Printmaking: Harvest Cross phases

From start to finish. The changing but constant image of the Harvest Cross pattern.

This design started out on a piece of 8×10 gessoed Masonite board. I like to do the more complex Celtic designs on Masonite for a number of reasons. It is easier to deal with the compass and with the erasing of geometric guidelines on the board, rather than tearing up a piece of paper. I also like to throw a few of the works-in-progress into my sketch pad bag, and having them on Masonite makes it easy to just pull one out and work on it anywhere.

First sketch layout of Harvest Cross design

First sketch layout of Harvest Cross design

It sat for a while. I liked it, but was not painting complex Celtic designs at the time. The lower panel is from a Medieval manuscript. My notes say 12th-13th century, but I neglected to list which manuscript, and I haven’t re-found it. The cross itself is a very traditional Irish Celtic Cross shape, with circular cut-outs at the junctions of the arms and a wheel with the arms extending out of the circle edge. I added the free-form, winding grape vines and more regular patterns of mistletoe using numerous sources from early and late Medieval examples and my own imagination.

When I was asked to provide art for some possible digital reproductions, it seemed like a good time to dust off the design. I produced it in black and white. I liked it. but the digital project did not materialize. I really do like the look of it this way. The angles of the mistletoe leaves in the arms create a lovely, layered, diamond effect.

Harvest Cross

So when I was working on printing plates and I wanted a complex design, roughly 8×10, with some Celtic flair, I sorted through my Masonite board layouts and picked this one. I plunked down an acrylic plate and traced the design with a stylus to make a printing plate. I wasn’t going for subtle shading or chiaroscuro. No drama. Just lines. Lots of complex lines.

I was also going for a comfortable speed. So the width of the twining vines and spiraling mistletoe is not as consistent as I would like. That being said, the print looks really awesome. I am still working on the process, but I have been very pleased with the results. There is a lot of satisfaction in making it all come together from drawing, to plate, to print. The zinc plates require deliberate and focused lines. The diamond tipped scriber is a bit stiff, requiring careful use. The steel scriber is lighter and more like drawing with a pencil when you put it to an acrylic plate. Just remember it doesn’t make as many prints.

Acrylic plate

Acrylic plate

This is the fourth impression of the plate. It has a bit of uneven toning, and a few streaks, but I like the look of it over all.

Intaglio print of Harvest Cross

Intaglio print of Harvest Cross

So I have a small stash of prints. Pulled with my own smudged hands. All of them of the Harvest Cross, and each one just a bit different. Do I stop there? Would added color take away from the awesomeness of the print? Perhaps. Perhaps not. No knowing unless you try, I suppose.

And I did.

This, then, is Harvest Cross II. Number five in the run of eight intaglio prints, carefully crafted then covered in blankets and coaxed through a series of print rollers, then dried and lightly tinted with high quality, liquid watercolors. Is it a masterpiece? Well, maybe not. But it was certainly fun.

Harvest Cross II

Harvest Cross II


View Sketch (DoL)

Daughter of Lir

Well, yes, rather fuzzy. The sketch was larger than the scanner bed, and I had to finagle a bit.

The decorative spirals forming the “splash” of water are adaptations of very early Celtic La Tene designs. The La Tene style of Celtic art is named after the first location that the distinctive style was observed, in an archaeological site at La Tene, near Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. The site was first excavated in 1857.

Dating artistic styles is a complex issue, but the La Tene style is generally accepted to be dated from 450BC to the first century BC, in an area stretching from what today is France, east to Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The outer framework of the piece (not visible in the scan), is based on an even older Hallstatt pattern, adapted from artifacts dated from the early Iron Age in Europe, 8th-6th centuries BC.


View Sketch (BI)

fuzzy and crooked, but visible

fuzzy and crooked, but visible

Well, the scanner isn’t cooperating. Future pictures will be taken with a digital camera, but for now, we have fuzzy scans.

Note the second “layer” of distance within the portal formed by the moon.

The interlacing of the birch branches is somewhat visible. I worked some of the lines with ink, which may make it easier to see.

The guidelines visible on the sketch represent a development of classical proportion in the design. I work frequently with the “Golden Section” and other proportions documented in Medieval manuscripts.


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