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Last weekend was the expressive etching course that I've been looking forward to and dreading. I couldn't get inspired to find any more source material so I decided to re-use the skull study that I've used in the last two intaglio classes and compare results.

Sugar lift etching is a very chaotic textural/tonal method, which I was quite keen to try out. Anything that distracts from my amateurish draughtsmanship is a bonus, frankly! I think you can use quite a lot of things as the "sugar", anything vaguely sticky that forms a waterproof film that dissolves quickly in hot water, I guess. We used different dilutions of instant coffee granules dissolved in water; some experimented with Camp coffee as well. Because we used aluminium plate, we didn't need to use aquatint for texture, as the etch is pretty grainy.

This is wot we did )

This is what we got:

7. second proof 8. sugar-lift tonal/textural etching

7. Early proof - following the first vaseline resist.
8. Late proof - following second vaseline resist and a bit of extra drypoint.

This plate had I think 6 or 7 rides through the etching bath! I added sutures using drypoint following the last etching and I think there is still some more burnishing/etching to be done to tidy up some bits, but I really like this technique - it comes close to the "controlled chaos" way of working that makes me happy!
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Finally, a print I like. Still some things wrong with it but I think I like this better than the aluminium etching. It's nearer how I wanted it to be, at least.

Skull: drypoint

This one's a drypoint on Rhenalon, printed with oil based inks (hand-mixed colour, get me!) on Fabriano Rosapina (GET ME EVEN MORE, USING THE BEST PAPER). Quite a steep learning curve despite this being my fourth drypoint now, almost resulting in table flipping. Now I know not to aim for all the burr in the world or it'll tent the paper so that it can't pick the ink up from the incised lines. Thinking about tinkering with drypoint on metal plates, for comparison. The advantage of metal drypoint is that you can scrape/burnish out any marks that are too deep, which you can't on Rhenalon. And I LIKE burnishing.

On balance, I think the selective ink removal works better for texture/tone here than the tonal/textural copper sulphate etching on aluminium plate that I did previously. And I do like using a cotton bud for highlights. I did another one with more texture using spattered Lincoln wash but unfortunately the paper was too wet and some got stuck to the plate.

Feeling a bit brighter now: have set wheels in motion to start studying for the IBMS Diploma of Expert Practice in Dissection, to formalise my dissection experience. That should give me something to do through the winter. I've also plotted the world's most convoluted journey through most of Europe for my 40th, to keep me from being at home missing a lot of my far-flung friends. Itinerary: Paris catacombs, sleeper trains, La Specola, trains through the Gotthard and Brenner passes and some time in Zurich doing this and that. Should be interesting if nothing else!
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August continued to be a "blah" month, with flashes of outright suicidal and incipient mid-life crisis. However, managed a weekend etching course at Red Hot Press, which was very fun. They use a non-toxic (rather, *less* toxic) method akin to electrolysis, that uses copper sulphate to etch aluminium plates. In keeping with my generally morose mood, the following was perpetrated... From photo to print in about a week, via sketch, application of hard ground and incising, etching the line, stopping out with straw hat varnish and re-etching several times to apply tone, adding some texture using vaseline, a bit of drypoint and burnishing back multiple areas. I think around 6-8 trips through the etching bath! Did a lot of variants with simultaneous monoprinting/colouring a la poupee/overprinting but in the end plain ol' umber mixed with sepia was my favourite.

etching idea Final etching plate Final print: black, sepia and red Final print: burnt umber

Feeling a little less horrible today, though not entirely sure why. Something seems to have lifted a bit, maybe because I've decided to abandon plans for a 40th birthday party and just go away somewhere instead.

The liberal application of heavy engineering and steam at The Great Dorset Steam Fair last weekend also helped immensely. Came home with copious amounts of soot in my hair, covered in mud and with a sprained wrist - gawping at traction engines team ploughing and not looking where I was going. Sigh... Went on the traction engine-powered Steam Yachts*: screamed like a girl every time I shot out of my seat at the top of each arc. Even if the brain did keep yelling "just remember your physics!" the stomach was convinced I was going to die. Didn't stop shaking for a good 15mins afterwards. Brilliant! Lord only knows how they managed it in crinolines** without the struts at the side to hang on to... made of stern stuff, these people in the past. I now also want my official title to be "Centripetal Governor".

*This is the actual one I went on, but not my video.
**OK, so these were probably Edwardian/1920s, but still - corsetry!
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Depression in August is the pits.

Feeling fogged up, numbed, half asleep, can't think straight, it's ye olde running through treacle feeling. B12 regimen is screwy, think I am due another shot in a couple of weeks but still bruised pretty badly from the last one. Have an etching course this weekend, still feeling very unenthusiastic - the only prep I've done is a weak pen and ink drawing of a skull. Have I regressed and turned into an angsty teenager again!?
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Not been here in a while, work has been super-busy and my calendar is just crammed. We had six days off last week, but mostly rain stopped play. We cycled in the New Forest, saw a giant sci-fi anthill, took the Hythe ferry and saw gargantuan floating hotels scud by and dwarf us, and took the windiest open top bus round the Forest too. But mostly we tried to get the house together and just hung out doing not much, which were nice in their own ways.

Have been a little in the doldrums I guess, but have been trying to keep going with the print courses even though I've been feeling spectacularly uninspired - even trips to Lepe, Royal Victoria Country Park, Hythe and the New Forest yielded no useful photographs to work from.

Bradda (cobalt/orange/yellow) Bradda (small green and sepia) Bradda (Large green and sepia)

Anyway, the last course I went on was "Drypoint and Monoprint: Inspired by Hockney's Landscapes". Well, I wasn't really very inspired by Hockney's landscapes. The iPad drawings and clashing colours, with monotonous digital lines and marks left me cold, though I liked the hawthorn bushes a bit. I did make some prints of a photo I took in the Isle of Man a few years back, of Bradda Head seen from Port Erin. These are the ones I like the most. I forgot to reverse the drawing for the larger print (Bradda Head should be on the right). Never mind, eh?
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Been a long time, huh?
Well, I'm very glad to say that the B12 has now kicked in nicely and I am now living a more-or-less normal life with normal hours again. Work continues to be A Challenge TM, but at least I'm alive enough to deal with it.

Spreewald haystack My favorite view of Spreewald thatched house, Spreewald mossy post in the sky

ANYWAY! About a month or so ago, we spent some lovely days in Spreewald, a region of Brandenburg south-east of Berlin, close to the Polish border, which you can really feel. It's a gorgeous place: a biosphere reserve with unique forest/marsh terrain, fabulous cycle paths and more wildlife than you can shake a stick at. We saw storks, very large birds of prey, hares, snakes, diverse amphibians and peculiar, very friendly locals (Sorbs and Wends) in abundance. The pace of life is slow and stately, and a lot of the villages and homesteads in the area can only be reached by punt: no roads, only rivers. We stayed in a lovely little brewery, the Brauerei Brabben in Luebbenau. Lots and lots of pictures here.

Mustard fields Monument to a dead horse View from Farley Mount towards Southampton Water

I also managed to take advantage of some lovely weather to revisit a place where many happy childhood hours were spent: Farley Mount Country Park. This place has stunning views and a highly eccentric pyramidal monument (to a horse, that jumped, rider and all, into a 25ft deep chalk pit). The sound of skylarks warbling across oak-fringed canary-yellow mustard fields, which stretch to a hazy horizon of water... has to be one of the finer things in life. Album here.

I've also got back into reading again: have just finished W.Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale, a simultaneously affectionate, joyful, bitter and malicious book. I really, REALLY, love Maugham. I hate the sensation of loss when I finish any of his books.
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Managed to get some time off over the bank holiday weekend to go and see [ profile] prosepina, AO'D and [ profile] educatedpork in Cambridge. I've just found out that I have very low B12, which may account for at least a few of the symptoms I've been having (notably tingly/numb extremities, fatigue and dizziness). I had my first jab of the B12 replacement therapy I've been put on last Monday with little noticeable effect and I hoped that it would kick in before I went away, but alas. Another three to go at weekly intervals, then 3 weekly, then 3 monthly FOREVER it seems. Ho hum!

Anyway. Despite much sleeping and interminable train journeys via everywhere (UK bank holiday = ENGINEERING WORK) we made it to Cambridge and thence to Cromer. Cromer is mostly famous for its crabs, which are on sale, belly up, pretty much everywhere. There's even, in typically British fashion, an annual CRAB AND LOBSTER FESTIVAL. Sadly there were no crabs... crabs the size of beach donkeys... coming down the Blackwall Tunnel!!!! clickety click! clickety clack! their outsized claws festooned with human intestines like gruesome spaghetti...*

tideline British seaside confused hut

Cromer can also be rightfully described as bracing**. I did feel quite proud to brave the flaying wind and sea-spray along with other foolhardy English (Normal For Norfolk, perhaps?). The trudge along the gritty sand was rewarded by beautiful fading light and came to a sinister end at the TERRIFYING SEXY HOT-DOG OF DOOM. Few others have seen IT and lived... I was pretty pleased with the shots I got, which are all up here.

* See Guy N Smith for details (i.e. Killer Crabs, Crab's Moon, Night of the Crabs, Crabs on the Rampage, Crabs Armada, Crabs Unleashed, Crab's Fury***, The Origin of the Crabs...)

** See also: Skegness

*** Good lord, this is a graphic novel! WANT! Let me count the ways I love Guy N Smith! 1 - Crabs! 2 - Crabs!! 3- Crabs!!! 4 - Alligators! 5 - BATS! (memorably, at spaghetti junction) 6 - Neanderthals! 7 - CRABS!!!!! etc etc etc
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The weekend before last we made a spontaneous dash for Dorset to take advantage of a surprise long weekend off from work. As The Hobbit had voiced a liking for Corfe Castle as we sped through it on the way to a wedding last year, we hastily booked a few nights at Challow Farmhouse and basically winged it.

Corfe Castle from The Rings Corfe Castle from Kingston Houn's Tout

The B&B was utterly delightful (I was moved to review it online and am recommending to all and sundry who like a bit of peace in the country), the weather surprisingly glorious and much walking around stunning countryside (see above) and puffing around on steam trains were perpetrated. We managed to get a dinner booking at Morton's House, which was a traditional grey Tudor mansion, and a really wonderful meal.

We got to Swanage one day: town is a bit crap but the beach has awesome rock pools. Along with common things like prawns and shrimps (Palaemon serratus/elegans), I also scored some firsts: Galathea squamifera (squat lobster), Necora puber (velvet crab) and a shore clingfish (Lepadogaster lepadogaster). Also for the first time, we saw a weasel in the wild, squiggling at speed across Corfe Common.

Was very proud that we managed a 7 1/2 mile walk (some pretty much vertical, I can tell you) from Corfe via Kingston, Houn's Tout, Egmont Bight and Swyre Head back to Corfe. Amazing views, a small plane performing droning aerobatics overhead and a lot of stopping in village pubs for Jurassic Ale. Can't wait to go back, really.

This week at work has been mixed: lots of learning done, from operative techniques to obscure tropical diseases to old school immunohistochemistry titrations... but yesterday we had the bombshell that one of our busiest and most expert surgeons was killed in a motorbike accident.

This week also bought the first artifact from THE BLACK LETTER GAME. This was AMAZING FUN, you get an artifact delivered and have to decode the clues hidden on it to find several things: a WHERE, a WHEN, a WHO, a WHAT and a SIGNATURE. These answers then tie in with an ongoing plotline that is revealed when you submit your answers. The first artifact we solved as a team of 4 in around 20 hours, but we could have been much faster as the last item required us to obtain a piece of equipment to ascertain. The next box comes at the beginning of April and frankly I can't wait...

As I've been home alone, I've taken to telly. This was fortuitous, as last night I caught some of Sex and Sensibility, a series of documentaries on Art Nouveau. The item on Emile Galle was frankly stunning, and now I feel thoroughly untalented - though I would give quite a lot for some of his glassware. He was an artist, a botanist, a chemist, a proper liberal leftie, an incredible craftsman and technical experimentalist and produced some of the most incredible decorative items I've ever clapped eyes on. Respect to that man. I feel a trip to La Musee de l'Ecole de Nancy coming on...
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Suddenly got the urge to get the beads out again, something about peyote stitch being a form of mindful meditation got me thinking that maybe something nice and repetitive might be a good way to wind down. Anyway, started messing around with tubular peyote, a stitch that infuriated and defeated me last time I tried it... and a couple of relaxing evenings later, this:

Tubular peyote sampler

The pick up a bead, miss a bead, go through a bead rhythm really is quite nice. Occasionally there was an invigorating tangle, and I did have to redo the whole stringing bit of it once or twice before I used the right gauge of thread to support what is really quite a lot of glass. But mostly, pretty mellow.

Today: neurology appointment and my first dentist visit in about a decade. *gulp*
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Much as I love drypoint, the limitations of using Rhenalon plates really hit home again today. I'll explain this in a further post in all probability, and for now just show off my favorite etching:

Trichius (Monochrome Drypoint)

I did try two-colour versions too, but with limited success. The biggest drawback of Rhenalon is that the burr just doesn't last, and after about 3 or 4 impressions, the plate needs re-cutting, to last for fewer impressions than the previous time. Still, a good day and many things learned.


Feb. 10th, 2012 10:37 pm
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This is what I'm working on today.


I have plans for this one. Collage-type plans rather than printing-type plans this time.
In other news, we had actual snow today, I still have the glums and am presently distracting myself with Milla Jovovitch in Resident Evil. I guess things really are that bad, hehe.

What I really want is to be able to paint like Robert Connett.
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Ah Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamento...

I think my brain may have been somewhat fried by having watched a very large chunk of the entirety of Twin Peaks over the course of three days last weekend. The Other Half stipulated that he wanted to watch the entire two TV series' plus Fire Walk With Me for his birthday: a bunch of our mates came over to ease the pain, so I did have several breaks to ferry in doughnuts, cherry pie and (Damn Fine) Coffee at intervals.

The last couple of weeks I've been working a reduced week, which is helping a little I think, though not as much as the reappearance of THE SUN. Still fighting off the glums though.

Have booked myself on a bunch of courses to keep up momentum and to stop myself from falling into my own navel. This Sunday is Drypoint Etching down at Red Hot Press: I've actually done some prep this time - viz (somewhat trad for me, I admit):

Trichius sp.

I'm very tempted to colour this line drawing after I've converted it to etching, though not entirely sure how. I really love these fuzzy little bee-mimicking Trichius. Almost seems a shame to de-bee them...

Today was another typical day at work: pathologist chum came in from neighbouring hospital, bursting to tell us about his morning in the mortuary with a particularly bizarre autoerotic asphyxiation case. I shall never look Utterly Butterly in the face again. Nuff said.
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I've been staring at this for so long that I've gone beetle-blind!

It started with a watercolour, progressed to a simple A6 linocut, then to a more detailed A5 linocut...

Eudicella asteropteryxSecond iteration printEudicella final print

I wanted to monoprint over the last linocuts to add some colour, but that was disastrous... couldn't register at all, despite having kept the registration sheet, couldn't get the ink texture right and ended up with a blobby, misaligned mess.

Hand coloured Eudicella linocut

This time I've tried adding colour using colour pencil, but I'm not sure it suits the graphic blockiness of the print. So I might try a similar approach but with more solid areas of colour in gouache. One day I might get something I like out of this idea!

Also YIKES! Picnik is closing! D:
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The third layer was a bit of a challenge, as I'd had a while between printing it and the first and second layers, which were printed in the same session. Somehow I couldn't quite recall how the block had sat on the slightly imperfect registration sheet. Aaaanyway...

M. nintendi var. wunupM.nintendi v. wunup (detail)

Marioceris nintendi v. wunup

M. nintendi var. gigantorM. nintendi v. gigantor (close)

Marioceris nintendi v. gigantor

The green ones are much better registered for some reason. Hope the nephew likes it!


Jan. 8th, 2012 11:41 am
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Went into the studio yesterday to start printing up the Marioceris nintendi linocuts.
Got as far as printing the first and second stage blocks but not the final block. Turns out mixing your own inks takes forever, plus I was fighting a bit with driers and extenders and whatnot. It's the first time I've tried a three stage reduction print; after the Polyphylla megaloceros prints came out OK I felt a bit more confident about registration.

Marioceris linocut: the entire print run!

I reckon I might get up to 6 nicely registered prints per colour, but I'm not banking on it. Pretty pleased with how they're shaping up so far though.

Marioceris linocut: first two layers

I can see a couple of things wrong but overall I think I'm improving - my cutting is much more confident and the wonky lines I was getting are becoming less frequent. I've started going to the unsupervised open studio sessions. It's quite nice to work around actual pros! There were a few people there yesterday working on this year's studio box set, which is Titanic-themed. Some awesome printing going on, one lady was working on a woodcut, one on a linocut and another chap on an aquatint. All very exciting! Unfortunately I fell over on my way out and now have a giant bruise on my ass. Was a bit scary, I fell in a lot of mud and was covered... my hands appeared to be covered in blood and mud and I panicked a bit... only to find out when I got home that the blood was actually printing ink. D'oh.

I've booked a few weekend courses for this year so I keep up momentum: so far I've signed up for wood engraving, caustic etched lino and drypoint. SO MUCH FUN.
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I'm on call today but it's been mercifully quiet, so rather than faff about with the gouache sketch in my last entry and risk messing it up, I decided to adapt it for a three-colour reduction linocut print.

It's taken me all day to get to the finished block for the first layer print. This is the early stages of cutting, see my clean and organised studio space!

my pristine workspace

I traced off the essentials of the original sketch and reversed it onto the lino block, then cut the outline with the smallest V-cutter (which is about as far as I've got there). I think this would be called a veining tool if I had anything other than cheapo cutters. Mind you I really quite like these Abig cutters.

About 7 hours after starting, the block is finished (below). To make sure this is right before printing, I had to make rubbings (the same way as brass rubbings!), to make sure that all of the cuts register that I want to, and that areas that are not supposed to register are low enough not to print. The fine clearing was done with a small U-gouge, then the large areas cleared with the largest U-gouge and the edges neatened up with a scalpel. I only gouged myself once!

Marioceris nintendi: first stage block

I'm going to print this block in two runs: bright green and bright red. After that, I'll cut away some more and overprint in dark green/dark red, cut away again and overprint in black. By the time the black layer is printed, there shouldn't be much left of the block, barring the legs!

Hopefully should get the first and maybe second layers printed on Saturday.

0.85 up!

Jan. 1st, 2012 04:13 pm
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It's getting there. I quite like working with gouache, never used it before.

WIP: Marioceris nintendi

Maybe needs some greys on the white areas or maybe some background shadow... something's not quite done.
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The Further Printmaking course also included another monoprinting technique more akin to painting. The technique consists of painting the design you want onto perspex then printing off onto paper. This image I did an edition of four of, all very different in feel, but this was the one I preferred. This is the result of about 50 impressions, all of varying degrees of detail. The ink dried too fast for my liking, might play about with extenders in future.

Vespula germanica: monoprint

We also did gum transfer printing which I really liked, though I really need more practice. My prints are *still* flattening out, so no photos yet.

The eldest nephew also decided to commission a beetle for his newly decorated bedroom: can you tell what it is yet? :)

can you see what it is yet?
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Kerrrikey what an annus horribilis this has been.

So last year this was the status quo, this the year before, and this the year before that.
But this year?

Well it's a feeling of deja vu only more so, because once again we're in Brian Cox territory and I'm going to say (with a slightly more pleading tone of voice this year)...


So roll on next year, though I fear I forsee merely more of the same.
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The last fortnight our printing course was centred on screen printing (AKA serigraphy). The first week was a total disaster area - the paper we printed onto was too smooth and not absorbent enough. We used stencils made of torn newsprint and printed with acrylic paint mixed with screen printing medium and hand-pulled the prints. We were intending to make fairly complex multi-coloured prints, but as the ink didn't dry properly before the second and third layers, we ended up with stencils stuck to everything and ink from previous prints stuck on the screen get the idea. Anyway, this one lived

Three colour serigraph (hand-torn stencils)

He does look a bit like he was finger painted by a three year old.
We had more luck with hand-cut stencils, printed onto a more absorbent paper. This one is based on an older drawing I did, shown side by side with it. I still didn't manage a very big run, as the stencils were pretty ambitiously detailed and really really fragile. Five prints and they were toast.

Two colour serigraph (hand-cut stencils)Lucanus atropos

Unfortunately I left my sketchbook at home that day so the print doesn't bear a great deal of resemblance to the original as I had to make it up from memory on the spot. D'oh. Anyway, there was a lot of screen cleaning involved and I'm not sure it's my favorite thing in the world, though I like the graphic results.

This week we did MORE MONOPRINTING, this time using a kind of painterly technique. This week I didn't do a beetle! As usual, prints on the drying rack, more next week.

Oh also I had a birthday, I have lived to be 39, how did that happen!?