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Generating abstract shapes for stencils

In this post, I describe some methods for digitally generating abstract shapes. One produces almost entirely random shapes, the second creates forms that look like text but are not (sometimes called asemic writing), while the third creates images looking like figure ground diagrams. The files created can then be used to create cutting files for use in a digital cutter.

This is the third in a series of posts about digital tools for gel printing. The first is here, the second, here. Also relevant, is this post on using the prints themselves as a digital resource

Random shapes

It’s very difficult to create a genuinely random shape. I developed this technique to get around that.

Start with a photograph. The subject doesn’t matter, but landscapes and skies seem to work well. In PSP, select the ‘Magic Wand’ tool from the icon menu on the left-hand side.

Third icon down and select ‘Magic Wand’ from the drop-down menu. Once selected, a toolbar opens along the top. Two options are critical – ‘Tolerance’ and a checkbox marked ‘Contiguous’.

‘Tolerance’ defines how close a pixel has to be to the colour you click on in the image to be selected. A zero means it has to exactly match. I tend to use between 10 and 20, but play around with it. ‘Contiguous’ when ticked means that only pixels connected to the click point are selected.

Landscape photograph of North Yorkshire, used as source for abstract shapes
North Yorkshire

When you click, you will see the ‘marching ants’ around the selected area. If it looks too limited, hold down the shift key and click somewhere nearby. Keep clicking until you get a shape that looks OK. Copy that selection [PSP Menu – Edit/Copy or Ctrl+C], then paste the contents of the clipboard into a new image [PSP Menu – Edit/Paste as new image or Ctrl+Shift+V]

The resulting image should be a random irregular shape, still at this stage in the colours of the original image, which still needs some manipulation to generate the cutting file. Start by using the threshold option to reduce it to a single colour. You will need to find the sweet spot to make the shape all black. If there are small gaps, you can touch them in with the brush tool.

You should now have an irregular shape with almost fractal edges. The stencil could be cut directly from this or the edges could be smoothed further, using the Median filter.

random irregular shape derived from a lan.dscape photo

You could also reverse the colours, as below. In both cases, there is no requirement to use the whole image, it could be cropped or modified further. The second image below is a detail from the first.

inverted version of random shape
detail from larger random shape

False Text

To create shapes with script like character, begin by creating a new document the size and resolution you require [PSP Menu – File/New or Ctrl+N] This opens up a dialogue box. Pick the size and resolution you want and select Vector Layer.

Now select the text icon from the left-hand menu. From the toolbar at the top, select the font and size you want. I suggest you start with either a large blocky font or a thin geometric font. Make sure both ‘font colour’ and ‘stroke colour’ are selected as Black, so that edge and infill are the same colour.

Click on the page at the top left and start to type text to fill the page. It doesn’t matter what you type. It doesn’t wrap automatically, so make sure to hit return at the end of a line. Once the page is full, go to the Layers Palette, right-click on the text layer and select convert to raster layer. This turns the text you have typed into just graphic shapes. You can now manipulate this image in various ways described below. All of these can be done in isolation or in combination. The order in which you do things will also often affect the outcome. Just play and see what happens. Remember, Ctrl+Z will back you out of anything you don’t like. You can back out of several steps if you wish.

Drawing over the lettering

Select the ‘pen’ tool from the icon menu on the left. If you hover your mouse pointer over the icons, you will see what they are called and also see the keyboard shortcut, which for the pen is V. A new toolbar should open across the top. From the ‘mode’ selection, choose the ‘Draw Lines and Polylines’ option. Moving along, deselect ‘Create on vector.’ Next make sure the line style is a solid line and finally type in the width of line you want to draw – here you may need to experiment (Ctrl+Z gets you out, remember). Make sure you are drawing white lines. Then click outside the page and draw a white line through your text. This will start to break up the image and move it away from recognisable text. Repeat as you think fit, changing angles and moving from horizontal lines to vertical lines.

Using software tools

Use Effects/Edge Effects/Dilate or Adjust/Add or Remove Noise/Median Filter to alter the letter shapes. Median Filter works well with the line drawing option above.

Copy the base image and then rotate it. Paste as New Image. Go to Image Arithmetic [PSP Menu – Image/Image Arithmetic] The drop-down boxes at the top of the window that opens should show the two images you have open. You will see a host of options. Just play with them. You will see that some of them look like the options for combining layers. The outcome will depend hugely on the nature of your original image. Note that for this approach, the two images don’t have to be the same size or proportions. If they are different, you may get an error message, in which case swap the two images over, and try again.

Using layers

Copy the layer [Ctrl+C] then rotate the existing layer 90°. Paste the contents from the clipboard as a new layer. [Ctrl+V] If the image is square, this will fit neatly over the bottom layer, otherwise you may need to click and drag the upper layer to a suitable position. Remember Ctrl+Z if you don’t like it. Select the new layer in the Layers Palette. Just above it is a box with drop down options that should start with ‘Normal’. Select ‘Darker’. You will now see both layers combined. Think of the layers as sheets of tracing paper. Now select ‘Lighter’ and see the difference. Try all the other options. Most won’t make any difference since you are working in black and white, but it’s a useful exercise in seeing what options are available. Try rotating 90° in the opposite direction. Try 180°. Combine this with the Mirror and Flip options [PSP Menu – Image/Mirror or Image/Flip]

For any image with multiple layers, try turning some of them off and on in turn. To do this, click on the little ‘eye’ icon on the appropriate layer. [Lower box to the left of the small picture of the layer] When the box is empty, the layer is turned off.

When you are happy with a particular multi-layer image, you can combine all the layers together or ‘flatten’ them. This reduces the file size and also prevents any inadvertent changes to layer settings. [PSP Menu – Layers/Merge/Merge All (Flatten)] You can use the various options under Layers/Merge to combine multiple layers in various ways. You can also save the flattened image under a new name and carry on playing with the various combinations. [PSP Menu – File/Save As and enter the new file name where prompted.] If you think about it, you can generate several very different images from different combinations of layers, all initially stemming from the same sketch. These new images can then in turn be added as new layers, offering even more possibilities.

Some examples of this process above.

Figure Ground plans

These can be made similarly to the false text. Draw the lines in black, without any underlying text. Then inverts the image and process in the various ways described above. Some examples below.

I’ve only hinted at the various options available. My advice is just to play, and where there is an option, turn it all the way up to 11 to see what happens!

Make sure you are working with copies of any original files, and be sure to save off any versions that look promising.

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Making digital cutting files for stencils from simple drawings

This post would probably have been better coming before Part 1. It was initially intended to be a single post, but grew too long. It covers ways to make cutting files for stencils from very simple drawings, using a digital cutter like Cricut.

Software

You will need some sort of photo editing software, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. My examples use Paint Shop Pro (abbreviated from now on to PSP) on a Windows PC, because that’s what I’m familiar with. Options include Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo, Corel Painter Essentials or any of a myriad phone apps. You’ll need to find for yourself the equivalent tools to the ones I describe. You will also need software to convert the graphic file into a suitable format for your cutter. I will not be addressing that aspect.

You do NOT need to spend large sums on the full version of Photoshop, unless you are a professional graphic designer, in which case you know more than me…

My interest is in creating non-repetitive stencils rather than overall patterns, but the approach I use will also work for the pattern stencil.

Step 1 – create the image

Creating the cutting file for your stencil starts with a sketch design. Use a dense black pen (something like a Sharpie works fine) on white paper. Remember that completely enclosed shapes like rings will not cut properly unless you include a bridge link to the supporting material. Think of the difference between an O and a C. If you cut the outer edge of the O, the inner shape will also drop out, leaving a solid circle. Later, I’ll show you ways to check for areas where this might happen and some tools for avoiding it.

Once you have your sketch, you need to get it into the software. I simply take a photo on my phone, because I’m using freehand sketches and don’t need accurate geometry. If your design is more intricate, such as a Mandala, you will need to take care to keep your phone parallel to the image and ensure even illumination. You can scan it if you have access to a scanner, or you may prefer to do the sketch digitally. This might be a good option if you are working on an iPad/tablet or if you have a graphics tablet.

In my case, working with an Android phone and a PC, I’ve found the easiest way to get the file into my editing software is to share it from the phone to a folder in the cloud such as on Dropbox. Again, use whatever method is most comfortable for you.

Phone photo of simple line drawing with a sharpie pen
Simple line drawing with Sharpie.

Step 2 – resize the graphic image

Once you have the image in your editing package, you need to ensure it is big enough to create a cutting file. My phone produces .jpg files at 72 dpi. My cutter is a Cricut. The Design Space software works at 90 dpi. I simply resize using PSP to produce a file that will print to a maximum of 12” x 12” at 90 dpi. The normal constraints about pixelation are not an issue because this is largely removed on conversion to an .svg file for cutting.

Resizing in PSP

From the Menu select Image, then Resize – select ‘by size’ button and set the size you want, then set resolution at 90 pixels/inch. Ensure that the ‘Resample’ box is selected. If you want to change the proportions of your image, e.g. to convert from rectangle to square, then be sure to unselect the ‘Lock Aspect Ratio’ box. You can use this option too if you tried to create a specific aspect ratio, but you ended up with perhaps 11.5” x 12.1” instead of 12” x 12” or 7.3” x 4.9” instead of 7” x 5”.

Step 3 – convert to black and white

The next step is to ensure the image is just black and white, with no grey shading. In PSP, there are several ways to achieve this. The simplest is to reduce the number of colours to 2.

In PSP Menu – Image/Decrease Colour Depth/2 Colour Palette.

If your lighting is uneven, then this may translate into black areas which should be white. An alternative that usually avoids this is the ‘Threshold’ command, which is my preference.

PSP Menu – Adjust/Brightness and Contrast/Threshold. This brings up a slider control that allows you to fine tune the breakpoint between black and white. You’ll have to find the sweet spot for your particular image yourself.

Sharpie drawing after threshold command

You now have a version of your sketch in pure black and white. If you see odd black marks where they are not supposed to be, just paint them out in white with the brush tool from the icon bar on the left-hand side. Depending on the density of ink in your pen, the lines may not be continuous. You can test this by infilling each shape with a colour (assuming you used the Threshold command.) You can do this by selecting the icon on the left that looks like a paint-can tipping over and picking a colour from the palette on the top right. Then click inside the shape you want to fill. If a line is broken, something like this happens.

Effects of a break in a line

You can reverse this by undoing the fill command using Edit/Undo, or by infilling in white again. Both will take you back to the ‘Threshold’ version above.

Step 4 Fill in any line gaps

Your next step is to fill in any gaps in the lines. You need to zoom in and look for them. If there are only a couple of breaks, use the brush or pen tool to draw across the gap. If the lines are very broken, try using a command called Erode Edges first.

PSP Menu – Effects/Edge Effects/Erode.

This makes the lines less crisp and fills in minor gaps. If you still see gaps, you can repeat the command a couple of times

PSP Menu – Edit/Repeat or from the keyboard Ctrl+Y

Keep testing by infilling each space to see if thee are still leaks. At some point, it will be simpler to draw across any remaining gaps.

Your aim is to end up with lines that are continuous and allow each space to be infilled without any ‘spill over’. Once that is achieved, reduce the colours to 2 again.

Step 5 – prepare the cutting file.

Begin by creating a negative image from your file.

PSP Menu – Image/Negative Image

If you look at the example and think about how a stencil works, you will see that eventually you will be cutting out all the spaces surrounded by lines. This is easier to visualise if you swap the two colours over. The negative image however is now black around the outside of the image and this is not to be cut away. It needs to be turned white again with the ‘Flood Fill’ tool, giving you the image on the right.

You can stop at this point and use this to prepare the .svg file for your cutter, or you can manipulate it further. For example, the image as it stands still has the rough edges to the line created by the ‘Erode’ command. Leaving these in, gives an interesting effect when cut, but also increases the time it takes to cut.

Further options

There are two options you can consider here. They both have similar effects, although not identical, so have subtly different outcomes. The first is an Edge command called ‘Dilate’ This has the effect of shrinking the black shapes slightly by somehow drawing back the line edge. This can create pixel sized gaps that might need touching in with the brush tool. The other command is called ‘Median Filter’ As the name suggests, this smooths the edge by averaging it out. It also enlarges the white gaps between shapes and rounds off corners. The intensity of the effect is controlled by a slider. Both can be applied repeatedly or sequentially, with subtle variations in the outcome. Try them out to get the effect you like. Remember, if it doesn’t work, you can back out with Ctrl+Y.

PSP Menu – Effects/Edge Effects/Dilate

PSP Menu – Adjust/Add or Remove Noise/Median Filter

Rounded edges after use of median filter

Cutting the stencil

To cut the stencil, the .jpg file needs to be converted to .svg format. I do this using the free program Inkscape. I won’t go into that in detail here. The .svg file is then loaded into the appropriate software for your cutter. Again, I won’t go into detail on that aspect.

Your views

This is a long and quite detailed post. I’m sure there are other ways to achieve the same ends. Let me know in the comments if you have done this in other ways or if you find any errors. Menu commands for PSP are as used in the 2021 edition.

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Lessons learned

My last post, about using periodic reviews of old work as a mechanism for moving forward artistically, made me remember something I know in theory, but keep forgetting. Perhaps I need to review lessons learned too. I tend to describe myself as a printmaker. It is easy to forget – well, I find it easy anyway – that the print doesn’t have to be the end state. This is especially so with gel printing or screen printing, which use acrylic paint. Take this image, from that last post.

Pictogram - gel print
Pictogram – monotype print 30 cm x 30 cm

The initial inspiration was the idea of the pictograph (definition 1 in link) as developed by Adolph Gottlieb. The mark in yellow was also supposed to be redolent of Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. The problem I have with the image is the purple/white patches which break the mark are unrelated to it and to anything else in the image. I spent some time thinking about how to overprint them using gel printing without losing other aspects, which do work. Then it stuck me. Paint them out! That was lesson one…

I would be in good company doing this. Gillian Ayres, for example, used to set aside some prints from an edition, specifically to overpaint, an example being Springfield No 2 from 1999.

The second lesson learned, which seems even harder to remember, is that every blog post doesn’t have to be a dissertation! Just because I like writing long posts, doesn’t mean others want to read them! I’ll do my best, though, because if I can remember that lesson, I’m more likely to keep posting.

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Moving forward

I’m always scanning through the pile of unfinished pieces in my studio. Once enough time has passed from me to forget how they were made, they become objects in their own right. Moving forward by reviewing old work and thinking about the next steps becomes much easier. Looking at the work of others, as I have been doing over the past couple of days with John Hoyland for example, is often enough to shake your mind free. The image below is an example of such a review.

Pictogram - gel print
Pictogram – monotype print 30 cm x 30 cm

Less regularly, I review the pile of finished but unframed prints. When I do this, I typically change my mind about some of them. The last time I did this, I removed about 10% as no longer being acceptable quality. Some of these may benefit from additional work, and others may have elements that can be salvaged to make smaller pieces. Many of the Tiny series were made that way.

tiny collagraph print
Tiny collagraph print

I’m aiming to get back in the studio next week, probably starting some new prints from scratch, although for some reason, I’m getting the urge to paint and create some really heavy textures. Time to dig out the Polyfilla?

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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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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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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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Gel printing – my approach

Multi-layered Gel print

I’ve tried to record the process of making one of my gel prints several times, but without success. This is because my working methods mean I am usually working on perhaps a dozen prints at once, jumping between them. I build up each image over time by adding layer after layer of colour and texture. The closest I have come is a series of photographs of different stages. This post tries to fill some of that gap.

Applying the paint

All gel prints start with paint on the plate. This is the first big variable. I apply the paint with a brush, a roller and even my fingers. Rollers give the most even effect. Even then as the roller loses paint to the plate in one place it can start picking it up elsewhere. The basic aim is to create variations in the thickness of the paint sitting on the plate. This helps to create variations in colour and visual texture in the eventual gel print.

How much variation you want is a matter of choice. For me, early layers tend to have more or less complete coverage using a limited palette. For later layers I may only cover part of the plate, perhaps using a mask or stencil. On any layer, I can create textural variation by applying anything with texture to the paint as it sits on the plate. I use pill packets, bits of card, pieces of scrap plastic with interesting textures or just crumpled paper. I often remove paint completely with cotton buds.

How this will print depends on a range of factors – what colour is it going over, on the use of opaque or transparent paints and on how much is left in the thinnest areas. Using more than one colour at a time on the brush or roller also creates variations and colour blends. Adding acrylic medium also alters things.

Layering

I don’t clean down the plate between every layer. Because the transfer from plate to paper is not always 100% this can leave patches of paint behind. Rolling fresh colour over these patches often picks them up and transfers them to the print, adding texture.

Using transparent paints in a layer will shift the colour underneath depending on the two colours used. If the upper layer is partial this will leave the underlying colour untouched in some areas. Removing part of a layer also allows the underlying colour to come through. The effect will vary between transparent and opaque colours.

I also restrict the area to which I’m applying the paint using masks or stencils. I usually cut or tear these from newsprint. Opaque paint will obscure what is underneath. I do this to simplify messy areas or perhaps to combine separate blocks of colour. Using transparent or semi-transparent paint can subdue contrast between adjacent areas or shift colours by mixing through layering. Acrylic medium can create translucent effects if you mix it with opaque colours.

Eventually the build up of paint on a plate makes the transfer of paint to the print too unpredictable. This is my cue it needs cleaning. The paint left on the plate won’t be wasted however, even if it has dried completely. Start by rolling out an even coat of colour over everything. Then start to take the print as normal, but leave the paper on the plate longer than usual before you lift it. If everything goes well the last layer has bonded with the residue on the plate and most of it will transfer to the paper. You are unlikely to get a print this way that stand in its own right. The idea is just to use it as the first layer for a subsequent gel print.

As the layers of paint build up I look for the happy accidents and try to reinforce them. It is the way that successive layers show through that creates the subtle colours and textures which I think are the defining characteristic of gel prints. Some paints are opaque, other transparent. It is very rare for me to plan out an image. Even when I do that plan is often quickly abandoned when I see something unanticipated but which works! Eventually I get to a point where, as I look at an image it says Stop! That is something I can’t define. IT seems to be a combination of visual balance in terms of shapes and colours and overall cohesion/balance of the image as a whole.

Composition

Building up the image in layer after layer makes adhering to a specific composition difficult. I rarely have a fully planned composition in mind. Even when I do, that can be derailed when something unexpected happens which I like. The closest I usually come is the use of very simple structures like this crib sheet of mine. The artist Bob Burridge produces a rather more refined version you can buy.

Compositional diagrams
Set of compositional diagrams

A final thought on colour

As you add layers to your gel prints, you need to consider not just the area to be printed but the colour you will use. Careful thought here will give you more control over the final image. The first thing to do is to get a colour wheel. If your first layer is pretty much all cadmium yellows, look on the wheel at the colours either side of yellow. Using these colours for subsequent layers will give you a final image which is harmonious and balanced.

Alternatively look on the wheel at the colour opposite yellow – the complementary colours. Don’t just look at the direct complementary, look at the colours on either side of it which form the so-called split complementary. Some wheels also include markings for colour triads and for four colours. Try them. Using these colours will add drama and intensity to your work.

Don’t make the assumption that you need equal areas of complementary colours. Sometimes a large area of a relatively low-key colour can be balanced by a small intense area of its complementary. Think also about the effects of using transparent layers of one colour over its complementary. Think about how the effect differs from using opaques colours side by side. This can have an impact on your composition too.

Examples of my gel prints

There are lots of examples in the shop in the Lockdown Series 2020 and many more in my Instagram feed.

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A Selection from the Shop

Because I’m still finding my way around WordPress and its various plugins, I haven’t fully implemented searches. At some point I will be adding the ability to search by price and probably also size and medium. Until then, here is a selection from the shop of what is currently available. There are lots more on the Printmaking pages in the shop, and I’m adding more all the time.

Once we have got past the COVID-19 crisis I would very much like to hold a physical show. Follow the blog or better still sign up for my mailing list to be notified.

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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.