Collection of Contemporary Art Bodlean Library – Oxford University

I received in 2020 an email from Oxford University’s Bodlean Library Keeper of Contemporary Western Art Collection who was making an enquiry regarding one of my prints that they have acquired in a collection donated to the library. (see below)  

The print: was ‘initialed’ (P.O’R.) Artists/Proof [A/P] entitled ‘Metronome’, a Copperplate Etching & Aquatint with Chinese Appliqué technique using coloured papers and black ink. The enquiry was asking if I was the author of the print, and if so, could I provide information about it. This I did.  I was flattered that one of my artworks would find its way into such a historical and prestigious library.

It was a ‘proof’ bought by a publisher as a book jacket illustration for Notes and Tones – Musician to Musician Interviews’ by Arthur Taylor, a renowned drummer in the jazz world; the book is also in the Bodlean Library. 

Artists/Proof [A/P] entitled ‘Metronome’, a Copperplate Etching & Aquatint with Chinese Appliqué technique using coloured papers and black ink.

The Print: The ‘Metronome’ print was never published as a limited edition, only proofed, hence the ‘A/P’ on the image.  I still have the finished copper plate and the original templates for the appliqué.  I also have the original papers and thereforeI took another look at the image and decided I would publish it as a limited edition print despite the 33 year gap in production!

The New Press: I propose is to complete my cycle of making, albeit many years later, by editioning the finished print on my new press.  A miniature Danish made A3 Table-top press. Editioned prints are the life-blood of the printmaking market where consistency of the repeated image in all its qualities is fundamental to the product. Good crafting is therefore essential. I have a stock of the same materials so the artwork will be a faithful replica of the proof which is essential.

Development: The origins of the Image

There is of course some background to the ‘Metronome’ image. I was studying paper-making and saxophone in Adult Education around the time and the marriage of the two seemed to happen on its own. I owned a saxophone, a metronome and my own paper-making equipment. I have years of experience in printmaking and paper-making, specifically Lino printing and Etching which suggested I might make an image based on these recent experiences.

‘The Rhythm Method’

‘Watercolour on Paper: All the objects depicted are approximately ‘life-size’. The saxophone shadow was traced, the music stand and the green boots were drawn around, the metronome measured, etc. This approach to ‘real things’ in a real scale was part of the then current content of my painting practice. The print developed from this painting. The flat notes lay scattered on the floor whilst the metronome keeps going regardless of my efforts. The colourful banding suggests the stave lines and colourful harmonies that only existed in my head!

Background Studies:

‘Metronome Studies’ – Ink on Paper

Plate Making: The plate-making stage is very satisfying, I love the whole the process. On this plate I used a technique of floating bitumen on water to create the swirling patterns that lay over the linear drawing. The bitumen is an acid resist and brings a free-form element into play. The exposed plate is etched in acid. It took several attempts to get a satisfactory result. It adds significantly to the atmosphere of the image. Here the print is the subject not the platemaking.

The copper plate is 100mm X 100mm. Copper lasts really well and holds very fine detail. There are many ways to create an image for print using the etching technique. There are many good books on the topic. Note that the plate is in the reverse of the print.

Chinese Appliqué: Years ago I discovered the term in a gallery showing an exhibition of Henri Matisse’s etchings and drawings. I noted an image with the term ‘Chinese Appliqué’ written on the image and researched what it meant and how it worked. It appeared it was a technique for using softer printing paper before the prints were editioned, to preserve the life of the plate.

I decided I could use the concept in a creative manner, as an intervention within the printed image. It is now more widely known and a popular method amongst some printmakers. I had a collection of my own hand-made papers to use.

My attempts with ‘metronome’ were deliberately limited in colour and subtle in application. It requires close scrutiny to notice the inlays, that for instance, the printed image shows white within the design, whilst the entire plate is printed on Arches 88 Cream coloured paper stock yet the background also shows colour whilst there is only one ink colour; Black.

Above: Cutting a rough proof in half created the template for the white paper inlay that is shown in the foreground in the print. The template was laid over the white paper and cut out with a scalpel. Care was taken to apply a thin layer of glue to bond this sheet to the next layer and glued on the right side of the paper! The next layer was a beautiful brown ‘kraft’ paper, brown wrapping paper to you and me! It has a striped surface in slightly different tones which I used in the horizontal format to match the linear drawing within the etching. This was cut to the shape of the whole plate and applied with its matt striped surface facing the plates inked surface. The white is trapped between. The glue fixes the white to the brown, the glue on the brown fixes to the Cream Arches 88 paper.

Note: Arches 88 is a paper developed for printmaking. It has a smooth surface, is deckle edged, acid free, 100% cotton and watermarked and in 3 colours. All the terminology of paper is well explained on the John Purcell Paper (JPP) website. (www.johnpurcell.net)

All three pieces of paper are created and prepared in advance, good preparation is everything.

Above: This is a formal diagram of the 3 papers involved. Handling the actual material requires care and attention. Once cut out, the paper shapes are lightly damped in a water bath, then rested in-between blotting paper until required. The etching ‘intaglio’ process requires damp paper for best results. Remember; the white paper only fits one way round, so should be stored that way. The glue is applied at the last moment, again on the white paper it must be done with care to ensure the glue is on the correct side of the paper. I used a bookbinders glue.

(Above) The image and information sent to the library.

Glue: Current research shows me an ideal product that is quick drying and flexible, supplied by Shepherds Bindery, in Victoria, London. Eva-con R Adhesive 225ml EVA225 EVA Non plasticised Ethylene-Vinylacetate  Neutral pH 7 – 8 and water soluble. 225g £4.50

Suitable for laminating papers, cloth and boards, boxmaking and general bookbinding work. Fast drying and maximum strength it can be mixed with Starch Paste to create a slower drying glue which will allow for repositioning. Clean up glue brushes afterwards with tepid water. Once opened it has a shelf life of approximately six months.

‘Notes and Tones’ Book Jacket I worked for a number of publishers making illustrations for covers and articles for books, cassettes and brochures.

More Plates & Prints:

Plates as Shapes: Cut out images. These are derived from sketchbook studies made to support paintings and large format drawings. Though quite miniature, they require the same level of skill and endeavour.

‘Martin’: The family cat and the subject of a series of paintings and drawings. The layout is key to constant print registration, the dimensions and positions are transferred to the press bed as guides for the edition. It is part of the craft to know and employ good working practices.

‘Gnomon’: An etching derived from a watercolour painting. This Chinese Appliqué on Arches 88 is a coloured paper inlayed over the whole plate in a subtle yellow colour. This image was provided by the Science Museum when I was making a study of sciagraphy and sundials.

The ‘Gnomon’ Plate: Etching and Aquatint on Copper.

‘Body Puppet’ 1/3

This print image was made using Etching & Aquatint & Sugar Lift technique, Paper-making, Chinese Appliqué. All the paper was made in my studio using Cotton Linters and Kapok. The background white and the tinted yellow shapes are cast into the sheet during production of the paper. The darker pure Kapok ‘material’ colour is made separately and inserted during the printing process. The indented impression of the small plate frames the image.

The image concept was to evoke the theatre setting of the character (Mime Artist David Glass) and is loosely based on curtains, lighting, movement, etc. l discovered a method of inserting photocopy images of the hands and arms onto the plates which behaves as an acid-resist and came through as a minor form of photo-etching. It is a printed image within a print! The busy gestures and loose materials gave rise to other variations in print, drawing and painting.

New Methods and Materials:

Recently I have been working simultaneously on two new prints in two very different processes. Both images are actually made from the same drawing which was created in Adobe Illustrator and saved as a Vector file. The vector file is basically an outline drawing where the scale and format can be changed without any serious increment of the file size. The file type is easily employed in various industrial processes and material technologies.

The project began some years ago when I made a full-scale drawing for a Quilt as a development of my artworks in textiles. I met a quilt-maker whilst working in Tire, [pron Tieray] in Turkey and spent time with him in his atelier. I traced copies of all his templates [28 of them] and made replicas in my studio. My quilt was designed using the template shape language of this Turkish artisan. I was intrigued by his systematic approach to design; everything he made came from these templates which were all made from cardboard box packaging. The design was never produced due to logistical and personal reasons. During 2020 ‘Lock-Down’ I recently took out the drawing (3mtr X 3mtr) and photographed it, then traced it into Ai software from the scanner. It is now a vector file in my MAC computer.

(Above) Copies of the quilt-makers Original Templates on my original design. 10′ x 10′ on Tracing paper with marker pen.

Digital Design & Laser Lino Block Cutting:

Whilst teaching, my academic research topics covered the concept of ‘Digital Craft’ and the relationship with the Hand-made. I consider most of my work as a form of hybrid. The digital aspect is often buried in the material handling and finishing processes. The new prints fall within this concept. For instance; The design of the Laser Cut Lino Block is entirely digital. The cut block was made with a Laser Cutting machine, the design being Laser Engraved into the Lino surface. The prints are made by hand with hand-made paper on a standard etching press. Both ends of the process; the digital design and the printing technique require knowledge, understanding and skill to obtain a result.

Lino Block on the Press Bed: Artichoke Studio – Brixton – London 2020

Print One: Laser Cut Lino Block – entitled ‘The Quilt-Maker’s Garden’ the finished print is a ‘Blind Emboss’, whereby no ink is used on the block but the softened, damp paper is indented into the engraved surface by the heavy pressure of the etching press. The final ‘print’ is in Low Relief, reflective of the single coloured quilts I saw in Turkey. In quilt-making these outlines would be stitched.

The printed paper design is very sensitive to lighting and difficult to photograph. The colour is the paper, a warm-white and 415gsm thick. A conservation quality, acid free paper made in the UK. ‘Material Colour’ is the heading I use for my practice. I work with the material and attempt to adapt my work to the processes and natural colour of the materials involved.

News: The print has been accepted for an Open Competition for all forms of Printmaking printed by hand and of a domestic scale. ‘Transitions 17 CIC’ Teeside Print 2020 opens in January 2021.

I work with Cast Iron, Glass, Digital Print, Laser Engraving, Textiles, etc, etc. I this example I have ‘recycled’ the drawing to produce different output expressions from the same input.

Below: A screenshot of the drawing in progress, the bit you don’t see! The toolbox, the colour of the softwares programme, the editing process. It has great significance for the outcome. The double lines tell the Laser cutter where to burn out the Lino from the block. It is a critical and fundamental part of understanding the process.

Working in the Adobe Illustrator software. The skill is in using the software, communicating with the technology and the laser machine operator. Printing the Lino block post engraving; the printer needs to know how damp the paper should be, what kind of paper it is, the pressure in the press, making the press ‘ready’, etc. There is more to it than meets the eye!

Print Two: SRA3 Translucent Paper – the images are printed on both sides of the paper. The front is with Black outline and the rear is in Full Colour as seen below. The design of the front is ‘The Quilt-Maker’s Garden’ Lino Cut design seen here as black outline. A completely different coloured image is shown on the back and in reverse. The back image is a ‘Non-Wovens’ Wool and Synthetic Fabric Felt Wall Hanging I made in Norway and Turkey. It was entirely formed in my own textile language or style. I have run many workshops around the UK and EU to Feltmakers. In this print I have two different approaches to drawing and design, both seen together, one through the other, on different sides of the substrate.

‘The Quilt-Maker’s Garden’

The Front Side: This is an ‘in progress’ drawing and printed on a standard laser printer or copier. The Black pigment or toner of a Laser Printer has a heat sensitive binder. When I apply Laser Toner Foil, a specialist holographic graphic printing medium in sheet form, the Laser Foil binds to the Black Toner in line or solid, producing a full colour Holographic image. (see the ‘Detail: below) This is done in a Heated Laminating machine or Heat Press. All the lines and the solid black background now show brilliant random colours that constantly change with the quality of the light or the movement of the viewer, or both. The image is printed on synthetic paper, ‘Herculene’ a standard waterproof drawing paper often used by architects. It can be used on both sides. Or alternatively there is normal Tracing Paper, slightly cheaper and more opaque but still suitable and beautiful in quality.

(Above) The Rear Side: The scanned Felt Wall Hanging ‘Tamil Text Textile 1’ was edited and manipulated in Photoshop where I developed the solid colour frame around the image. The centre section is lightened. The fibre image is composed of Tamil Alphabet forms and 5 layers of white felt with colours under and over the white, the tints and tones are formed in this way and is part of my ‘In India’ artwork series. I manufactured all the wool and synthetic cloth at Huddersfield University and created the felt image in Norway, where I ran a workshop in Needle-felting for artists. Oh Happy days!

(Above) Both Sides Seen Together: Looking from the front but minus the foil. The printed proofs with foil have been very successful in an aesthetic sense but have minor technical problems, now resolved but not yet applied to the above image. The Front image shows the shape and forms of the Turkish artisan quilter albeit by my hand. My textile language sits in the background, metaphorically and literally.

The Laser Foil Colours – A Detail: The impact of the laser foil bonded to the black outlines is a real surprise as much as a striking intervention. I have worked with Holographic Foil for many years but never in a form I can print with. The overlay is a new aesthetic consideration as the colour moves along the lines and has an animated effect. The colour shifts with the changes of light or illumination, and movement of the viewer. Whilst there is geometry in all the shapes there is a corresponding chaos in the unstable changes of colour; all much to my liking!

For more Information on Printmaking see the menu item – IMPRINT