At the start of this project I was really unsure what to use as the basis or inspiration for my print. I went to a local art gallery to try and find some inspiration but found myself feeling less certain of where to begin. Our notes suggested using ‘old master paintings’ as possible inspiration points, and this got me thinking about some the Dutch Still life Paintings. To me these paintings had an inherent or good underlying structure and plenty of forms which could be abstracted in such a way as to be semi-abstract.
I began my search looking through the Tate’s online collection. Here’s their definition for Still Life. I found two very different approaches to the subject of ‘still life’ in Claude Venard’s: ‘Still Life 1955-6’ and Edward Collier’s: ‘Still Life 1699’. Colliers oil painting is not an abstract image, it is very much in the tradition of Dutch Still Life painters. Vernard’s painting plays with the same theme but in a semi abstracted manner, you can still identify elements such as apples, a fish, a plate, but their form is simpler, even the colour palette is restricted to blue and white tones.
Looking at these two images inspired me to look again at some of the Dutch Still Life painting’s and see if I could find the basis for my abstract print in their work.
I came away with three paintings that I found to be of interest or felt had a good underlying compositional structure from which I could abstract forms. They were as follows:
- Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, c.1615
- Heda, Gerret Willemsz, Still Life with Ham, 1650
- Claesz, Pieter, Still Life with Peacock Pie, 1627
I began by trying to sketch simplified forms or outlines of the objects within the paintings, and found that my tendency to draw what I saw was not helping me to abstract or reduce the paintings to simpler forms. I decided a change of tactic was needed and used a brush pen to create quicker more fluid drawings of the forms I saw within the paintings. After completing these drawings I looked again at the original paintings.
I felt that Clara Peeters painting had a good flow to it, that the eye could move around the image and find different textures and shapes to keep interest. I also liked the mix of shapes which stood vertically and horizontally across the image I feel like these give the image balance. I wanted to retain a sense of the form of the original so the shapes of my collagraphic print are semi-abstract, you can still tell they represent food items or bowls, a jug or a plate. I also wanted to explore textures within my collagraphic print. The original has such a mix of textures with the nature of the cheese, the smoothness of the glass goblet, the individual shapes of the nuts and fruit in the blue bowl.
I also found this video for the Mauritshuis Slow Food exhibition gave me some insight into the painting by Clara Peeter.
Making the collagraph block:
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph texture was something I wanted to be a prominent feature in my collagraphic print. So I chose differently textured papers, wallpaper samples, fabric off-cuts as my material for the block. I tried to create a sense of different textures across the block, for instance keeping the glass in the right hand side just a thick card so it was smoother than say the texture of the jug next to it which was a heavy woven fabric.
In the photograph below you can see me piecing together the parts of the block arranging them on-top of one of my drawings…
I did find at this stage that some of the elements of my block were very thick and there were points where the block had four layers. I ended up reducing some of these elements, and switching the fabric in the centre of the cheese and background of the cheese for thinner materials so as not to risk ruining the final image at the printing stage.
Inking the block:
I found this stage of the process perhaps the hardest! I did two different colour prints, so I had two different goes at inking the block. First time round I tried to stick to a more familiar logical method, applying the lightest colours first and then the darkest colours last. I used the intaglio method, applying the colour to the block using tooth brushes and fabric scraps. I used different toothbrushes to allow me to have several different areas of colour on the block.
Inking 1st round:
For the first round of inking I had scrim to remove the excess ink from the plate. I found this to be fairly effective, but I’m still learning how much pressure to use in different areas and the effect this can have on the highlights or colour concentration on the final print.
Inking 2nd round:
After printing the first round of prints, I sealed the collagraph block with pva glue to allow me to do a second round of inking. I referred to a course text book on collagraph printing for a slightly different method for inking. This time I applied the darker blue/purple ink to the background areas before applying other single colours to different sections. I’m still not sure that I did this method well, also I had run out of scrim so when it came to wiping the block I used old rags/tea towel sections.
Printing the block:
Colour range number 1:
It’s worth me mentioning that I bought the printing press in the photo opposite to help me produce clearer collagraph prints.
I found getting a good impression or any embossed areas to my prints particularly in my first year. So invested in this small press by FOME in an attempt to help make the process slightly easier/more professional.
In the first print you can see clearly (in the photo above) different bands where the roller has left a lighter area, I presume this is due to inconsistency in pressure at points. Whilst the press appears long enough for an A4 print I found I had to extend how far the the plate was able to roll to make it possible to get pressure across the length of the collagraphic block.
For the second print I didn’t re-ink the block before printing, so you can see the print is much lighter in colour. I also hadn’t figured out how best to extend the bass plate to allow me to capture the whole block. I’ve included this as an example of where I made mistakes and had to make changes to improve the print.
You can see in the photo above that I managed to fix the issue of not printing the whole block. However you can still see some inconsistencies in printing pressure. But generally I think the colour has printed well, and the the image embossed clearly giving some crisp white outlines to some parts of the print which are interesting!
Colour range number 2:
In the forth print (above), I found that I wiped too much ink from the plate at the inking stage. This led to a much lighter print, but I actually like the quality of the final image. It feels a lot softer overall, and I think that the lighter concentration of colour actually allowed some of the textures of the block to come through more clearly (see photo below).
However I did try and re-ink and get another print in the colour combination. I used a different paper this time, Strathmore 500 printing paper. The print was far more inconsistent in terms of a flat lay of colour and I think it’s probably the worst quality print of the bunch. But I think that had more to do with me struggling to re-ink the block second go round that it does to do with the paper choice.
Did one set of colours work best? Why?
I think the first run of colour worked best but I do still like the colours used in the second set too. I find saying why the colours work best tricky but I think the main reason is the variation in colours, this makes it easier for the eye to move around the image and helps break the image up but without making it appear fragmented. I think the different colours help highlight the different textures and forms in the image more clearly than in the more restricted palette.
Can you see any problems in changing the scale of the print? Will the relief collage block need adapting in any way?
I can see the block still working as a larger scale print, but I don’t think a smaller scale version would work. I think the block would feel very crowded if it were smaller and the details would become lost within the overall busyness of the print. In terms of adapting the block I think little adaptation would be needed when increasing the scale. Perhaps a few more raised areas in the background could add some interest.
What type of subjects would not be suitable for this method?
I’m somewhat reluctant to say this, but I would lean towards thinking portraiture or studies of the human figure would be unsuitable for this method. I think the fluidity of the lines of the human form might get lost in the method, but I haven’t tried it so perhaps it could work!?