Monday, 24 January 2011

Second lake - First woodcut

After an agonising and frustrating wait of years and years I have finally got down and got on with doing my first 'proper' landscape woodcut. The wood is a Japanese plywood that I have had for a while and used for numerous things other than printing from. The image is the second of the Snowdonia lake series. This time the small lake, Llyn Idwal, reached by following the footpath from behind the youth hostel at the head of  Llyn Ogwen.

The name comes from the legend of Idwal son of Owain Prince of Gwynedd.  He was brutally murdered by being drowned in the lake and as a result of this crime, the lake has a desolate air and no birds will fly over the water. While sitting and drawing I took great care to watch for any feathered creature hurling itself, in defiance of the legend, across the lake. I saw many small birds turning back at the waters edge and although initially sceptical I was starting to almost believe there might be something in the legend. ( Like walkers around Loch Ness, keeping an eye out for Nessie, while knowing it is all nonsense and yet dying to be proved wrong)

Then a Heron, wings flapping slow and heavy with dignity, made it's ponderous way down the length of Llyn Idwal with not a thought for the legends it flew through or that it became the star of my sketch.

Here I have printed the first base colour and am now cutting it out. I am trying a new set of basic Japanese cutting tools, which until I started cutting wood, I hadn't worked out what a couple of the straight bladed tools are for. The main difference between lino and wood  is that wood 'runs on' along the grain, where as you can flick out a piece of lino at the end of the cut to finish neatly in a straight edge, with wood if you are cutting along the grain it doesn't finish neatly it rips on along the grain. So you get the straight bladed tool and cut where you want the particular mark to finish.

This means the cutting takes a lot, LOT longer. All the loose flicking cutting possible with a lino where you cut, flick out the unwanted lino and keep going dies a death with a woodcut. It is, has to be more deliberate and considered. it's cut, mark edge, cut, edge, cut. Though the harder grained wood is capable of holding finer marks than lino as long as the tools are sharp enough. You can also cut a bit loose if you gouge and then as you are cutting lift the v-tool up and out in the same movement. This can give nice fluid strokes which I used at the end for the pattern on the grass.

Detail of the famous myth busting heron. With sharp enough tools and enough patience you can get quite fine detail.

The block inked up with the third colour. The main difference with the wood was the way it absorbed my water based inks. Obvious really with hindsight. I should have sealed the wood with a size or PVA first. It meant I had to considerably over ink the block to get any kind of saturation of colour on the print, and apply much more pressure than usual to transfer that ink over. Which meant that any delicate detail I had painstakingly cut became crude due to the heaviness of the ink and pressure.

Peeling of the third colour. Seeing the mirror image, which looks like the complete base of a hill, makes me want to do a much bigger print of something more monumental and show its complete form rather than chipping away at the edges.

 Third colour applied, a chocolate brown. While drawing the water in the lake had looked a rich brown to me and I wanted that in the print.

Last colour applied and as usual it seems to change the whole balance of the print.  I deliberately chose a similar sketch and composition, along with colours to the previous Llyn Ogwen print as I wanted the wood to be the main difference and see what a difference it made. 
The difference? Other than the more deliberate technique needed in cutting and the change in inking up it felt, paradoxically for a harder and more durable material, to be softer and more subtle in effect than lino. Fine detail suffered due to the over inking/absorbtion issue, which meant I wasn't completely happy with the subtlety of the colour range but they are issues of my inexperience with plywood rather than intrinsic qualities of the medium. The hills did seem larger, and as previously, mentioned more 'monumental' than the Llyn Ogwen lino which I liked.
I got a strange (well perhaps not that strange) urge to try and arrange a trip out to New Mexico and monument valley to attempt the sculptural landscape out there.

I will 'wood up' again but it will need a different bigger and bolder subject matter and work will have to be done on the ink absorbtion issue. Oil based inks??

This looking for the monumental will lead my eye on my next drawing trip to Snowdonia, while the next print will be back to lino. Perhaps only 2 colour with more cutting, perhaps finally a multi-block print!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

First lake print - Last of the year.

Happy New Year! and welcome to the first post of 2011. Christmas only just finished and already it feels like months ago, the beautiful snow has melted and the cold winter rains have begun. Although a rain draped landscape can and does have its own dramatic potential, it is harder to get motivated to go out for a drawing walk in cold biting rain than it is to go crunching through fresh fallen snow. Even at -10 the fingers stop hurting the more involved you get in the sketch.

Although to be honest it was more the fingers stop hurting the more involved you get in pressing the shutter on the camera. An hour wandering around the fields and stream behind the house left me with a wealth of interesting viewpoints, compositions and patterns to experiment with later in the year, when I have a gap.

I get all excited at how deep blue black water looks against snow, it also moves more like oil than water, sluggish and thick although it was about -9 when I took this  picture with ice like tissue paper forming over shallower water. Watch this space for the series of snow based print shenanigans later.

In a couple of weeks I have the first show of 2011 at Oriel Gwynedd, Bangor. My last print of 2010 was the first of a new series I am planning for 2011/2012 which will show at Bangor as an introduction to the series, which is initially based around the lakes of Snowdonia. I say initially as I am sure it will  branch out into Quarries, sheep, mountains etc.

The first picture is Llyn Ogwen.

Below is the moment of truth when the paper is peeled back from the block, this is the third colour. 

The whole print:

The final colour is applied;

As the start of a bunch I am really happy with the way it turned out, especially the cutting on the clouds to give tonal variation and depth with only the first two colours. Also the overall sense of space and depth between the rocks in the foreground and the hill behind turned out just right. Or as I remembered it anyway.

I am now working on print two which I have decided to do as a woodcut. Something I have been promising I would have a proper go at for ooh only about two years. Will put up some pictures as soon as I have them.

The Bangor exhibition is from 22-01-11