VIS210 Major project: reflections & process

Reflecting on the process of this major project, I now know more about what to NOT TO DO in gel plate printmaking than what TO DO and I’m frustrated with the end result. I did hundreds of prints and ghost prints, as well as grass (fresh and withered), I used different tools like string, combs, toothbrushes, rubber bands, cotton tips, dish scrubbers, hand-cut stencils, “drawing” on the plate and mono colours. I figured out what types of grass definitely do not work (anything with tiny seeds attached. Those grasses make beautiful prints but I don’t have the patience required to use tweezers to pick up the seeds once the initial print is made.) The biggest issue was my cheap acrylic paint. Because it dried so quickly, it severely limited the techniques I was able to explore. The cheap paint also couldn't be applied to the plate in multiple layers and wasn't transparent so I couldn't express that particular, unique quality of gel plate printmaking I was initially drawn to. It was also hard for an earth-lover to create something that generated so much waste… the baby wipes… the paper the dodgy prints are on… This more than anything influenced the choice to use collage in the final composition. Right now, I’m exhausted and happy it’s over. Although… I do like the imagery of the final pieces. It feels like something that could be developed more skillfully (and with higher quality acrylic paint!) playing with colour and techniques to become an artwork I could be proud of. 

  • attending a gel plate printing workshop
  • watched a tome of gel plate printing videos
  • harvesting grass to use in printmaking
  • making a homemade gel plate
  • exploring grass with photography

Initial drawings
  • observation, description, frottage blind contour, gestural, grid, positive/negative space
  • using pencil, charcoal, brush and ink and markers
  • and some ideas on the existential interaction between human lives and grass…
Kikuyu grass description:
The basic geometric shape of this natural form is a extended cylinder or tube that narrows and thins at one end and hardens and blunts at the other end. There are horizontally off-shooting, smaller and shorter tubes from the central length at varying distances: greater gaps between the off-shoots near the harder end and smaller gaps between the off-shoots at the end that narrows and thins. Each off-shoot intersects in segments and branches off the main tube where there are delicate hair-like threads. Each intersection is made of a striated, textured cup from which emerge smaller tubes and spear-shaped leaves. The central cylinder is thin and 80 cms long and bends in gentle waves. It is 5mm wide consistently throughout it's length then narrows to 2mm wide to end at an intersection of 3 leaves. It's green in colour predominantly with segments of light green and deep purple and short, spear-shaped leaves, some of which are bright green while others fade at the edges into a raffia-like, thin and rough string. There is contrasting textures between the smooth central cylinder, the softness of the green leaves, the roughness of the ends of the leaves, the softer end of the tube and the woody, denser end. It's a large complex form that continues to reveal more under observation. It rustles through the fingers and against surfaces. It feels flexible but strong, rope-like and difficult to pull apart. It can be whipped through the air without breaking. Invincible almost, like it would spring back to life if I were to drop it on the ground outside.

A handful (ha ha) of good prints
  • a few good prints and a mountain of unsuccessful ones
  • another day and few more good prints and another mountain of not so good ones
  • yet another day and a few OK prints and an Everest of crappy ones
  • me tearing my hear out with frustration like the cows are tearing the grass as they eat outside
  • I counted up the ratio of successful prints to unsuccessful ones. A dismal and depressing 1:17


Boo boos + bringing it together
  • my first attempt at making my own gel-plate was filled with imperfections and air bubbles that marred the surface of the prints I took from it. I melted it down in a double boiler and re-poured it - much better :)
  • I used cheap paint that dried too quickly - so many of my successful prints wound up sticking to the surface of the plate when I tried to remove them
  • I tried different types of paper to test the varying stickiness of each kind
  • Also tried using acrylic mediums as a thinner and flow-improver. Disaster. I mixed up a stack of groovy monochromatic colours and every one of them bubbled on the plate immediately after application resulting in unsuccessful prints.
  • Another issue was using too much paint (to try and counteract the fast drying nature of cheap acrylic paints) and that muddied the prints. Using too little paint was also an issue - it was very hard to get the balance right. 
  • I kept forgetting what I did to get a particular result so had to start again. I eventually figured out writing the steps down on the print itself would be a good idea (duh).
  • On the positive side, I researched how to frame on the cheap - it definitely makes a huge difference to presentation but next time... I’ll ask a framer to cut the mat board with proper tools :)

VIS210 final project:
Major project musings
Artist research
More artist research
Reflections + process
Look for me under your bootsoles