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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 😉

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 🙂

Introduction to Letterpress

I spent yesterday at a wonderfully enjoyable workshop – Introduction to Letterpress –  run by Sat Kalsi at the Leicester Print Workshop. The day itself was very well organised and expertly run. Sat is a great teacher: knowledgeable, helpful and always encouraging. But she must have been exhausted by the end of the day.

We began with an introduction of how to set metal type using a composing stick. Sat had set out a number of type cases of different sizes, from 18pt to 36pt. I gravitated to an 18pt case as I had come prepared with some longish texts. I’d asked my wife and daughter for some texts that they might like set in addition to the Donne poem I was taking, The Sun Rising. Maggie chose Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 116 while Vick gave me some favourite extracts and poems.

It was obvious that I needed to choose the shortest piece to set and so began on the sonnet. Sat looked at the poem and recommended that I count the number of e’s and a’s in it to see if there was enough in the tray – there wasn’t, so she fetched me another tray, 18pt Garamond.

The composing stick has a sliding end which is set to the maximum length needed for the whole text, in multiples of 6pt, and is left there for the whole page. So, I first set the longest line of the sonnet, the line beginning ‘Whose worth’s unknown…’. This took a long time. The type was set out in an ‘Improved Double Case‘ (though a few of my letters were in slightly different places), so each letter was a matter of hunt and pick using the layout sheet provided. Unfortunately, a lot of the letters had been previously replaced in the wrong slots so I had to check each letter as I took it out.

It turned out I needed a 36pt line length. I wasn’t going to reset that line again so placed a spacer underneath it and began on the first line.

When one of us had enough lines ready to take off the stick, Sat showed us how to remove the lines from the stick and slide them onto the galley tray (a metal tray with raised edges). I did this in sets of four lines. The composing stick got incredibly heavy. It is held, resting on the left arm with the thumb of the left hand holding the last placed type in place. Since all the type is cast in lead, you can imagine what a six inch by 2 inch lump of lead feels like resting on your hand and arm all day long!

Type set in galley

This is a shot of the first eight lines of the sonnet in the galley tray. Each line has spacers at the end so that the letters are held quite tight and magnets (very powerful magnets – they take quite some effort to shift).

After the lines are taken off the composing stick onto the press, a proof is taken to check for mistakes. Sat rolled out some black ink (the same as for linocuts and other relief printing work) and showed us how to roll it onto the type. The whole galley tray is then taken to the Galley Press (a simple roller on guides) and a proof taken. Any mistakes then have to be corrected. This was not easy for someone with my clumsy fingers – I could have done with a pair of tweezers but I guess they aren’t used as they’d damage the lead type. Luckily, as my tray had so many letters in the wrong place, I’d been closely checking my work as I went along so only had about four mistakes in the whole text, e.g.:

letterpress proof

By the time I’d set the whole poem, my back was killing me. Standing up, leaning over a desk all day is not fun. I’d got used to hunting out the letters so was able to sit down towards the end, but was still very sore.

Sat hunted out a nice gothic-style face, 18pt Light English Text, for me to use on the title for the poem and I set that and proofed it.

Setting such a longish text took me a long time. Others on the workshop set more sensible length texts and were able to do more than one. A couple of people moved on to setting wooden type to make sizeable posters. Another woman had brought some paper onto which she had painted a few colours and printed onto that – it looked great.

After checking the proof, I transferred the text to a chase – a heavy metal frame which takes your text block and uses quoins and other furniture to lock it into place in a much more stable way than with the magnets in the galley tray. I then used this on the Britannia Press to print onto stock paper:

Sonnet 116

This is my second-best printing. The best one went to Maggie.

I’d like to thank Sat for all the help she gave me during the workshop. It was a fantastic day and I’m very pleased with the amount I learned and with the printed results.

Two collagraphs

I have been working on a set of collagraphs, recently. When I attended the Leicester Print Workshop ‘Introduction to Print’ evening class (see here for next class), my attempt at a collagraph was rather a disaster.

We worked on mountboard card. Nichola showed us how to make dark lines by scoring into the card (using craft knifes) and how to add texture by removing the top section of the mountboard to expose the slightly fluffy card below (middle grade shading), adding carborundum (heavy shading) or just adding PVA glue (light shading, near white-out).

My attempt was to try and create a shaded version of a photograph of my daughter sitting on a bench in Sherwood Forest. I got the lines pretty much in the right place and some of the shading looked ok but the image overall was, frankly, crap. That’s why I didn’t post about that class. The medium did not lend itself to representation imaging — not at my level of expertise, anyway.

I was determined to learn more about what I could do with collagraphs. I had the excellent book, Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking by Brenda Hartill & Richard Clarke (one of the brilliant Printmaking Handbook series from A & C Black) and wanted to try all the techniques described.

I had bought a stack of offcut mountboard from Ferrers Frames, picked out five that arranged pretty well on an A3 sheet, and thought about what to do. I originally started with the idea of a series based on landscapes from our recent trip to NZ and did pretty much keep to that theme. I also tried several techniques. One plate had most of it lifted out and filled with polyfiller which I sculpted and tried to make into landscape-y shapes. With another, I took a photograph of windswept trees, laid it over the plate and cut through photograph and plate: it was interesting when bits of the photograph fell away as I was cutting so I could not use it as a guide any more. Another plate had bits of corrugated card (from an Amazon delivery — something we have plenty of), ripped paper and cotton threads glued to it. One long one, I cut on the coarse side of the mountboard to retain that texture. A fifth and final piece was simply built from geometric shapes. I added texture to the images using some fine sand since I’d been unable to get any carborundum (it cost more for the shipping than for the grit itself).

I varnished all the plates and they were ready only a day before I was due to go into the workshop (I planned to go in on a Wednesday as the workshop is open late so I would be sure to have enough time to get at least one print looking right).

I inked the plates up, laid them out on a piece of newsprint to which I had transferred the plate locations and printed onto a sheet of proof paper. It was a complete mess. I had not removed anywhere near enough ink and passing it through the rollers squeezed ink all over the paper. I was able to run a second sheet through and get a complete image without any re-inking. But I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I got on with a second print that I’d made — see below — and worked on that through until the early afternoon when I had that one right.

Then, even though I was knackered, I decided to have one last go at the 5-plate print again. I spent more time inking and wiping down this time. And it paid off. The print was much better. Still not brilliant, though. The top left plate was too dark so that the lines did not show — I ought to have wiped the surface down much more but had only put one coat of varnish on because of the thin lines and I think the ink had seeped into the plate. The corrugated card had made a nice shape but the carved polyfiller was a bit naff. The geometric shapes plate was okay but the vertical water flow one did not really work though I liked the texture of the reverse surface. Not a good set of plates but I learned a lot from making them.

collagraph 1: trials

I had made another, completely different, plate on the day before going in to the workshop. I just had in mind the image of a crow standing on a desert floor with a huge sun in the background. I couldn’t find an image of a bird I liked but did find one of a bird flying away from the camera. I created this one differently as well. I painted the mountboard with a couple of coats of acrylic gesso to provide a nicely toothed surface then used a drypoint needle to scratch the sun and outline of the bird into the plate. I liked the rough way the needle scratched into the surface: not making a clean line but a jagged, coarse one. I laid down some sand and glue into the image for more texture.

I managed to get a really good colour mix with this image, printed it and, again, had the ink run. This time from the bird where I again had too much sand embedded so that it was impossible to remove enough ink. I scrubbed the plate clean of ink, re-inked all the areas around the bird and asked Nichola how I might ink the bird to avoid making another mess. We looked at the plate and it seemed, even after all the cleaning that there was a lot of ink left so I ran the plate through. This image printed well but I didn’t like the colours.

I spent a long time on the third inking, trying to get the colours to blend and work together. I also rubbed the bird down quite a lot, even using cotton buds to remove ink from in the sand. I was very nervous wen lifting the paper but it turned out pretty good. All the hard work had paid off. Not perfect, but encouraging.

collagraph 2: flight

Overall, I was very pleased with the day, especially with the bird image. I may just have another go at collagraphs!

Playing on the iPad

For the last week or so, I’ve been working out an idea for a print using five collagraph plates arranged on an A3 size sheet of paper. Each collagraph will be abstract but based on shapes and colours from some of the thousands of photographs we took in New Zealand. Each plate is formed from a mountboard offcut so they’re different sized rectangles mainly (I bought a couple of bags of these offcuts from a framing shop in the Ferrers Centre (Ferrers Frames). I’ve been experimenting on scraps with cutting shapes, filling holes with plaster filler and pushing shapes into them, sealing with spray varnish etc. The whole thing will likely be a complete mess but I hope it’ll let me set a number of lessons into one print. Look out Leicester Print Workshop when I’m done: pity the technician on duty when I come in to try and make this work 🙂

Anyway, the reason for this print is that I wanted to try out an idea for one of the vertical strips of mountboard: a sort of waterfall effect. So, I’ve been scribbling on the iPad using ASketch and InspirePro (just discovered that Cmd-Shift-S on OS X takes a screenshot and sticks it into Evernote).

In ASketch, I drew the vertical shape and then sketched in the rock shapes. It is great the way the lines interact, bleeding from one into the other. Gives some great effects (which you’ll get a better idea of from the website than from my scribbles).


(The squiggle on the right was Vick’s contribution.)

Then, in InspirePro, I had a go at adding some colours to the sketch (by saving the ASketch to the photo album then using that as the canvas in InspirePro). Using a dry-ish brush and quite dark colours, I got an idea of what I want to achieve. InspirePro allowed me to upload the pics to Flickr.


It’ll be a long time sketching on the iPad and trying to realise the sketches in prints, before I know what will and won’t work, but I do love the learning process.

Etching: not quite Rembrandt

For Maggie’s birthday a month ago, I produced a couple of print works. As a card, I made a linocut of some windswept trees that she loved in New Zealand. And, as a present, an etching copied from one of a morepork cut into bamboo (a technique I’d like to try when I have the time, materials and cutting tools I’m no longer attached to!).

While at Leicester Print Workshop doing the etching, I begged Nicola to help me fix a plate that I’d covered in hard ground but which was very patchy. I stripped the ground from it, cleaned it and Nicola showed me how to apply the ground properly. It still wasn’t properly covered, no matter how much we tried to rub more ground in, so I stripped that back again. While I was washing the plate I realised what I’d been doing wrong (out of sight of Nicola, I must add, or she would have spotted it). To ensure all the Cif was cleaned from the plate after degreasing, I’d wiped the plate with my hands while it was under the running water. Even with the water flowing and my hands scrubbed, I was still putting grease onto the plate – doh!

So, with the plate properly degreased, the ground went on easily and well. Amazing the results you can get when you do a job properly.

Anyway, I’d taken the plate home intending to work on another etching but was side-tracked by gallery work. I only got around to doing the drawing last week. I had looked through an online listing of Rembrandt prints and like one of three cottages, so printed out a reversed copy scaled to A5 size (the size of the plate). This is the original:

3 cottages 1

I figured that using carbon paper to transfer the image would be futile as the hard ground is very dark. However I’d heard about some stuff that did the same job in white and eventually found it on Amazon: Tracedown paper. It did a great job of letting me trace the outline of the image onto the plate with very little pressure, so not damaging the grounds. And it was brilliantly white, so much that I wasn’t sure I’d see where I’d drawn through the grounds – turned out not to be a problem though.

The other goody I’d bagged from Amazon was to help hold the plate still. I’d actually planned on buying this stuff to help with linocut work, so I didn’t need a bench hook (which I thought Maggie might object to my using in the kitchen and which I had found less than wholly useful). It was a non-slip material designed to go under rugs to stop them slipping across polished floors: Non slip safety mat. It proved very useful in working on the etching plate. I was able to use both hands to hold the etching needle for fine control (well, for any control; my hands shiver and twitch on any delicate work) and the plate stayed in place. And, unlike with the bench hook, I could place the work at any angle.

So, I cut the image and really enjoyed doing so. The intricate work was fun, if difficult. Using two hands worked well, only a couple of trembles added unwanted bits to the image. I’m also just noticing how very detailed the image is above. The laser jet copy I used to copy the stroke marks was woefully inadequate. I’m not excusing my woeful technique, only that working from a poor copy exacerbates the problems. Something else to consider next time. I’ll have to have my laptop or iPad next to my workspace in future.

Another gadget I found useful was an illuminated magnifier (bit like this but with a massively heavy baseplate rather than clamp). It was only moderately useful though. I found that it was difficult to get my hands between the glass and the work and shifting my head put stuff out of focus. I’ll probably get used to it but, this time, found it easier to take my glasses off and have my head almost resting on my hands :).

With all that done, I took the plate into LPW last Thursday for printing. Serena was in on that day and she helped me find stuff and get things ready. She was working on some large scale prints celebrating the 25th anniversary of the workshop. I was really chuffed when, later on, Sarah Kirby came in and began printing up one of her linocuts next to me. I loved her work first time I saw it in there and it was great seeing her work and chatting to her. The precision of her linocutting work is really highlighted when you see the piece of lino itself.

So, to the results. I printed only on proof paper using black ink and, for the first impression, wiped back completely. I knew it’d look better with ink left smudged on the plate but wanted one impression with the lines clear.

3 cottages 1

and, with smudges left on:

3 cottages 2

The cottages are indistinct and the foliage lines could be better. Still, not bad for my third etching. I’ll get there.

I wanted to go in and prepare another plate but the two I still have left are badly marked. The little circle on my images, middle left, is the result of a water stain (as Serena explained to me) caused by letting the plates dry too slowly after degreasing. The two plates I have left are very stained. I may save them for some collagraph work.

That’s it for now. More when I can get time to do more work.


So, the fourth of the Leicester Print Workshop ‘Introduction to Print’ classes was last night. This time it was etching with hard ground. The whole process is rather involved but much less complicated than I thought (I wasn’t really looking forward to this session). Because of the time constraints, Nichola had already provided us with zinc plates already prepared with hard ground but did show us how to do it ourselves.

The shiny side of the zinc plate is degreased (with Cif) and then placed onto a hot plate (huge chunk of metal sitting on one of the side benches: wondered what that was for, other than stacking paper onto and banging my elbow into). A blob of hard grounds is rubbed & melted into the shiny surface of the plate after it has heated up and then smoothed out all over the plate (using a tool – dabber? – that looks like a darning mushroom covered in leather). The plate is then left to cool and the grounds to harden. But our plates were already at that stage.

Scribing the plate was much the same process as with the first lesson on drypoint, but with less pressure being required since we were only cutting through the ground and not into the plate. This time, I did not try to transfer an image onto the plate before scribing, just used a photograph of a canal in Venice and then hand drew it. I’m no good at this process. Working that small (my plate was only about 3″ x 3″), any hand shakes cause a bit of damage and my hand does tend to shake when I try to draw clean small lines. But I ended up with something that everyone later recognised as a Venice canal so was not too disastrous. I tried using other tools like the roulette (see the lines in the sky) but without much success.

After finishing the image we had to protect the back and side of the plate, the back by putting packing tape over it and the sides by painting varnish onto it. Then the plate was lowered into the acid bath (10:1 water : nitric acid), in my case for about 11 minutes. While in the bath, the ground took on a dark colour and bubbles of air formed over the plate. The bubbles were brushed away with a feather. When finished, the plate was lifted out (we were wearing gloves and goggles with all the acid work) and washed in water. The ground was then removed by rubbing the plate with white spirit at which point it was ready for printing.

The printing process was the same as for drypoint: scrape ink onto the plate, rub it into the grooves and off the surface using scrim, polish using telephone directory paper and tissue paper, lay onto the press bed, face up, on top of sheet of newsprint, lay damp sheet of printing paper over the plate and another sheet of newsprint over that and print.

My first print was:

venice canal etching 01

It looked ok. Nichola then suggested I could leave some surface ink in places to add some atmosphere and so I did this, leaving it on the water and sky with the result:

venice canal etching 02

Much better. I don’t think my drawing skills are up to this approach but it was more enjoyable and much easier than I thought it would be. I will have a go at this again, in the future. I’ve joined LPW as a member so will be able to go along any time to try this again. I may try copying some old master prints to get a hang of the techniques.


Last week’s print course session was on linocut printing. I really loved doing this. Knowing in advance what we were going to do, I went through my list of photographs and chose a few that had a good amount of contrast. With each of these, I used Lightroom to produce a clean B&W print, which I further modified to produce an image that looked good in what was basically 2-bit. Of those, two seemed to present the best combination of not-too-difficult alongside still-interesting-image. I cropped and printed each as 6×4 (since that was the size we were told the lino would be: btw, one guy on the course asked what lino was: see this fascinating wikipedia article), both normal and reverse.

Nichola gave us each some basic instruction in lino preparation and cutting, handed out the tools and then left us to it. I picked the simplest of my images but even that proved to take a long time.

I put some carbon paper onto the lino and the reverse image over that and then traced out the lines. I was going to scribble in the areas to be cut out but it took me so long to do the tracing I was running out of time so I just started cutting. Hell, it hurt after a while. I probably wasn’t holding the cutting tools correctly. At least I hope I wasn’t since my thumb was still partially numb three days later!

Most of the class were making multiple prints while I was still cutting so I stopped in the end and just printed what I had. I can see bits where I cut what I shouldn’t and other bits that were left that should have been removed. Still the images look ok.

The photograph I started with was (blurred line through the middle is a telephone wire):

bird in tree

I made three prints. The first in orange, second in black and third in purple. The third looked much like the second so I’ve left it out. The first two were:

linocut: bird in tree: orange print


linocut: bird in tree: black print

I’m really pleased with these. I enjoyed the work, love the type of image produced and am sure that this and monoprinting are the way I’m meant to go. This week is hard ground etching, which I’m less sure of. Still need to decide on images to take along.

One lesson I need to remember is to allow more time for carving, which should be okay since I’ll probably work on the carving at home and only take the lino in when I have a few to print. More important is to properly mark out the cutting areas on the lino. Using carbon paper is not good enough. As I was cutting, my hand was erasing other parts of the tracing. Nichola suggested going over the tracing with permanent ink which I’ll do in future.

Also need to use any photograph only as a starting point. I need to trace the photograph onto paper (or not even that) and then compose the image I want using black pen and brush.


Much too late with this post. So much that I cannot recall what I did during the session. These are the results of the second week of my printmaking course at LPW, on Monoprinting. Nichola first explained what monoprinting was and how we’d go about it. We were each given a metal plate to use which we inked up with plain black ink. Back on our worktables, we first took one impression onto newsprint to remove a layer of ink so that later impressions were not smudged with the excess ink.

Then we proceeded to lay sheets of newsprint onto the plate and ‘draw’ onto the newsprint to leave an impression on the side touching the plate. We drew with pencils, fingers, and anything else that would leave a mark where the paper was pressed into the plate. I did not know what we’d be doing (would have been useful to know more in advance so that we could prepare ideas) so I basically scribbled to see what would happen.

Monoprint B&W 01 Monoprint B&W 02

#1 is scribbling with a pencil on the back; lots of ink transferred since the plate is unused. #2 is more scribbling plus pressing edge of set square down and rubbing it lengthways.

Monoprint B&W 03 Monoprint B&W 04

#3 is scribbling again then rubbing with finger. #4 is more sort of drawing; still getting good marking even with all the previous prints. The plate was never re-inked during the whole print taking session.

Monoprint B&W 05 Monoprint B&W 05

#5 was tearing out some pieces of paper, laying them over the plate and smoothing over with my hand. #6 was the same (with one piece of paper removed – didn’t like the effect) and then smoothing more forcefully with the edge of the set square. Can’t have been too much ink left at this stage.

The next stage was to use colour and rollers. The plate was cleaned of black ink and several colours were rolled out onto the preparation surface. We used the rollers to roll out strips or edges (using edge of roller) of colour, blended colours on the plate and scratched patterns onto the plate or masked bits off (I didn’t do that). Then the plate was printed onto damp paper using the roller press.

Monoprint colour 01-1

I made a second print to see how it came out (and liked this print better).

Monoprint colour 01-2

Since the time allowed, I wiped the plate clean and rolled/scratched further colours and designs onto it.

Monoprint colour 02-1

I liked this one as well. Which I also printed a second time but, in this case, did not like the second print, it came out very bland. I think I used two different presses for the two sets so it is likely the second was tighter and more ink transferred to the first print leaving little for the second.

Monoprint colour 02-2

I really could have spent a day doing this, trying out different techniques and colours, rather than the two hours we had. The only downside was how inordinately covered in ink my hands were time and again. They were stinging at the end of the two hours from the paint, vegetable oil used to clean the plates and swarfega used to wash out hands. Will invest in a few boxes of latex gloves in the future.

But it was a really enjoyable session. I preferred this to the drypoint.

Seagull print

Last night I went to the first of six sessions in an introduction to printmaking course at Leicester Print Workshop. Our first lesson was in drypoint. We’d been asked to take along some sketches or ideas so I printed out a load of photographs that I thought might translate. I thought the one of a seagull (posted here on 27-Apr) would be easiest for me to complete yet give an interesting print, with this as the result.

seagull print

I have to say that I made a real mess with the ink and stuff and scratching out the image onto the plastic made my hand sore but the thrill of seeing the image revealed after running it through the press is really wonderful. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the course.

And maybe next time I’ll remember that the image comes out reversed and will reverse all my photographs first Winking smile