I began the preparation for the print by creating a square grid system on a print out of the Ghent Altarpiece as my reference for making a more detailed colour study.
I followed this by creating a watercolour study of the image, and in the process simplified some of the detail of the original. Perhaps reflecting on this now is the point where I lost a little definition which might have been beneficial for the final print. But I found creating a colour study of the detail of the whole image gave me a base to work from when breaking it down into different tonal studies.
I took the watercolour sketch as my base when making pencil drawings of each tonal layer. I then used these pencil drawings as my base when tracing the different blocks.
I decided to create 4 different tonal layers – a light tone, mid tone 1, mid tone 2 & dark tone. I felt that four tones was enough to give the depth of tone from the original without making the image muddy or crowded. I felt like the original image had a green/brown tonal range to it so tried to keep my watercolour study in a similar value. My aim was to replicate this when mixing the inks at the printing stage.
I won’t document each stage of the carving process but I will share one photo of the final block (the darkest tone) as I began carving it…
I completed Artist Proof prints of each layer individually as well as a combined print before going on to print an edition of the blocks. I found this to be beneficial as it allowed me to tweak the colours slightly before the print run. It also helped me to clean up some areas of the lino blocks where I’d not cut cleanly enough or lines overlapped unintentionally.
I think it’s fairly clear when you look at the combined artist proof of the blocks that I needed to adjust the colours to work more cohesively together and for better visual impact (see image below). It’s mostly the lightest layer which seems out of place, it appears more yellow than green or brown in tone, and so it’s difficult to make out the white areas of the paper which were intended to be visible. I also felt that mid-tone 2 looked a lot greyer than I had intended.
I felt that the darkest layer needed cleaning up a bit in terms of there being a few marks left by the print which were unintentional so I carved some areas before beginning the print run.
Quality of print:
I think that the quality of the print – in terms of ink on the paper could’ve been improved. I used two different types of heavier paper, an Arches paper and Somerset. Both of these seem to work really well when damp for intaglio printing but give a very grainy texture or finish when used dry for relief printing. I think in hindsight a much thinner paper would have given a smoother and perhaps more appropriate finish.
I am however happy with the general quality of the registration and that there are only a few blemishes or lines on the print. I think the different colours sit together well and appear to come from the same tonal family as opposed to the mismatch of the artist proof colouring.
Reflecting on composition:
In terms of composition I think my major flaw would be in simplifying the image too much. I certainly didn’t attempt to try and capture all the details of the curls of hair, or texture of the sheep wool from the original image. So I think it lack some of that finish to it. But I think the folds of the garments have come across clearly through the different tonal layers. I also think there a places where I struggled to capture finer details, for instance the second level of the arch above the figures is less clear than the cut away details of the top left and right hand corners. I had a couple of moment where I carved away areas of lino which I had intended to keep, I put this down to adjusting to being less practiced in carving so precisely!
How did you get on with the material you chose to cut in? Did it present any difficulties? How restrictive did you find this medium?
I chose to work with grey lino blocks as my material, I found this to be fairly reliable. I did struggle a little with occasional slips of my hand and the loss of some of the finer details. I’d put this down to my own lack of practice doing really precise fine lines but I couldn’t say if this wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d carved in a different medium.
I know traditionally the method was mostly carried out using woodcutting blocks, but I have no experience with these and I’m concerned about using my tools to switch between the lino blocks and soft wood.
Did the colours work well together? Which alternative tonal colour range could you have used to good effect and why?
I feel that the colours did work well together as they appear to sit within the same family or have a similar undertone despite me mixing each colour separately for the individual blocks. Perhaps a tonal colour range with a warmer base of red may also have worked well in this case, the subject has a large amount of yellowish stone (in the original image) so I image a warmer red tonal range could’ve enhanced that.
What were the challenges presented by your chosen subject matter?
I think the detailed textural or defined elements were trickiest – the hair, facial expressions were particularly difficult. I think these were the challenges I didn’t best overcome in my final print – for instance I cut away the shape of the eyes in the first layer so they would appear as fine white lines. But this actually meant that the facial features are barely visible on the final print.
I think I also struggled to get the tonal values right between the different blocks – but think I just about achieved a sort of harmony between them overall.
Did the subject work well as a chiaroscuro print, why and how?
Yes I think it worked as a chiaroscuro print, partly because its based on a renaissance piece which has a range of tonal values to it which were fairly clearly distinguishable. Also because of the subject matter, particularly the drape & folds of the garments casts different shadows of tonal values across the piece.