Compulsive, the dictionary tells me, equals irresistible, compelling, enthralling, mesmeric. It describes my current studio time perfectly. For me, curiosity plays a large part in the compulsion to pull prints. Although each print evolves from the same plate or block there are always variables, for me, at least – the amount of ink used, the current weather system hovering over my patch, the amount of pressure used to transfer ink to paper (i.e. how tired my arm is from rubbing and burnishing). It’s all part of the wonder, and wondering how the next print will turn out, if at all.
In the midst of renovating, hundreds of books to re-shelve, benches to build, etc, etc, time has evaporated. Art deadlines approach, all too rapidly. I could give the art competitions a miss, but Penola’s annual John Shaw Neilson Art Prize always inspires. As a lover of poetry since primary school, my poetry books were alreay back on the shelves. John Shaw Neilson’s poems tend to be dark. There is often death, grief, loss and sadness. But, there is also, usually, a line or two in each of his poems that shine a light into the darkness. I’ve always enjoyed research (insatiable curiosity, again) and reading JSN’s poetry is no different. Which poem holds a spark that beckons the Muse and fires my imagination? Which line or two translates in my mind into an image I can work with?
Having chosen my poem, the next dilemma was how to convert the imagined image into something I could put on paper – in a hurry! It’s all well and good having a deadline, and putting myself under pressure to ‘produce’, but there is also the issue of personal integrity, and the need to do a good job, in my eyes, if not the judge’s or viewing public. If there is no satisfaction in either the process or end result, why bother? I might as well build shelves that I can benefit from.
Never one to make it easy on myself, although that may initially be the aim, I decided on a collagraph. What’s a collagraph? It’s a printing plate/block formed with collaged elements and/or scratching, peeling and cutting marks into a substrate. I’d done a couple of small ones, years ago, and the process intrigued me. One hitch – no etching press. Working small I could print with the book press, but this print needed to be larger, as it was in my head.
Mat board, knives, Dremel, sawdust, glue and Shellac assembled, I set to work. The next dilemma: the main feature of the image was to be a spunky male ballet dancer, against a ‘busy’ background. Did I cut him from heavy paper and glue him onto the mat board? Work him as a separate collagraph? What? How? Nope…for him, a reduction linocut, making the project a two-block print. Right. Laughing out loud. So much for making it easy on myself, but the Muse would not be denied.
I had read about Viscosity Printing, another method that intrigued. It was a way of combining two methods of printing – Intaglio (printing the drawn ink from within grooves and cuts) with Relief (printing the flat surfaces). More research. What a boon is YouTube, and the brave souls that put themselves in front of the masses. However, not a lot on printing without an etching press. It was time to experiment.
Laughing again, thinking I should have filmed myself beating the dampened receiving paper between block and blankets with a rubber mallet. Success marginal, but interesting.
I entered the Zone. The moonlight through the studio window, saying it was past my bedtime, and me yet to eat – me compulsive? – I had a ‘series’ of the background prints, pulled from the collagraph, each very different. Time now to start on the reduction linocut of the ballet spunk, puzzle out how to get the damn thing registered (lined up correctly), and see which finished print appeals the most.