Monthly Archives: November 2015

Printmaking workshop – weeks 1-5

17 Sept 15 – 20 Oct 15 Printmaking workshop

Beginners printmaking courses are run regularly by the charity Gainsborough’s House Society, at their printmaking workshop in Sudbury, Suffolk.

I enrolled on this course primarily to supplement and strengthen my knowledge of screen printing before embarking on Part 2 of the “Exploring Ideas” module. Weeks 5-10 cover screen printing, weeks 1-5 cover other printing methods. This blog post covers the first 5 weeks of the course. 

Week 1 – drypoint etching

I inscribed into acrylic sheet (perspex) using needle-like etching tools, then used oil-based etch-printing ink to ink the plate. The printing paper had been pre-soaked in water, and was carefully blotted before use. I learned how to spread and apply the ink, how to use the workshop intaglio press, and how to clean the plate after use. My print is shown below. It is a sketch of a dragon puppet.

For my first attempt, I was delighted with the results. I seem to gave inked the plate correctly (not too much not too little), and avoided unwanted ink on the background or edges. I love the quality of mark obtained from this type of printing and the “loose and scribbly” style which suits this sketch. I have been told that it is also possible to print onto fabric using this method.


Weeks 2 and 3 – Aluminium plate etching

Tutor Geoff Winckles took this part of the course. We covered preparing the plate, (including using wax ground and varnish to protect areas from etching fluid), mark making, etching and printing. We used copper sulphate as the etching acid. Geoff explained that whilst the plate is in the acid bath, loose (etched) aluminium can clog up in the wells created, preventing the process from continuing to work properly. Therefore it needs to be removed by brushing, creating a fresh metal surface for the acid to continually attack. Unfortunately, I was a bit too overenthusiastic, and brushed off some of the wax ground! Deep brush-marks (streaks) appeared over the whole plate obscuring the marks I wanted to etch (below)

Although these mistakes can often be corrected with fine steel wool, mine were so deep that I had to start again with a new plate! Luckily my second attempt was more successful.

The image above shows my completed plate ready for inking. My chosen subject was a farmhouse in a French village called “Tagne” that I visited last year on holiday.

The photo above shows my finished print. I am delighted with the number of different tones which I was able to achieve, which gave the foreground depth and interest. These were created with “stop-out varnish”, which is more acid resistant than wax ground. I should have been more careful to clean the edges of the plate after inking and before taking the print – a black line can be seen around the inside of the embossed area, which should not be present.


Week 4 – Lino-cut

The demonstration started with “un-cut” lino printing. Inking a new, un-cut piece of lino, it is possible to use found objects as masks, and by taking successive prints and moving these shapes around, beautiful impressions can be made. Residual (different coloured) ink from the previous user just improves the effect!

This first impression of some plastic net and a physalis fruit husk imparts ink the found objects. It actually also makes a great print in it’s own right, mainly because of the blue and orange residual ink from the previous user.

For the second print, I very carefully moved and replaced the found objects (which had picked up brown ink from the lino surface during the first print). I did not re-ink between taking these two impressions.

One reason that these are so effective is extremely high quality paper. By mistake I took some paper which had been got ready for one of the other students to make a special print (I should have been using cheap cartridge paper)! The amount of detail picked up by the paper is amazing. It really makes these prints special. I love these prints, and although it was highly embarrassing at the time, I am really please I had the opportunity to try out this paper.

For future reference it is worth noting that because this method can only produce “one offs” it would not be possible to make a proof first before deciding which paper to use.

Next I made a lino-cut. As it was a student exercise, I was only given a tiny piece of lino (7.5 x 7.5cm), so I had to be very selective about my print. I chose a sketch of a head off garlic, and simplified it to include just three bulbs. I used a roller to apply a water-based ink, and made the print using the workshop’s relief press.


My tutor Sue Molineux  was kind enough to let me use a tiny piece of Fabriano paper. The quality of the impression is wonderful. Compared with cheap cartridge paper, the print is much better defined (darker and crisper). I am really pleased with this print, although I would have preferred to make a larger linocut with more detail and definition.


Week 5 – Lino-cut continued

I brought a bigger piece of lino from home and my own cutting tools which were finer and sharper than those in the workshop. Unfortunately I ran out of time to complete the lino block. To make matters worse, I realised that I had forgotten to reverse the image! I took a print at the end of the lesson, but I was less than pleased with the result.

I like the rough quality of the shell, but ideally I would have liked to use caustic soda etching to introduce tonal variation. This print was made on cheap cartridge paper and it compares poorly with the impression make by the garlic lino block. 



Museum visit: Hamburger-Kunsthalle

Sept 2015

A family trip to Hamburg gave me the opportunity to visit the Hamburger-Kunsthalle. As the largest art gallery in Germany, it covers art over seven centuries, from medieval to present day contemporary, and includes works by major artists such as Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso and Munch.

The gallery of modern art houses works by Paul Klee, Robert Delaunay and Edvard Munch among others. 

The Robert Delaunay painting Fenster-Bild/Simultaneous windows on the city (1912) features the Eiffel tower in the centre, and unusually the painting extends beyond the canvas, almost seamlessly onto the frame. Delaunay is closely associated with the concept of “Orphism” – a painting style in which specific colours and forms are used intentionally to create the illusion of movement and colour (in this painting, including a pre-dominant use of the complementary colours blue and orange). I found this picture interesting because it is suggestive rather than prescriptive, and allows the viewer to image light and shadow of surrounding buildings ad trees. The two figures at the bottom of the picture help to lead the viewer into the centre of the scene.

Two very different paintings by Paul Klee hang nearby in the same gallery. Der Goldfisch (1925), is interesting because it resembles an etching, however the colours of the fish were vibrant and engaging. Apparently Klee had only recently started using colour when he made this painting, following a visit to Tunisia. The painting gives the feeling that the middle fish is waiting, stationary in the centre of the picture, whilst the smaller fish (perhaps scared they might be eaten) all seem to be swimming away. This composition creates the feeling that the larger fish is “framed” by the smaller objects around it. Klee was interested in “Art Brut”, particularly childrens’ art, which is reflected somewhat in the naivety of this painting.

The second picture by Paul Klee is Revolution des Viaductes (1937). This bold and dramatic work uses complementary colours (purple and orange/yellows) to create bold contrasts. The “viaducts” appear more like marching sets of legs, each seeming to have one foot stepping forwards. It gives the impression of a crowd of people poised for movement, somewhat menacingly. Most of the “viaducts” are outlined in black and yellow, providing even more rigid shapes and an overwhelming feeling of solidity.

The final picture which I would like to highlight is Madonna (1894), by Edvard Munch (the version in Hamburger Kunsthalle being one of several produced by the artist). According the the museum audio information it represents both the Virgin Mary and a femme fatal and is in essence a sexual picture; the halo around the head featuring sperm in the printed version. As a figure drawing, much emphasis is placed on the face hair and breasts, with little attention to detail being given to the arms and midriff/hips, which appear serpent-like and ill defined. Munch seems to be portraying the Madonna in two guises simultaneously, as both a divine creature and a female temptress, perhaps suggesting that women are creatures not to be trusted!

A lesson in screen printing

Aug 2015

I am lucky enough to know a textiles teacher, who was also kind enough to spend a morning explaining and demonstrating the basics of screen printing.

We made a screen together by stapling a polyester mesh across a flat edged picture frame, and edging it was brown paper tape. We mixed selectacine pigment with binder and printed using a simple paper stencil. First on paper, then on a fabric tea-towel.


Margaret also explained about preparing and cleaning the mesh, as well as some of the other techniques including using drawing fluid and filler. We also talked about thermofax printing and I looked at some examples from Margaret’s sketchbook (she is also an OCA student whom I met through our local group “East Anglia Extreme”)

Although not used, it would be possible to use the negative image as a stencil and/or reuse and overlap the flower stencils.

This is just the very first step for me but it helped me to understand how screen printing actually works (very difficult from the course notes alone!). As a beginner, it was very difficult to know how to hold the squeegee, how much paint to apply and how much pressure.