Things are clicking into place…gradually

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted about progress on here. Months have been flying by as if they were days, and now it’s November and I’ve only got a couple of months left of my internship at LPW. My ideas have been gradually developing over the last few months, and I think now are finally beginning to form into new work.

This year, more than ever before, has reminded me how precious time and space is – both to think and to make. Some days I can spend a good few hours intermittently standing and staring at bits of work, thinking about composition, colour, intention, etc. Other days I can be intensely immersed in doing – printing, graining stones, drawing. Both of these sorts of days are essential. Too much thinking, especially with lithography, means that I can think an idea through to an end point, but when I try to replicate it, it can never materialise into what I want it to be. Too much time spent making, and there is never an opportunity to stop, look, and re-evaluate the work.

During the summer I was at a mid-point in the internship – having learnt the basics of the lithography process, It was now time to start thinking about how I could apply these techniques to my own work. I was a bit stuck with this. Everything I’d done so far was just to test out particular techniques or materials, but I wanted the work I made to have more substance to it than that.

At the end of July I spent a few days at the house where my Grandad used to live in Weymouth. It’s a place I used to visit ever since I was a kid, and have fond memories of. The house has remained in my family since my Grandad’s death, but this year it was looking like it was going to be sold. The house was lying empty during the summer, so I went down with a few friends for a few days to make use of it. During that time I realised that this was possibly the last time I would be in the house, and I decided to return a few days later by myself. I didn’t really know why or what for, but it I decided to just take some photographs and do some drawing while I was there. This became almost a process of documentation. The house had hardly changed over the years – it was exactly as I had remembered – all the same furniture as when my Grandad had lived there, even photos of him dotted around. But no bodies. No people. None of the originals. Only memories, all fuelled and prompted by inanimate objects, sitting there just as they had done for so many years. But it wasn’t sad, it actually filled me with a kind of peacefulness which I rarely experience. A sense of time passing, slowly but surely, but also a strange sense of permanence.

I also ended up taking some film footage, which has actually become the basis of the work I am currently making. At around 5 or 6 pm each evening, the sun would bounce off the water in the harbour outside, and come in through the window, creating a constantly moving image on various walls in the house. So I set my camera to record, and sat back and watched. Sometimes the sun went in, and the dancing lights disappeared, then they came back stronger, and then faded away again. Sometimes a boat would pass, agitating the water and making the light move faster and jump around. But the dancing light was always kept within the confines of the windows which it passed through – contained within shadows.

When I got back to work after the break, I was preoccupied by the film footage I’d taken of the dancing shadows, and decided I wanted to incorporate them into my work. So I started to project still images from the footage onto stones, and trace them using rubbing block – a lithographic drawing material which creates very soft, subtle marks and tones.

During the summer I had also been doing quite a lot of drawing, some of it very detailed, and some of it very scribbly and quick. It was whilst I was drawing one day, that I realised I had been contentedly scribbling away for over an hour. All I was doing was filling in a shape with HB pencil. But I loved it. The sense of peacefulness I experienced during this was not dissimilar to that which I’d experienced whilst watching shadows on the walls. A feeling of total immersion in the moment, in the present, the right now. I realised that these scribbles were the physical manifestations of that, and so was the film footage I’d taken. So it seemed right to try to tie these two elements somehow.

It’s all made me realise that time spent researching, practicing, experimenting, documenting, playing, thinking, exploring, is never wasted time.

Below are some image of the work I’ve been doing. I’ve got an exhibition starting on 8th January 2014 – ‘Momentary Permanence – Works in progress’, at the LCB Depot Print Room, so the next couple of months will be busy! Looking forward to it…

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Photo Plate Lithography Workshop at WYPW

A couple of weekends ago I ran the first ever Photo Plate Lithography workshop at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. It was great! It was so lovely to be able to introduce a new technique to the workshop.

It took a good few days of preparation to get everything ready and set up – as always with printmaking the only way to really know whether something will work is just to practice. So I spent some time making some test plates on our exposure unit, eventually coming to the conclusion that a standard exposure time of around 5-6 minutes is sufficient for most images. The plates I ended up ordering for the workshop and to sell in the shop were called ‘Europlate’, and a very nice chap at the company advised me on what would be best for our purposes. I also bought in some developer, which we mix down half and half with water for standard plate developing.

In the workshop we already use the Hawthorn Printmakers stay-open inks for intaglio and relief printing. It says on their website that they are also suitable for lithography, so I thought I would try using this even though I’ve never used them for lithography before. They actually worked well, although they do contain very high amounts of pigment, so it is necessary to extend them quite a bit with their ‘transparent ink’, especially for very detailed images. We printed the plates on our Hunter-Penrose etching press – bumping the pressure up a bit by putting a larger litho plate on the press bed, (as the plates are quite thin), which worked a treat.

We had a full course, and I was really happy to see a lot of familiar faces – members who wanted to learn the technique or had done it years ago and wanted a refresher, and also a some non-members who were completely new to it.

The day was fantastic – so enjoyable to be passing on the skills I’ve been learning at Leicester Print Workshop over the past year! And everyone was so excited by the ideas and possibilities that the technique generated. We’ve already had one member come in and start making plates since the course, and we’ve already got bookings for the next course at WYPW in March next year, here: http://www.wypw.org/shop/photo-plate-lithography-march/

Here are a few photos from the day…

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Photo-Plate litho workshop at Leicester Print Workshop

Last weekend I taught my first Photo-Plate Litho at Leicester Print Workshop. It went really well – there were 7 students on the course, (one of which has already joined up as a member to come and do more!), and all had brought a great selection of images with them to work With. Some had brought digital images such as photographs and scanned drawings, printed as a positive onto acetate. Others brought hand-drawn images to work with, made by drawing onto transparent drafting film with materials such as pencil, graphite and crayon, and guache and acrylic paint for wash-effects. Very fine detail in both drawn and digital images can be picked up in this process.

The positive transparency is taped to the photo-plate, which comes pre-coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The plate is then exposed to UV light. The light is blocked by the opaque image areas, and passes through the transparent non-image areas. When the plate is then developed, the non-images areas wash away to leave bare metal underneath, and the image areas – where the light was blocked – stay on the plate. This creates the image on the plate.

Gum Arabic is then applied to the plate to help establish a chemical difference between the image and non-image areas. The plate is then printed by first washing off the gum, then keeping the plate damp while rolling on lithographic ink. The plate can be printed on either a litho press or an etching press. Damp paper is usually used to ensure as much detail as possible is picked up.

Plates can be printed in black and white or in colour, and some of the students from my course went on to do another day the next day with LPW lithography technician and artist Serena Smith, where they made more plates and experimented with printing a number of plates in register to produce multi-plate prints.

I’m really looking forward to teaching the Photo-Plate Litho course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop on 19th October.

Here are a few photos from the weekend…

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Back to the grindstone.

So after a bit of a break during July, I’ve been back at Leicester Print Workshop in August, working on stones as usual. I can’t quite believe how the months are flying by. I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front recently, and I’ve got a big backlog of process photographs to upload, so I’ll be trying to catch up with that in the next few weeks and doing a few more posts.

I had some good news at the end of July – my application for funding from the Arts Council to help me complete the internship was successful! It was such welcome news to receive, and topped off an amazing, and very welcome, summer holiday! The funding will help me to use the remaining months of the internship to create a series of new lithographs for exhibition in 2 solo exhibitions in 2014 – one at the LCB Print Depot in Leicester, and one in the gallery at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. More details about these to come.

I will also be running and assisting on a number of workshops and talks during 2013 and early 2014 to help spread the lithography word – all detailed below…

Sat 21st September 2013
Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at Leicester Print Workshop

Sat 19th October 2013
Introduction to Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop

Sat 26th / Sun 27th October 2013
Stone Lithography Weekend Workshop at Leicester Print Workshop (Assisting tutor Serena Smith)

Sat 23rd November 2013
Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at Leicester Print Workshop

Weds 15th January 2014
‘Stone Lithography’ short film screening and artist talk at Leicester Print Workshop

Sat 15th March 2014
Introduction to Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop

Tues 18th March 2014
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at West Yorkshire Print Workshop to accompany my solo exhibition.

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my progress and where you can see my work, you can also sign up to my mailing list.

Another post to follow soon…


Stone Lithography – Printing in Colour

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, so to make up for that I’m planning on doing a good few posts over the next few weeks to try to catch up a bit!

This post documents my first go at colour printing from a stone:

  • The first thing to say is that printing in colour is so different from printing in black and white. Each ink acts very differently, some being very runny and needing to be stiffened before use, others being so highly pigmented that lots of extender is needed to tame it a bit.
  • Another thing I learned is that you very rarely use opaque white when printing in colour. It tends to dull colours down and decrease their vibrancy. Instead, the coloured ink is made more or less transparent using extender, making use of the natural luminosity of the paper being printed on.
  • Paper stretch is a major factor when printing in colour and in register. This is especially noticeable when using damped paper to print onto. As such, dry paper is usually used. However this tends to result in not as much detail being picked up from the stone as when printing in black and white.
  • In this case, I made a test stone by first applying gum arabic to the stone to mark it out in sections – wherever the gum was applied would not take the drawing. I then used a variety of different drawing materials to fill in each square, including hard and soft litho crayon, turps tusche (grease suspended in turps), water tusche (grease suspended in water), liquid litho ink, and techniques such as scratching into the gummed stone and rubbing turpsy black ink into the scratched areas.
  • I then processed the stone and printed the first colour. It is important at this stage to ensure that each print you take is registered well. This is usually done using the pin registration technique, which I’ll do a separate post on in due course.
  • I then re-worked the stone, using soap wash, pumice and scratching back, and printed the stone again in a different colour on top of the first print.
  • When printing multiple stones in colour, you inevitably get colours mixing, and this is a very exciting part of stone lithography. It’s going to take a lot of practice to be able to accurately predict what the resulting colour will be when one is layed on top of another.
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Some sound advice from Peter weaver in ‘The Technique of Lithography’

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The re-worked test stone printed in register on top of the original stone.

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Morris the cat in his house.

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Re-working a stone

After printing my first stone, my next task was to re-work the image. This means that once a stone has been drawn on, processed and proofed, you can go back to it and make amendments by adding to or deleting the drawing.

Some amendments can be done during the proofing stage, and the stone can continue to be printed straight afterwards. However with others the stone will need to be gummed up afterwards and left overnight before proofing again. This all depends on whether the method you use is abrasive or not.

Non-abrasives: The stone can be printed straight away after using these techniques.

– Etching the image back. This has the effect of increasing the contrast in an image, getting rid of the lighter tones and tending to leave the darker tones. Using a strong-ish gum etch, (a few drops of concentrated nitric acid in gum arabic), paint the etch onto the areas of the image you wish to alter. If you don’t want to have a harsh line where you paint the etch, apply plain gum first and them work into it with the strong etch.

– Soap Wash. This method creates painterly marks which will print very dark with a slightly grainy effect, almost like an aquatint. Using a bar of ordinary household soap and some water, paint the soap onto the stone using a paintbrush. Use as little water as possible and dry thoroughly with a hairdryer, before quickly damping the area with a sponge and rock first of all with a non-drying black nap roller. The rocking ensures that the soap is not picked up and transferred to other areas of the stone. Keep rolling until the painted area is fully visible. This technique, as I have found out, takes a fair bit of practice to avoid the soap wash migrating and smearing everywhere when it is damped and rolled. If the area is too dark, a strong etch can be used to lighten it. Or, if a soap wash is used over an area of existing drawing, it can then be etched back to reveal areas of the original drawing underneath.

Abrasives: The stone will need to be gummed and left overnight after using these techniques, as areas of un-processed stone have been revealed.

– Scraping back the image. This deletes areas of drawing. Using the side of a scalpel blade, scrape away parts of the image. It may be necessary to scrape quite hard and create some dust!

– Pumice powder. This has the effect of lightening areas of drawing. Damp a nylon kitchen sponge scourer, dip into the pumice powder and scrub the areas to be lightened. The ink will be scrubbed off first, so keep going a little bit further after that.

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Stone before re-working

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Stone being re-worked, with a test stone, and gum etches behind.

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Areas of soap wash before being rolled with ink.

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Re-worked stone, with areas of soap wash, etching and scraping.

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Printing my first stone…

I’ve gone a bit off-track with my posts of late – excitement about artist books took over for a bit there! So back to lithography. I’ve got a backlog of posts about various processes I’ve been learning. So here’s the first – printing my very first litho stone. (This was actually over a month ago now – how time flies!).

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The drawing on the stone was made using hard and soft litho crayons and rubbing block. Unfortunately I forgot to document the processing of the stone – I’ll have to do that with another one. When it came to taking the first prints, I was amazed by the amount of detail the stone retained – it was so true to the original drawing, but after a few more the image started to fill in in the non-image areas, and it was evident that the stone needed some more etching, (despite having had two gum etches already). This is in order to de-sensitise those areas to grease, so that when the oil-based ink is rolled on, it only adheres to the greasy image-areas.

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Stone filling in – evident from the grey tone on the non-image areas. This is why it’s important to really look at and try to remember your image before processing and printing, so that you know which marks should and shouldn’t be there.

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Applying a further gum etch to the stone with a paint brush. A strong mix of gum arabic and nitric acid is applied to the strong areas of the drawing and non-image areas to clear out any grease, and a weaker mix is used for delicate areas of tone, so as not to clear these areas out completely.

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Stone etched back and ready to proof again.

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The stone is printed with a 50/50 mix of ‘Noir a Monter’ (non-drying black ink) and Crayon black ink.

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A leather nap roller is used to roll the ink. When using any black ink other than non-drying, the roller should be thoroughly scraped after use to avoid it drying out and ruining the roller.

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Pulling a print from the stone – Ink is rolled on to the damp stone, damp paper is placed on top, and once run through the direct transfer press the paper is pulled from the stone to reveal the printed image.

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My first run of lithographs! I was really happy with how they turned out – especially seeing as they were only a test.

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So amazed by the fine detail – something unobtainable with any other print technique. The key is processing the stone so that all the subtleties of the drawing are retained.

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Morris under his favourite lamp.