Rather to my surprise, I enjoyed using plant material as stencils so much that I decided to produce a series of small plant studies. My idea was:
- use individual plants
- use a small size for intimacy
- keep it simple to show the delicacy of the plant
- use acrylic and oil based ink and compare the results
- experiment with different papers.
I started off using acrylic paints. I made a registration jig about A6 size to hold a piece of gelatine plate and a window on each side on which to mount my paper. Initially I printed just two layers, a first print with the plant as stencil, and then a ghost in another colour.
Initially my mounts didn’t line up so that I got lines across the top or bottom of my second prints. I recut my mounts and tried again.
Not all my attempts were successful but the technique produced some nice prints. I tried the method out on Khadi paper with leaf inclusions, and black paper.
I decided these needed more interest, so added another layer.
This was quite interesting but I also spoilt a lot of good prints by loosing the definition of the design with an extra layer. The results were difficult to predict, and I was trying to assess what would improve each print ‘on the fly’. In the print on the right, I also flipped my painty stencil over. I think these work best with high contract between the layers.
In this print, the paper just didn’t pick up the paint in some areas, producing an aged look which I really like.
I then decided to work the paint on the plate to get more texture and see if I could achieve a similar effect ( departing quite a long way from my objective of simple plant studies!).
Again some work really well whilst others were complete duds. I guess this is the pain and the pleasure of monoprinting. The duds on Khadi paper could be used for Chine colle.
I carried on and produced what I think is a quite interesting series. More interest was added by grass seeds shedding over the plate!
One of my favourite prints was the piece of paper I had used to blot off excess paint, and to generate a ghost!
On a day at the open press, I tried a similar experiment with oil based inks, using a perspex plate printed on to damp paper on an etching press set to relatively light pressure. Registration was now much more an issue.
This print avoided the registration problem by just flipping a stencil for the second run. I like the way it has printed outside the edges of the original print, and also that the first stencil has left an imboss of its stalk at the bottom.
The ghosts were lovely, so I treated a ghost print in the same way.
I then flipped the original stencil and printed that over an inked plate so that the stencil and the plate printed. I then overprinted it again with another flipped stencil. This would have been better with a contrasting ink colour for the final stencil.
Here I have just printed an inked plant, which is beautiful in its simplicity – back to my original idea, full circle.
I would have liked to develop these prints more, but, unfortunately, the temperature in the open press studio got to 34degs, and the ink started to squirm about under the rollers. Clicking on some of these prints to see them enlarged will show how the ink has wriggled about. Also the studio is currently being used to screen print hundreds of t-shirts and the air is full of lint, which presents real difficulties getting a smooth transfer of ink. Lots of little halos.
I think, on the whole, I prefer the more abstract results of the acrylic paint, but would like to push the oil based ink further.
I can see pros and cons of each. Acrylic is good for fast, easy experimentation, transparent veils of colour, easy cleanup, easy registration using a jig, instant drying. Oil based ink gives more solid blocks of colour, greater presence on the paper, a proper plate mark and emboss, real detail. I mix my inks using process colours and extender if required, the studio also only offers process colours. I find it difficult to balance transparency of ink with lightness of tone. For more transparency you can use less ink – poorer coverage, or thin the ink but only so far. If you want a paler colour you have to add white and loose the transparency. I recognise that my colour/ink mixing is an area of weakness. I have decided to order some samples of different colours of ink and some transparent ink.
I have not enjoyed the results of some of my stencil printing and now I realise it’s because I find them too 0/1, pos/neg. I am drawn to elements such as ambiguity, erosion, softness, weathering. This mini project has shown me that I can use the one to get to the other but it requires lots of layers.