Design Play: Exercise 2 – extending a design

The goal: to create a variation on a theme.

I’ve long been a fan of 1950s fashion and homeware print designs.  I’m drawn to repetitive semi-abstract motifs, usually large bold shapes and colours.  I recently saw an exhibition which included furniture and fabrics/wallpapers designed by Marion Hall Best and, while some of my print friends weren’t impressed, I loved the whole feel of her design work.

My copy of 1950s Fashion Print by Marnie Fogg is much loved and well-thumbed.

The book is split into 5 sections:

  1. Abstraction
  2. Narrative, Novelty & the Jive
  3. Artistic Licence
  4. Kinetic
  5. Domestic

I’m strongly attracted to the Abstraction and Kinetic sections where the work of prominent designers of the era showcase some of the most popular fabric designs sold through the major UK retailers of the time.  The book is not just a record of design plates but also charts the history of the time and the driving force behind many of the themes.

Here I feature 3 that I particularly like, although limiting myself to these has been incredibly hard.

Design for Hull Traders. Abstract overtones, based on cut fruit and vegetables. Designer not listed.

Unnamed design and designer. The chemistry laboratory and schematics of wiring diagrams are referenced here, featuring pipes, tubing, retorts and switches.

Designed by Lucienne Day. Skeletal leaf and plant forms have been superimposed on planes of subdued harmonious colour.

Using my simple comma motifs I started working, by hand and later on the computer.

The motif on the left has an industrial feel, the look of a sprocket – it feels metallic and solid.  I am drawn to the line-work in the other designs; tank treads, tires, ridges on a tin can, corrugated fencing or roofing perhaps?

I chose my colour palette:

I drew:

And I designed:

I won’t go into great detail regarding the pattern repeat but, briefly, this is the layering:

  1. 2 separate plates for the yellow scribbled background, each 3 blocks deep and 2 blocks wide – each repeated once to the right.  70% opacity.
  2. 1 plate for the ‘treads’ – repeated 4 times and aligned with the background.
  3. 1 plate for the sprockets – offset against the other layers.  Fully printed towards the centre right of the design with partial repeats to the left and right.

Contrary to how this image looks on-screen, with limited sizing, it can be repeated both width and length-wise.  It would also adapt easily to other colour schemes.

I see this as an upholstery fabric.  Wish I could have a feature chair in it.

Marnie Fogg, 1950s Fashion Print, Published by Batsford, London, 2010. Designs: Kinetic 147 & 135, Abstraction 23. ISBN 978-1-90638-888-1
Corrugated images from google search.

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Woven chain book-binding

This was an excellent book-binding class I attended last week.  Luckily, being only one day, the tutor came with much of the book cover construction ready-done.  It seems like cheating a bit but with such time constraints we needed to concentrate on learning the binding stitch.  This is the first time I’ve done this chain stitch and only the second time I’ve stitched with two needles together (the first being with a Coptic binding, quite different to this).

The book consists of 4 signatures and two are stitched simultaneously.  Signatures 1 & 2 are worked together, followed by 2 (for the second time) & 3, followed by 3 (for the second time) & 4.  This forms the interlinking crossed and woven chain on the spine.

We also created a fastened return on the book cover and a book sleeve.

Very attractive new binding to add to my collection.

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Design Play: Exercise 2 – creating the designs

Exercise 2: designing and cutting stamps

The goal: to explore the possibilities of stamping as a design tool.

I’ve spent the last 2 weeks carving 11 stamps from some of my comma designs (posted here) and then printing them.

Collagraph plates:
On the left is some thick textural cardboard (from the back of a sketch pad) with sandpaper shapes adhered to the surface.  I like the printed texture of the background but the sandpaper hasn’t really worked.

On the right is a piece of mountboard with shapes cut from thin cork sheet.  This has come out very well with great definition around the raised areas.

Carved vinyl:
There’s one thing about vinyl, it’s very easy to carve quite precise shapes.  You need to be careful to cut right through to the surface before lifting off your ‘strip’ otherwise it can run and take off more than intended.  It’s also easy to ink up.

In Photoshop I cleaned up around the edge of the first print but now I’ve done it I think I prefer the accidental ink pick-up from the plate edging.  I could have cut it away right to the edge of the design, but didn’t.

Quite like these as vinyl gives such a sharp, solid image.

Easy-carve block:
This strata is super-soft, super easy to carve and gives great results.  As it is so thick it can also be used on both sides.  The downside is that over time it dries and crumbles away.  Doesn’t really bother me.

I think this is Japanese maple.  However, when cutting it three layers were revealed adhered together.

As soon as I started inking up and caught the carved edge of the block I liked it so I continued deliberately.

These prints based on positive and negatives of the same image came out quite well.  I like the first one best.  Lovely and simple.

These next linocuts are, again, positive and negatives of the same design.  I like the organic curves on these.

Finally I have the most simple linocut I made.  It’s quite small but quite effective.

At this point, whilst there is nothing terribly exciting about these, I have learned that at heart I’m a collagraph printer.  It’s my favourite style.  I love the background pick-up and I enjoy making the plates, sticking bits and pieces onto a base, cutting and slashing patterns and lines and just seeing how they will turn out.

So, basic this may be, but I’ve already crystallized where my preferences are.

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Etching: line and shape figure

Using one of the line and shape figures I recently drew I  created a new print design, then worked on some simplified and stylised flowers.


This experimentation involves using sugar paste to create a printing surface on a zinc plate.   The studio had no  sugar paste and mixing dissolved sugar with pottery slip (kindly donated by the adjoining studio – see right) didn’t form a  sticky enough mixture to use successfully.

For those wanting to use this method a trip to the supermarket to find liquid chicory essence is worth the effort.  It’s cheap, readily available, and very syrupy.  Perfect for this type of etching.

Using an old ragged paint brush with the chicory essence I painted my base design onto the zinc.  When dry, the plate was flooded with diluted bitumen and, again, left to dry.  Once placed into a tray and covered with very hot water the sugar paste dissolved lifting the bitumen off the plate.  Where there was no paste, only bitumen, it created a resist on the surface of the zinc plate.

Above left: gently wiping the plate to help the sugar release from the surface in the hot water.  Right: the remaining bitumen resist (obviously the dark sections) where the plate will not etch when it is in the acid bath.

The next part is laborious but effective in creating a tonal range when etching.

  1. Aquatint was lightly applied to the plate surface and heat set.
  2. The plate was placed in acid for 20 seconds for an initial etching, then rinsed.
  3. More bitumen was applied over the zinc in selected areas to create a further resist.
  4. The plate was etched for a further 20 seconds, then rinsed.
  5. Still more bitumen was painted onto the surface, blocking out more areas from etching.
  6. The plate was acid etched for a further 40 seconds, then rinsed.
  7. The plate was cleaned with meths, removing the bitumen, ready for printing.

Above top from left: plate with aquatint, plate after first etching with more bitumen added, plate after second etching with more bitumen added.  Bottom: acid bath and working samples.


  1. A hard ground (wax) was rolled onto the surface of the warm plate and allowed to cool and harden.
  2. The design was traced onto the surface and an etching tool used to draw through the wax.
  3. The plate was etched in the acid bath and cleaned ready for use.

Above from left: applied hard ground with traced design, drawn design, finished etched plate ready for printing.

Single proof plates:

First print run:

Left: Cream Stonehenge 250gsm  Right: Pale brown Stonehenge 250gsm.
Both prints: base plate sepia + black, figure & flora plate pthalo blue + black.

Second print run:

Left: Creamy yellow Stonehenge 250gsm  Right: White Stonehenge 250gsm.
Both prints: base plate pthalo blue + a touch of black and 50% extender, figure & flora plate black. Roll-over 20% blue + 80% extender.

Overall, great outcomes.  Some plate slippage when going through the press so alignment is out by 2mm – will try to rectify this in the coming week with new prints.  My preference is the prints without the roll-over (first print run).

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Banana pulp

Remember my baby banana trees from way back in October 2016?

The left-hand one, living in direct sunlight, grew enormous, had a baby, and was chopped down a month ago.  The baby, now a late teenager (!!), has a baby of its own just popping through the earth.

Back to the original tree.  As instructed by my very experienced paper-making friends, I separated the tree into 3 sections; the leaves and leaf stems, the inner trunk and the outer trunk.  Each part was cut into small pieces and put into a black garbage bag, tightly tied, and left in the sun to rot for 3-4 weeks.  This is to soften the fibres before boiling with caustic soda in preparation for later pulping.

From left: inner trunk, outer trunk and leaves.

Having space for two pots I started with the trunk sections.

From left: my fabulous (and extremely useful) camping stove, inner trunk in muslin bag, outer trunk in pillowcase.

My reason for putting the plant material in bags when cooking is to make removal and washing easier, as can be seen below.  The fibres ‘collapse’ and turn to mush when ready to be rinsed.

From left: rinsing the outer trunk in the tied pillowcase.  Yes, I’ve got the sink plug in as wasting water feels like a crime to me.  On the right you can see the final quantity of remaining fibre.  The left-hand bag shows the amount of inner trunk and the larger bag has the outer trunk. 

Wow, what a shock!  I’ve hardly any fibre from a full-grown 2 1/2 metre high banana tree.  Granted I still have the leaves to work with yet but I expected more than that.  I’m told that the inner trunk makes finer and smoother paper than the outer, hence my decision to separate the two, but I’m not going to get more than a few sheets.  Below you can see the difference in texture between them at this stage.

From left: inner trunk, outer trunk.

As it’s currently still very cold to be working for hours outside making paper (even though it’s officially Spring now.  The studio is being refurbished) I’ve put these bags into the freezer to store until I’m ready to blend it to pulp and make my new paper.

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Design Play: Exercise 2 – drawing and preparing

Exercise 2: designing and cutting stamps

The goal: to explore the possibilities of stamping as a design tool.

I’ve decided to use an old favourite image of mine, one that naturally lends itself to wide interpretation; the Boteh.

The Boteh is a teardrop stylised design which found its way to Paisley in Scotland and became known as the paisley pattern.

Originally depicted on shawls in Kashmir under its original name, it was mass-produced in Scotland in woven fabrics and garments.

It is also indicative of the English high comma, another sensuous curvy shape, which is also known as an apostrophe.  No, not that horrid basic line we scrawl when writing quickly; I’m talking about the smart carefully crafted circle and tail.

So, my husband and I sat, with small squares of paper and a jar of coloured pens, and drew our interpretations of the Boteh/comma.

The  next step is to prepare bases as stamps.  I’m going with standard strata 3″ x 2″and will fit my chosen designs onto these.

Left to right: Easy-carve, lino, foamex board, woodblock, mountboard, vinyl.

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Design Play: Exercise 1

Alongside the time I spend printing, drawing and whatever else I can fit in I’ve decided to undertake some exercises from a design book I own.  Whilst the first exercises are very basic I’ll still work through them.  I’m aiming to build a resource to use when evolving new ideas for future print projects.

Exercise 1: Splitting Shapes

The goal: to split recognisable shapes into parts, which are then reassembled in various formats, sometimes so the origin is still evident and sometimes so it is not.

I’ve chosen to work with triangles.  I first took one triangle and reset it, photographing each time.

Then I cut a range of triangles and reformed them.

I combined triangles.

I chose one from above and explored pattern repeats and distortion.

These patterns are based on one shape, repeated, elongated, squashed, rotated and overlaid.  I could continue making many, many more and create a huge selection but the idea is to produce a few and move on to the next exercise.  Easy to get bogged down at this early stage otherwise.  Anyway, as I’ve done this multiple times in the past I don’t want to stagnate here.

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