The other night I was woken up at dawn by the owls making a a huge noise. I got up to close the window and, as I did, a tawny owl flew past me about six feet away, which felt as though I could touch it. I thought this would make a good subject for drawing unto a rolled up plate. The owl was barely lit by the predawn light, so I conceived of it against a dark sky with stars behind it. It was such a fleeting view that I did a bit of research to refine the owl shape.
Having inked a plate in black relief ink, I worked my design using a brush, silicon shaper and a bamboo pen. I using a toothbrush with white spirit to spatter in the stars. I printed using damp paper and a press.
My stars didn’t really work, and I would have liked more contrast and definition than this. I tried again, using white spirit on the brush to remove more ink.
The contrast worked a bit better, but I have lost my way with the shape of the wings. The stars are still not definite enough, and I caught the right hand side of the plate steadying it as I worked. I also think it would work better if the owl is flying into the frame.One last attempt!
I think that this is the best of the three. The lightest tones could be lighter, but the shape of the owl is better and it makes more sense flying into the frame. The stars aren’t white enough. Perhaps I need to use more white spirit? I was reluctant to actually draw stars in as I thought this would look very crude. An interesting experiment, but not, on the whole, successful. It was nice to draw on the experience, but this doesn’t have enough impact.
I think to be more successful, the plate needs to be worked much more, removing a lot more ink. In addition, I think it would provide more impact if the dark field plate was printed over a coloured background. For my next attempt, I decided to use my garden with its red acers as inspiration for the landscape exercise. In my sketchbook, I used watercolours and a chisel brush to look at how I could roll up a coloured background. I then covered this with a piece of thin plastic and drew on it with a marker pen. I knew that this wouldn’t replicate the textures I was going to use, but would test the idea.
I rolled up a plate using small 1 1/2 inch rollers, in a number of colours, trying to capture the fresh bright colours in the late summer/early autumn garden. I put the plate on the press bed on top of tissue paper. I drew around the plate to mark its position and ran it through the press onto damp paper. I then lifted off the plate, leaving the paper trapped in the rollers and weighted back. There was still plenty of ink on the plate, so I hand rubbed a ghost onto newsprint. I thought that I would need to use thin, very flat paper to lift the ghost. I then reinked my plate in black ink and worked the surface with textured materials, a bamboo pen, tissues, cotton buds and net. I tried to remove quite a lot of the ink so that I would retain the light, colourful feeling.
In some places, I felt that I had removed too much ink, so I stamped my textured materials back onto the print in a few places. My registration was better using this method, but certainly not perfect. I think this is quite effective, if a bit too chaotic. The overprint could have been better placed over the colours on the left. I think this is a fundamental dichotomy of monoprinting, the balance between planning and spontaneous effect.
I kept my ghost on light paper as a background for back drawing.
My other idea for a textured landscape was an oil refinery at night. As a kid I stayed in a hotel in Rotterdam opposite the port, and was mesmerised by the flares of the refineries. I thought that the flares, the reflections on water from pipework would lend itself well to the exercise. It offers opportunities for totally different textures to vegetation. Again I decided that it would be more interesting with a coloured background in red and yellow, developed with small rollers. I used the same procedure as before for registration. I worked my dark field plate with small rollers to lift ink from the shapes of buildings (I would have liked more variety of size of roller) and then drew into these areas with a bamboo pen for the pipework. I used a plastic glue applicator for the water, and kitchen paper dipped in white spirit for the flares. I tried to develop a range of hard and soft marks, and tone. I found it very difficult to be exact.
I think the technique is effective, even if it doesn’t look much like a refinery! I like the mixture of tones and colour. The blacks on the right are more velvety and better than this photo shows. I took a ghost off the black plate again to further develop.