Category Archives: Art

Reduction Linocut planning

A question on the Linocut Friends page of Facebook prompted me to document (for my own future use if nothing else) how I’d previously worked out how to plan a reduction linocut using ArtRage (on the iPad but now on my Surface Pro 3).

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Solar Plate: Trial prints 01

Very late, but this is a quick post about my first, post-course, attempt at solar plate printmaking. Along the way, I made a lot of mistakes – expensive mistakes since each A4 plate costs about £11 – so I’ll list them up here at the top to help others who check this post.

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Mead Gallery: Imagining a University

I visited Warwick University’s Mead Gallery yesterday to see the exhibition, Imagining a University: Fifty Years of The University of Warwick Art Collection, which closes on Sat 20th June.

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Wild Raspberries: wip 02

This is a follow-up to Wild Raspberries: wip 01 which reported on my start of this project. I was unhappy with most of the prints there and so altered curves and levels of the images in Photoshop (after a short tutorial in how to do so from Katy Goodrich).

With the Hands image, I shifted the levels only slightly to lose the heavy dark shadow in the cup of the hands:


The barbed outline got a bit more complicated curves adjustment to bring out the fine details more and tone down the darker lines:


I worked a lot on the canes image, not just the one I had from the last post but another which was more of a close-up and a little more abstract. I then tried both those images overlaid with the close-up one reduced to 20% transparency and the other at 45%. These two looked like:

Image03 Image04

with the result:


So, I trundled off to Staples again and got the images printed onto transparencies. I took these into LPW on 27th Nov and developed the images onto a new set of photolithography plates and got started printing them.

First, I printed the canes, this time using green ink. I got a couple of decent prints out of this, one of which was:


but the last was really poor. I made a complete mess of wiping the plate down and inking up. Didn’t have a clue what was going wrong.

So, I moved on to the hands and these came out ok, but not great:

20111127wr03 20111127wr04

I then took a closer look at the transparencies and it looked as though they were less well defined than the previous lot. The Staples assistant used a different printer and I think it might have been a less capable one.

Anyway, I ran a third print of the hands through but this time superimposed on one of the canes images:


Not at all aligned properly. Need to find some way of exposing transparencies onto plates that allows for proper registration.

When I cleaned the hands plate, it seemed to have marks on the plate, as if new lines had developed out. I asked Serena about it and, after some discussion, she reckoned that it came down to too vigorous cleaning of the plates. I had been rubbing pretty hard with the turps and hadn’t realised that it might cause damage. Serena also realised that her printed instructions from the course ought to have mentioned wetting the plate or applying gum before using the turps to protect the image.

Finally, I printed the spiky outline image:


and this one, finally, came out just as I wanted it to. The long spikes were faint but visible while the shorter ones and the centre of the outline weren’t so dark as to overpower the image. A win at last.

And to make it even better, cleaning the plate after wetting it was so much easier and caused absolutely no damage/

I’d intended another day’s printing when I would experiment with ink transparency and different colours but didn’t really have time to do this with all the preparations for my trip to Australia (now less than two weeks away).

Wild Raspberries: wip 01

I have finally got myself back into the studio to do some printing, couple of times in the last two weeks, as opposed to volunteer admin/photography or attending courses. It has been a long time coming.

I’d been *thinking* about an idea for a print for some time and thought it was time I got some real work done. The idea was inspired by reading my friend Kona McPhee‘s poem, Wild Raspberries, in her latest collection, What Long Miles. An image came to me as I read the poem and I thought it’d make a good print but, as usual, never followed through. Well, now I am.

The image I had in mind was of cupped hands over a stylised background of raspberry canes with damaged fruit held in the hands, the canes and hands printed using photolithography and the raspberries with drypoint. The affect I wanted to achieve was similar to the layered screenprints of Ruth McDonald, who I follow on twitter and whose work I really love (eg see this one). I had no idea whether I could do anything similar using photolith.

I took a set of photographs of my wife’s hands and picked one to use. Then took some shots of raspberry canes. I also created an image, a spiky outline of the hands, using Procreate on the iPad. All these were loaded into Photoshop, as separate layers so that I could see the effect of one over the other.


Once I had each separate image the way I wanted it, the way I would want each photolith plate to look, I made just that layer visible and exported it as a full resolution jpeg (maybe should have used tiff – if Staples could print it). Those first four images were:

Hands11-c1 Hands11-c2 Hands11-h Hands11-x

I had these images put onto transparencies — tried using my own laser printer but it is on its last legs so the output was dire — using the local Staples outlet and took them into Leicester Print Workshop where I’m a member (and volunteer). This was on Thursday 20th Nov.

I’d previously done a course on photolith printmaking with Serena Smith and Kathryn Desforges. But this had been a year or so ago so I needed a refresher. Luckily for me, Katy Goodrich, the LPW apprentice, was willing and more than capable of getting me back up to speed in this technique. She showed me where all the equipment was, helped me set it up, showed me how to cut up a photolith sheet, then watched over me as I exposed the first transparency, developed and printed it. I managed the rest myself but she was always able to help when I hit problems: I’d have turned around and gone home without her.

I printed the hands first:


Not good. The shadow in the cupped hand was much too dark. I tried the spiky outline next:


Not happy with this either. The actual image had long, fairly light spikes but they were entirely lost in this print. I tried the two images of the canes next, first the darker one:


This was ok as a print but was much darker than I wanted: it’d overwhelm the hands when printed over the top. So then I tried the more transparent of the cane images. This one I printed twice since the first almost couldn’t be seen:

20111120wr04 20111120wr05

Not sure you can see either of them here!

I had a chat to Katy afterwards about these results. She reckoned that I needed to reduce the tonal range of the images, that photolith plates were not good with wide ranges. I wasn’t sure how to do this in Photoshop so she volunteered to help me with this (and did) on the following Monday when I was in as a volunteer.

So, not a successful day in terms of results but extremely good in terms of my printmaking education. I’ve done a follow-up day’s printing using images altered to Katy’s suggestions developed as plates. That’s for the next post.


After a year of so or doing pretty much no art at all, I’m looking to start again. Our daughter has found a house and moved into it, clearing out her old study (and creating a lovely, cosy library/study in her new place). I’ve taken over this room, put back the desks I’d originally built for her when she was in school, rearranged the bookcases she had and moved my own junk in. I took some snaps on my phone last night:

Study 1 Study 2 Study 3 Study 4

I only got the stuff tidied away into drawers and onto shelves last night, so haven’t started any real work yet, but have been doing a lot of charcoal/pastel scribbling to try and get back into the feel of art making. I’ve a few ideas (and an order from my wife for some drypoint/carborundum prints ‘like Ross Loveday‘ – ha!) so will keep piddling about until one of them comes to the fore.

Testing Ground

Long time since I last posted here. I have done various bits of work myself and attended two courses at Leicester Print Workshop (one on Mezzotint ad one on Collagraphs), all of which I ought to have blogged about but simply haven’t got around to it. I will try to do better from now on.

Major workload for the past couple of months has been preparing for the Surface Gallery Volunteers show. Those who volunteer at the gallery get an opportunity to show off their own work during an annual exhibition. The range of talents amongst the volunteers is huge and, as 17 of us are showing work, this ought to be a really great show. Many thanks to Colette Griffin and the Exhibitions team for organising it all.

When I found out about the opportunity, I figured I’d show a few of the prints I’ve produced over the past few months. Then the team suggested a theme for the show: Testing Ground (see the website for more on this). I decided to take up this challenge and work out a mode of painting that suited me. I knew that it would have to be abstract painting: I’m really not into anything figurative.

I began with the idea of exploring my own location — here, in Kegworth, in the East Midlands. I looked at where I live using Google maps satellite images and the surrounding area, translated these into abstract shapes and marked out these shapes using acrylic pens then filled in the shapes using acrylic paint. This was interesting but just too forced. I then used torn and cut pictures from magazines collaged onto the paper, drew around them in pen and then painted over and around these — still too ‘realistic’.

The approach that did seem to produce results I could be satisfied with was to layer and build up the torn and cut out shapes into a sort of abstract collage and then work over them with paint so that the colours and shapes painted would work with and against the underlying shapes. I had moved from following the ‘sense of location’ idea into what I hoped was a pure abstract approach. I expected that I needed to work from the idea in the first place but also needed to abandon it.

Testing Ground series #1 Testing Ground series #2

I was really enjoying the challenge of painting abstracts: it really felt as though this was the way I needed to work (in painting, at least).The above are the first two of the paintings that I produced that I thought worth keeping. #1, on the left (I’m not going to try naming the paintings), was a matter of adding colours and shapes over the collaged pieces, building it all up, until the painting seemed to come together. The same approach with #2 didn’t work. I’d tried a looser approach to the painted shapes and it wasn’t cohering. In the end, I painted over a couple of areas with yellow and scraped parts of that back and over other parts of the painting and, with a couple more scraped shapes, it suddenly made sense (well, it did to me: I have no idea what anyone else will make of any of this stuff).

Testing Ground series #3 Testing Ground series #4

I then came under the influence of some real abstract artists, attending the wonderful The Indiscipline of Painting at Warwick Arts Centre Mead Gallery. I was especially taken by the Karin Davie piece, Symptomania no. 7, 2008. I wanted to try and create something similar. I started from the same type of collaged shapes, geometric ones overpainted in red in #3, on the left, and torn, organic shapes overpainted in green in #4. With #3, I then tried overpainting using brush strokes but could not get the same flow of paint that Davie achieves. Maybe it is acrylic vs oil but more likely it is her years of experience and brilliance. I continued adding layers of different coloured swirls but it really did look rubbish. I then returned to my usual approach of painting colours and shapes over the piece until it came together into something I could stop messing with.

The second attempt at this, #4, on the right above, I tried using card to scrape coloured swirls over the underpainting and shapes. This produced a better looking painting but still not one I was happy with. There was no depth to the painting. In the end I loaded a larger piece of card with multiple colours and scraped this over the painting. I liked the effect this made, especially where the card ran over ridges from the collaged shapes. This produced a texture that I thought worth keeping.

In the end, I wasn’t totally happy with these two paintings; maybe because they were so different from what I intended. I nearly left them out of the exhibition but the two guys at the gallery who helped me hang them actually picked these out as their favourites. Que sera.

Testing Ground series #5 Testing Ground series #6

With the next two paintings, I took a more linear, structured approach. #5, on the left above, was an attempt to play with the approach I’d been taking so far. Instead of collaging shapes onto the paper, I drew them on using acrylic ink pens, having first masked out a grid of rectangles (the grid may hark back to my obsession with the Kandinsky circles; see here and here).

I then brushed over these rectangles with acrylic. I loved the way the different colours interact with the ink. I tried to get a range of brush stroking going along with the different colours used, trying to balance them out. I’m pretty happy with the result. One day, I want to go back to this approach and explore some other combinations of inked shapes, colours and brush strokes but, for this series, I wanted to push on to another approach.

This time, with #6 on the right above, I painted the paper in a lime green, to give a clean starting base. Over this I laid a set of masking lines to create set shapes. I then painted swirls of umber and ochre over it all, and peeled back the masking lines. I then applied a different set of masking lines and used card with several colours on it to drag over the painting. It was okay but still not working as well as I wanted it to.

I’d been making some notes about my working practices and thought processes during this project (not as much as I’d intended from the start – what a surprise). Re-reading these brought back the ‘sense of location’ ideas I’d had at the beginning and I started thinking about how landscapes are appropriated and abused, how people will take areas of virgin land because it is clean and new and then mess it up to conform to their own idea of what a nice piece of land should be. That gave me the idea of how to bring the last painting together: I masked out some simple squares over those parts of the painting that still had ‘virgin’ green underpainting and blanked those parts out with white paint. This made the painting work for me.

Anyway, that is it for my works being shown in the exhibition. The idea of the exhibition is that we should continue to work and add to our pieces during the exhibition. I’m not sure whether I’ll do that as I’d marked April down as my poetry writing month. If I do add to my work, it will probably be in the form of collagraphs, but who knows.

I hope you can get to the Surface Gallery to see the show sometime. The Private View is tomorrow night, 6-8pm; all welcome. I’ll take my camera along with me tomorrow night and post about the show afterwards.


I decided to enter some work into the Surface Gallery Postcard show and have been working on ideas for a couple of months now. I’m going to submit the ‘Caliban’ print that I prepared for Laine at the Leicester Print Workshop (see previous post). I also prepared a set of collagraphs at LPW and have been working on some monotypes over the holiday period.

Now I just have to choose three from the following set of nine.

Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries Possible postcard show entries

Decision, decisions! I know, I’ll get wife & daughter to choose 😉

iPad painting

Have got behind on my blog postings recently. There are two or three printmaking sessions I need to cover but, just to fill in, I thought I’d post a couple more iPad paintings. As before, these are done with the ArtRage app. I love the way it blends paint as in real painting. I’ve not painted in oils before so don’t know how accurate it is but the colour muddying produces some great effects.

First painting is an abstract from a seascape photograph I found somewhere and downloaded:

iPad painting: seascape

I like the blue/pink/yellow effect in the top half of the image and the rust effect on the lower right. The swirls in the bottom middle — taken from where, in the photograph, the sea washes against the pier — are less effective. The marks themselves don’t fit, they unbalance the mark making in the rest of the image. Might try erasing that part of the image and see if it is possible to repaint — like scraping back a real painting. Or, maybe just take the lessons forward and have another go at a similar image. I did do a second, darker, one but it was even worse. What would be useful in ArtRage is a notepad alongside each work where you can record thoughts as you go along.

Today, I wanted to mess around with more muddied colours, so had a go at the good old circle again — one only this time instead of a grid of them.

iPad painting

I really like this one. The brush marks, the textures, the blurring and muddying of the colours. I like the balance of the colours as well. Maybe I should stick to painting abstract circles 🙂

I wonder how this would work as a collagraph. Hmm…

Life Drawing, weeks 3, 4 & 5

I still don’t ‘get’ life drawing. Yes, I know that ten hours is not going to make anyone proficient in anything. But, I seem to be struggling with drawing in itself. I don’t know if it is just that I find the struggle with proportion a little pointless in these days when a camera can capture it all for you instantaneously, after which you can simply take the photograph as a starting point for the actual art. Do I want to learn how to capture exactly what I see without any aid but my thumb? I’m more interested in translating what I see into what I want to represent but am bogged down in the basics. Maybe it is just that, at my age, I don’t really want to spend the next ten years learning the basics.

I still have one more five-session course and a weekend one early next year at Embrace Arts so we’ll see whether anything ‘clicks’. What I would like to learn from these courses is how to model form correctly. Maybe I should start practising this with still life compositions, but focusing on just parts of the composition without worrying about the whole. Maybe even start from photographs of a composition, line drawn on the iPad and printed and ruled up.

Anyway, back to the life drawing. Weeks 3 and 4 were pretty disastrous. We had a male model for those two weeks: I hope he never sees this post as he certainly wouldn’t recognise himself. I’m not great at drawing the female form but am really crap at the male form.

Life drawingLife drawingLife drawing

As always, 90% of my time is spent in just getting the proportions roughly right, so these are little better than line drawings. I was hoping to do better the next week, but no such luck! Diane had us try blue pastel on black paper for a change:

Life drawingLife drawing

Can’t say that was a success. The last, longer, pose was a little more successful in terms of getting the proportions right.

Life drawing

but the problem is that the whole thing looks wrong with such a complicated pose without proper modelling of the forms. Aargghhh!

Week 5 saw our female model return. I still had to spend all too long on getting proportions right, but at least she looks (reasonably) human!

Life drawingLife drawing

Life drawing

I think this last drawing is probably my most successful (phew!). I’d been able to capture some of the negative spaces correctly and was much better at sizing up using the head as the basis for all other measurements — something I’d not been able to do before.

Anyway, that is it for 2011 life drawing. I found a website with posed models and have created a couple of iPad line sketches from them. I may try, over the xmas break, to work on modelling form better. We’ll see.

Caliban linocut

The artist in residence at Leicester Print Workshop, Laine Tomkinson, is working on a project around Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She asked members of LPW to contribute images printed from 6″x4″ linocuts. After dithering about whether someone at my level of expertise ought to contribute, I eventually took a piece of lino home to work on.

I had a number of thoughts about the tempest itself and then about the feast but, on reading through the play, was struck by the stage direction at the beginning of II.2: [Enter CALIBAN, with a burden of wood. A noise of thunder heard].

My study of Shakespeare at school predated the arrival of feminist, post-colonial, psychoanalytic, etc reading of texts. But I’d read a lot of such analyses since and decided to produce a more sympathetic image of Caliban than would normally issue from a straight reading of the play.

Caliban lives on an island on which Prospero, a European intellectual, and his daughter, Miranda, are marooned. Prospero promptly enslaves Caliban, forcing him to do his bidding using his ‘magical’ powers, torturing him if he disobeys. Most of this is explicitly stated, though with the explanation that such treatment is justified because Caliban is a savage (read, non-European).

I wanted to make an image that made this slavery explicit. I drew some ideas on the iPad using ArtRage (my main art program on the iPad now) based on images found on the internet and out of books. Since the final image would be b&w, I loaded ArtRage with a black canvas and drew using a white pen. I exported this image, printed it as 6×4 and then traced the image onto the linocut using Tracedown White. After a couple of proofing prints, I found the right pressure on the hydraulic press and left the block with Laine to work with.

I also printed one fair copy for myself on nice paper:


The cut has a few problems — the lines on the face are too fine to reproduce easily. The pressure has to be just right. And the mouth did not work properly — bit too big. But not too bad for my third or fourth linocut.

I’m thinking of placing this in the Surface Gallery Postcard Show next year, if I can think of two more images to produce. We’ll see if anyone thinks it is worth £15 🙂

Life Drawing, weeks 1 & 2

Although my preference is more for abstract art than figurative, I still think it’s useful to be able to draw properly. After quite some effort, I can usually essay a reasonable likeness of what is in front of me, but am pretty dire at the human figure. So, I signed up to a couple of five week Life Drawing classes at Embrace Arts, the arts centre of the University of Leicester. The one that I am on now is ‘Life drawing: catching vitality‘ with tutor Diane Hall.

Week 1

I was somewhat nervous starting out. Mainly that my attempts would be ludicrous and everyone else would be producing much better work. I confided this in Diane beforehand and she reassured me that I was not the only beginner artist. I was still worried.

The class was a lot bigger than I thought it’d be – 16 of us, in all, plus one medical student doing an elective that involved attending the first few classes. The room was large enough to accommodate us all. 16 easels circling the centre where the model would pose.

We were asked to use charcoal for the first class. The model posed for half an hour as we tried to capture a likeness. I really floundered at this, trying over and over to get the proportions right. In the end, I had more erased than drawn. The model then took up the same pose after turning 90° to the left. I did better with this second pose although the upper body looks too narrow and the emphasis on the two legs is the wrong way around: at least this one looks like a human female!

Life Drawing class week 1 drawing 1 Life Drawing class week 1 drawing 2

After a break to give the model a rest (I don’t know how she does it), we started in on the third pose, again a quarter turn to the left. This one looks a little square and the lines are too same-ish. With the fourth drawing, I over compensated, I think, and made every line stand out. The proportions are better but the back leg doesn’t look as if it belongs to her. I gave up on trying to get the face right: I might have to resign myself to drawing people from the back! And with them wearing mittens and socks 🙂

Life Drawing class week 1 drawing 3 Life Drawing class week 1 drawing 4

I was quite pleased at the end of the evening. I had managed to produce some reasonable sketches in the time although I clearly had a long way to go. The worst part, though, was the screaming agony in my neck and shoulder. I’ve always had problems there and have learned to compensate by not holding my arm outstretched for too long. This does not work when you have a limited time to draw a pose. For the last drawing, I was holding and rubbing my right shoulder with my left hand while trying to draw and snatching my arm down every few seconds: the model must have thought me a real wuss.

Week 2

We began this week with the model walking around, moving her arms, changing body posture. I wasn’t at all sure what we were meant to do. The guys either side of me managed to draw poses out of the movement but I couldn’t even see how to do this. So, all I did was try to capture a few lines. Not a success. I don’t even think I got enough to turn it into an abstract and there really is no sense of movement there. We were given bundles of charcoal to use in drawing – three or four sticks taped together. I enjoyed using this: it produced some nicely textured lines.

After this session, the model held a pose for a short while. I used the bundle of sticks again for this drawing and tried to get a sense of dynamism into the drawing. I’m not sure I succeeded at that. It does look more ‘alive’ than those of the previous week with a better use of shading, and the proportions are better but the arm shapes don’t work and the legs are wrongly emphasised. Diane suggested that I needed to get more of a mixture of light and shade into the lines and I tried to take that on board for the final pose.

Life Drawing class week 2 drawing 1 Life Drawing class week 2 drawing 2

The last pose was a long one. She held it for about ten minus before the break and then the whole time after the break so we had plenty of time to work on our drawings. I did manage to get more variation into the lines this time, trying to thin the lines out where they were lighted and darken them where they were in shadow. I also made more use of shading, rubbing texture into the drawing with my fingers.

I know the drawing looks ‘wrong’ but, at the time, I couldn’t see how to fix it. Her right arm was bent inwards and tucked into her body with her weight leaning back on it and I feel I got the lines in the right place but the drawing doesn’t suggest that at all. It looks as though that arm is bent outwards and drawn badly. I didn’t get time to ask Diane how it might be made to look right – one of the problems of being in such a large class.

Life Drawing class week 2 drawing 3

My neck and shoulder were in agony again. I’m going to have to find some strengthening exercises, some avoidance techniques or get a jab of cortisone before every class! Still, I was happy with what I’d produced and am looking forward to next week.