Week 12 … or 10 things to consider before you start a hand-pulled print series

Week 12 – Failures, except for the occasional, epic, and most likely embarrassing fail captured on oh-so-(not)-funny visual bites on Youtube, are not part of most Pinterest and Instagram compatible snapshots of our daily lives. Failure, however, constituted most of last week’s printmaking endeavours.

Printmaking is a finicky muse to follow – one day the prints might flow of the press on pristine paper with not an ink smudge in sight. Still, most days end in you and your studio covered in ink and ripped paper and misery and the question why am I doing this if it would be so easy to just send some digital files to a local Giclée printing service and be done with it?

Looking back to last week, I can see that I set myself up to fail, and I thought I share some of the insights with you. Remember that you are always your worst enemy!

  1. Consider why you want to print a specific design and what the desired outcome is
  2. Choose a technique that matches the look and feel you have in mind
  3. Choose a technique that can produce the size you have in mind
  4. Choose a technique that can achieve the colour pallet you have in mind
  5. Choose a technique that aligns with your powers of patience
  6. Align your expectation with the budgets, resources, and environment you are working in
  7. (optional) Ignore the outcome of points above and do it anyway … one never knows.

1 – Consider why you want to print a specific design and what the desired outcome is

Looking back, I can see that I did this all for the wrong reasons – I don’t have the mind-space for printmaking at the moment. What I tried to do is start printing a new series of illustrations while already producing a sellable outcome. Not. Going. To. Happen.

I haven’t printed an edition I am proud of since the Wolf and the Fox exhibition in December 2012. The very few prints I have published in the last eight years are okay-ish but nothing that puts a smile on my face years later. I need time to get into a new printmaking routine in a now smaller studio set-up with left-over, dried-up inks and blunt cutting tools. It’s not going to happen overnight, or in a week, or even in a month.

Wolf Dream, Drypoint by minu
Wolf Dreams No.1
Wolf Dream, drypoint by minu
Wolf Dreams No.2

2 – Choose a technique that matches the look and feel you have in mind.

I am aiming for a look and feel – and size – that is not compatible with the techniques I am using to achieve that look. Using drypoint to create even areas of flat colour won’t work. Using collagraphy or woodcuts to produce a detailed, precise line drawing won’t work either. I achieved a compromise in the 2010 Fragile Shadows series by combining drypoint with woodcut, but that is not what I am after for the new series.

I Am Not Alone, framed
You Are Save Tonight, framed

3 – Choose a technique that can produce the size you have in mind

I want big. In the past, I printed mostly on an eight’s sheet (just under A4). A nice size, but I want bigger. Traditional printmaking techniques do not scale above a certain size (or only with a mammoth effort). Woodcut and lino might be an exception, but, for what I have in mind, screen printing seems the better option. So, forcing anything else won’t work.

Lilu No. 7 screenprint

4 – Choose a technique that can achieve the colour pallet you have in mind

I am only after three colours. Reduction cuts and multi-plate printing will do the trick, but do I have the resilience and stamina for this at this stage? No.

5 – Choose a technique that aligns with your powers of patience

I have none. Which is strange, because I don’t mind twiddling with a series of paper mache creatures for over a year where each creature takes at least two weeks to complete. So, if you get stuck and impatient, something is not right with either what you are doing, why you are doing it, or how you go about it.

6 – Align your expectation with the budget, resources, and environment you are working in

Remember that you are always your worst enemy – and your worst client. Managing exceptions in relation to budget, timeline, resources, and work environment is my favourite mantra with my consulting clients, so what does that mean in my art context? It. Is. The. Same. Thing.

Some printmaking techniques – Intaglio and screen printing for once – require access to a printing studio or investments to set one up at home. I am lucky to have a printing press and a small screen printing set-up; however, I haven’t used screen printing in a very long time.

I need to inventory of my printing materials, tools, and inks. After no investments to speak of for the last ten years, I need to see where I am, research new methods – I doubt that I still need the mercury light stored somewhere in the attic to expose photo emulsions on screens? Do I need to expose photo emulsions on screens? I hate that stuff. And that dried up emulsion won’t come off the screens either … – restock and replace materials – in New Zealand that means ordering from overseas when it comes to anything not widely used in schools or universities – and, in short, make another evil masterplan.

Until such times, I will make an inventory of my print edition archive and organise an online studio sale. And maybe complete an old edition or two … for practice or some such thing.

7 – (optional) Ignore the outcome of points above and do it anyway …

This may sound flippant, but I mean it. Going to the print studio to experiment and test boundaries is maybe the best approach to printmaking (and maybe to any other art project that takes your fancy). The outcome might not be what you head in mind but even better. Or you fail. And restart. And fail. And restart all over.

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