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Vintage Noir

As a sideline, I sell reproductions of a range of images. I have available many maps, fashion plates, photography, travel ephemera and much more. This post is about images I have with a noir feel.

Film Noir

Browns Landing - rural noir photogrspha
Brown’s Landing Rice Creek

French film critic Nino Frank originally coined the term noir in 1946. In the 1970s, it was applied retrospectively to Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. The literal translation is Black Film, but a closer rendering is Dark Film.

Darkness is key to the genre. It may be literal, as in classic 1940s thrillers such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. It may be metaphorical, as in the many films with stories involving femmes fatales and tough, cynical detectives.

Definitions

Monochrome photo of Dallas at night 1942
Dallas 1942

There is no clear agreement on what is or isn’t a noir film. Common elements include low-key lighting, stark light/dark contrasts and dramatic shadow patterning. They often use low, or skewed camera angles. They typically have unusually convoluted story lines. Voice over narration is a particular noir hallmark. The most extreme example is perhaps Sunset Boulevard, where the narrator is dead.

Key Themes

Monochrome photo showing girl alone in bar
Girl alone in bar

Crime, usually murder, is a feature of almost all noir films. Greed or jealousy are frequent motivations. The central character is often flawed or morally compromised. They are typically drawn from a narrow range of archetypes — hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, corrupt policemen or jealous husbands. Amnesia, false suspicions, accusations of betrayal or double-cross are common.

The genre is associated with big city settings, but small towns and rural locations also feature.

In noir films, it is always raining, always nighttime. When it isn’t raining, it is hot. Whatever the setting, corruption is endemic – in modern parlance, ‘institutional corruption’ is rife.

Modern Usage

Pittsburgh street at night
Pittsburgh Street at night

The term has evolved to describe a mood or feeling. The best known usage is perhaps the genre of Scandinavian or Nordic noir. This is crime fiction written in Scandinavia, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex setting. Dark secrets and hidden hatreds hide behind a facade of equality, social justice, and liberalism.

I have chosen the images scattered through this post from those originally tagged ‘noir’ in my old shop. If any are of interest, whether for their own sake or as part of a decorative scheme, please get in touch.

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More play…

My last post talked about creative play as an essential part of the artistic process. I don’t have much to add to that, other than to post some examples of outcomes. These are the vertical panoramas I referred to in that post. Several are in the shop already, but the full set so far are posted below. I’m sure there will be more while I have problems working in my studio.

I find also that playing digitally is a source of inspiration for the inky fingers type of printmaking. I can try out broad compositions very quickly and ‘back out’ of them equally quickly if they don’t work. Digital files also provide useful sources for stencils. I cut these from Mylar with a digital cutter. The model I use is a Cricut Maker, but there are several other brands

I took the decision to issue these as limited editions. This is something I still don’t feel entirely happy with, especially given the nature of digital images, but it seems to be expected by buyers. I do however print all my own work. No one else is involved. Please let me know what you think about the issue in the comments.

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Make time for play

For me setting aside time for play is a key part of creativity. It’s a way to get past my inner censor. It allows me to fail. That’s important because without failure there is no measure of success.

It’s almost a month since I spent time in my studio. Initially I took a break to think, because I found myself repeating the same thing. The work looked superficially different, but the process was the same, and so less and less enjoyable. Some health issues then intervened, so my time away from the studio became even more protracted.

I’ve already blogged about making digital prints. They are where I came from as a printmaker, so an important part of my practice. Going back to them while not in the studio was still a form of play. It gave me the freedom to think about ideas of shape and form and composition without investing too much time. Or money for that matter, since decent paper is not cheap. In the end, even though I was ‘only playing’ the outcomes were very satisfying, and I ended up with two ‘suites’ of prints. One is a set of square prints which relate quite strongly to the monotypes I have been making all year. The second set are panoramic in format, but oriented vertically. I wanted to avoid any landscape references and make these wholly abstract.

Digital abstract print
Aksinto – digital abstract print

This isn’t the first time I’ve used play to generate work. Back in 2014 I made a set of what I later called Tinies. I was painting then and very bad at judging how much paint to put on my palette. Rather than waste the leftovers I took, as I realised later, what were monotypes from the palette using some heavy mixed media paper I had to hand. Later I cut these down into small squares, each about 25-30 mm on a side. My original intention was to reassemble them into a collage.

I never made any progress, although I did play around with the pieces for a while. I kept the pieces though, then later still, mounted a selection of these to fit into a 6” x 6” frame (150 mm). When I took these to an ‘art boot sale’, to my surprise they sold very well. Many were sold before I decided to number the rest into a series – Tiny 2014.

The next year I acquired a number of pieces of mount board, originally samples of different colours. I used these to make a set of collagraph plates, experimenting with materials like tile cement. Printing these allowed me to play gain, experimenting with colour combinations, trying out the effects of overprinting colours. These became Tiny 2015.

Tiny collagraph
Tiny 2019 No 12 – collagraph

Tiny 2017, was another set of ‘found images’, this time cut from failed monotypes made with oil based inks, while Tiny 2019 was a return to the small collagraph plates. So far there have been no more.

Now though, I’m itching to get back to physical printing. I find it immensely satisfying to see an image gradually emerge out of the clutter of bits of paper, stencils and general rubbish I use to make my monotype prints. How I do that will be covered in another post.

I hope though that I can still retain the freedom from the last few weeks of ‘playtime’.

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Panchromatica Designs

architectural illustration

As I said in my last post, I used to have an online business on Etsy, known as Panchromatica Designs, selling reproductions of vintage illustrations. At its peak, I had about 600 items in that shop.

These included :

  • maps,
  • theatre posters,
  • Japanese prints,
  • photographs,
  • ocean liner postcards,
  • propaganda posters,
  • comic books,
  • architectural illustrations,
  • fashion plates and,
  • a huge variety of other materials.

The listed items were only a fraction of what I had available. You can get a small taste from the WordPress blog I set up, also called Panchromatica Designs, although all the Etsy links are of course broken.

I closed the business to concentrate on my own work, but still have all the files. I’m intending to sell a selection of these vintage illustrations here, but only as part of a wider strategy focussing on B2B. Images I sold through Etsy were used in locations as varied as pubs, escape rooms and even tattoo parlours. The range I have is equally suitable for B&Bs, guest houses, reception areas or any public facing area.

Items listed here will be for sale at retail prices, but the wider range will be available on wholesale terms. I will have a wholesale price list and line sheet available soon. If you think I can help you in the meantime, please get in touch.

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Looking for Vintage Illustrations?

I used to have an online business selling reproductions of vintage illustrations such as maps, posters, Japanese prints and a huge variety of other materials. I gave this up to concentrate on my own work, but still have thousands of scanned images available. This post is simply putting down a marker for the future for anyone looking for vintage illustrations. I’m slowly going to add a selection to the site, but in the meantime I’m happy to talk about providing images for interiors and similar. In the past I know they have been used in bars and cafés, escape rooms, even tattoo parlours, but they are equally suitable for B&Bs, guest houses, reception areas or any public facing area. You give me a theme and I almost certainly meet your requirements.

Depending on the nature of the original, I’m flexible on sizes. Some can be printed almost to bedsheet size, others were originally tiny and don’t really scale up. Others again can be resized quite dramatically. Strangely, this is often easiest with the poorest quality originals, such as comic books from the 1940s and 1950s.

Here’s a selection to whet your appetite. They are not in the shop yet, but are available for sale. I’m going to post some guideline prices soon.

If any of this interests you, then get in touch. You can find more blog posts on this topic here.

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New Digital Prints – now in the shop

I’ve posted before about using my monotype prints as source imagery for digital prints. I’ve started adding some of these prints to the shop. You can find them here, but I’ve added a few tasters below. I’ve bitten the bullet and made them limited edition (they will all be in editions of 50}. I don’t like doing it, but every time I ask others, they seem to prefer a limited edition to open. They will be in a mat sized for a 50 cm x 50 cm frame, so will fit readily available commercial frames, or you can have one made.

I’m thinking about offering some of them in a portfolio form, perhaps with some additional material. I don’t know what the market would be for something like that, so any observations or views would be welcome. When I have a better idea of what I want to do, I’ll put up a form so you can register an interest.

  • digital abstract print in pastel colours
  • Digitlal abstract print
  • digital print with rounded abstract shapes
  • Abstract Digital print in bright colours
  • Digital print mainly in blue and yellow
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More about the Site Update

Shows words Gift Voucher over landscape image

I’ve now finished rearranging the menu structure, so the site update is almost complete. The menu bar is currently a bit messy, but it gives access to the items in the shop with fewer clicks to find specific pieces.

I’ve added Gift Vouchers to the menu as a distinct product. Terms and Conditions, Returns Policies, Privacy etc can be found under the About option. I have also added a specific Contact Form under that too, so if you have any questions that’s where to look.

I now have to continue editing the products I brought in from my Etsy shop to put them in the correct categories so that they show up in the right place, as well as adding more of the many I’ve been working on during lockdown.

Longer term, I’m going to set up an Exhibition of the Week/Month, which will draw together a selection of images to create an online show. This is likely just to be a slide show for now, but there are some exiting developments that allow creation of virtual gallery shows. I need to look into those in a bit more detail before I commit myself. In particular, I don’t want to have to do yet another site update.

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Site Update

I have started on a site update. The About page has already been rewritten, and the main menu has been rearranged slightly. My next step is to review the shop structure and of course add more content to it. Once that is completed, I will be adding some internal links to help with navigation of the site. If you find any problems, please let me know.

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Artist book ‘Grafia Callada/Hushed Writing’

This isn’t the post I intended for today, which I’m still writing. Instead, here is a YouTube video about a wonderful artist book I came across only this week. It is by Pepe Gimeno and is described as “a book about writing without a single word.” Watch the video, and you will see how apt that description is.

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Using your gel prints as a resource for digital printmaking

I haven’t finished cutting the stencils from the previous post, so I’ve been playing with combining the files digitally. The results were quite interesting in themselves, but also triggered some ideas about combining these stencils with dry points also made from digitally cut plates. I will be parking those for now, but it is definitely something I want to explore at a later date. In this post, I want to concentrate on using these separation files in digital printmaking.

As I said in my previous post, Paint Shop Pro (PSP) can create colour separation files, but these are too ‘busy’ to use directly for cutting. Once cleaned up and simplified, the new files can be recombined in the same fashion as the originals. This is the start point for this post. I’m using images made by gel printing, but you can of course use any digital image, including photographs.

This is “Waterloo Sunrise”. Like those in my previous post, it is a monotype made with acrylic on paper. You can buy it here.

Grey scale images

These are the grey scale images from the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK channels.

It is worth noting here that PSP can also make RGB separations, i.e. Red, Green, Blue, which can be cleaned up and simplified in the same way. This is what you get from those separations.

Creating combinations

These greyscale separation files can be used in various ways to extend your digital printmaking and allow you to try out ‘digital proofs’ before you start on the physical print. I’ve provided numerous examples below.

Here for example is the image made using the simplified CMYK files.

Version of original image made using simplified CMYK files
Image made from simplified CMYK files

Here is the image made from the simplified RGB files

Version of original image made using simplified RGB files
Image made using simplified RGB files

Mixing things up

But what happens when you swap the Cyan file out for the Green?

Version of original image using Green in place of Cyan in CMYK files
Image from Green, Magenta, Yellow and Black

Or replace the Magenta with Red?

Version of original image made using Red in place of Cyan in CMYK
Image from Cyan, Red, Yellow and Black

Or indeed Blue with Magenta

Version of original image made using Magenta instead of Blue in RGB
Image made using Red, Green, Magenta

You don’t have to use the simplified files. The original separations can be recombined in this way too. It is off-topic for this post, but try doing this with photographs. The effect ranges from slightly ‘off’ to wildly surreal.

Other effects are possible if the colours are juggled around as say YCKM or KCMY.

Version of original image shuffling CMYK files as YCKM
Image made as YCKM
Version of original image shuffling CMYK files as KCMY
Image made from KCMY

You can of course combine the different separations and juggle them.

Version of original image shuffling CMYK and RGB files as MCGR
Image made as MCGR

It is possible to use the same file more than once

Version of original image made using Cyan twice, second copy replacing Yellow as CMCK.
Image made using cyan twice as CMCK

The duplicated file can also be rotated (if square) or flipped/mirrored otherwise. In this one, Cyan is mirrored horizontally, with this version replacing Yellow. You can see that the green bar – a mixture of cyan and yellow on screen, is now shown as the two separate colours with a tiny slice of green where they overlap.

Version of original image made using Cyan twice, the second copy mirrored as CMCK
Image made using cyan twice but second copy mirrored.

Taking it further

By now, it should be obvious that the original content is irrelevant. We are using these files simply as abstract shapes. With the seven possible files from the original image, you have over 800 possible combination if you treat them as CMYK. (That’s 7x6x5x combinations.) It would be many more if you allow the same file to be used more than once. Throw in a second image and the number of permutations mushrooms to over 24000! (14x13x12x11)

There are obviously a lot of choices available, although as you try them out you will start to get a feel for what is likely to work best for you. While It is almost miraculous how colours appear as if from nowhere, the prosaic explanation is simply that whatever file is used in, for example the ‘C’ location, the computer thinks it represents Cyan and treats it accordingly when the file is displayed.

‘Real World’ parallels

There are ‘real world’ parallels. In the later years of their lives, both Bert Irvin and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham made large numbers of screen prints. Independently they both seemed to create a ‘library’ of screens from painted marks which were then combined in various ways to produce their prints.

Even if you never print any of these digital recombinations, the process I’ve described can be used as a kind of digital proofing, to get a sense of how shapes work together before you ever apply ink or paint to paper or canvas. If you want to try digital printmaking, this approach gives you a useful entry point. Give it a try. I would love to see what you come up with. If I get enough responses, I’ll put them together in a post.