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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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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.

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Making stencils for gel printing with a digital cutter – part 1

This is the first of a planned series of posts about making stencils for gel printing using a digital cutter. In my case it is a Cricut Maker, but the principles are general.

These stencils came out of some thoughts I had about making silk screen versions of my gel prints. I was hoping to use colour separations. This is the process by which original full-colour digital files are separated into individual colour components for four-colour process printing. Every element in the file is printed in a combination of four colours: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. This is known as CMYK in the world of commercial printing and in silk screen printing. This isn’t an original idea, of course. Anyone familiar with Matisse will almost certainly be aware of his stunning cutouts, but may not be aware that they were also published in silk screen versions.

I began with a scan from one of my prints. I created the CMYK colour separations with Paint Shop Pro (from now on PSP). Unfortunately, I no longer have access to screen beds, so this is currently not an option. In practice, I don’t think I’m fit enough any more, to spend several hours pulling ink through the screens. However, having already used scans of pen drawings to make stencils, I decided to experiment with these separations. The print I’m using here is called ‘Area 52’, available from my shop.

The image below is an example of one of the colour separations. This is from the magenta colour channel. In this form, it clearly can’t be used directly to make a stencil suitable for gel printing.

Magenta colour separation from original image file. Not suitable for making stencils in this form.
Magenta colour separation from original image file

Simplifying the file

To create a version that can be cut as a stencil, it needs to be much simplified. I did this using various tools in PSP, which led to this. (More details of the process by which I did this, will be in later posts. If you can’t wait though, get in touch and I’ll try to help.)

Simplified magenta file suitable for making stencils
Simplified Magenta channel

PSP allows me to digitally recombine these simplified images, which led in turn to this image. This is closer to what you would get with screen printing, but is useful to visualise the outcome.

Digitally image from recombination of simplified image. Simulation of effect of using stencils made by digital cutter.
Digital image created from recombined and simplified channels

Be flexible

However, just because a file is called magenta, doesn’t mean that it has to be used that way. PSP allows me to digitally recombine the image files in any order. With four files to combine, there are 24 possible combinations, so this one below is just one. It helps to make a point though. When the stencils are cut and used to make gel prints, you have complete freedom in the colour you use.

Digital image created by shuffling colour separation files when recombining. Simulation of effect of using stencils made by digital cutter.
Image created by recombining channels in different order.

In the real, as opposed to the digital world, there are other variables. Varying the opacity of the paint used, and varying the order in which you use the stencil, will also give different results.

Finally, just as an experiment, here is a combination image using CYMK files from two different images. I’ve included it just to make the point that once you have the stencil you have complete freedom in their use.

Abstract Digital print in bright colours
Electric Avenue – limited edition digital print

In many ways, this last image is analogous to making a collagraph print from multiple plates. I have experimented with this many times in the past.

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New developments

I’m slowly starting to add items to the shop. I’m doing this slowly to make sure I have everything set up correctly. I’m aiming to make it possible to browse by medium, price, subject and size. I’ve added the last because I know sometimes thought how a little corner of a room would benefit from just the right piece of art and I can’t be alone.

I’m also working on setting up Virtual Exhibitions from time to time. My next real time show is not until May 2021 and who knows what will happen between now and then? For the moment this will just be a custom selection on the Shop Page but I’ve seen some wonderful examples since lock down using Virtual Reality so I’m looking into that too.

The featured image is called The Moon Goddess and the Sun. It is a collage made several years ago with prepared papers over a colour wash on watercolour paper. I had it framed for myself, but it will soon be added to the shop. The frame is very heavy solid wood so it will probably be added to the shop minus the frame.

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Life in Lockdown continued…

Since my last post, I’ve continued to work on monotypes. The count has now reached over 40 prints and I’m actively looking for a venue to show them, although framing costs would be a bit daunting! I’ve learned a lot from making them which I think will be useful in my other print work.

I’m going to add lower resolution versions to my Portfolio page but I’ve also added one to this post. Almost all of them are 30cm (12 in) on a side. I’m waiting for a new plate which will allow much larger prints, up to 20″ x 16″. It’s US made hence the measurements in inches – 76 x 41 cm approximately or just under A2.

Forbert - monotype acrylic on paper in reds blue and yellow green
Forbert Monotype Acrylic on paper 30cm x 30cm

A set of my smaller prints, in the ‘Cross’ series, are going to be used locally in a Stations of the Cross installation. This wasn’t a sale as such. One of my neighbours is the Church Warden and although I’m in no way a religious person, I was happy to make the donation. The church is a significant part of the view from my windows. I would be willing to take on a similar commission, so if anyone out there is interested, please get in touch.

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Life in Lockdown

On the portfolio pages I’ve added some more larger gel prints to an album I have renamed as ‘Life In Lockdown’. At some point I aim to get these into mounts and bagged for sale. If in the meantime you are interested in any of them, please get in touch. They are available ‘as is’ with no mount or frame for £85.00 plus postage.

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Some recent work

I’ve added another page to my Portfolio Pages here with examples of some Gel Prints. I’ve also been using the prints made this way as elements for collage. I’ve always liked collage, ever since I came across the work of Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters in my teens, too many years ago.

Here’s a couple of slightly larger collage pieces (about 12″ x 9″ or 300 x 225 mm)

Finally here’s another one from some time ago, using prepared papers again, but this time by monoprinting on paper smaller than the plate, so taking the colour to the edges. I originally intended this to be overprinted with a drypoint, but I haven’t taken the plunge yet…

blue geometry

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A new print series

I’ve been unable to do any printing for quite a while because I have been plagued with problems with my foot, putting me on crutches since mid-November. I used my down time looking at a lot of pictures, but also thinking about subjects and themes. I’ve been interested in neolithic rock art for some time now and living near Avebury and Stonehenge it’s impossible to avoid standing stones. Scattered also across the landscape of Wessex are hundreds, if not thousands of barrows and burial mounds and of course the White Horses like Pewsey, Cherhill, Westbury etc in Wiltshire or Uffington in Oxfordshire. In addition we have the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, the Long Man of Wilmington and assorted other hill figures, many now lost completely.

It isn’t just Britain with these features. The stone alignments of Carnac in Brittany are well known, but there are a multitude of standing stone circles, alignments and dolmens across France and Ireland and much further afield.

gpcivray

Megalith in Ireland on old photo

Putting all this together made me wonder about the sort of landscape we might have seen in that era – and now if more had survived. Out of that has evolved the print series I’m putting together, which will take landscapes, more or less stylised and incorporate into them other figures, drawn from Celtic and Saxon myths or from cave paintings as well as the sort of abstract shapes found in rock art.

Technically these prints will incorporate collagraph and dry point plus perhaps solar etching and ultimately hand embellishments. I expect also to use monoprinting or hand painting as the ground on which the prints will be made. I’m also going to try and incorporate some of the techniques used by Australian artist, Kim Westcott (see http://www.kimwestcott.com although the site did not load properly for me) who resuses old plates in combination with new, mixing in shadow prints and rotation of the plates to create her drypoints.

I have no prints as yet, but here are some rough sketches and photos of some plates in preparation.

With luck I’ll have more over the next few weeks.

***

I’m not the only one finding inspiration in these themes. See the web pages for Irish artist Tommy Barr.

http://tbarrart.homestead.com/index.html