Messing with Vision

The creative imagination feeds on images, and image begets image for the artist, as idea begets idea for the writer.


The word ‘image’ may signify the mental image, the picture formed in the mind’s eye as the result of ideas produced by some stimulus to the imagination.  Or it may signify the concrete image, the drawing, painting or object that possesses the power to stimulate the imagination.  The concrete image may also be the practical result of an act of the creative imagination.


Vision is used in this context to mean the ability to recognize the potential aesthetic significance of the thing seen, its secretive meaning and associations, its power to heighten mood, or its possible emergence as a symbol.


So begins Part 2 of Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.

DRAWING MARKS II:  the monoprint


A monoprint is a print made from a design that is engraved in ink lying on a flat surface.  Only one, or at the most two prints can be taken from such an inked surface.  In Drawing Marks I (ch.2), a series of lines and marks was made by direct application of ink to paper, and each line or mark had its own quality, its own expressive character in terms of tranquility or agitation, frontality or recession.  If you draw lines on the inked surface of a piece of glass, as you did previously on a sheet of paper, these lines or marks can be translated to paper by taking a print from the glass plate.  But these lines and printed marks will bear a different quality from those drawn on paper, for they make a stronger and more immediate visual impact; they possess a special dramatic quality.  Assuming that the ink used is black ink, the dramatic quality is present because white lines on a black background are visually more forceful than black lines on white.

The ‘forceful quality’ of a drawing appears when we recognize marks that are charged with a possibility for development, as opposed to drawings that kindle no such imaginative sparks.  Such forceful drawings catch our attention immediately and continue to involve us imaginatively.  The significant thing about the monoprint method is that it heightens the visual impact of the drawing, and therefore allows us greater opportunity to recognize its imaginative significance and its potential development.  To draw successfully on glass, over the slippery surface of ink, now with line, now wiping out areas of tone, demands spontaneity and intuition rather than deliberation and reason.  The freedom this medium gives the artist enables him to produce a greater range of marks that are vital and instinctive and which also have a forceful quality.


The equipment required:  a sheet of glass about 46cm x 38 cm (18” x 15”), some tubes of black watercolor printing ink, a roller for inking the glass, and absorbent printing paper or newsprint paper.


Experiment 1 is a line experiment.  First, squeeze out an inch or so of ink onto the center of the glass plate, and then roll it out evenly over the whole glass area.  Roll it well in several counter directions, so that the ink layer is evenly distributed and “tacky” to the roller.  Now, take a piece of wood (a matchstick or small twig) and shape it to a flat, chiseled end.  Use this to produce a line of varying widths as the sharpened end is turned from the flat to the sharp edge as it moves over the glass.  There is no conscious aim to this first line.  Working freely, move the whole arm rather than only the wrist, and produce a rhythmic movement over the whole of the glass area.  Stop whenever you feel you have disturbed the ink enough.  Place a sheet of printing paper over the plate, then smooth with a clear roller (or firmly impressed by hand) and peel it off.  Close examination of this printed line will reveal that every subtle nuance of thick and thin, every break, and every variance in the pressure used to make it is faithfully reproduced.  A dramatic element of intensity is added because the line is white surrounded by an area of black.  But you will notice, too, that this background area is not uniformly black; some parts are grayer than others, or more grained and textured, while other areas are smooth and deep in their blackness.  This variation in background is caused by the differing pressures of the roller and the directional changes made by the roller as the printing paper was impressed on the glass.  The textural interest of the monoprint background give the drawing its forceful intensity.

Now try a drawing instrument of a quality quite different from that of a piece of wood.  Roll out the ink smoothly over the glass once more and draw in it with your finger and fingernail, then try a piece of wire, the edge of a folded piece of stiff paper, a piece of eraser, and finally, press a length of string down into the ink.  When you take the impression from these various line marking, you will get a print of differing types of white line, forcefully presented.  It is important to notice how these lines of the monoprint differ from black lines produced on paper by pen, pencil or charcoal.  Which is more dramatic and forceful?

Experiment 2 is concerned with areas of tone rather than line, and with qualities of tone in gray areas between the extremes of black and white.  For this work you will need two brushes (a hair and a bristle brush), some pieces of strongly textured rag or canvas, a sponge, wire wool—anything, in face, possessing a textural surface that will disturb the surface of the ink; you can even use your fingers or the palm of your hand to impress the ink.    Once again, prints should be taken at any interesting stage of development, or printing can be delayed until a complex superimposition of marks has been made on the glass.  A good starting method is to use one or other of the brushes (you will notice later the different tonal regions produced by hair or bristle) to stroke the ink without consciously thinking in terms of a design.

Don’t overcrowd the glass area with these brush markings, and take a print of them first before going on to use other equipment you’ve assembled.  This print will have black areas of background and gray areas of texture where the brush marked the ink.  The surface will appear more subtly variegated than the prints obtained of lines made with the wooden stick since it is composed of the more delicate markings of the brushes.  There may be strong pictorial suggestions produced by the textured shapes these brushed areas of tone have unintentionally created.


Now take this work a little further and scrape off some of the ink with either a corner of a rag or the edge of a folded piece of paper, or even parts of your hand, remove large areas of ink from the glass and then work over the whole plate once more with the brush, wood or finger, dragging the remaining inked areas into the wiped places.  The result is a combination of black, whites and grays, multi-textured and charged with a possibility for development.

Experiment 3 is even more experimental.  Select one or two objects such as bottle tops, hair curlers, interesting pieces of wood, bamboo, rush matting, or a simple paperclip and impress them one at a time into the freshly inked plate.  Place the object in the ink and pull it slightly to one side, or roll it around the ink producing a range of superimposed images.  Disturb the ink as many times as seem necessary to produce an interesting image.  The print, like its predecessors, is forceful and dramatic, and obviously the strong white forms could not occur on a normal drawing.  They have come from a deliberate exploitation of monoprint characteristics.  But they involve our imagination ad stimulate our capacity for vision; we can see all kinds of pictorial and design possibilities in them—all kinds of shape—many regions of space.

Conclusions:  some of your prints will be interesting and some not, but all strong in terms of black and white.  The images produced on each print owe their expressive quality to the character of the medium—to the sensitive printing surface of glass, to the fluid way watercolor printing ink spreads on the glass, to the great variety of means that can be used to disturb the ink, and finally, to the process of printing itself.  But the medium itself, can’t produce a work of art.  To develop the artistic possibilities of the monoprint, to make prints that lead to new ideas about form and pictorial design, the artist must develop his ability to recognize the possible development of a drawing and extend his capacity for expression in the medium.


[the next lesson here.]

[More art blogs here.]

[Link to Apryl's paintings.]

Write a comment

Comments: 0