September 26, 2010

The Darker Side of Art

Sometimes, the world of art has it's shadows.  Last night, for movie night, R and I watched The Counterfeiters.  Set in a German concentration camp in the last few years of WWII, the film tells the story of a group of prisoners involved in the "largest forgery operation of all time". The men, printmakers and artists in their pre-concentration camp lives, were forced to make fake passports, birth certificates, and money: British pounds and American dollars. 

The story came to light less than ten years ago, when one of the survivors of the operation decided to write a book about his time in the camp, in answer to a flood of neo-Nazi "holocaust denial" propaganda.  He traveled around Europe, collected his evidence and wrote the book.  

It was a sad and deep film and it really got me thinking about how fortunate most of us living in the "western world" really are.  We don't have to grapple with the tough choices faced by the men in that Nazi printing shop. There's no one holding a gun to our heads as we create our art, as it suits us and according to the level of drive within us.  Sure, we have our dark days where we question the quality and meaning and worth of the work we create.  But that's minor stuff.  In general, life is good.  

Yet what if, as it happened to the artists in the film, our sane world unexpectedly went sideways and the only outlet for our talent would be as the means to an end we know is morally wrong?  Could it be anything but soul-destroying to know your creativity is being used for the propagation of evil?  It isn't a new story; artists living under political oppression still face such issues even while I take my own freedom for granted.  It's so easy to forget just how lucky I am to have that freedom and sometimes it's good to have a dark sad film to serve as a reminder. 


I continued work on my next print today which, as you may remember, is based on the sand dollar photo below. 

I printed the first colour last week but there wasn't much to it so I held off on posting it.  Below are the first and second colours:

I'm printing onto BFK Rives heavy weight and began with the Georgian oil paint and printmaking medium combo I rediscovered during my ink experiment.  So far, the only draw-back is that, in N's words, our kitchen smells like pumpkin.  Judging by the inflection in her voice, I don't think she likes it.  It's true the paints have a distinctly different smell from my normal Daniel Smith inks which wasn't as noticeable during the experiment because I only used this mixture for four prints.  Now there's twelve of them so it's much more potent.  Funny, I don't remember that from before.  On the other hand, it is pumpkin season right?

September 12, 2010

Ink Test: Final

The final phase of this test, a dark brown layer (not very visible in the top one of the three images below), played out true to the preceding ones.  Meaning there were no problems with the ink, not at the beginning and not now, at the end.  The three finished prints look like this (the print size is 5" x 7"):

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink):

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium:

Even now, with all three done, I can't honestly say which I like better:  the more translucent version or the stronger, opaque one.  There's something to be said for both and my re-discovery of oil paints as a printing medium is definitely one of the pluses that emerged from this exercise.  

That said, what about the ink issues that led me to this test to begin with?  Well, I'm guessing it's pretty safe to say that, since I encountered none of those same issues throughout the testing, the ink is not the problem.  And, if it's not the ink, then the only other variable is the paper.  Both of the two prints I was unhappy with were printed on machine-made Japanase Masa paper.  I'd only used it for one-colour prints and watercolour work before, but specifically chose it for the folksy florals because I thought the fibers would be well-suited to them and would give the impression of linen.  

But I didn't have any Masa left so I didn't use it for my ink test and, instead, chose some remnants of BFK Rives, my absolute favourite paper to work with. Given my results with these test prints, it's pretty obvious the Masa is not as well suited to multi-colour reductions as the Rives is.  Or maybe it's just not as well suited to reductions done with the heavier DS inks.  Maybe, if I'd used the lighter-weight oil paint/printmaking medium mix on the Masa it might have behaved differently.  Hmmm, something to test in the future I suppose.  For now, I took advantage of a sale Daniel Smith was having and ordered some more Rives. It should get here just in time for me to start on my sand dollar print next week. 

September 06, 2010

Ink Test Part III: Home Stretch

A combination of long weekend and benign work schedule has blessed me with enough time to really get ahead with my experiment.  I printed colour three yesterday.  I'm beginning to suspect this is one of those Murphy's law situations.  You know, like when your car is making a freaky noise it's not supposed to make but then stops making it as soon as whoever you've asked to check it out takes it for a drive?  Or when the computer at work keeps going insane and doing weird things but then stops the minute the IT guy sits down in front of it? 

This is what's happening with this test because here I am, colour three down, and there are no issues.  None.  No uneven coverage, no areas where the ink looks thicker than elsewhere, nothing.  Of course, this is really a good thing because I don't have to abandon the ink I've become used to.  But it's also one of those head-scratching things I really want to figure out.  Actually, I'm beginning to have some ideas on what may have been the problem with the last two prints I did but I won't get into that until I have this print finished, next week.  I figure I'll know for sure then, maybe.

For now, onto the results for colour three.  The interesting thing is how even slight changes in the colours of earlier layers can affect those added on top.  This time I was pretty successful in getting a close colour match in all three inks and, thought the print results may make it hard to believe, the third colour for all three variations was a blood red/maroon very similar to this:

Yet, despite my careful colour mixing, the three prints turned out hugely different from each other. 

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

My ink was maroon on the inking plate and maroon on the block.  But here, added over the preceding two colours it looks brown.  Plus, the petals now look less gold and more ochre than they did before. 

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

Here, the orange first layer obviously affects the third and, though still not as maroon as the ink was on the inking plate, it's definitely redder when printed and clearly redder than in my first version.

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

And a totally different result here.  In this case the ink mixture's inherent translucent nature factors in but, again, the end colour in the print is more brown than red.  

Very cool.  Normally, when I do my reductions, I just play around with my inks and take test prints until I get the colour I'm after.  It usually works pretty well although there were a couple of times I struggled to get just the right colour.  But I know there's a science behind it all, I learned colour theory in university, years ago.  This was a nice refresher course and great to see the differences, side by side.  I'm totally psyched for next weekend now.  

September 03, 2010

Ink Test Part II

Second colour down on my test print and all is well.  In fact I'm loving the results even though they aren't necessarily what I expected.  Getting right to it, here's how colour two is shaping up.

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

I rolled out my ink very thinly, inked the block in as thin a layer as I could getaway with, and it turned out well.  Nice even coverage and, so far, still OK.


Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

This was my first surprise of the day.  Although the traditional relief ink has a slightly velvetier texture and rolls out a little more smoothly (as I already noticed with colour one), the end result is virtually indistinguishable from the one printed with water-soluble ink.  I'm not sure why, but I was expecting to see a noticeable difference and there really isn't any.  Apart from the slight variation in colour, both inks produced an identical layer: same opacity, same eggshell sheen. 

Of course, if I really think about this, it makes sense.  Even though one ink is water-soluble and the other isn't, they're both oil based so they likely have similar compositions. 

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

As with colour one, the most significant differences in the inks were obvious here.  And no, I don't mean the colour.  That's just because I didn't have enough blue, unfortunately, so mixing a green comparable to the others wasn't an option.  I had to settle for using the olive green included in my set of oil paints and, even though I added what blue I had left, it didn't alter the hue much.  

Anyway, the main difference with this oil paint/modifier mixture was the degree of coverage.  This "ink" is significantly less opaque, both on the inking plate and, really noticeable now in layer two, on the print itself. It's slightly trickier to work with, I had to work harder to roll out an even layer, but it actually turned out fine on the print itself. 

As I've said, I have used this mixture for a number of prints in the past. But this was several years ago and I forgot what working with them was like.  So now, the big surprise is how much I like the result. I'm not sure if the above close-up shows it well but this ink mixture has some of the translucent quality of watercolour.  That could have it's advantages, particularly if used along with the stronger DS inks.  

Yes, you can add transparent medium to the Dan Smith inks and I use it on a regular basis.  But the texture of the DS transparent medium is more rubbery somehow and, even though it does give the DS inks a certain transparency, the end product is not the same as here.  This ink mixture is oil based yet has an appearance similar to the water-based inks used in Moku Hanga.  It's softer.

I suspect that in a reduction of several layers I'd have to bring in the DS ink for those final colours because this mixture wouldn't cover as well.  But I'm very curious about combining the two mediums in the same print now.    

The final surprise of the day was with the clean-up.  The last time I used traditional oil inks I used paint thinner.  This time I decided to try oil and, what do you know, it worked.  I had some Mineral oil on hand so I used it to wipe both inking plate and brayer and it did a fantastic job.  No terrible smell, no dry finger tips.  A bit of soap and water after that and everything is good to go for next time.