Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Four Seasons: a collagraph series (Part Two - how they were made)

In an earlier post I wrote about how this series of collagraphs came about and I promised to write in more depth about how they were actually made, so here it is.

As with most of my prints, this one started off sketched out on the back of an A4 piece of paper from the scrap paper drawer. (This disorganised scruffiness is why people who ask to see my sketch books are often disappointed.) Actually I suppose it really started in my head, appearing there unbidden as these things often do, and the trick was to keep it there until I had a chance to draw it. I can't be sure but I have a lingering fear that a lot of my best ideas have vanished like mist burning off in the sun. I will never know.

Once drawn out I then transferred the image onto a piece of mountboard which I would use as my plate. I flipped the image so that the print would come out the same I way I had originally created it. You might think that for a scene like this that doesn't really matter, but it does to me....

From sketch to plate

Now it was time for the fun part, sticking and cutting and messing about with collage. Well maybe not so much of the messing about. It is fun, but there is rather more to it than making a simple collage. As well as the shapes and texture I also have to consider the way different surfaces will take up the ink. I have to think ahead to the practicalities of inking up the plate and also remember that those parts most prominent on the plate will recede on the print. As with all printmaking, everything has to be done in reverse, like living in Alice's Looking Glass world.

Once complete the plate needs to be varnished on both sides

Inking up was a slow job, carefully applying the ink to different areas and then wiping away to get the right amount of coverage for each section. Some parts needed to be left with a good coverage, some needed to be cleaned and polished almost to whiteness. Each season in this series of four prints required not only different colours but also its own inking and wiping order. I made swatches at the end of each initial printing session so I could replicate the colours for subsequent ones and I also made notes in my print 'recipe book'.

Applying ink and then wiping and burnishing it
And then it was time to print. A registration sheet laid on the printing press is always useful to centre the plate on your paper, but for this print it was absolutely vital. The plate is in two parts and these had to be placed in exactly the same relation to each other on every print.

The registration sheet (left) and 'Winter' ready to print (right)

Damp prints are taped to boards so that they dry flat - seen here 'Autumn' and 'Summer'

Collagraph plates are fragile and I knew I was asking a lot of this one to survive printing editions of four different prints. Sure enough, some over enthusiastic cleaning at the end of one printing session ended up with the tree trunk tearing. Aaagh! You might think I could simply tape a cocktail stick on the back to hold it together, but this would make enough of a ridge to make the plate unusable. Any repair has to be as flat as possible. I glued the torn edges together and then carefully applied a single piece of paper to the back before varnishing the area again. The join will show on prints but as the tree trunk was textured anyway I think I got away with it.

Emergency repairs

And finally the four seasons were complete. A framed set will be exhibited at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming from 15th - 30th October 2016 and unframed prints are now available in my shop.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Four Seasons: a collagraph series (Part One - the idea)

Since Easter I have been one of a small group drawn from York Printmakers who have jointly been acting as Artist in Residence at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming. This wonderful place, just a mile or so from my studio, is home to (as you would expect) an extensive collection of farming machinery and equipment through the ages, but also livestock (from bees and ducks to sheep and pigs), the magical Danelaw Viking Village (regularly inhabited by re-enactors or thronging with groups of school children), a small Roman Fort, a Tudor house, a couple of prehistoric round houses and, to round it all off, the Derwent Light Railway.

The Danelaw Viking Village

It is also, conveniently, in the same village as the splendid Hawthorn Printmakers who made my press and who very generously loaned us a smaller version to use during our time at the Museum.

Our base has been a small pod in the middle of the huge barn which houses the Four Seasons Gallery over two floors. With glass walls on either side we have become one of the exhibits as we work at our printmaking. Visitors sometimes venture in to speak to us and ask questions; more peer in curiously from the outside at the strange captive artists. (None have yet banged on the glass but it wouldn't have surprised me if someone did).

The pod has been equipped to recreate the
 natural habitat of the shy and elusive printmaker...

The exhibits in the gallery take the visitor through the farming year, with audio commentary that is triggered by movement sensors as people walk around from season to season. Working in the pod we hear this commentary over and over again. You might think this would drive us mad.... and I must confess I have heard all I want to hear about the development of the plough... but after a while it became reassuringly consistent and the repetition echoed the theme of the gallery: the unchanging and reliable cycle of the farming year, a pattern which has remained largely unaltered down the centuries.

I initially planned a collagraph print of a countryside scene in the colours of autumn and harvest. As I began making the plate, however, I wondered if I could use the same plate to produce an image for each season. The fixed shape and texture of the plate would represent the enduring landscape, while changes to colours would reflect the passage of time through the year.

Creating the collagraph plate
This was an ambitious idea; collagraph plates are fragile and this was asking a lot of one assemblage of card and glue (and indeed I did have a torn tree trunk disaster which needed surgery with pva glue, backing paper and varnish) but I think I pulled it off. (That's a printmaking pun there. I promise if you're a printmaker it's hilarious.)

details of 'Autumn' and 'Spring'
The finished prints will debut at our end-of-residency exhibition at the Museum starting on 15th October 2016. More information here.

Update: there is now a further blog post explaining and demonstrating in greater depth how these collagraph prints were created. You can find it here.