The Tailor and the Penfold Printer

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In Beatrix Potter’s favourite of the books she produced, an ailing tailor hurries to complete the intricate embroidery of the Mayor of Gloucester’s wedding waistcoat. When the tailor, too ill to continue, leaves the unfinished waistcoat and takes to his bed, the mice emerge from the wainscot to complete his work for him. I have always loved the story, Potter’s shimmering, dancing prose, and the wonderful illustrations that accompany it.

Right now I feel like the old tailor, while Dan Bugg is playing all those mice, with their busy paws and meticulous workmanship.

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I am new to screen-printing. My first print at the Penfold Press was Man Slain by a Tiger, and the experience was entirely a happy one. Dan guided me unerringly through the processes, which was by way of a preparation for the ambitious fourteen-print series we plan on making together, based on the medieval poem, Gawain and the Green Knight. The first in that series will be out in time to make it into the Christmas stocking of anyone interested. Titled Christmas at Camelot, it shows Arthur, Guinevere and Gawain on horseback, hunting with hawks. I started with a coloured pencil study, made as a guide. Here is a detail of the drawing.

Next I made the four separations that would be transferred to the screens ready for printing. These were made as layers, in paint and lithography crayon on TrueGrain, a granulated, transparent plastic.

In Yorkshire, Dan and I had two days in the studio getting playful with the printing process. It soon became apparent that my original plan to print just in grey, green, black and red, was not working as well as I’d hoped. There was a dry, constrained quality to what was emerging. I thought I might have to start my work again, but Dan was adamant that he thought the composition and drawing were beautiful, and that we just needed to enliven the print with some more layers.

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He encouraged me to add another two separations, and this time, advised by him, I worked in paint and brushes, and I kept the mark-making gestural. (See the image above.) I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing, but Dan watched and encouraged, and promised me that all would be well.

At such a stage, when things seem to be getting out of control, you can do one of two things: have a meltdown, or trust and surrender to the collaborative process. I chose the latter.

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I left Dan with what seemed to me to be an almost unreadable tangle of marks. When I’m at the easel in my studio, I work my way methodically through such muddles, but in this case I was having to leave Dan to to sort things out. It would require a huge leap of the imagination on his part to understand what I was aiming for in terms of mood, colour, balance and coherence. But Dan has such skills in bucketloads, and soon he was producing images that made complete sense.

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Dan continued to print in my absence. We messaged:
23/11/2015 19:16
Daniel Bugg
I hope you don’t mind but I’ve had real fun with the images. As you are at a distance from the studio I decided to work through any colour combinations I could. That way you can see what I see as I print.
23/11/2015 19:16
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
You’ve been a busy boy. Suffice to say that I won’t lose sleep over these, the way I would have done over the first ones we did. Things are looking so much more exciting! Thanks, Dan. Most heartening! And I don’t mind at all. Why would I mind when you make my work look so good?
23/11/2015 19:22
Daniel Bugg
I spend so much time with the images I can’t help but play, as it’s so easy for me to make changes during the printing. I’ve always worked this way. I see it as my job to give you options and yours to tell me to bugger off if you don’t like them! Some of the most interesting prints I’ve made were informed by a collage approach to various proofs. When you receive the images we’ll talk through some of the options. Of which there are many!

This is an entirely collaborative process. The fact is that Dan knows what will work better in terms of a print, than I do.  He knocked me into shape in the studio in double quick time. He shook me until my brains… or what passes for them.. rattled, and all the change dropped out of my pockets. It was terrifying and rewarding. It still is. All the marks in the images are mine, but the ways in which they’ve been layered are down to Dan’s skill. At this stage we’re still playing, and the final decisions have yet to be taken. It’s an exciting time.

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Please forgive the length of time between the last post and this one. My Mac had a mechanical breakdown and had to be sent away to have a new drive inserted. Back to normal again now.

32 thoughts on “The Tailor and the Penfold Printer

  1. Its wonderful you share your creative processes in full view here–the struggles and the successes. I admire you for that- it is instructive to others.
    Happy Holiday Season!

  2. ONLY JUST SEEN IT
    I DO believe in magic, I do, I do, I do.
    Bless both magicians, for as the winter comes ever closer the spirits of light, colour and just plain fabulousness is much needed.
    Bravo
    Hugs
    Bern xxx

  3. Hello Clive

    I figured something of the sort of what you tell us about your Mac had to have happened, when I saw there were no new entries at the Artlog. I have been going to The Penfold Press almost every day, in hopes of finding the first print of the Sir Gawain series to try and order one as my Christmas present for myself.

    I never thought the making of a print could be such hard labour, even if a labour of love. And it is great to be able to watch the whole procedure, step by step. I can’t wait to see Guinevere in the new print.

    Everybody at home loves the Man Slain by a Tiger print. It is a beauty. But this new print promises to be even more beautiful.

    Un Abrazo desde Madrid
    M

  4. How exciting to dive into a new medium! Once again, I thank you for writing about your process – both the physical and the psychological. It can certainly be hard “letting go” but you have an amazing collaborator. 🙂 And personally, if I had the choice of melting or surrendering, I probably would have melted first…Glad you didn’t!!!!

    • Hello Jennifer. Thank you for your enthusiastic endorsement of sharing this project while it’s ‘on the go’.

      Relinquishing control is something I suspect most artists could do with trying more often. That having been said, Dan is an attentive and unerringly thoughtful collaborator, and so I always feel safe.

  5. Hi Clive,

    Just wanted to leave a quick note to say how beautiful this looks – and lovely to read about your process (both through struggles and triumphs) – refreshing honesty! Particularly love the lithograph-esque crayon marks you’ve got form using the tru-grain…

    Thanks for sharing some lovely work,

    Alice Pattullo

    p.s I have a sudden fear that an email from you sometime back slipped through the net and I neglected to get back to you, my very delayed apologies!

    • Alice, how lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your appreciation of my ‘refreshing honesty’, though if I were being entirely open, I would have posted an image of the red, green, grey and black proof that I thought such a disaster. (Maybe I will the next time I post about this print, in the spirit of complete openness!)

      I love your work… but then I’ve told you that before… and I really appreciate your dropping by here.

      Very Best.

  6. So lovely to see you back here (with your horsey tiger mane delight)! Great, too, so see you jumping about so happily in a new technique – with such wonderful results…can’t wait to see more!

  7. What a terrific roller-coaster post; the ‘terrifying and rewarding’ nature of the process really come across, my nerves are jangling just reading it! But your brilliance, courage and excitement really come across too, Clive, and Dan’s wonderful skills. The images evolve beautifully and those details with the yellow and the more expressive marks are thrilling. They capture the bright, glittering quality that winter light can have – perfect 😉

  8. The prints are just bristling with movement and depth, absolutely wonderful. Such an insight into the process of making, thank you Clive. The first picture with the yellow stroke of paint down the horse’s mane is wonderful. It brought to mind somehow a children’s book which I have, by Alice and Martin Provensen called The Iliad and the Odyssey, which you are probably familiar with. I think it was the boldness of paint stroke and the sparing line that brought it to mind. Fabulous work.

    • if you look closely you’ll see that the yellow stroke down the horse’s mane, is in fact the yellow proof of my tiger print. It’s the tail. Dan printed the ‘Arthur’ image over a discarded proof, just trying things out. The alignment is an accident, but a happy one! This is the alchemy of printing!

      I know the work of Alice and Martin Provensen, and have a copy of that very book!

      Thank you, Janet, for your encouragement. Much appreciated!

  9. I had exactly the same reaction as Laura: how on earth do you choose? I love nos 2,3 and 5, no 3 the yellow and blue particularly, I know these are the different layers, but each layer is beautiful. I love seeing your gestural brushwork again, too. Doubt is doubly difficult in a medium you’re not familiar with, but I can see you are rising to the challenge and soaring like a bird ! When I learned the basics of screen printing at art school, it truly was basic at that time, more like tedious stencil cutting, it looks as though the modern products are quite liberating. (Hey, I can’t resist saying: see you tomorrow, wheeeeeeeeee!)xxxL

    • I agree. The yellow and blue lighten the spirits!

      There is a mechanical aspect to making the separations, during which I just think about mark-making and composition. The magic really gets going when the colour and layering arrive, and at that point the options become myriad. With this print I had a really clear idea in my head of what was going to happen. I think Dan knew all along that I was on the wrong track, but he just quietly went about his business, knowing that when he laid hands on the layers he would make them sparkle. And yes, that has been enormously liberating for me. I know now what’s possible, and moreover in relation to my own work.

      Yeah, you’re arriving tomorrow! Fan-Bloody-Tastic!!!!

  10. Such an exciting post, Clive. How wonderful to see the mechanics of one expert working with another expert to bring about fabulous new things. I love your description of your own doubt, moving though to a new space. The tests look fabulous, and of course I am just loving those bold gestural marks of yours and the glorious colour interplay. The third last image in this post is making me positively drool! The yellow is just fabulous in all of them.

    • Thank you, Judy. As an artist you’ll know the insecurities of occasionally having to let go. But Dan is a wonderful collaborator, with the lightest, though determined touch. He was the one who kept urging yellow, and I kept saying no. So he just quietly printed over a sheet printed in yellow from the scrap-bin (it was a yellow proof from my earlier tiger print), and of course I loved it! He’s a bit of a star in my universe right now!

      • Ha! How fabulous. Sneaky fellow. I must say, as a children’s book collector, the yellow is so evocative of mid twentieth century children’s books that I am immediately drawn to it. It has all sorts of warm associations. Enjoy your exciting process!

  11. Is it me, or is print making a bit of Alchemy? I was watching a You Tube video on one of the processes recently and couldn’t work out if I was watching science, art of magic!

    But I so love the fact that you are getting into print making. It means that the chance of me owning one of your pieces or work can become much more of a reality.

    • Me neither, Laura. And these are just some of the options.

      The proofs arrive in the post today. Can’t wait to see them and get to grips with the way forward. Of course what I’m showing here is a detail of the whole. There will be much more for Dan and I to consider within the the entire image.

      Watch this space!

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