Project 1.2 Urban landscapes

Overview and assessment

I live in Cambridge and – as this print was to contrast with the natural landscape in Project 1.1 of the River Cam – it made sense to base this print on urban Cambridge.

Cambridge is now a very diverse city – from very old architecture to modern buildings and shopping arcades, and a lot of quite ugly buildings in between. There were endless possibilities.

I already had in mind an etching – to extend my skills beyond what I had done for Printmaking 1 – Project 1.3 would use linocut. This also meant I could take advantage of an etching workshop to explore different types of mark-making with different etching techniques. After reviewing earlier photographs and sketches I decided etching was probably best suited to some of the traditional architecture for a very linear and traditional inking approach.

After doing a series of line sketches and photographs, I produced hard-ground etchings and aquatints in both monochrome and coloured versions. Inspired by Rembrandt I experimented with different inking processes on the plate.

The hard-ground etchings were reasonably successful for my first attempt, particularly the monochrome image. I think these – in the square format – capture quite well the sense of cramped claustrophobia one often feels in Cambridge – despite the architectural elegance. They also succeed in contrasting sharp mechanical lines of human-manufactured buildings and environment with the much more flowing and hazy lines of the natural landscape lithograph.

With hindsight however, the underlying concept of these prints is very tame and conservative. Having reached the end of the course and reviewing my work, I would have chosen an image with more meaning. Something that conveyed more about the experience of living in a city like Cambridge with clashes between old and modern architecture or some of the uglier places in a style suggested by my texture experiments below. The aquatints with their murky mistiness and potential for grunge offer some interesting possibilities for future development.


I started by looking back through some of my old sketches – for ideas and also to do something new. These can be found in the portfolio on Cambridge townscapes on my generic Zemni Images blog.

I also started to think about what characterises urban as opposed to natural landscapes using some of the ink marks from cleaning rollers and plates.

I started a Pinterest board of different approaches to  urban landscape:

Firstly different painting and drawing:

  • Lowry’s images of people and streets in the North of England like lives frozen in time.
  • Kossof’s energetic markmaking in his drawings and paintings of London
  • Monet‘s misty impressionist paintings of London buildings and the Thames
  • John Virtue‘s moody monochrome paintings of London

Secondly the ways in which printmakers have used different media to create different effects, particularly:

  • Drypoint, lithographs and etchings of Michael Kihlman with their very detailed almost photographic drawing
  • Linocuts of the Grosvenor school by Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power with their dynamic futuristic geometry to show the energy and dynamism of the city
  • Woodcuts of Frans Masereel in his wordless graphic novels of the city where outsiders get lost in the towering black skyscraper buildings

I also looked at the ways in which artists, illustrators and printmakers have depicted different parts of Cambridge. Building on research for OCA Illustration 2 (see Post on Cambridge Inspiration) I did a second Pinterest Board on Printmakers in Cambridge including:

Developing the image

First sketches

I decided to focus on the view through to St John’s college from the Round Church corner because of the interesting contrast of architecture and styles between the 19th century? sweet shop and the old college. I made a series of quick pencil sketches. I could have spent longer on this, but already had an image in my mind. I was also having problems drawing outside in the very cold weather and it was affecting my RSI.

I took some photos for reference.

I knew in advance the dimensions of the etching plates at the course and prepared a square sketch and tracing.

St Johns: Hardground etch

The hardground etching process was fairly straightforward – though as with other intaglio and relief processes it is a bit nerve-racking not being able to easily correct mistakes. It was also clear that I needed to practice basic pen and ink drawing more to get more subtlety and expression  through cross-hatching. Following Rembrandt, I also experimented with different thicknesses of ink, and also two colour inking. Of these the most successful in terms of impact and tonal contrast are monochrome etching 1 and colour etching 2. I think these – in the square format – capture quite well the sense of cramped claustrophobia one often feels in Cambridge – despite the architectural elegance.


The aquatints were much less successful because the length of etching is very difficult to control..  But I found the foggy effect in aquatint 1 potentially interesting for its blankness and empty space – a feeling of cocooned isolation in city life. The green aquatint 2 was attempting to give a summer willow feel – weeping willows being a key feature of tourist Cambridge and explores the potential of combining aquatint with monoprint mark-making on the same plate. The digitally produced black and white editing of this image is more effective. I like the contrast between the light windows and dark building and background with the hint of anonymous figures. This approach merits further experimentation – but on a new image.


2 Replies to “Project 1.2 Urban landscapes”

  1. Hi Jennifer, I live in Cambridge and am lucky enough to have access to Curwen Print Studios in Londonband Barnabas Press. I did the etching and lithography at workshops.

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