Assignment 2 Final : The History of the Inevitable Warfare between Science and Theology

Non- rational abstraction: trusting to intuition could give rise to several processes and outcomes. You could let the materials work, and be the amanuensis. You could maybe succeed in not having to think in words. But could it be a purely automatic process? Unlikely. You make choices at all stages. You just might not acknowledge the reasons for those choices. You might be channeling memories, maybe referencing other people’s work without trying or being aware. You might produce work that provides insight into unconscious motivations and concerns, like dreams. You might just do what’s easiest. Or maybe bits of all of these.

Science has given us ways of thinking and knowing that are held to be superior to mere intuition, or to faith or emotion. Since the Enlightenment, reason has been the highest level of thought, the way of thinking and arguing that defeats all others. On the other hand, in recent years, the practice of mindfulness and the influence of Buddhism among educated Westerners has posed some credible alternatives to the mere superstition and credulity still evident in certain parts, all of them challenging the supremacy of reason.

The title above was one I read – it’s the title of a book, I don’t remember by whom, and I haven’t read it- but I liked the title. It was one that leapt out because it suggested itself as a title that fit this series of images. The images came first and the title came afterwards, but clearly it echoed the thoughts I had been having along the way. This is a kind of interplay between reason and intuition, between the objective and subjective, the things that can be explained and the things that are harder to understand, that are personal, deeply emotional, and which you obsess about even when there seems no point, because you think there is an explanation for them, or a solution to them, or a cure for them or an escape from them. In the past religion would have provided all of these.

The instruction to work in abstract, to eschew representation, to avoid the limitations of one object = real/ iconic significance, opens the doors to multiple suggestion, interpretation, and ambiguity. It also creates problems of finding a stimulus, and working with observation or concepts, or emotions, or whatever. What it seems to suggest first to me is the exploration of formal properties of things, the lines, the shapes, and therefore techniques of whatever medium we are going to be using. In this assignment I have been struggling with the tensions of mastering craft- in this case also science- of photopolymer, of chemicals- all things which are quite new to me- and making meaning. I have not sketched, or barely at all. The work has all been in my head, and has been jumbling around with a lot of powerful emotions just lately.

The main focus of this assignment for me has been to experiment with new techniques. At times, that has meant that the work has been about process and it has lacked any emotional heft. But out of that has emerged some pieces that reflect themes and emotions that have been dominating this time, and these pieces make sense to me. The theme of the moon, and the idea of influence, gravitational pull, and the feminine principle, links for me with the strong emotional issues I have had to deal with recently about my mother and about myself as a mother whose only child just recently got married. The themes that emerge here are of orbits, splitting, floating away, loss and the emptiness of space. I think these are the feelings that have subconsciously shaped the images I have made.

This has taken a long time, and I was tempted several times to stop and submit things that were mere exercises. But I’m now glad that I persisted until I made something with meaning.

  1. Copper plate etching: Two moons


This started as a photopolymer plate. It had been given a digital aquatint layer then a handpainted negative was exposed. It was quite successful but I wanted to refine it, so decided to turn it into an actual etching.

This involved removing the grey tone areas of the plate and leaving only bare copper, with the rest left as a mask. The image below shows the plate with the grey tones made with photopolymer still on the plate.


Now with the grey tones removed, what remains will function as a mask.


Then, I sprayed on an aquatint layer of acrylic ink using an air brush.

At this point it seemed that the ferric chloride was becoming slow, so I changed it for a fresh batch, and assumed that the fast times that had been the case last time would be the same again. Using different stop-outs; Lascaux ink, litho pencil, diluted Lascaux, acrylic pen, I did exposures of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes and 20 minutes.

This is the plate in a bath of caustic soda, removing the layers. The photopolymer floats off easily. The aquatint and Lascaux needed an application of Mystrol to remove them.


The final plate looks promising as it seems to have a range of tones. I hope I didn’t stop out to drastically. I won’t know until I get to the press.


This plate reflects the theme of separation, of splitting, and references the two moons of Murakami’s 1Q84, which signal a split which has taken place between two worlds.

Technically I was after reproducing the darks, lights and greys of the original negative. Although the photopolymer plate earlier had printed something I liked, the blacks and whites were inverted due to open biting, probably due in turn to the digital aquatint screen not being accurately exposed.

The photopolymer version
The photopolymer version
These were the components of the negative:


This was the first black and white print:


It is a little broken up, but that may be due to my first dip in ferric chloride not being long enough- 30 second. Or the aquatint screen was too thick. But the blacks, whites and greys are correct, so it’s a technical achievement of a sort. The balcks are velvety. I had brought along some carborundum in case they weren’t, but that’s not a problem. It’s the light greys I need to work on.

I experimented with colour, viscosity printing,  and selective wiping:


This is the final version. It’s inked with Charbonnel water-based oils, sepia + red, sepia + blue, thinned with wash oil and transparent laker, and wiped selectively. The two colours, warm and cool, highlight the theme of separation.

Two moons, copperplate etching on Fabriano paper. image size 16 x 20 cm
Two moons, copperplate etching on Fabriano paper. image size 16 x 20 cm

2. Cyanotype: Moonflowers

Well, that one was done, I thought: I had a nice image I liked. But shit happens. It faded. I tried to re-expose it  and add more vinegar, but it got messed up. So I tried to re-create it. Of course it wasn’t possible to get it the same- that particular angle of the sun the strength of UV, maybe even the water- our heavily chlorinated water may make this whole enterprise dodgy.

1Q84 Herschel cyanotype
This one, with its wonderful reference to the poem by Keats about the newly discovered planet, and to William Herschel, is now no more.

Trying again:



So, these came out nice and dark, but lack the interest of the original. I was noticing that I hadn’t got a real white, so hadn’t maintained the blocking out in a single place or long enough, in my fascination with moving the shapes around to get different tones. But the accident with the first picture had inadvertently shown me that a separate image could be made with the vinegar, by pouring and running it. I was also interested in movement, but wondered if I could pour/ sprinkle sand/ salt as well, while moving some of the fixed shapes, but leaving some of them long enough to get a clean white.

I stil wanted to use circles, interspersed with lines, but left out the framed negative this time. Instead I prepared a container of salt, a tin of loose tea, and a bottle of vinegar. I gathered a collection of circles of different sizes and opacity.

The result seems to be a version of the “Sunflowers” painting, and subsequent print I did a while back.P1040082

The juxtaposition of geometric and gestural (from the vinegar) the solid and the shadowy, and the fine grains works well, I think. The blue and the moon shapes make them contrast with the original sunflowers, and they are like a sad version. Turning towards the moon will not result in growth as it provides no nourishment. That is also ironically referenced in the medium used here, the sun exposure.

Moonflowers, cyanotype on Fabriano paper, 50cm x 70cm

3. Forgetting

Finally this plate is degraded and lace-like. It has taken days of soaking in Ferric Chloride, etching with a needle, cutting with a Dremel, sandpapering.

The similarity between the shape and the texture and a brain makes me think of my mother, suffering from dementia, and sadly aware of the fact that she is forgetting things and people. The process here seems to have mirrored that process of loss, of erosion of the identity. The thing that is left is now quite fragile. I will print it on its own, rather than juxtapose it with a contrast- the actual contrast is with how it was, and that is now irretrievably lost.

This was difficult to ink- I used the thinner Akua inks at first for a black and white version. The first one came out quite delicate but lacking a focal point.


So, for the next one, I decided to wipe the ink with actual sandpaper on the smoother areas where there should be highlights.


This was better.

I decided to put this on a scroll, with the shape at the bottom, and to add a little bit of warmth, with a slight rubbing of Sanguine in the highlighted area.


I then used more colour- blue/ grey and sanguine, this time just rubbed on a la poupee, to avoid too much build up of ink in the crevices.. This gave a much softer image. The downward etches of the ferric chloride are visible (etched in a vertical tank) .



For the final print, I used a scroll, and decided to colour the plate with colours that suggested the original copper, when it’s shiny and when it’s tarnished, warm and cool colours. I might even add the original plate to the printed image, as a comment on image and reality, something that will link to the theme.

I have named it “Forgetting”, which is an allusion to my mother’s condition, but also an echo of Wordsworth, “Sleep is but a dream and a forgetting” which creates a gentle and reassuring image of sleep, and by extension death. It is particularly poignant in the case of dementia, which in so many ways is the early death of self. The blank space is necessary here. It is empty on the one hand, but also provides space to breathe, a space for sleep and calm, which is a reassuring counterpoint to harsher image of destruction.



Forgetting: copperplate on Fabriano paper scroll.
Forgetting: copperplate on Fabriano paper scroll.
Close up of the printed area:

Close up
Close up
Reflective Commentary

I started by considering the meaning of abstraction, looking back to historical developments and identifying rational and intuitive approaches: the former I then pursued as abstraction by distance, the latter I broke down into gestural, and process approaches. In exploring process approaches I experimented with different materials and the processes that naturally go with them, exploring how to degrade, damage or decompose the materials. My chosen artist for the parallel project, Xu Bing, is undoubtedly an influence here, as his series of woodcuts “5 series of repetitions” is an inspirational use of process in reduction printing.  I was interested in making process match meaning, as he has done.

At the same time, my personal reading and practical research were talking me into the realms of science- with new processes involving chemicals, metals, photopolymers and light sources. This was all very new and presented a number of practical problems of access to resources, as well as opportunities to practice. It has meant that this assignment has been a long time on the go, very fragmented and interrupted by life events. These life events have fed into the emotional meanings that I’ve made though- by going for an intuitive approach, I believe that themes and understandings have emerged that reflect key events of my life recently. A powerful theme has emerged, linking me, my mother and my son, and these have metamorphosed into topical images of the moon, which at the time I first designed these plates, was both full and being eclipsed. The final image, of degeneration, is very poignant for me, and I am considering combining the print with the plate itself- a beautiful thing when it starts to tarnish and grow verdigris- but as a reminder of both the deception of images, and the process of irretrievable loss. The blank space on my final scroll may be inspired by Xu Bing, but anyway, emptiness is a factor to be included here.

Technically, two new processes in particular have inspired me in this assignment. The first is cyanotype printing- which is simple but beautiful, and I love the irony whereby the light of the sun creates such cold moon-like blues. An added irony is their sometimes impermanence. Something I need to research a bit more. Outside this assignment, I have experimented with large scale printing on cloth, and am interested in developing something more along these lines- a mixed media approach perhaps.

The second is copperplate etching using ferric chloride. (I have another chemical in the house which also might be a non-toxic etchant, and still need to try it out). I have focussed on the aquatint process, as I like the depth and granulation, and multiple shades of grey. Obviously, I am very much a novice at this, and have not explored the creative potential very far, as I’m still very focussed on the “how”.  But I feel that I have taken an important step forward. When I started I was playing with monoprints, printing at home, and nothing much more. I now have the ability to work in many more ways, have a press (albeit in the wrong country) and feel fired up to move on to more professional ways of working.









Assignment 2: Abstraction: towards the final pieces: Moons

Moon. Topical, symbolic, geometric, poetic, totemic.

My plan for my final piece is to create three images relating to the Moon. At the time of posting it is Mid Autumn, or moon festival, and there is an an eclipse and a large harvest moon. This was the same time of year last year that I worked on Mixed Media projects using light, Blue Moon. This links also to the work I’ve been doing a bit ahead of myself, in the Chiaroscuro unit, looking at 19th century photography.

I also reference Coleridge – Frost at Midnight- again, with that exquisite final line:

Quietly shining to the quiet moon.

Thirdly, I have been reading Murakami’s 1Q84 and was inspired by the notion of the two moons in that story, the appearance of the moons seeming to signal that the characters have entered an alternative or parallel inverse. But these moons are like Coleridge’s, quietly shining, and it takes some time for the protagonists to notice them.

At a basic level though, this permits me to work with simple spiral or circular shapes, to use textures, line and movement to explore the narrative and pictorial possibilities.


I was going to try to produce a tonal, painterly image using photopolymer- using the aquatint screen that I just got. There seems to be a problem though- maybe my timings are way out using the sun, rather than an exposure unit, or maybe it’s the photopolymer film that’s reacting to the climate- but the film won’t stick- I have tried several times, and this was the best, but when developing, it just peeled off altogether in one part of this image- and the rest is not exposed enough anyway.





When I couldn’t get the photopolymer to work, I turned to a simpler way of using sun exposure: cyanotype. There’s already a nice link to the “Blue Moon” theme.

The Alternative Photography website is a great source of info for this.

Now that I have found a source of chemicals, am all set to go with this and ferric chloride etching.

The first practical problem was the lack of anywhere lightproof in my house- this was also the difficulty with the photopolymer – we have too many windows, and all the wrong kind of lightbulbs, but I managed to black out a bit of space to dry the papers.

I soon found that the UV fluctuated a lot, and that the best images were from the really bright sun- and interesting effects when the sun was bright but slanting and casting sideways shadows.

I experimented with real objects: flat, and standing, painterly marks (using film), writing on tracing paper (it develops and then disappears again, but reappears when developed again, and pressed objects in glass.

I used the same negative- an ink wash on film- that I had tried to expose on the photopolymer film: the two moons image.

two moons
Two moons: ink and wash on film
Two moons: ink and wash on plastic, with carborundum powder
Two moons: ink and wash on plastic, with carborundum powder
three moons with carborundum
two moons and moving objects
two moons and moving objects


Finally these are the ones I want to develop into a slightly larger piece:

two moons; Combination ink wash and 3-d objects
two moons; Combination ink wash and 3-d objects
two moons: combination wash and 3-d objects
two moons: combination wash and 3-d objects

I like the mixture of soft and hard lines, drawn, textured and geometric, with a suggestion of perspectival and telescopic views made by the fact that there was a shadow cast by the 3-D objects, and movement caused by the breeze. The angled cylinder shape will have to be made taking account of the direction of the shadows, so will need strong sun.The image I plan to make will reflect those 18th and 19th century astronomers, working with self made tools, who discovered the age of the universe and had to try to explain to themselves as well as to others, how God still fit into the scheme of things. The confusion that the image cause to the eye is reminiscent of the shifts in perspective from believing that the stars were fixed on a crystal sphere to realising that they were floating in space.  I think it’s appropriate and slightly ironic to be using the sun to make the image.

I also find this minimalist one attractive- the two simple shapes, one a bit like a balloon, the other a solid looking object that is actually a mere shadow: lots of play on presence and absence, and the ambiguous relationship between the two shapes, flat or 3-d, moving or still: one shape looks like a pendulum, and the other seems to recede, so I have called it “Space and Time”.

Space and time

I’m torn between the two- last feedback I got was to avoid doing too much. Is this personal taste? When I show these images to other people, they immediately appreciate the ones with the richest texture. In many ways, I find more to contemplate in the simpler one.


This one’s also interesting to look at- the product of accident- the liquid didn’t dry evenly, the UV wasn’t powerful enough, and in the end I abandoned it overnight, under the full moon as it happened, not that that will have done anything. But in the morning it looked like an embryo.


Secondly, I am going to produce a copper plate etching, now I have materials again. This is going to be using the same techniques as the “enquiring mind” piece, but will start with an image of the moon and degrade it to the point that it looks like a rock: this is using process to reflect the story of how those astronomers turned a mystical object into something more prosaic.

Sunday 11 October

So today I used a UV lamp as the weather just isn’t cooperating. It’s not as fast as the sun, and the colours aren’t as bright. I’d like to do it again if the sun comes out. This is an ink wash and carborundum on cellophane mounted on a frame, with flat shapes and 3 D objects. I moved the flat circles to create different shades, and adjusted the angle of the lamp to keep the shadow of the cylinder soft and ambiguous. I am very pleased with the quality of the lines, with the textures and the shades.

The most striking part of the image is the way a “planet” shape has emerged in the bottom right corner, with blazing light around it. There is a diagonal movement, as if a comet is moving into the skies at the top left corner. This image is channeling for me the Keats’ sonnet “On looking into Chapman’s Homer”, which is about a moment of insight, related to the thrill of discovery of a new planet.


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer


Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
   And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
   Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
   That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
   Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
   When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
   He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
   Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The “watcher of the skies” was William Herschel, who discovered Uranus after developing his own telescopes and setting up a grueling system of observation.  Herschel was also the pioneer of this cyanotype technique.


Of course, as looking at the set-up shows, this is a case of the “deception of images”.


The set up: plastic cylinder semitransparent casting a soft shadow and moving circles


1Q84 Herschel Cyanotype A 2

Then the sun appeared again, and I was finally able to make sun exposures. I also added vinegar to bring out the cerulean blue colour. I think these are amazing in terms of their colour- it was really exciting developing them. This one doesn’t have the same trompe l’oeil effect of the one above and perhaps suggests a telescope shape instead.

Moons in the Sun 1
Moons in the sun 2
Moons in the sun 2

The speed of the exposure in these has created different effects, in some ways less complex. The colour is phenomenal though. The main interest in these is how the movement of the circles, with their different exposure times and the way they overlapped, has created a rolling movement of transparent circles in the image.



Photopolymer again

With a chance to use a UV lamp and the weather less humid I tried again, and it’s gone better. I tried dry lamination of the plates but that didn’t work, but with a bit of access to art rooms this week I managing to do more- the uv lamp is just guesswork as it has to be hand held but I have managed to make two versions of the “two moons” plate.

Calling it “two moons” is an indication that this isn’t abstract of course- but actually it’s a pattern- a gestural mixture of painterly marks, wash and carborundum texture.

Intaglio wash

These plates were made by mounting photopolymer onto copper plates, exposing them, first to an aquatint screen ( I gave them 40 seconds under a UV bulb, hand held- it was just a guess) and then, under a plate of glass, with a black and white positive exposure, a further 40 seconds. This was then developed in washing soda, and inked and printed.


This was using a basic high-pigment black ink on a sheet of plastic, making dry, painterly brushmarks. The exposure is not correctly times, or else the development is too short: I am guessing here, as the materials are not behaving in the same way as the ones I used in the summer did. I don’t have access to a proper exposure unit, so trials are impossible.

I tried rolling over this one in a colour, just to see how it looked. The brushmarks are there, but there are open-bitten areas where the ink was black. The effect is rather like  rolled up Chinese character, and it’s not unpleasant to look at, but it isn’t what was intended.

The next one worked a lot better. Using the same timings, but two layers of negatives, creating a double spiral, and a greater range of texture. _MG_5834


Again, what was supposed to be thick black areas have come out as open bite – but what is nice is the shades of grey, and the granulated textures.

I tried this one in two colours, although “viscosity printing” is a bit of a mystery to me. I tried using AKUA intaglio inks for the black, then Charbonnel, with added oil for transparency, for the colour. Then I tried Charbonnel black too, as it is nice and thick compared with Akua.

I tried again, and thought at first that this one was better, in that I did succeed in getting some black where it should be, but it’s not evenly exposed- no doubt something to do with the lamp being being hand-held.


So when I compare them, the one on the right has the most successful variety of marks and tones.



Intaglio and collograph on perspex

I said I would come back to this one and I have. This is the same plate as I used to explore gestural marks, and was quite destructive; I came back to it with some “healing” layers- acrylic (screenfiller) and gauze to act as plasters over some of the cracks, and to patch the surface, while also creating solidity- shape and texture- with some carborundum. I was after real solid blacks, and “monumental” shapes. Again they were just made intuitively, and any suggestion or symbolism is unconscious.

Gestural marks on perspex, with collograph
Gestural marks on perspex, with collograph

I like the textures of the gauze, and the watercolour effect of the acrylic. The black is really dense. I wonder if I could achieve something like lithographic effects using these materials?
The open bite is quite marked though, and there would be no way to avoid this on perspex I guess? Aquatint screen using spray paint? Or just not using the Dremel.

This is the second print from the same plate.

Interesting though that was, I then finally found a source of ferric chloride, which meant I could turn back to using copper etching.

Copper plate etching

One issue this time was that the copper plates I have are significantly thicker than the one I degraded last time, so it would take more time.

The first stage was to make a test plate to test the new ferric solution. That meant making an aquatint layer with acrylic ink and masking the plate in strips. Now, you would have thought that, having done this before, I would have got it right, but I managed to count backwards and fail to get an even spread of exposure times. However, the test was enough to let me know that the solution worked quite effectively and fast, and that 30 seconds, 1 minute 2 minutes, four minutes up to 20 minutes was probably the range I as after for aquatint etching.

My plan was to degrade a plate down to a circular shape, but to create layers of different depth. The first thing I did was make an aquatint layer and then paint ink and water in the desired shape. You can see the fine mist of the aquatint layer in the picture. The black ink here would stop out the ferric, and the wash part would get eaten.


I put this in Ferric for 10 minutes, as a first layer, then cleaned it and printed it. The contrasts were not sharp yet. Then I made another layer using no aquatint layer this time, just using pigment from oil-based ink, mixed with water.

This time, when printed, the contrasts were sharp, and the background a lovely velvety black.

The next stage was to start really degrading the copper. Using Johnson’s floor polish as a hard ground/ stop out on both sides, I scratched into the exposed background with an etching needle to make the surface easier to attack with the salts. Then I scratched some lines through the hard ground so that holes would be created. This process took two days and one night. Finally I was left with the roughly textured circle of copper.

This shape was then inked in black, and set in a composition with a ruled circle- this was a ready made zinc circle which I ruled with an etching tool to make dotted lines – and another cardboard circle to make an embossed shape.

The thinking here was to contrast the materials, the shapes, the surfaces, and thereby the connotations-

the etched copper, its plate warm golden red in colour, rough, accidental, degraded, the irrational, the experienced, the harvest moon, the real: the accidental uncorroded piece of copper giving it a “base” a bit like a crystal ball, so also connoting the supernatural

the scored zinc, silver grey, cold, precise, measured, the logical, rational, the plan, the abstraction, the plan, the analysis: the image is like a pie-chart, mathematical, but the lines also suggest a clock face, and the accidental cloud shapes on the surface, possibly caused by humidity, further connote the passage of time (and it also made me thing of the cloud passing the moon/ eye in the surrealist “Un Chien Andalou” in an inversion of the rational)

the cardboard circle- un-inked, untouched, the blank, the conceptual, the pure, the unreal, the non-existent, the Platonic form.



I was not satisfied with the composition. And time ran out for using the press, as a class of students arrived. So I will just reflect on what is wrong and what might be changed.

The juxtaposition reminded me of Joseph Kosuth, “Three chairs and one”, the forms of the same object, drawing attention to the relativism and constructed nature of all instantiations of a single concept.

There was something I didn’t like about this group of three- the way a group of three immediately suggests narrative progression- or is that just me?- there’s an immediate sense of before, now and then, or a suggestion of causation which didn’t please me at all with this. Would having just two items make a difference to that? Would an arrangement in a straight line be less annoying? Does the whole thing need more space?

I removed the embossed shape and quickly re-printed. The cloud formation on the zinc was gone, and possibly won’t be recreated.


There’s still an inevitable balance between the two- or tension. The orientation makes a difference. Is it balanced in too obvious a way? There is a clear organic vs geometric opposition- order vs chaos, yin and yang.

The meaning of it is forming in my head and I think I know what has to be done.


Assignment 2: Abstraction: the questioning mind

I have already said, that I interpret abstraction here as a process, and have explored different processes, letting the  processes determine the outcome, to a degree. It’s like trying to “automate” the work- a bit like how Surrealists came up with their abstract images, except without the Freudian element.

So, it’s a case of putting the plate materials together with the things that will damage or degrade them and trying things out. I am particularly keen on the copper plate and ferric chloride process, and wanted to see how far I could go in damaging/ degrading a plate.

So I used this plate, the small one that had already been experimented on, on both sides.

I had used it as a test plate in Capileira to determine times for aquatint etching, with brushpainting of stop-out at 5 minute intervals. This would be the front.


Then, also in Capileira, trying out hard ground with etched lines, to add areas of dark and outlines.


Then the other side had been used at home to test my materials and solution:


Now I wanted to experiment with degrading the plate to the point of break-up.

I masked one side – the one immediately above- with a plastic shape, roughly like a wave, covering just over half, then masked the other side with a layer of Lascaux hard ground, mirroring the same shape. On the hard ground, I etched lines, concentrating on the already weakened areas, and adding shapes suggesting holes. Then I put it in the ferric chloride overnight.

And got the most exciting result.

There is still a trace of the original etch, and the curved lines complement the cut holes. The ragged edges, and the marks, suggest to me a brain, but also echo the “moon” images I’ve been working on, with crater-like shapes and shadows, looking ahead to  the “Chiaroscuro” assignment. The shape is beautiful, and can be printed in multiples to create new shapes, with a pleasing organic quality, but just a hint of a graphic question mark shape, which is why I’m calling it “the questioning mind”- but beneath what might appear to be a celebration of curiosity, there is also the idea of degradation, of things being eaten away, deterioration. technically, I love the softness of the etched surface against the crispness of the edges, and the way those edges hold the ink.

the questioning mind: copper plate etching on Fabriano Rosaspina
the questioning mind: copper plate etching on Fabriano Rosaspina

Printed in multiples:

IMG_3748 IMG_3747 IMG_3745

The plate itself is a thing of beauty, with the colours of the copper and the contrasting grey green of the verdigris; just lovely.

What I take away from this is the value of testing materials to see what happens. The shapes have ended up again, like the experiment with breaking perspex, organic, because they represent what happens rather than what I have designed. This again, is an almost  “automatic” image, in the tradition of using unconscious processes to create (yes, there is some intervention, but it’s reduced.)

If only I could get hold of the materials (getting the ferric here is proving a challenge even though it’s standard in the electronics industry); I’d love to do more of this.
This will be the technique I use in my final piece for this assignment.


Assignment 2: Copper Plate etching: Abstract

So, this was a copper plate etching I started on my last day at this summer’s Non-toxic intaglio course.

It is a combination of different techniques, so really just evolved as I practices various things, but the design principle was simple- keep balancing shapes, lines and textures.

The first stage here was to make a mask to protect certain areas form the ferric chloride bath. I could have used various stop-out methods, but the one that would give the securest edge and solid shapes, seemed to be with a sheet of photopolymer film.

So I’ll just go through the stages here,as this was so much about technique and craft practice, and as these processes are still new to me, I need to record them:

Mask layer

Laminated the copper plate with photopolymer film

Make a mask – I tore paper, and created some block shapes at angles- these had a mix of cut and torn edges.

The photopolymer film was exposed under a UV lamp, but could have been done in the sun (No need for an aquatint layer, as this was just black/ white), edges cut and left to harden for 2 minutes. Then it was developed in washing soda, which removed all the unexposed film and left the rest of the copper clear. (A quick dip in ferric chloride will determine if the film is completely removed, as the plate will oxidize if it is. De-oxidise in salt/ vinegar solution and dry)

I also hardened it in the sun to turn the photopolymer dark purple, but this may not have been necessary.

Aquatint layer

Without an aquatint layer, the copper would be open-bitten- that is to say, in large areas, there would be nothing on the eroded copper to hold the ink, except for the edges of the shapes. To create an aquatint layer that would resist the ferric chloride, I had to spray on a fine layer of acrylic using an airbrush.

Aquatint etching

Then started the process of creating layers using different exposure times. I had already got a list of times from practice plates.

I already had a white layer from my mask, so was not going to stop out anything in this first layer, which would end up as the darkest areas. One of the first things I did was to cut, with an engraving tool, a geometric shape- a thin line to counteract the solid shapes. This was cut into the masked area as well, to break up those shapes. (That was not recommended by the workshop leader, as it would result in harsh lines, which I liked the sound of however)

Then, using different stop-out material- a hard wax crayon, which I knew from my practice plate would give a textured result- and brushed on stop-out (Lascaux acrylic ink)- I made  layers of grey, with times ranging from 5 , 10 and 15. After each exposure to ferric chloride, the plate had to be deoxidised to make sure the stop-out materials would stick.

Finally the plate was dipped in caustic soda, which would remove all the acrylic- though this is best done in Mystrol, which is a bit less strong- but the caustic would take off the photopolymer film.

This is the first inked plate- some the different greys didn’t come out clearly but probably would have if I’d inked them again- they seemed to improve in subsequent inkings. It was all a bit rushed at this stage as time was running out and I might have left too much ink on. On the other hand, I had exposed the first layer for 5 minutes, quite long for a solution that worked to differentiate at intervals of one minute or less at the start of the process. The maximum length of time for dipping in that particular ferric solution was recommended to be 20 minutes to achieve black, and I hadn’t used all that time. I wanted to leave more room for working. But I was reasonably happy with this early result. The lines in the mask are indeed harsh, scored looking, not delicate. The wax crayon worked well. The other layers are not visible in this photo. There is clearly a bit of open bite where my aquatint layer may not have been thick enough, but it has created a happy accident that looks like a light source down the right hand side. I wanted this to have a floating effect, with planes going off at different angles, but it’s still quite flat in this print.


I kept the plate and brought it back with me, and once I had got all my own materials together, and had practiced with the timings, I added more layers to this.

Hard Ground

First up, I covered the back to protect it, and, after deoxidising the plate, brushed on a hard ground layer (Johnson’s Floor polish), then pressed two weights of sandpaper onto it and ran through my new press. I added more lines, using etching tools. After etching in the ferric chloride  I found that the sandpaper marks were rather slight, just visible in the centre as a few pale dots, so decided to have another go with soft ground. (15 minutes etch in my solution, which seemed to be working faster than the one at the workshop) There was also an interesting accident, in that perhaps some of the hard ground is not properly cleaned off and there are some pale marks where the wax crayon texture should be. This is certainly all much lighter now than the first inking. The etching tools- rockers as well as needles have created different line qualities- some quite soft. It has started to have a sensation of receding depths/ multiple planes.


Soft ground

This was an oil-based soft ground, which had to rolled on with a soft roller in a thin layer. (Of course this is not a smooth surface now, but should still work I thought) Then I placed the sandpaper on it again, plus some tarlatan, covered with an oiled layer of Mylar, and ran through the press. This was etched again ( 15 minutes)

The result is now much more complex, with an interesting variety of lines and shapes.

Abstract print
Abstract print

The torn sandpaper edges have added more organic shapes, and the tarlatan texture helps to mesh shapes together. There is an interesting range of greys, and the original solid shapes have now been modulated. I must admit I am still quite unsure of the exact science of what has happened, and how these originals have been affected when they were under a mask- but presumably the uneven surface that I was applying the ground to meant the ground was a bit uneven too. I’m not sure how deeply bitten areas get to look less bitten now- that’s not possible- but maybe it’s to do with the overall relative levels. or maybe I’m just inking better.

The two images above were just trying out the different new inks I’d got. I felt the Charbonnel was very thick. I could try out some viscosity printing- that’s something of a mystery to me as well.

Here is the plate: it’s clear that there are brush marks at the edges where the hard ground wasn’t entirely brushed on. The depth of that initial harsh cut through the mask is clear here too.



I printed it again on coloured banana paper which softens the whole thing and picks up the delicate grey tones created by the sandpaper on the soft-ground stage, as well as the larger marks of the rougher sandpaper from the hard ground stage.

Abstract on yellow
Abstract on yellow

Overall, I like the image, but it has been an experiment in repeating the etching process to achieve layers of different marks. I feel I could control some of these now.

I keep seeing geographical and political analogies in the image- an aerial view of a landscape, the Gulf of Aden,   fields laid out for agriculture, erosion of water, fishing, ruled lines in the landscape, like those straight ones made in the sand, ironically, in the middle east, a bombing sight, a pointing finger- and the awareness that this is damage, that some violence has been done to this plate, with sharp tools, with abrasive surfaces- and that tarlatan now looks like a frayed bandage.

I’m aware that I’m probably more excited by this result just because it’s a new process, and I’m using new materials, but I do have a sensation of having moved to an other level with this, and my previous monoprints are now looking very simplistic. It’s also a bittersweet feeling, because I’m now writing this up in Hong Kong, having had to leave a lot these materials behind, including my press of course, and am trying to restock here and feeling very frustrated.


Assignment 2: Abstraction by degree: Cyanotypes

This was another new technique- quite a simple one, but in keeping with the Breaking Bad approach I’m veering towards at the moment, with my new found interest in Science.

This is the use of Ammonium iron (III) citrate, and potassium ferricyanide to create a light sensitive wash to make cyanotypes, which can be exposed under the sun. I love this simple way of making images appear, and it also, like the photopolymer method, takes me back to the days of developing photos in a darkroom and seeing the images emerge.

Abstraction here happens with distance- physical distance- if you choose to use actual objects to create inverse silhouettes, then the closer they are to the surface, the sharper and more realistic they appear.

So this image was made with textures pressed quite close to the paper with a glass on top (the edges of which appear). This closeness means there are hard edges, except in the case of the cotton wool, which has created an interesting cloud-like texture. Although the contrast between geometric and organic is quite interesting, this is a bit literal, as it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the objects and materials are.


So this was another version, this time with a distance between the objects and the paper and exposed it for 35 minutes outside- an overcast day, or this would have been quicker, and sharper. This had been a planned composition, using household objects (insert photos from phone) to suggest a theme (childbirth). I chose the most gruesome kitchen utensils I could find, metal tongs, an old fashioned tinopener, hooks… I left the paper a bit too long under the running water which then added a pattern of holes: this seemed to complement the theme of violence, so was a lucky accident.



I wanted to get something in-between here- semi- abstract, so pinned some of the objects down and tried again:


It now has more of a suggestion of growth perhaps, and the less sharp parts now take on a ghostly image, a bit like an ultrasound scan.

Another technique that could be used with this method is negative films- made my sketching onto tracing paper, or using a photograph. Thsi was only an afternoon workshop, so there wasn’t too much time to experiment, but I had this photo prepared- again, my kitchen tools, but reimagined as a rather harsh “holy trinity”.

This is possibly a little underexposed.

Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity

Similarly with this one- should have been exposed longer- I was using similar scribbling/ markmaking to that use on plexiglass- this time with graphite on tracing paper- the edges of which can be seen. I like the drawn line texture and the shades.


Right now, I don’t have the chemicals to experiment with this technique further, but I like the possibilities it offers, and would be interested in combining the images with other techniques- the fact that this image is waterproof is handy, as the paper can be wet again for, say, intaglio.


Assignment 2: Abstraction: Materials and process: gesture

The course designer suggests approaching abstraction in two ways: geometric and gestural.

The thing about being “gestural ” with printmaking is that the marks you make are indirect, so there’s not the same immediacy as there is, say, with a Jackson Pollock splatter painting, where the movements and the momentum, and the gravity are directly influencing the marks made. When it’s a transferred image, you can splatter, drop, splash, but the mark you get will reflect the fact that the paper has been pressed on to the paint. That’s to say, that in printmaking, materials and processes determine the marks you get, as much as the way you design your plate.

I wasn’t keen on just splattering because it’s likely I’d just get squished blobs. So I painted quickly, using a painting I’d done as inspiration. This kind of image is determined by materials and, if the ink is water-based, as mine was, by speed. I’m not sure this monoprint interpretation adds much. The range of marks is limited, even using brush marks and backdrawing, but it has to be done very quickly.


Basically, with mono printing, if you want control of the finished product, you have to use materials, namely the inks, with a degree of viscosity that means they are going to remain the same when transferred. There are many examples of these “painterly” mono prints in the well known book by Jackie Newell. You have to be very convinced of the point of this.

I am more drawn to those techniques which create automatic effects through the printmaking process. Maybe I am lazy. This was a pochoir technique – using torn shapes which were reversed in order to create interlocking and overlapping colours and shapes. This works better  and is “gestural” in the sense that the paper masks are torn roughly, and are positioned at random, then repositioned at random, and thus it is an action process that determines the outcome, not composition.


So, to return to the materials and processes- what processes could be carried out with particular materials to create marks automatically? I have seen a YouTube video showing a print being made by burning paper and then quickly smothering it in a press, so that the resulting image is a burn mark, and each time it’s different. That’s surely an example of “gestural” printmaking.

With paper: folding, scrunching, soaking and spraying with water, oil and alcohol products:

These are vaguely suggestive of wood, water, trees, or rain streaking down a window.

A feather laid into the ink above made interesting marks.

IMG_3535 IMG_3827


These images were made by just making intuitive childish scribbles- and also using the effects of letting turpentine and stand oil react to one another to make a bubble pattern, which is quite attractive.



I feel I am not moving on much here though.


Collagraph is all about textures- the most elemental being soft and hard. I made a plate using a bandage- silkscreen fabric and sand- (I had no carborundum), with thick glue as an in between “fluid” texture: I just placed the pieces more or less randomly, trying to balance them, with a basic diagonal composition.

This is the inked up plate:


Without a press this had to be printed on thin paper, or on wet paper pressed between weights.

On thin paper, the sand was a bit destructive, but I like the shapes and textures on the right hand one.

IMG_3843 IMG_3844

On thick paper the textures are quite sharp:

Abstract collagraph
Abstract collagraph

I should probably have used sandpaper instead of actual sand, so as not to indent the paper quite so much, but the dotted patterns are interesting, and they create a lot of space. I’m still unsure what I am trying to achieve here though.



With wood: burning, splitting, splintering:

This piece of wood was set alight after having lighter fluid poured on it, but I didn’t get much of a relief pattern as a result- the fluid burnt out too quickly. (Need to use different wood? petrol?) I then used a screwdriver and a knife, cut quickly, and let the plywood layers split. It’s been printed four times to make a continuous pattern, then overprinted in a second analogous colour, which again, is a technique to create a random and not representational design. This could have been planned so that the edges met up as a repeat pattern.


Plywood block
Plywood block



Lino: I could make random marks with caustic soda. (But I’m not going to- I don’t have much of the real stuff, mainly vinyl, which is impervious to most random markmaking stuff.)

But when I think of “gestural” marks, I think of drawing and writing, marks made by spontaneous movement. The most direct technique I know for achieving that is intaglio, where the scratched line you make is pretty nearly the mark you get.


These images are made on A4 pieces of 2mm plexiglass, and have been gouged with a variety of sharp objects, including knives, etching needles, sandpaper, a screwdriver and a Dremel. Then the plexiglass was cracked  with a hammer and other sharp tools. Before that, a sheet of contact plastic was affixed to the back to hold the pieces together.

I like the variety of marks I’ve got here. The sharp engraving needles have been used quite violently in places to scratch, as have lino carving tools and knives to peel off some surface plastic. The use of a rocker engraving tool has made dotted and hatched lines, as has the Dremel used at different speeds. The Dremel is nice for the curly lines, and the engraving needle is also relatively easy to write with. The marks are made quickly, and deliberately artlessly; scribbles, random words, scratchings out, phrases that come into my head, symbols. I painted some caustic soda and left it overnight to see if the lines would get etched by that, thinking that some of the plastic in the sheet might be affected by it, but no- it looked exciting for a moment- with bits of crystal shapes forming- but it was just the dried soda on the surface and it washed off.


Intaglio on plexiglass, Akua Lamp black ink
Intaglio on plexiglass

By leaving some ink on the plate, that too can be marked, written into. Wet paper soften the deeply etched Dremel lines, and makes a contrast with the sharper ones. Where the Dremel  has bitten deeply, there’s an open bite effect where a thin line is left uninked as the pigment is held by the edges of the gouged line. The cracks though, create all sorts of different effects- they are organic in a way, that is, they make sense, as they have happened naturally as a response to pressure on the material. The ink sits in them in different ways, depending on how deep the break is and whether the plate bends at that point.

This is quite interesting.

Another sheet of plexiglass (annoyingly not cut to the same size) as a colour layer, quickly painted with inks, scrubbed, scratched into with a fingernail. Heart symbol painted, edges wiped and wetted slightly. It feels like conflict, miscommunication, love letters getting lost on the post, poignant.

I was wearing a Jean Michel Basquiat t-shirt, and may have been channelling that style: the primitive markmaking, childlike images. It could be interesting to match the layers and colour in the outlines.

Intaglio and monoprint
Intaglio and monoprint


This is the ghost print of the intaglio, and the lines are finer. The monoprint layer has accidentally- or not, depending on one’s view of what random marks reveal- turned into a map of the world.


This is something to come back to.



Assignment 2: Abstraction: Serendipity


I’m defining abstraction rather generally. Yet, I understand abstraction as a process: abstraction FROM something… But my problem with abstraction is, what subject matter do I begin with? Or do try to come at abstraction from another route? I identify three basic types of abstraction which do not rely on observation: geometric, intuitive and serendipitous.

Obviously, if, rather than being inspired by those artists who were trying to make visual sense of their world, Cubists, Orphists, Futurists, the terms of reference are those dogmatists of “pure” abstraction- Mondrian and Plastic art, Malevich and Suprematism- then anything which seems to imitate nature would be considered mere representation. What was left to those artists as their subject matter then? The language of art- pure form: balancing shapes, colours, lines. Those elements belong only to art, and thus define its being. Renaissance art provided idealised images of man, but Plastic art paints itself in its own terms. These could become spiritual and mystical – symbols of an eternal language.  Or geometry.

The course designer suggests looking at renaissance art to identify the “pure” forms that underly its compositional structure: the triangle, the hemisphere, shapes which are symbolic of the beliefs in the holy trinity, of the dome of the heavens above. Lines of congruence which direct our eye in a painting, which tell us how to “see” what’s more important, the truth of the universe.

Personally, though, I don’t privilege maths over nature, and when Coleridge writes of “that eternal language which thy God utters”, he means the natural world, and this chimes much more with my emotional instincts. Besides, some abstraction, such as Hilma af Klimt’s, seems to have been illustrative- symbolic representations of a system of belief- or in other words, what we would now term graphics. Agnes Martin, however, is one artist who has put the mysticism back into geometric abstraction, by privileging the process of line-making as meditation. This is something I have experimented with, and find satisfying.

Influenced by the claims of psychoanalysis, painters such as Kandinsky created abstract images inspired by dreams, or music- in this case, putting on canvas images which were “seen” in the mind, not based on external observation. This is a more intuitive approach, which could be seen as the precursor of abstract expressionism, of action painting, gesture, or of colour field painting. This is an approach that puts emotion and instinct in the forefront.

Max Ernst used frottage as a way of making patterns, which he then developed into fantasy images, responses to what he saw in the patterns- the frottage process being a kind of randomising process to get him thinking out of the box. Ernst is considered to belong to the group of Surrealists, for whom random juxtapositions challenged perception and remade reality. This was serendipitous, and opens the way for seeing the familiar strangely, for repositioning and reinterpreting the world of our direct experiences.

If I consider abstraction without the capital A, though, it is a process of distancing. That may mean distancing in time, or place or space, or emotionally: it may mean generalising, or conceptualising. It may mean shaking off the normal associations that objects have. And in doing so it may create new ways of seeing, rules and laws, like those of Plasticism, Cubism or Suprematism. To that extent then, it is the process of modernisation of art at the start of the 20th century, and the forerunner of all the movements and -isms that rejected photographic realism. Which makes the topic of this assignment rather broad.

These “abstract” shapes are made by inking squares of tarlatan, and folding them, fraying the material, using a mask, duplicating- it’s a type of collograph technique in that it’s a relief made from material placed onto a surface, but the transparency of the object, and the lightness of the lines make it suggestive of something floating in space or swimming in liquid. But is this abstract? Its clear what the material is, even though the way it has been printed is suggestive of something other than what it is composed of. I could use the patterns created to make another abstract design, an arrangement of shapes. but am not sure how I could improve on it. The fine lines would be hard to achieve in any other way, but I could try something labour-intensive and  meditative. Or these random patterns could become part of another image, reminiscent of the way Ernst used frottage.

What is clear to me though, is that there is a link between process and meaning: if the lines are made laboriously, that is part of their meaning, if they are light- like these, and have touched the paper for only a brief moment, which has captured a particular arrangement that is actually temporary, then that is part of their meaning. And that, I think, is what I’m trying to work out here in this foray into “abstraction’- a match between the way the marks are made and their meaning.