Elian’s secret garden

Doodling & Designing:

I read in one of those zentangle books that a good way to start doodling is to draw a nine square grid (as when you play noughts and crosses), start adding lines and patterns, continue them across the grid and, well, basically mess about.

I started with a ‘malformed’ grid – wiggly lines, not quite parallel – and a Sharpie pen.  No rubbing out for me this time!

I analysed it once finished.  Thank heavens I’m not under the care of a psychologist, they’d have a field day!  Anyway, I see some bells, fish scales, a very strange river, a wacky flower gobbling up champagne bubbles, a striped school tie …….. I could go on.  It was the beginning of Elian’s dream garden.

I developed the flower further, kept the flow of the ‘river’ but changed the pattern and adapted another section into a bridge shape.  The rest was discarded (for this project).  I needed something large and looming for the top left hand section, perhaps some fronds.

I’d recently been playing with my Swiss Cheese Plant pulp, to make paper, and thought those large leaves might do the trick.  I did a couple of drawings and then took a chance with the pen and went straight to the main template, adding a couple of other components at the same time.  The great thing is that the design could be photocopied, cut up, rearranged and redrawn as many times as I liked.

It was starting to get very busy.  I traced some simple sections, transferred them to lino and cut only the parts I was 100% sure about.  Oh, and I somehow managed to add a champagne river straight onto the lino (pre-planning went awry there).

I was reasonably happy with the blue proof print above but was stuck where to go next.  It stayed pinned to my board for a while as I mulled it over.

Finally I photocopied the lino itself and drew a few more sections in.

A couple more leaves filled the top area, and I finally decided against a stalk for the flower.  The paving stones on the path (which had originally been planned as a river) gave way to water ripples as it disappeared behind the plants.

I later added a higher rocky outcrop where the bird is and a couple of other minor things.

The lino was cut to size, printed, and Elian’s garden came to life.

Above: Left – Light paynes grey (black, white, pthalo blue) oil ink on 40gsm Japanese calligraphy paper. Right – Mid paynes grey ink on lightweight Kozo.

Above: Left – Grey oil ink on 40gsm Japanese calligraphy paper. Right – Grey ink over yellow/green rainbow roll on 60gsm Chinese cotton paper.

And that is how you get from doodling to design:

Above right – Black ink on 250gsm BFK Reeves.

Have fun concocting your own story to go with the image.  Although Elian isn’t featured I’m sure he is still imagining an adventure in his secret garden.

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Teabag paper

Cut up and soaked teabags

I finally found time to use my teabag pulp (made in February) into A4 sheets of paper.

I defrosted the  pulp and was surprised at just how much there was – I drink a lot of tea!

I wasn’t confident that the teabags alone would form good sheets so started with some coarsely pulped white and cream  paper offcuts.

When I make trial prints or have any bad prints I cut off the surrounding paper and use it to make new sheets of paper.  Quality printing paper is expensive and I refuse to waste it.

I started by making a few plain white sheets to see just how coarse I’d left the pulp.

Very  happy with those, very textural.  Although I formed the sheets at Primrose Park Centre I brought them home to dry and rolled them onto my dining room window so they would catch the heat from the sun and dry completely smooth on one side.

Above right you can see the side that was rolled (using a clean print roller) against the window, totally smooth, and on the left is the other side where all the texture comes through.  Once dry and carefully peeled from the window the sheets are completely flat.  A much better method of drying my paper than when I used to lie it on the bathroom floor still on the couching cloths – when it would tend to buckle a little.

My teabags were also coarsely pulped as I hoped to get small inclusions and some texture in the finished sheets, and I did.

On the left is a close up of a section of a sheet clearly showing the uneven surface, and with some small pieces of teabag still evident.

I achieved some lovely paper and by mixing the teabag and white pulp the sheets have come out fairly light, very usable for printing.  Again, they were dried on the window so one side is very smooth and the other textural.

Now to print on them!

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Collagraph printing: Tree bark – a larger plate

Using my original collagraph plate (see previous posts) as a reference I started to plan a larger version with a little more complexity.

The sand I adhered to the mountboard backing in my last, smaller piece didn’t quite give me the effect I’m after.  It was very easy to get an uneven distribution of ink which resulted in some flooded areas and others without enough coverage.

Note: in the printing world of carborundum usage (similar to but finer than sand) you are actually looking to create a solid printed area and it works extremely well, but it’s not what I want in this case.  I’m looking for a speckling effect.

I started with my photos of tree bark (something I photograph often!).

After some trial drawings and tracing I had a pretty good idea of my composition.

Mountboard was lightly covered with modelling paste and allowed to dry.  Textured paper and string ‘knots’ were glued in place and the plate was photocopied.  I then marked where I intended applying sand or other granules.

I have 3 types of granules.

Pumice is the finest, so will hold a lot of ink and create a solid coverage.  Sand is next, and we know the results of that.  Crushed garnet is the coarsest and I was hoping to be able to carefully apply ink only to the surface and not push it into the recesses, so giving me a speckling effect.  Finally I decided on garnet in most areas with sand in others.

Looking good.  Colours chosen were ochre, deep red and black with some chine collé included.  This is the main reason for tea-staining my hand-made paper recently.  Click here to read that post.

Now to print.  I was able to use an etching press at another location (as mine is too small) so I inked up, prepared the chine collé and ran it through the press.

Not bad.  250gsm BFK Reeves paper with oil based inks.  Probably too much ink on the string as I’ve lost a bit of definition and the whole thing has a slightly dirty look.

Unfortunately I couldn’t use the studio again so had to resort to trying to produce a collagraph using a book press – far from ideal.  Seriously not a good idea, but having a time limit gave me no option.

Errrr…. right!  That didn’t work.  This was a new paper to me, 250gsm Dutch Etching paper, which should have been fine.  I don’t think it was soaked long enough to pick up the ink and, well, what can I say?  Proof positive that a book press isn’t the tool for this technique – I knew that already.  But let’s have another go anyway.

This time I went with one of my favourites, and a paper I know well: 250gsm Stonehenge, smooth as silk surface, embosses beautifully and able to be soaked for quite a while without disintegrating.

After pressing – book press again unfortunately – whilst the paper was still in place over the collagraph plate I placed tissue paper on top and, using my finger tips, rubbed over the entire back, pushing the damp paper into the crevasses, embossing the edges, outlining the string sections and so on.  I was determined!  After 20 minutes, and several looks to check my progress, I lifted the print.

Just can’t seem to get the photo right today.  It is on white paper and looks much better in real life.  This is the best I can expect from the routine I’ve employed to get the print.  Just wish I could have put it through an etching press to get a more vibrant result.

Still, I’m not unhappy with it and I’ve enjoyed playing with the plate making.  I’d quite like to continue if I could do it through a proper press.  Am I making a good enough case for buying one myself?  I think so, but space is the problem.

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Collagraph printing: Tree bark

Continuing to play with the collagraph plate I made in the workshop with Gabriella Hegyes (see initial print left) I’ve been trying to get some variety in colour and outcome before I move to a larger, more complex, piece.

When I used sand to form the top parts of the collagraph plate, then sealed it, I didn’t realise that it would be so difficult to apply printing ink to it.  Rolling isn’t an option as the ink doesn’t adhere to the tiny sand particles, so I was left with dabbing the surface with inked tarlatan. 

This can result in flooded areas and an uneven printed surface as per my sample.

Above left: Flooded and uneven top sections, good relief from the masking tape.  Ink removed from the high points on the lower areas has come out extremely well.
Above right: Too far the other way on the upper sections, not enough ink.  I tried dabbing the lower areas with ochre ink and rolling the surface with black but the black has bled as it was probably too runny to get the right effect.  Nice idea but not finessed yet.

Above left: Trying out adding more colour, hate it.  An even worse black roll over the lower area.  One for recycling!
Above right: OK, getting there.  Love the effects on the lower section but it could do with more ochre coming through.  Still need to work on applying ink to the upper sections but it’s improving.

(Note: To be honest, the first print I ever did from this plate is the best.  I didn’t agonize over it or over-plan, and it’s come out better than the rest.)

Time to make my bigger collagraph plate and decide on my colour scheme.

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Gabriella Hegyes: Printing from the Land (C)

Part 3:


The first thing I love about collagraphs is that there is so much you can do to create an image.  I’ve done several workshops and experimented with a variety of media to create texture and patterning, but there is always something new to explore and every tutor has tips and tricks to pass on.

In this workshop Gabriella provided thin mountboard as a base to work from.  The idea was to build onto this, seal the board and print from it.  Ink could be either pushed into the lower areas and wiped away from the relief sections or vice-versa.

Here are a few of her samples:

In the top two photos you can see her original collagraph plates, shellacked and mounted into her visual diary.  The one on the left is mountboard with sand adhered, the right hand picture shows a mountboard base with torn cardboard shapes adhered to the surface.  The different effects she has achieved with the two is a direct result of the way she has inked and rubbed back.

The bottom photo shows some prints from another collagraph plate on different papers.  The white paper shows a stark, crisp image whereas the yellow/cream paper manages to dull the black and reduce some of the detail.

I’ve not had any success using sand before so this was my opportunity.  I decided to go with low relief, hoping I would be able to create different effects by choosing to either ink or not ink the recessed sections.

Above left: mountboard base with applied sand, textured paper, masking tape and scratching onto the plate surface. Right: after shellac was applied.

Some of the other collagraph plates created by my classmates:

Clockwise from top left: 1) Sand, textured paper and a pearl beaded trim. Frankly I balked at this going through the press with this very high relief trim included.  It’s unclear what the pearls were made of, could have been plastic, but there was the potential for a damaged roller and blankets or shattered pearls.  Not good.  2) Very high relief with thick coffee grounds.  This plate resulted in an undefined speckling across the paper with some flooded areas where the ink pooled in amongst the coffee.  3) Hessian, scrim and thick string.  4) A mix of fabrics, trims and plant material.  The leaves weren’t flat, wouldn’t stick to the mountboard and so moved when printing.  They also didn’t hold the ink properly despite the shellac surface (which would have been a nightmare to coat properly).

This was the final part of the course and was rushed, as is clear from the attempts at understanding the instructions regarding building and printing a collagraph.  Most of the results were poor (at best), some were appalling and no-one seemed to understand the process.  It had been explained quite well but with the majority being new to printmaking there wasn’t a lot of chance that things would work out well for most in this section of the course.  Hard to go through an entirely new process, create plates, print and get good outcomes in less than 2 hours with 12+ students where only one of them had done it before (and that was me!).

My collagraph print continues my tree theme (detailed in previous posts) and is based on some of my photos of tree bark and other tree striations.  I’ve rotated my imagery 90° and combined several ideas to form this lovely variation in density and pattern.

The plate was first printed in red and ochre.  That print was discarded and black was lightly applied over the still-dirty plate, picking up the remains of the original colours.  So just a touch of them come through breaking up the harshness of the black.

This is a terrific start to a new project and I shall continue to print this sampler trying out other effects and colours.  Once done, I shall create a bigger, more complex, version perhaps with some chine collé included.

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Gabriella Hegyes: Printing from the Land (B)

Part 2:

Gabriella certainly worked us hard and shared a ton of information and samples with us.

Trapping Plant Material:

This was interesting.  I had some very dry, flattened, plant material which was suitable to be trapped between gauze layers.  I went through the process, glued and applied shellac as shown and was amazed to find that colour had leached out from my browned, dried, dead plants.  The green really came through.

Above: The centre stem was dead and grey/brown.  Now you can see the tiny leaves have reverted to green and even the stalks have some colour.

The larger leaves were dried and grey but now look fresh and green again.

Left: This plant root was dried, trapped and then sepia oil ink was applied to give definition to the texture.  The gauze was crumpled when drying to form the folds.

Items can be trapped between different materials creating a range of effects.

Above: Trapping the twig.  After the sample is dry, having been fully sealed.  String trapped in tissue with burn holes.  Tutor samples.

We then went on to explore creating collagraphs.

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Gabriella Hegyes: Printing from the Land (A)

Part 1:

This two-day workshop in the Blue Mountains was an opportunity for me to print in completely different ways to what I have experienced so far.

Clay Printing:

Starting with a block of potters clay each we rolled it out and pressed items into the surface.

By lightly rolling on acrylic paints we were able to cover the surface without destroying the design.  Here’s my block and a couple of prints:

Due to the delicate nature of the indented clay, and the risk of destroying the design, we printed on fine tissue paper or calico.  Both took the images well.

Although we had collected twigs, leaves and plant material I decided to use a bunch of items from my stash instead.

They feel to me like single layer ‘collages’ and I really like the effect.  The hard-edged items; scissors, chain and cogs – produce a sharp print which contrasts well with the more flowing areas of crocheted doily and open-weave sinamay.

The clay plate was later cast in plaster, creating an image in reverse relief.

The plaster now becomes an artwork in its own right and can be coloured, varnished, waxed, etc.

Plant Dyeing:

Using an aluminium pot with plenty of plant material and water we brought our ‘stew’ to the boil and let it simmer for around 45 minutes whilst we prepared our parcels for dyeing.

We layered fabrics and paper with a lot of trapped leaves and twigs, and some rusty metal pieces.  The length was then tightly rolled, tied and wrapped in a final gauze layer to stop anything falling out.

I’ve done natural dyeing quite a lot but never with this quantity of material encased.  The results should have been excellent but for a couple of errors.  There were 15 of us and each put around 6 rusty pieces into our parcels, way too much iron mordant – guaranteed to give us very, very dark results.  In addition, the parcels were boiled for too long, around 2.5 hours – 45 minutes would have done it.

Note: The class after mine made the relevant corrections and their results were terrific, so I can have a go at this technique at home now.

Despite our mistakes, my samples aren’t bad, a bit dark but passable, and I learned what to do next time.

You can see that the mordant (rust) just took over and obliterated any oranges and greens that should have come through.  Never mind, there’s always another time.

Wax rubbing:

We took some lightweight paper, rubbed it on a tree with a coloured wax crayon and then flooded the paper with inks.

We then did the same thing using a clear candle rubbing.

I thought I heard Gabriella say that we should iron this last sample onto clean paper to remove the wax and see the effects left behind.  So I’ve just done that.

Oops, ruined it!  Now I’ve just got waxy splodges all over it.  As I understood it, the wax is supposed to dissolve into the paper you are ironing it onto and leave you with clean marks.  Ummm….. not in my case.  I should have just scraped the wax off while it was hard.

OK, that’s it for now.  Look out for my next post with more techniques.

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