The making of a print
The idea actually started from a previous work I had just finished, this is often the way, one piece leading to the next. In this case it was something quite different, a poster advertising a local orchestra's winter concert. For this I had put together a design of swirling leaves and musical notes, striving for a sense of movement and energy, but at the same time a 'wintery' feel. Keen to continue this idea of movement I made a rough drawing involving a cockerel and swirling leaves.
This was eventually worked up into a full scale drawing with the cockerel centre stage, more blowing leaves, a farmhouse in the distance and a poor woman desperately trying to hang (or retrieve?), her washing on the line.
The drawing was transferred to the lino block using carbon paper, and after a lot of cutting and proofing (see the trio of images above), the block was ready to print.
The block would just fit through my roller press, so I could take rough proofs satisfactorily, but it would leave very little white paper around the image. So the only option was to hand print the image- new territory for me. I taped some registration marks on the table to ensure the image was centrally placed on the paper. After some tests, I decided to print on quite heavy (300gsm), Somerset paper.
I ended up using two burnishing tools to make the print, the first a homemade baren (twine, card and teflon sheet!), and then to get a harder pressure a carved wooden egg. This sits nicely in the hand and worked very well.
Placing the paper on top of the block and burnishing the back resulted in rather 'under printed' images. Dampening the paper a very little helped enormously however. I had expected hours and hours of burnishing these prints, but each print could be made in around 10 minutes.
After some trial and error I eventually started getting some satisfactory prints.
The intention from the start was to hand colour the print. I paint with quite a lot of water and the hazard with this is that the paper 'cockles' or buckles as it dries. The way to prevent this is to dampen the back of the paper and tape it to a board to stretch the paper. As it dries, the paper shrinks and the tape holds it tight meaning the paper flattens. The surface can then be painted without it cockling.
The wonderful thing about painting onto a print is that you can have as many goes at it as you like, if one doesn't work, just print some more! So the first few tend to be feeling your way to work out what will work best, these tend to be scrapped. With this print is was important to tease out the cockerel from the quite busy background, but to still ensure the picture worked as a whole. Using gouache paints I work in the dark areas first to give depth and then start to build up the coloured elements. It is very easy to overwork this stage, and leaving enough white paper is always a challenge.
After several versions I managed to get one that I'm fairly pleased with. The resulting image hopefully captures a blustery day, when washing dries on the line but can blow away, when leaves are swept up and tossed into the autumnal sky and where animals and birds go slightly crazy with the wind.