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Improvisation – a new set of prints

Usually when I’m making gel prints, I’m improvising, reacting to what is in front of me. This might be the remains on the plate from a previous session or a random mark made to get started. That isn’t an approach that works with other print media, some of which require a lot of pre-planning. The ability to improvise, to find an image in random marks, can be liberating, but sometimes I need a framework.

When I first started gel printing, I explored the process by making dozens of prints using a cross motif. The current images use the same idea of a simple graphic shape, probably recognisable to almost everyone.

woodblock print of Mt Fuji by Hokusai
Fine Wind, Clear Morning from 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai

I wasn’t expecting to achieve the elegance of Hokusai’s print, but I am quite pleased with the way they are working out. All the prints, whether 15 cm x 15 cm (the first batch) or 30 cm x 30 cm, were made the same way. I slowly build the image up from layer after layer of paint. Some layers use transparent colours, others opaque. The aim is always to let underlying layers show through. Sometimes I do this by partially removing colour from the plate before taking an impression. This is part of the improvisatory process, responding to the chance juxtaposition of colours as they emerge.

My favourite way to remove the colour is with crumpled tissue paper, which leaves a beautiful texture in the paint. A by-product of that is a wonderful pile of colourful paper to use in collage.

First Batch

Prints in the first batch are all 15 cm square. I don’t know why I’m so attracted to the square, but I seem to be making most of my recent prints in this format.

Second batch

In the studio last week, I moved up in size, to 30 cm square. These are still work in progress, so I haven’t scanned them yet. These are just phone photos, so not properly square. As you can see, I’m beginning to elaborate the setting and still have work to do on the skies. There is still a way to go before I can call them finished.

Even with a strong concept in mind, accidents happen. Images go their own way and other themes emerge. The quick phone photos below are a good example. Again, these are very much unfinished. I don’t like that blob of green in the middle of a couple of them, so that will have to go. The second of these also needs more tonal variation. Provisionally, this series is called ‘String Theory‘.

None of these are in the shop yet, but there are many examples of the same improvisatory approach in the printmaking section.

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