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

 


Making Prints: Prep and the Voice of Doubt

Adventures in Printmaking: Prep

First of all, let me make it clear, that I have not had any formal training in printmaking other than a session during art class in high school where I learned to make linoleum block prints. I made Christmas cards as a fundraiser for high school band. So, there is no one to blame for my lack of experience or skill, or for the mistakes I make, except me. Feel free to comment if you feel I’ve made a specific mistake that your teacher warned you about…

Second, I have a number of books, all of which are well thumbed. And stained with a bit of ink at this stage. I will provide a list. What you should know, however, is that the most detailed book I’ve obtained so far is “Practical Guide to Etching and Other Intaglio Printmaking Techniques” by Manly Banister. I will refer to Manly many times. I’m sure he would be irritated with me, considering my screw ups, but he’s my mentor for this run through. I have already been pointed towards “The Complete Printmaker” book, and I will pick it up soon.

I had a very difficult time getting over the internal voice that said I couldn’t do this. I bought a lot of the equipment five years ago, and poked at it again during the Derrybawn Project. And still I didn’t do much with it. I may be a little less than fussy right now, when it comes to the results, but I needed to jump in before the voice talked me out of it again.

In 2007, I purchased a small 906 etching press, an extended phenolic bed plate and high quality wool press blankets giving me 12×36 space to print. I ordered Stonehenge printing papers and a large package of golden, artist linoleum sheets. I also purchased a small hand press, capable of making 8×10 prints, linoleum cutting tools and a selection of ‘easy cut‘ rubber plates of different brands. Somewhere in there, while reveling in a sale, I also mistakenly picked up a very nice selection of engraving burins instead of the wood carving tools I thought I bought. Instead of returning them, I bought a book on wood engraving and I bought a few small wood engraving blocks. Since I was quitting my day job that year, I stocked up while I still had the paychecks.

What I did manage to do that year was to create four block plates. Three were smaller: a Scythian stag, an abstracted bird, and a Celtic cross. The larger was a very nice piece called ’Raven Sun and Serpent Moon’ usually shorted to ’Raven sun and moon’. I ran a number of prints from each block on my hand press, as the rubber plates were too soft to handle the pressure of the bigger press without distorting.

Raven Sun and Serpent Moon

But then I stopped. The prints did not sell well, and I ended up without the room to make prints as our house was renovated after the kitchen flooded. My studio became a catchall for kitchen stuff, and it was hard to work. I had room to make drawings on a board in my lap on the couch.

During the Derrybawn Project in 2010, I promised myself I would start in on printmaking again. I purchased a diamond tip scriber and two zinc plates. Money was tighter, so I didn’t go crazy. I also bought two acrylic plates. The Project took a different turn when I was asked to create plates for digital reproductions. Other than two linoleum plates of birds and two more small easy-cut plates, I didn’t produce anything for hand-pulling prints. The digital printing fell through and I was left with a large selection of black and white art, no money and a deep funk.

Shield Raven

I took up a part-time job in 2011, and I pulled myself out of the funk with some experimentation in gelatin printmaking. Less intense and more free-flowing, I splashed a lot of color around and got some really good results. I also started plotting out some large landscape pieces, though I did not have the money for the supplies I wanted. By the end of 2011, I was promising myself to use only supplies on hand to do artwork, so the landscapes were put on hold, and I began experimenting with collage using only materials in my studio. It came around to the printmaking again, as I realized that I needed to use the equipment or sell it.

Finding that three of my original four plates were cracked, including my favorite Raven, I gave up on the easy-carve plates. I was having some health problems that affected my joints, so making linoleum blocks was a bit problematic with only old, dull linoleum cutting tools. I had to throw out the remaining golden linoleum sheets as they were water damaged and hard as a rock. I still had two linoleum plates that I had never printed, a small selection of zinc, wood and acrylic plates, the engraving tools, and the diamond scriber.

I had all the makings for dry point plates and engravings. I even had paper. But the negative voice kept at me, and it wasn’t until March of 2012 that I managed to get past it. It kept telling me how difficult it was to get good results, how I had never taken classes, how much more money I would have to invest, etc. etc.

All I needed was the fiddly, little bits. Manly listed everything I needed. Chalk, blotting paper, a bin to soak the printing paper, rags, a drying rack and … oh yes, etching ink. I had block printing ink, but dry point is an intaglio process, requiring a different ink.

A storage bin became a soaking bin. I put screws into the walls in the corner of my studio and strung up some clothesline. I bought clothespins. I found carpenter’s chalk and a box of rags at the Home Depot. Newsprint pads were on clearance at the local craft store. Etching ink was the most expensive thing I had to get. There were six pricing levels at the store, so I dug through the colors until I found two of the cheapest; a soft black and red ochre. Budget would drive my choices, but it was a guideline, not a hammer. Staying with the inexpensive series allowed me to pick two.

No voice of doubt could stop me now…..

KJN

 


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