens, then doing new prints. Possibly several times to get a real understanding and vision.

I plan to redo these prints at the end of the course when my skills in using markmaking on monoprints and control of the water-based inks is improved.  Together with deeper exploration of impressionist and abstract expressionist monoprint techniques in Assignment 2. The images will also draw on my developing skills in Japanese ink landscape painting and dynamic Zen brush strokes.

Developing the image


I went back to where I had done my first sketh of these willows and chose a different viewpoint – flat on to be able to focus more on the trees and reflections rather than the overall scene.  I liked the moody February scene with skeletal branches and plant stalks in the foreground, and turbulent water. In this new sketch you can see the ripples left by a passing rowing boat. The clouds in the sky are windy with patches of light shining through and reflecting in pools on the water.

I experimented with different exposures and crops of this sketch in Lightroom – with mid horizon, high horizon and low horizon levels to vary the point of emphasis between tree/sky and water/reflection.

Looking for inspiration

I looked back at my earlier drawings and paintings of willow trees to see whether these pointed to new styles and approaches that could be tried out in print media.

I also looked through images of landscapes, trees and water I thought might be interesting and relevant from my work on other artists and printmakers:

Kurt Jackson I looked back at paintings  that had inspired me in Project 1.1 for further ideas about mood, colour and composition. He often uses square formats and I like the semi-abstract nature of his work. I considered things like the positioning of the horizon and verticals – whether these should be at half or thirds way, whether they should be regular or in what way they might vary.

Piet Mondrian Trees Google I really like the dynamic line of his charcoal drawings, and the stylisation of the oil painting development.

Egon Schiele Trees Google The skeletal trees with thinned leaves sandwiched between the pale paint shapes are really haunting, as are the end of year dark blood colours on the autumn tree landscapes.

Katarzyna Cyganic  does very delicate black and white linocut with bold compositions of trees and reflections in water.

Google search on Printmaking Trees

Print experiments: new media

This project coincided with a number of workshops I had signed up for in order to explore new media that might be interesting in Printmaking 2 and for future. I used these to explore different approaches to the image of the willows and reflections.

Willow Experiments 1: Etching

My first set of images were done in the etching class with David Borrington at Curwen Gallery covering hard ground and sugar lift techniques. I had originally intended these etchings to form my submission for Project 1.1 but my etching skills are not good enough yet, and I got the opportunity to do the lithography instead. But the exploration of etching was useful to look at different mark-making of natural compared to urban landscapes. In relation to this assignment it became more an exploration of inking and colour techniques because it is so easy to quickly explore different colour options and effects. These then informed my choices when I came to do the softfoam prints. Details of the etching process can be found in my discussion of Etching techniques.

My most successful prints, based on a square crop.

Willow experiments 2: Photo-lithography

My second set of experiments were in a photo-lithography course, using a very loose approach to painting with gouache and Indian ink on drafting film. I really liked the textures and effects here, but have not yet had the possibility to develop these into a multi-colour image. This would really need to be another photolithography plate, or involve some complex masking out to combine with collagraph and/or drypoint and/or carborundum. Something I plan to explore further later. But again as this is a new medium for me, it also did not really (yet?) qualify as ‘my favourite medium’. These images have potential as the basis for imaginary landscapes when turned upside-down) in Assignment 2.

Willow experiments 3: Tissue monoprint

I had also been making textural ‘tree’ experiments with tissue paper used for wiping up the ink off plates from my other prints – a recycling measure. But also produced some interesting random ideas for mood, colour and composition. However I would need a lot more skill with this to make a multicolour image based on a sketch without collaging – something I plan to take further as part of explorations in Assignment 5 with different images.

My choice of medium: Softfoam monoprint

I then looked back again through my earlier artwork and prints for some ideas on approach – and also to see what I had already done so I could do something new for this assignment.

I had done a number of monoprints on perspex, softfoam and foamboard in Printmaking 1 of Japanese scenes, summer scenes on the river, then some skeleton trees (not these willows) in autumn and winter.

I did not want to just repeat similar foamboard images to ones I had done before. So I thought of exploring the possibilities of softfoam much more. The Japanese images were small (A5) and in very limited palette on thin Japanese paper. Softfoam acts differently from the other types of plate. It absorbs the ink and gives a much softer tone and line, although sharp lives can also be produced with sharp instruments.

My earlier work with foamboard had approached the ‘drippy’ style of the watercolour and quink ink. I thought it would be interesting to try and push the softfoam as a medium to get rather different effects through using palette knives to get something more like the acrylic and soft pastel, but with the winter scene.

The images

Looking back through my images so far – my paintings and the colour combinations in my experimental prints – I decided on three different February images I could do based on the same sketch, without duplicating something like the foamboard winter image I had done before:

  1. dawn (image 2) with a low horizon to focus on the trees against the sky
  2. gloomy grey day (image 1 the actual sketch) with a mid horizon focusing on the relationship between the trees and reflections in moving water.
  3. moonlight (image 3) with a high horizon to focus on the moonlight on the water.

As it was winter – a key feature being the skeleton trees – and too cold for me to do much colour work, I took photos to look at differences in colour. Also later to investigate in detail parts of the image that I had not understood so that I could improve the colour and mark-making in relation to my observations rather than just fudged.

I worked on the three images in parallel but on different softfoam plates.

Image 1: Grey day

I started with this image because this was the type of day when I had done the original sketch – about midday on a day that was not too cold to sketch.

Image 2: Dawn

Having printed these images, I then had the opportunity to go out and take some further photographs on a sunny winter dawn day. To study the colour. The sun does not rise directly behind my clump of willows. But the light was really pink rather than orange. I realised the reason why my image looked tropical is that the light is only that orange in Northern countries in high summer. Impressions and memories are also strongly affected by seeing so many photoshopped dawn landscapes. The light is generally less saturated. The dawn light would also not be t=strong enough at dawn before the sun was quite high in the sky to cast the highlights. Obviously I need to make some decisions about how far to be faithful to the actual scene – much less dramatic and more subtle – or to go for artistic colour.

Image 3: Moonlight

These images were done from a combination of memory of walking along the river in the moonlight, and the daytime photos above inverted in Photoshop – with a dose of Japanese romanticism.

I started with the experiments with icy blue images. Then experimented with markmaking and adding touches of colour. Before working on the final composition.

Again I was fortunate to be able to actually observe a snowy night and take some photos during the February cold snap. The moon was behind the clouds. The light was actually very strange – like my brown etching of the willows. The yellow light pollution from the town and the reflections from the snow seemed to be bouncing up and down between snow and cloud. The photos actually came out quite light – the darker photos here tried to be as accurate to what I saw as possible through reduced exposure by two stops. There was no light in front of my clump of trees, and the river was grey with the reflections rather than dark.

The stereotypical romantic moonlit night on snow and water is probably extremely rare in UK because snow spells are very short, and there is too much cloud. Again therefore I have to make some decisions about whether I am aiming for an image with impact and contrast, or something truer to what I see – like the murky brown etching that had emerged through ink mixing on the plate. That image I also find quite atmospheric. Or I could choose a moonlit night without snow – then there would be no light behind my trees, just on the water reflections.

2 Replies to “Assignment 1 Willows”

    1. Thanks. I am really enjoying the Abstraction part. Things should be more organised by after Easter. Do you have a blog? Do you know any others on the course? Would live to link up.

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