Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Building on from my three Afghan mountain collages my next project was to create an edition of linocuts from the collages. I spent a good amount of time cropping elements of the collages with a Sister Corita Kent style paper 'view finder'. I wanted to incorporate some historical prints and some of the ripped and layered paper elements.
These were some of my shortlist
and this is the one I selected for its variety of papers and textures, harmonious colours that I love working with, and the abstraction of the mountain form.
I really liked the addition of the clear tears of the ripped paper and the odd little folded purple scrap of Japanese rice paper on the top left hand corner of the composition. The difficulty I had in selecting the composition made me realise how rich the collage process is as a launching pad for more art. Having gone through the learning process of my first reduction linocut, I am keen to revisit some of these compositions for more work.
With the composition selected, I lightly sanded back a block of lino and transferred the image onto it. I tried a good number of methods for this - all of them a little harder than expected because a lack of access to the studios due to COVID. The most effective was rubbing turps into the back of a printout that I had outlined with texta (had I had a photocopier, this would have been much easier). The fine detail of the lacework was best transferred to the lino through spray painting over the actual lacework.
The first step was to carve out all lino which was intended on appearing white, and then adhering the whole piece of lino to a cardboard backing board which was measured to perfectly reference the ripped art paper. Being my first time doing this, I found the prep work before printing took a couple of weeks to get through during semester break.
I actually planned to print about 20 pages thinking that to get to an edition of three, there would be a high attrition rate! Although this meant that each day of printing was long, I was later glad to have so many extra prints to play with variations and collages. These variations will be explored in a seperate blog.
It was important to use sharp tools, have them pointing away from your resting hand, and work using a non-slip mat. I still have the scar on my hand from a lino cut I did in high school, so I am once bitten, twice shy in this department!
The first layer definitely had the most complex amount of carving required. It took a long time to get the lacework in, and the English text at the bottom right needed to be double checked in the mirror to ensure it came out the right way! Trialling the print on newsprint helped in identifying which parts still needed work and deciding where I would like to leave some texture.
The 2019 monoprint from which the blue green blend came from initially was interesting to revisit. I had used exactly the same colour field over a year ago, and now I was replicating the work via a linocut! Whilst much of this background layer was going to covered by other colours, it was important to start the prints with as perfect as registration as possible. I realised later I should have made registrations marks on the back of each paper, and I ended up doing this for the second layer. Next time I will do it from the beginning.
The second layer was a bit sad to cut. I had to remove almost all of the tricky carving work I had done for the first later. Goodbye intricate lace work forever! Reduction linocutting is known by a wide variety of names – reductive, progressive, elimination. Picasso called the method ‘suicide printing ’ because once the layer is printed, it needs to be cut away and is gone forever. Given the work's theme of Afghanistan conflicts and the enormous number of veteran suicides post deployments, Picasso's name for the method seemed apt for my concept.
Mixing the ink for the second layer took a long time. I wanted it to reflect the original golden khaki used in the collage. I also knew that the teal blue green under-layer would influence the resultant colour. I wanted the ink to be fairly opaque and bold and I was happy with the result.
In this layer I started using a masking technique a lot too. Some areas of the artwork I wanted to be free from the olive flecked tinting, but I discovered that some left in the sky added some fantastic texture. For some areas I wiped down parts of the lino with a rag pre-printing, and other times I relied on a number of reusable paper pre-cut or scraps for masks.
Layer three was black and involved some dramatic block 'surgery'. I cut off and peeled away the bulk of the lino, leaving the top black stripe across the top of the image. I then cut out a seperate piece of lino for the two foreground mountains. I masked the larger foreground mountain so that when the purple was printed over the top of it, it would appear lighter. It is amazing how different and developed the print looked after layer number three!
The ink was starting to take a long time to dry, so I bought some paint drier to assist with layer four - the last and purple layer! I cut out the black strip, leaving only the funny shaped abstract rice paper scrap. The larger foreground mountain was unmasked, and the slightly transparent ink helped it represent the slightly see-through paper from the collage. I also liked how you could see the lacework underneath it, and how this last shape created new and interesting shapes in the final artwork.
Below is a side by side of the collage and the final lino print of which I have been able to make an edition of three. The rest have been used for variation works, of which I will be blogging about shortly!
Overall this has been a compelling and enormously engaging and slow piece of work. I have spent months on the project - and I think the work has taught me to slow down and enjoy the process. I have become proficient on the albion press, which I'd otherwise never used before, and have been really inspired by working in the studios again, along side other students learning reduction linocuts.
The process has been stressful on occasion as I got used to making my registration perfect and keeping the borders clean. I can't believe how many prints I had to make to ensure that I had three identical images at the end! It was all so analogue and mandraulic, but I felt that it was kind of magical to see the image build and develop at each layer. This has been one of my favourite subjects and I can't wait to do more reduction linocuts in the future.