The last few weeks I have been working on a print for the upcoming GSD exhibition ‘Strumpet City’. It will run through July and is a fundraiser for the studio. the idea comes from the current choice of James Plunkett’s book ‘Strumpet City’ which has been chosen as this year’s book for the City of Literature and the Gathering. (Heavens what a sentence – like some pr handout!!!).
Anyway, such is the reality of the artist, fundraising in all its forms is a central part of life, and none more important than for the studio with all the lovely presses and acid baths. a bit of a detour from my planned work, but it is always interesting to respond to a specific brief, keeps everyone on their toes! So, about 30 of the studio artists are making work for this event. The theme is the city new or old, and I am working on an image which combines the two.
The first stage was the idea, which didn’t take long to click. Every time I go to the studio I cross the Liffey at the Conference centre, (trust me, it grows on you!) – And there it sits beside an old weigh station and the river – a new landmark.
First stage is a few sketches and a take a couple of reference photos so I can find the same spot and angle again.
Then more planning drawings are made with a view to making a print. In this case the brief was to make the images of fairly recognisable places, specific to Dublin.
My first idea was semi-abstract. I was attracted by all the curves and arcs in the view, both the building and the bridge. I worked on this for a while.
However, I then got another idea and decided to pursue this instead.
I had to decide whether the main purpose of the image was the bridge or the building, and I decided as well that I wanted to include the old weighbridge as a nod to the docklands past.
This required a few more visits to the site and some more sketches as the ideas evolved.
At this stage the image did begin to act the maggot and caused a few headaches. This is however perfectly normal, but none the less annoying.
So, I had my image fairly well sorted and the layout transferred to the polished copper. I am using a technique called Drypoint. I am thinking of those wonderful old topographical prints of the enlightenment era. the sort of thing a ‘gentleman’s library’ would hold, accurate – to a degree – renditions of the strange and eclectic; roman ruins, the fjords, some Great Houses and maybe a dodgy looking rhinoceros.
This process took longer than usual because I had a very complex image with several distinct elements. Because the plate is so shiny and because the lines will be deep when I start drawing on the copper with the Diamond Point, it’s important to have a good idea of where these will go before I start.
It is usual to begin with a layout drawing on the copper first. There are a few ways of doing this. I used white transfer paper and a tracing for key positions. I also had to do this in separate stages, drawing on the copper between each. If I had done it all in one go it would have been a mess, too many lines to follow, so I did it in layers.
And of course then I had another idea. It needed people!! I liked the way it was going but as a scene of the city I just felt it needed more ‘life’. However, this entailed a few changes. First of all I had to go back to the site and draw some passers-by, and then I had to fit these into the image.
The next thing was to burnish out any lines which were now in the wrong place. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for more pain, I also decided to change the position of a few other elements. enter a LOT of burnishing. This is done with a special tool, they come in various shapes and sizes, the one I have is pretty basic but with a bit of will power and effort I got what I wanted.
There comes a point in any etching where the plate fights back and it becomes a battle of wills. It was at this stage that I got to this point. this is where innate stubbornness pays off. It’s not skill just perseverance!
Some bits need some polishing up before I worked over that bit of the plate again. Lets hear it for Brasso!
The figures are in position, and I have worked up the feet first. I need to be sure these are grounded and also to relate the figures to the rest of the image. It’s important for scale too. A lot more burnishing ensues. I fact, I spent nearly three days fiddling around back and forth between burnishing, polishing and Diamond Point drawing, just to get everything the way I wanted.
I take a few test prints along the way to see what I have on the plate. Each time I see what else needs to be done. Because it’s a Drypoint I can’t take too many test prints or I will wear out the plate.
I add details and shading to the image using a carbon Tip fine point, and refer back to original sketches and drawings while I do so to keep reminding myself of the starting point and how I want the image to look.
I am on the home straight now. I will be finishing the figures and adding more depth and generale detail. I will play around with colour to see if I like it or not.
The finished prints need to be delivered by the beginning of June so they must be printed and pressed before then. It should be an edition of about 30. I have to decide which paper to use, Fabriano or Zirkal. Then there’s signing them and that takes ages.
And so the deadline approaches!