Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Unit X Post 7

I am pleased that I have been single minded about my product outcome for this unit and not been tempted to diversify into other areas which could have led me off course.  I wanted to focus on working with this hand process and not reproduce it digitally.  I like the fact that there will perhaps be a very small market for hand printed wallpaper and this encourages me to continue working with a traditional print process.   I have found it quite difficult to find other people working in a similar way, although this gives me confidence that what I am doing is somewhat unusual and inspires me to pursue it.

Before the degree show I will be creating a website and business cards, the talk Alex gave about online portfolios was extremely insightful and showed how valuable the internet can be when it comes to promoting oneself.  I have decided to use Wix to create a website.  I want to make it easy to navigate, with a simple layout and clear text and images, I will continue to work on and improve the website after the course. 

I have loved working with the 175 years old Columbian printing press this year. The physical action of using the press feels a long way from sitting at a sewing machine or designing at a desk, I like the physical activity needed to produce a print.  Although it has been a great friend to me this year and I will surely miss it, I do not think it is ideal for printing wallpaper as it was originally designed for printing newspapers with letterpress.  My first challenge after we leave will be to find a suitable press. 

Marthe Armitage who I have previously looked at uses an old lithographic proofing press; a large roller picks up the ink from her 21 inch wide lino cut and transfers it to the paper.  From a video I have seen it looks to be very effective, but I still like the idea of the wood making physical contact with the paper.  If I am not able to find a suitable press, I will consider having one made.  I would be collaborating with my cousin on this project, he has built his own house from scratch and he has offered to design a wallpaper printing press with me.  He has suggested using a hydraulic system for this.  I look forward to being involved with this and being able to continue working with hand-carved woodblocks and exploring different design possibilities.

I have really enjoyed all parts of this unit and I am very happy with the way I have been working.  I am sad that my time at MMU is over, I have loved the experience and I have felt very privileged to have been on the course.  I hope I can progress and continue to work as an artist in the outside world.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Unit X Post 6

Printing Lengths
Printing first length on the Columbian press
Second length drying - busy at the bottom, more minimal at the top
Third length on the bed of the press - printing over blocked off circles
I thought about making a wallpaper book to show samples for the degree show, but I decided that I wouldn’t be able to show the different layouts I have tried in such a small space.  For the degree show I am aiming to have 3 floor to ceiling samples with around 8-10 variations on these prints to accompany them.  Some will incorporate more or less elements than others, some busy and others less so.  

blocks with ink/no ink
I have found it extremely challenging to join the blocks up perfectly every time.  It is a really delicate process placing the block on the paper, there is only one chance to get it right, because of this every print is slightly different in the way it joins and the thickness of the ink sometimes varies.  I tend to be a perfectionist by nature and I am learning to embrace the imperfections that come with this hand process, I have been gradually realising that the quirks and imperfections that happen along the way are all part of it and only add to the handmade feel.

Tools used to hammer, scratch and mark the wood to build areas of texture
working on side of cupboard

Working on this carving alongside printing my other blocks has been satisfying; I have really enjoyed it because it has been more like working on a painting or drawing, building areas of texture.  It has felt more immediate and there has been the opportunity to be more flexible, I was less worried about keeping it as precise as my other carvings.  I will be using a burnishing technique to take a print from this carving, the same process I saw Merlyn Chesterman demonstrating at Art in Action in Oxfordshire.  She vigorously rubs the paper onto the print to pick up the ink with the back of a wooden spoon or her Japanese bamboo burnisher.

Merlyn Chesterman burnishing her large lime woodcut

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Unit X Post 5

Carvings before varnishing

Having finished the carving, I now have to concentrate on colour and layouts.  It is not easy mixing colours with the thick oil based ink as they take a long time to blend.  I sent off for some new ink from Intaglio printmakers in London and I spent a couple of days mixing and testing colours.  I originally had in mind a blueish colour palette, however looking at the prints I found a coral colour that I was happy with.  I also experimented with bright red, gold silver etc.  I decided to eliminate the blue all together in favour of a greeny turquoise.  I am a bit out of my comfort zone with these brighter shades; however I wanted to try and use colours that are not typically associated with traditional block printing.

I have found it can take up to half an hour to remix a particular shade of colour and get the right consistency of ink.  This feels quite frustrating; it is very different to painting and can often feel very limiting.  It is hard to be creative when it takes so long and can sometimes be quite disheartening.  This is probably the only negative side of printing and takes a lot of patience.

Colour testing

I started painting the wallpaper with Annie Sloan chalk paint which gives the paper more of a texture.  Changing the colour behind the print completely alters the mood of the design.  I saw the very old wallpapers in the Victoria and Albert museum archives and admired the chalky textures they had.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for backgrounds
I started experimenting with different layouts and combinations of the blocks on the wallpaper, It seemed there could be endless different ways of combining colours and design layouts, however I realise I will only have a couple of weeks to experiment before I need to decide on the final designs.  Time in the print room seems to go very fast and I often wish it was open later than 4.30.

Samples on wallpaper

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Unit X Post 4

Inking up the block.   First proof prints drying in print room


It is always exciting seeing a block printed for the first time; I’m so relieved they print evenly.  Looking at my first proof prints, I can see that it is good to have areas of precise, neat cutting contrasting with more sketchy, natural-looking areas.  I have found it easier to carve a straight line than it is to carve an uneven one, and I constantly needed to remind myself to try and include areas of sketchiness and spend more time on these.  With this in mind, I have decided to take on the challenge of doing a much larger carving, avoiding so many straight lines and going back to my very first experiments I did for the practice unit (below).

For this larger more experimental carving I wanted to recycle a piece of distressed wood from an old door or table.  I had my eye on the door of our shed (below) because it was quite worn and needed replacing, but I found the wood to be too hard and I could not cut into it easily, however we had an old pine cupboard covered in cobwebs with rusty nails sticking out the sides.  I like idea of using the side on an old cupboard to carve into; the wood has more character and feels more unique. 

I saw Mokhlesur Rahman’s impressive prints on silk scarves at Venice Biennale in the summer holidays.  These large uninhibited carvings are inspirational.  

As I was concentrating on making the carvings so detailed, I realised that I possibly had not allowed for the background colour to show through as much as I would have liked.  To resolve this I experimented with making the print fade down the middle by blending a darker shade at the edge with a lighter shade in the centre to try and break up the image and make it look less busy.  I briefly experimented with technique this for the last project; I think it will be useful for adding depth to the prints and a way of varying the colour palette. 

Galbraith and Paul - An American duo specialising in hand block textiles and wallpaper, I like their philosophy that they care about the process of making just as much as the finished product.  I am especially drawn to the way their colours are blended in such a subtle and distinct way.  

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Unit X Post 3

Easter Holiday

My new wood has arrived, however I am having some trouble with it warping.  It took a whole day of sanding to make the wood flat enough, fingers crossed it doesn’t warp any more.  I like having deadlines and planning my work, but I don’t always allow for things to go wrong.  I have been told that wood dries out from the edges so I must seal the ends with varnish as soon as I can.  I am also worried that the large carvings will not print successfully as I have not printed with wood this large beforeI am really hoping to finish all the carving before we start again next term.  It feels like a huge risk leaving all the printing to the last few weeks. I just hope I do not encounter any further technical problems.  I need to decide on a colour scheme and start preparing paper, as I have found in the last project takes a really long time.

I started carving the smallest block first as I remember from the last project my carving improves with practice.  I am using a wider range of tools now and learning how to use them in different ways, for example I can make more uneven lines by using the v shape tool on its side.  I find it useful to work on several blocks at once so I can leave a carving and come back to it with fresh eyes so I stop focusing on a particular part and look at the imagine as a whole and do my best to image what it will look like as a print.
Tracing my drawing onto the wood

Bryan Nash Gill uses sections of tree trunks to make his relief prints.  Every type of tree has its own unique markings that tell a story of its life.  This is such a simple idea, but extremely effective.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Unit X Post 2

Sketches of my arranged scenes

First carving
During the long time it takes to carve a block, I can only imagine what it will look like when finally printed.  Sometimes they are better that I expect, and others I am not completely happy with immediately.  I am instinctively drawn to making my designs quite busy and crowded, and I usually need to remind myself to leave enough space around the objects.  I try to find a good balance between printed image and blank space.  Below are images of my first carving.

First carving in progress
Carving is hard work at first and progress is slow until the image takes shape and then it is enjoyable.  Whilst carving there is plenty of time to think, and I try to image how it will be when the course is over, I will need to be commercially aware to develop my practice into a business. 

Having problems with the wood

My plan was to do one carving a week, and I was not anticipating a hold-up such as the one I have had this week.  I made an eager start on my next carving, tracing it onto the wood as usual, but as soon as I started carving I realised there was a problem with the wood.  The mistake I made was to carry on when I should have stopped straight away and tried to locate more wood.  I am not sure of the exact reason why, but it seems to be extremely soft in places and it was extremely difficult to carve a straight line.  My original source of lime wood did not have the size of wood I needed so I had to go back to Oxford and buy this expensive piece of wood and get it planed at yet another place.  However all this was a waste of time, I will re do the carving over Easter.  Locating the correct wood has been really difficult; especially wood that has been dried long enough.  This has been a tough week, but a valuable lesson, in future I must remember to test the wood before I start work on it.