Re-learning Monotype

Wow it’s been a long time since I wrote a blogpost. I had to ask for a new link because I forgot my password! It’s true that I have been focussed on other things recently, not least a huge building project which takes up most of my waking hours. However I have found the odd corner in which to be creative too. I have being doing some more family linocuts which I will share soon.

On Saturday, on a whim, I signed up to a Monotype printing day at the Cardiff Print Workshop where I am a member. This is the most basic of all printing methods, and something that I learnt in the ‘printmaking basics’ course that got me started a few years ago. I have remembered a few bits and pieces that I use when making cards, but linocut swept me away (always with black ink), and I got stuck in my own happy little rut. It is good to shake out the cobwebs on occasion though, and this course did just that. Bill Chambers is a fantastic teacher, and my fellow course attendees brought their own disciplines to the day, meaning that we all learnt as much from looking at what others were doing as we did from our own efforts. Monotype printmaking is like being back in nursery school, but being old enough to appreciate it. A purely exuberant opportunity to play and experiment. The intellect can take a rest and let curiosity run rampant! Despite hot competition, I won the prize for the most profligate user of paper, and of course not everything is worth sharing. But I have a very definite set of ideas that I intend to develop.

Starting from my own comfort zone, I dug out my tetrapak and metal wire (pre-formed from previous prints) and started using the laid out inks. The more garish versions made my head hurt, but I loved the yellow with a tiny bit of magenta (a gentle orange), overlaid with some black which had been reduced to 50% with extender (or probably more). The washer I found in my box was particularly pleasing as it picked up the ink really well.

The final print didn’t even use any additional ink. It is simply the ghosts of previous printings, all overlaid to produce levels of subtlety which are so beautiful to create. I even like the Fabriano watermark making it’s entrance. Who says material things don’t have agency??

So what have I learnt which I want to explore further? First and foremost the importance of using the ghosts of previous prints to work on. The beauty of embossing. The power of ink to pick up the tiniest detail, allowing the beauty of skeletal leaves, and the textures of everyday items like string to shine through. Most of all though, is the benefit of revisiting basic techniques when I’m in a position to absorb more information as a result of my few years experience. On the basics course, I was like a kid in a sweetshop. Within a couple of weeks I forgot almost everything. On this occasion I feel I have a solid base to develop further.

Family Portraits in Linocut

I have recently become the repository of our family photos. As both my mum and dad have downsized from their old homes, boxes of treasure have been dusted off and – at least in my case – been seen for the very first time. Some disappeared as soon as they revealed themselves, including a newborn Me in my mum’s arms in the kitchen. She was sporting a very stylish ’50s dress and I looked like – well – a baby. Others have been safely boxed up as the family treasures they are. The very finest just demanded to be cut into Lino!

This is my first portrait. Caz and Ali are pictured on their very first day going to Brownies. Unlike most of the photos in my possession, I have always known this photo. It graced my ‘autobiography’ written in the second year of secondary school and would probably be top of the list of possessions to save from the proverbial house fire…

Caz (left) doesn’t have the most successful uniform. I struggled with the relative greys and the fall of the cloth. The school I was really happy with, and the legs and socks made me laugh as I was cutting the block. Something so childish about them. The faces I left until last which is high risk, as if they don’t work, that is hours of cutting down the drain. I struggled, prevaricated, went back to the original photo, fiddled about digitally to give me more information to work with, and then plunged in. I managed to complete this part because I had told Michele that I would pull the test print before she left the workshop on Friday, and I only had an hour left. A deadline, however self-imposed, is sometimes the only thing that will work. My favourite part of the print though is Ali’s posture (right) which just shows her for the child she was at that age.

Funnily enough, once I had pulled the print, I sent a copy to my friend Carol. She pinged back a photo of her and her sister, at the same age, in the same uniforms – with pretty much the same expressions.

New zines – hot off the press

I’ve been a little distracted of late by my tetrapak journey. However I have been busy building up quite a selection of photographs at the same time.

Two new collections have been made into my latest zines. Work in Progress #4 and Jomec. Both zines focus on the changes still taking place at Central Square in Cardiff. Work in Progress #4 is a continuation of the photographs documenting the building works visible from the street.

Jomec is a view of one of the buildings taken internally. Jomec is the informal name used by everyone for the School of Journalism, Media and Culture, part of Cardiff University. Many thanks to the library staff for allowing me free access to wander about on a gloriously sunny day last January when the students were on holiday, to luxuriate in sun and shadows for as long as I wanted.

The photos contained in both zines can be found to the left. If you would like to buy any of my zines, just drop me a message and I’ll send you one (or more) for the princely sum of £4 each. Enjoy!

Tetrapak and Scrim

Scrim as collagraph

It was quite a step away from linocut towards using Tetrapak. With linocut the skill is in the cutting of the block. Once the image is cut, the inking up is pretty straight forward. Printing with Tetrapak is a whole other process. I had to learn how to print using the intaglio method, and using the press as well (setting aside my trusty baren).

An essential item for printing using the intaglio method is scrim. Tetrapak is pretty difficult to ink up as it is much less substantial than most base materials. The simplest method I have found is to apply the ink with a small knife (or my thumb) and then pull it back off with scrim in a straight upwards line, holding the bottom of the plate with a clean piece of material to avoid thumb prints.

It was natural as I became more comfortable with the process, to wonder what scrim would look like as part of the plate itself? Pretty good it turns out. Particularly making multiple prints with the same plate and pieces of scrim. The first plate isn’t up to much, as the scrim is clean and white, and leaves a blank, if textured surface, on top of the more subtle inky tetrapak. However using the same materials multiple times, interesting things begin to happen. As the previous pressings push the scrim into the base to create more interesting texture, so the scrim itself begins to ink up and print in subtler greys on top. The effect is gorgeous!

Bernd and Hiller Becher : Industrial Visions

Many thanks to my friend Carol I checked out an exhibition on currently at the National Museum of Wales. She told me that there was an exhibition of industrial buildings on there, and that she reckoned it was my kind of thing. I was absolutely blown away! I only had 10 minutes, and had to skip the August Sander exhibition in the neighbouring gallery, but I am hooked, and will go back when I have more time. The information below is nicked from the exhibition blurb (and liberally paraphrased).

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions

From the late 1950s the Bechers began their project recording industrial buildings that were rapidly disappearing in the post-war decline of heavy industry. The project took them a lifetime to complete.

They began with the coal and steel industries in the Ruhr and Siegen regions of Germany before branching out in other parts of Europe and, later, North America. They travelled to Wales in 1965, and in 1966 spent six months in Britain, or which two thirds concentrated on Welsh collieries in the South Wales Valleys.

Their work, 225 photos arranged in grids according to the type of structure, include blast furnaces, water towers, winding towers, gasometers, cooling towers, washers, grain silos and lime kilns. 

In the mid ‘60s their work was referred to as industrial archaeology. However after their book Anonymous Sculptures. A typography of technical constructions (1970) their work began to be positioned within the global art network. 

In the neighbouring gallery there is an exhibition of portraits by August Sander who in the 1920s was seen to be embodying what was described as the ‘New Objectivity’ (Neue Sachlichkeit). His monumental series People of the 20th Century was a major influence for the Bechers.

Both exhibitions are on until 1st March 2020

In the Experimentation Zone

So, I’m telling you from the off that this post won’t be for everyone. It is really for my benefit to record the things I am learning as I work through my ‘Dora Maurer’ phase. I am not alone, but on Friday mornings spend happy hours peering at my plates and prints for particularly pleasing imprints, or happy accidents that I may wish to learn from and so need to remember. So thanks to my fellow explorers and printmakers Mary and Michele for their collaboration.

IMG_2695        IMG_2698

The picture on the left shows my original tetrapak plate. I have used wire which I fixed into circles in an attempt to replicate Maurer’s image. Having really enjoyed using tape in previous prints because of the added interest they can give an image, I chose to stick them down with, variously, parcel tape, Scotch tape and masking tape. The initial image was not that interesting, but my interest was piqued when, as I released the wire I found myself with bits of tape with the wire imprinted on it, and areas of the plate untouched by the inking process.


Sticking the affected tape back down and taking a ghost print yielded really interesting results (print on left, modified plate on right), from both the tape in its new position, and where it was lifted after the original print. I can’t remember how the wire created such a black imprint on this second image (which is why I need to record as I go along)…


Following on from the first plate, I worked on replicating the effects by creating a simple image (plate one), printing it and then lifting the tape and wire to place in new positions. I didn’t bother to tape the wire down the second time, which made me realise this isn’t necessary (see below).


Print from the first plate. There’s lots I love about this print. The tetrapak creases. Always. The tape on the right and the ink below the wire. There’s something pleasing about the wire too, but I can’t put my finger on why. Not convinced by the tape holding it in place.


Pushing these new found techniques further – just to see what happens. Plate to the left and ghost print to the right (having over inked the first impression to allow a second print with moved elements.  Again, I like the lifted tape and the previously imprinted tape. New here is the wire (at the top) removed to create a gorgeous white whirl with a black  fuzzy edge. I like the embossed whirl (same wire moved to new position). The advantage of the paper being quite wet. Other new elements are the new ink whirl – which is quite punchy against the lighter grey, and the edge markings created with the edge of a spatula.


Taken the process too far in this direction, but very happy with the ‘splashy’ ink effect.













Ok so WordPress has defeated me on this blog. Note to self – follow the tutorial! So I’ll take the last five images together. Removing the tape is better I think. The image is less busy and allows the glorious texture of the Tetrapak to shine through. Which is the whole point really. With quite damp paper the embossed wire is a wonderful effect. By inking up the plate once the wire has gone through the press once (or multiple times) the remaining imprints can be inked up using the intaglio method which is really striking. Loving this journey!

Temple of Peace Zine


I’m off to Wrexham today for the opening of Print International 2019. One of my Temple of Peace prints has been chosen for display and I am totally excited about it!

The print they have chosen is one of a series of four (see earlier blog) and on its own a bit devoid of context. I therefore decided to put together a zine putting together my four prints, together with archive material from the opening itself.

The Temple of Peace was opened on 24th November 1938, an irony not lost on us now, but also referred to at the time as the march to war was ramped up.

At a time of precarious peace, sandwiched between two massive conflicts, it seems entirely right to me that the focus was on the mothers who lost so many sons. Particularly poignant is the story of Minnie James “Wales’s most tragic mother” who lost three sons in the First World War. Her story talks of her remaining son, aged 27 in 1938, who wants to “do his bit” in the forthcoming war. As she says in the clip “I must not try to sway you. If it becomes a matter of honour or conscience and your country wants you, you must do as you think right and not mind me; I must suffer again. It is the lot of mothers the world over.”

I like to think we live in different times, and I left my sons in no doubt that if they so much as considered going into the army, I would kill them myself!

Given the focus on the mothers then, it is interesting that the print chosen for display is the one of three men who formed part of the audience for the inauguration ceremony. I am hoping to get a glimpse into why that print was chosen. Perhaps it will be for reasons I won’t have thought of…

All four prints are under the tab ‘Temple of Peace’ on this website. I am selling my zines for £4 including postage. If you would like one, e-mail me at

Dora Maurer and the Art of Experimentation

C3156C9E-8FCE-4868-AD34-9BC38949D62B-1440x1417.jpegIn London a couple of weeks ago we spent a long afternoon at the Tate Modern. Well after our critical faculties were exhausted, and on our way for a cup of tea, we walked past an exhibition of Dora Maurer.

This Hungarian born artist was active behind the Iron Curtain from the 1960s and was a complete revelation to us. We bought her book and I have since spent many happy hours thumbing through it.

Her appeal, for me, is that she revelled in experimentation. It’s as if you can see her thought processes as she creates her work. Sometimes literally (scrawled pencil comments on photographs), and other times in the way that she starts with one medium and looks to recreate it with in another. (Sluices 3, A+B)

The photo above (Traces of a Circle 1974) had three of us peering at it for ages trying to work out how she did it. The book describes it as a drypoint, but we thought it looked like a collagraph. Whatever her technique, her work inspired me to play along.

With some slightly rusty wire, some tape, black ink and a base of Tetrapak, I got going. I won’t be exhibiting in the Tate anytime soon, but it’s going to be fun trying!!



Monotypes and the World of Colour


It won’t have escaped your notice that I am happiest working in black and white. However sometimes the need to break out overwhelms me. That is when I start playing with colour.

I don’t really know anything about colour, and I work at the basis of marvelling when, after a couple of hours of overlaying inks on top of each other, I find I have a series of gloriously happy accidents.

While my linocuts and photos take lots of consideration and time, I find the process of printing monotypes completely freeing – like being in primary school while being old enough to appreciate it.

I use the three process colours (Cyan, Yellow and Magenta) which on their own are very harsh. However as they overlay each other, some kind of magic happens and the colours take on a vibrancy and warmth which is really exciting.

I use old damaged rollers from the print workshop which have graced a thousand classes. The ones which are gummed up with glue, old paint, bits gouged out of them. The more damaged the better. This allows for a randomness in colour and texture which I love. The other thing I have learnt is to clean the rollers after each application, to prevent the colours very quickly turning to a muddy brown

I have been folding and tearing the prints to their final size rather than using a craft knife to continue the instant feel of the work.

So far, so much fun! However I have taken the prints one stage further by putting them onto brown craft card and selling them in the Cardiff Print Workshop. I sell my cards for £3 each (not bad for an original mono print). Two-thirds goes to me to cover my printing costs, and a third to the Workshop to help keep it going.


One of the things exercising me has been the use of single plastic sleeves to keep them clean. I have decided to try and encourage customers to leave them in the shop so that I can re-use them. I’m not sure how it will go down, and doubt it will save the world, but every little helps!

Tetrapak – Environmental Menace or Printmaker’s Friend?


I think the answer is ‘yes’ to the questions I pose above. Moving from dairy to plant based milks in our family has filled me with deep disquiet at the sudden increase of Tetrapak cartons needing disposal. I have been chucking them in our recycling for the past couple of years even though I know the Council don’t recycle them from the kerbside due to their material complexity. Apparently this form of ‘activism’ is known in the jargon as “Wishcycling” and is well known. The Council fish them out and incinerate them – so another solution was required. (For Cardiff locals who don’t make prints, Bessemer Road takes them…)

I have been experimenting with repurposing the Tetrapaks as base material for printmaking. The example above is for a French Exchange project we have been involved in at the Cardiff Print Workshop on the subject of ‘Inside Outside’. Florence (my exchange partner) and I have become quite into ‘eyes’ looking through some kind of portal. Possibly a dark subject, I’m not sure, but definitely a fab opportunity to have some fun creating an abstract ‘outer’ space.

The black of the face is created by cutting out the silver layer and using the absorbent cardboard below. The dark grey (mid tone if you like) is masking tape. The square of tape is sellotape, and the circle is created by using card on top of the Tetrapak to create a kind of blind embossing effect.

But the undoubted star of the show is the Tetrapak itself, with all its folds and creases creating this gorgeous texture which I just love! To be honest, I find intaglio processes a bit tedious and time consuming for my tastes, but sometimes the results are worth it!