Linocut: guillemot assembly

Last weekend I was back at Birmingham Printmakers, cheerfully learning the techniques of suicidal linocutting from Jacqui Dodds and Christine Bradshaw.

20131103 Printmaking guillemots (2)

I had done a tonal drawing sitting on the cliff top at St Abbs in June.  I had had the idea from the start about using this as the template for a print.  I wanted to use the blue as the mid tone for both the darks of the birds’ uppers and the shadows of the white underparts.

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I mixed a light blue ink for the first cut.  On reflection, I think I should have cut more white into the foreground and allowed the background to recede in the mid-ground blue.

For the second cut, I mixed a reddish brown which darkened when overlaid onto the blue.

When the third layer in black went on, it was like magic, suddenly pulling the whole piece together.

I’ll add a plug for my hosts.  The Birmingham Printmakers are celebrating 30 years of existence with an exhibition in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.   It’s very good though I was dragged around rather rapidly by my impatient children.

Thanks Jacqui and Christine.  I’m looking forward to joining BPM and doing more of this.

Starting printmaking III: intaglio

printing experiment 4

The fun part of this was drawing with a six inch nail.  I simply traced over my earlier field sketch, working into a perspex block.  When printing, I smudged some ink back onto the plate, using elements of monotype to build some shadowing.  If I wanted, perhaps I could tint this with watercolour or ink.

20130621 Guillimots at St Abbs 1

At its simplest, this is perhaps a way or recycling the contents of my notebooks into finished pieces.  If I can be bothered.   More interesting was a drypoint print posted by Nancy Farmer a few days ago.

What interests me is to think about how to create original works in this method not trace my old stuff.  I have stood in the sleet, drawing using fallen snow and watercolour pencils on disintegrating paper.  Actual rain stops play.  I wonder whether I can sketch with a nail onto a hard surface in all weathers.  What would the resulting print look like?  Do other people do this?

Starting printmaking II: cutting lino

printing experiment 3

Fast and clumsy would describe this. I couldn’t at first find a fine gouge to take out clean lines to show the beaks. The cuts on the tail on the right would have worked better the other way round. Amazingly, the stark contrast of black and white still drives a striking image for all its defects, showing the power of this technique. Practice and more time and care will help this.

Below are the field sketches of the warring gannets used as the reference. I begin to see how I might collect the information on contrasts and shapes in the field sketches with the future prints already in mind.

20130618 Bass Rock gannets 4

20130618 Bass Rock gannets 10

printing experiment 2

printing experiment 1

I had another shot at this, trying to abstract from the sketch, putting in a first layer of colour and cutting more finely. Even so, ink filled my gouges and obscured the beak on the left (there was not time to clean this out and make a further print).

This was the second technique we tried in Kerry’s taster session at the Birmingham Printmakers

Starting printmaking I: monoprints

printing experiment 7

In June, I returned from the Seabird Painting Course with a set of ideas that I wanted to develop.

Several artists were making sketches for a purpose, to develop secondary pieces of work in other media such as sculpture or printing.  This intent affected how they drew, how they saw and thought.

printing experiment 5

If you click on this link to Kittie Jones you will see a piece drawn on Bass Rock this summer.  As well as drawing conventionally, Kittie did monotypes there on the rock amidst the guano.  I love that piece.  She describes her thinking here.

printing experiment 6

I was inspired by this to start learning some printmaking skills.  My aim is not so much to produce finished printed pieces, but to draw in the field as if making diagrams for a later abstraction.

I found that we have, in Birmingham, a small cooperative printmaking studio and last Saturday joined an introductory workshop. With expertise and patience, Kerry led us rapidly through three techniques.  These are my first attempts at monotypes, working from fast line drawings of gannets on Bass Rock.  The middle one, of course, is over-inked, but I still am interested by these textures.  The lower piece was one clumsily done, lifting ink like finger painting in reverse.  With more care and a better selection of tools, I can see how this technique can result in great images.

Blade of rock II: guano platforms

20130622 St Abbs Head 2 b

I had one more day at St Abbs.  The evening before, I planned an experiment.  I would cover the paper in a simple wash and build in the shape of the jutting rock simply using white and sepia ink for the guano and shadows and teeming birds in the air and dotted on the sea.  The rest would be left with the wash showing through.

20130622 St Abbs Head 1

As the rock became submerged, it took a muted golden hue as shown.  I photographed this on site (lower image) before the next drastic step of putting in the shadow and reflection (upper image).  I think this deeper tone was needed to ground the rock but on reflection it should have been done more delicately.  I unintentionally obscured the fractal line made by the yellow spreading into the blue wash.

20130622 St Abbs Head 3

For completeness, this was my first attempt.

Blade of rock I: pencil

20130622 St Abbs Head 4b

Viewed from the cliff tops, this triangle of rock seemed to project at right angles and be suspended over the sea.  From the side it was like the marker on a sundial.  This was the roosting site for the various birds shown in the previous post.

20130622 St Abbs Head 4a

Blade of rock

St Abbs 21/6/13


Dotted with guillemots

Occasional razorbill

20130622 St Abbs Head 4e

guano covered platforms with guillemots

pairs of nesting kittiwakes

shag nest

Tone drawings IV: watercolour

20130621 Shag at St Abbs 3

20130622 St Abbs Guillimots and shag

The shags were nesting on the lower sloping surface of a great slab of rock isolated by the sea from the eroding cliff.  One, the female I guess, sat on the nest concealing the chicks.  Intermittently, the male would return and stretch and preen by her side.  Just above were groups of guillemots.

I carried on with painting from the earlier drawings in conte crayon.

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Tone drawings III: conte crayons and coloured paper

20130622 St Abbs Guillimots 1

The third and final day on St Abbs Head brought with it a set of experiments, learning from what I had tried before and also from observing other artists on the course.  Before picking up a brush, I explored picking out tones more simply on coloured paper with the limited range provided by a set of conte sticks.

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The guillemots on blue paper worked quite well – the blue paper provided both the highlights for the dark upper surfaces and the deper tones on the white underparts.

On the blade of rock opposite me was a shag, nesting, protecting at least two chicks.  Her deep dark glossy plumage provided a greater challenge.  Again, this seemed to work best on blue rather than orange paper – with white reflections, blue mid tones and black shadows.

I was not particularly satisfied with the results but still intrigued by the method.  As always, I look for means of rapidly making marks and filling volumes to capture the posture and movement of these beautiful birds.

Tone drawings II: guillemots

20130621 Guillimots at St Abbs 5b

This became my main challenge during those great days in June on St Abbs Head: to build shape by manipulating the tones, all while painting birds from direct observation mostly through a scope.

Through that painting trip, this was the only time when rain fell while I was drawing, at least until I set off home.  I am beginning to enjoy this challenge: using precipitation to moisten the paper and move the paint in unexpected ways without letting the lot slip off the edge in a pool of mud.

Razorbills and guillemots and kittiwakes: St Abbs Head

20130620 St Abbs Head

I moved out along a narrow spine of rock with a steep drop on either side.  To either side the cliffs projected out to sea in a series of ridges.  The sun was hot and no wind disturbed the paper.  On the vertical surface facing me, kittiwake pairs were spaced out, nesting along the narrow cracks and faults in the rock.  The guillemots formed denser colonies on sloping surfaces lower down and on the tops of the more isolated stacks.  The red sandstone was mottled by lichen and guano and sunlight.