July 13, 2012

Two New Prints, and the Learning Process

The Red and The Black, ed 3; 16 x 18 in., image size 8 x 10 in.

Each time I begin a new medium or a new way of working, it takes me months to figure it out, to see where I'm headed with it. When I started painting on parchment rather than gessoed panel I had to decide on the format and whether or not to stretch; when I decided to stretch the parchment over a panel, how would I mount it? And that's the technical stuff; at the same time I was adjusting image and scale. And I'm still changing. So, it's not surprising that learning relief printmaking would take some time. The Red and The Black is my fourth print (see the first three here), one that's a little more ambitious with the use of 2 colors, but one that gave me enough technical trouble that I only got 3 decent prints in the edition. I've been using Daniel Smith's water soluble relief printing inks, which are very easy to clean, stay wet a long time since they are oil based, and have very rich colors. But with this print, I had trouble with the black ink, which seemed to be very tacky and dry. Because I'm such a novice, I don't know if it was me or the ink. I'm sure I'll find out in time. I used a brush for the red ink because I had only one small brayer (I ordered more). If you click on the image you'll see the unevenness of the ink surface, so I must do better.

Kazimir Malevich, Painterly Realism: Boy with Knapsack––Color Masses in the Fourth Dimension, 1915; oil on canvas, 28 x 17 1/2 in. 

The idea for using red and black on white paper (the paper is Sekishu natural) came from Russian Constructivism, or in the case of the Malevich above, Suprematism, with the use of bold, simple shapes.  

Ghost Square, ed. 5; 16 x 16 in., image size 8 x 8 in. 

When I pulled Ghost Square, I began to feel as though I was finally getting a sense of how much water to add to the ink to make it a good consistency for rolling on the cardboard plate. Here I mixed a dark red because I wanted a strong color for the dark tan paper, Akatosashi, which is a gorgeous paper. The color gives the print something of a solemn feel. I'm also getting better at centering the block so the paper isn't crooked, and at keeping stray splotches of ink from marring the print. 

Ghost Square, different orientation

The study I did for Ghost Square had the two squares in this placement at lower right, but then I thought I liked the image better with them at upper left, as above. Now I'm not sure. A main reason I use even borders around the image is so that it can be hung any way. With The Red and The Black there's really only one way it looks good, but this one works differently. Do you have a favorite of the two?

Another thing I've discovered is that this triple thick cardboard, some of which I had lying around in the studio, is great to use for printing. It is stiff and sturdy so the corrugations hold up well to inking and to the rubbing of the brayer. It has two different widths of corrugation, so I can choose which to use. I've cut plates for my next project from ordinary cardboard, but from now on, I'll be using this for any new plates. It's nice to feel that I'm making progress technically, now let's see what images I can come up with.


  1. Like The "Red and The Black" very much, and the first "Ghost Square"

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Donna Maria. And that's a vote for the first version of Ghost Square. I'm a big Malevich fan too, except for his later figurative work.

    2. Yes, the image with black square in upper left is more exciting because it defies gravity. Thanks.

  3. I like the first "Ghost Square" too -- the square in the upper left feels like it's suspended, and for me that adds more energy or tension to it. Beautiful work.

  4. Thanks, Marcia and Julie. And it seems the first version has all the votes.

  5. Aren't these problems the best kind to have? I lean towards the first "Ghost Square," which seems to pop spatially a bit more than the other one to my eyes. It's generous of you to share your musings about the development of your work - a pleasure to read and look.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sky. Yes, these are enjoyable problems, and it's also pleasurable to share my thoughts: I learn a lot through the writing process and from feedback.

  6. Nicely done, Altoon. I, too, like Ghost Square with the square in the upper corner. It seems to have more life. I also appreciate the way you share your work: being open about the mistakes and successes of the learning process.