The production line

Have spent much of the last year or so refining the plastic plate/drypoint/acrylic texture printmaking technique. Refining is a tricky word. It nails an issue that I wrestle with constantly: how to get more out of the technique in terms of interest and variety, without being drawn into reproducing images ever more accurately.

Representation is a conundrum. If we can do it, we are driven to depict the world around us. But we have really not needed to draw much if at all since the camera was invented. We typically react with admiration to accurate representation, marvelling at the skill it exhibits; but art viewers and buyers typically want something more (or maybe less) than a simulacrum of visual reality. And artists quickly come to want to do something else or something more, even if they began with faithful representation.

Artists and buyers (or commenters, of whom there are always far more) are no always in synch in their wishes and expectations. Your critics or buyers typically want more of what you did yesterday, while you want to move on. Indeed, it’s very difficult not to.    It just happens, and it’s mostly a good thing, but it’s sure to disappoint some people whose expectations have been shaped by your previous work.

You can try not to. But if you keep pursuing a way of working that has become predictable or easy, it is perilously easy to slip into self-parody. It just happens when you try to do deliberately what you previously did spontaneously. There’s a sweet spot between the struggling, experimental phase and the stale phase, but the only way to make the most of it is to be very prolific while it lasts – you can’t really prolong it. image

Even re-doing a work that was generally satisfactory but marred by a mistake can tip you over into self-parody, I find. The image above is a second attempt after a perspective mistake. And in many ways it’s less good, a bit wooden (and i don’t just mean the floorboards) but I couldn’t live with the blunder. No, I’m not going to put it up for comparison!

I have delighted in the painterly effects you can get from acrylic textures – gesso and fine pumice gel are my favourites. At first I was frustrated that they register every brushstroke.  I was hoping for a uniform tone that would look rather like aquatint. Then I began to enjoy the brushmarks, and to experiment with diluting the texture gels. At a certain stage of wetness the acrylic begins to bead up and crawl on the plastic plate. I found the variations in texture and the fine edges registered very clearly when inked up, opening the way for all sorts of watercolour (or water monochrome) effects, with a similar limited degree of control.

And of course they could be made to mimic various surfaces and textures in the real world – and I was in danger of going down the mimetic rabbit hole. I decided this print below, of a precious Japanese crackle-glazed vase, had to represent some kind of a natural terminus. Just attempting to copy all those wee cracks meant that I was a fair way down the rabbit hole. And again, I did it twice. That’s the first version – would you have done it again?


Reviewing the printscape with Louise


Louise Rutherford came to visit, with coffee and good cheer and her boundless, generous curiosity. We spread prints and drafts and proofs and plates all over the living-room floor (after a small delay while I hunted down the “OK proofs” folder, which was hiding under a big sheet of blotting paper). Then Louise looked them over, with her excellent eye and the benefit of innocence – she didn’t know what order I had done things in, what processes were applied, what I liked, what I had rejected as technically or aesthetically unsatisfactory. Magic! Everyone should do it from time to time, provided of course that there is a willing friend on hand with an acute eye.

Louise’s feedback and spontaneous reactions added two kinds of value that were almost opposites. On the one hand, she confirmed that the painted polymer plate technique I’ve devised has potential for making strong, atmospheric images – offset by the danger of encouraging me to make mere pictures, with little to offer that couldn’t be arrived at more easily via a b&w photo print. On the other hand, she pulled me back to valuing the more graphic, forceful, fundamentally abstract character of the collagraph prints that I used to make from recycled packaging. I’ve come away from our conversation with a sense I need to find a way to pull together the potential of both techniques, rather than trying to operate in two divergent modes, which just doesn’t work, or abandoning one of them wholly, which is pretty much what I did by default with the collagraph.

Louise also reminded me that I had started this blog, which I had all but forgotten. Time to get some images up, and some writing written. Perhaps I may even find some way of bringing them together, beyond the blog itself. But it will do for now.


Found townscape

Found townscape

Slightly messed-with, but only slightly. Happy coincidence of reflected, filtered, refracted and obstructed light. The feel of a summer morning. The little etching press is set up in the garage on its bright yellow workbench (it is oddly low — must have been made for another small person. Everything is ready but me. I’m frozen. So many images, so many ideas, so many places to start, so many sheets of paper to spoil…