The Exchange



The Exchange is number ten in the fourteen print Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series I’m making in association with Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press, and marks the episode from the poem in which on three occasions the Lord of Fair Castle returns from hunting to claim a kiss from his guest. I’ve always found this point in the story to be exciting, though wasn’t at all sure how to set about representing its transgressive nature. (Gawain has to parry the romantic advances of his host’s wife in her husband’s absences, and is made to surrender kisses to the Lord whenever he returns home. It’s as though the young knight is a shuttlecock being batted between the couple.) In the end I made the decision to create an extraordinary encounter, with Bertilak swooping from above to better create the sense of a dizzying erotic charge. I’m currently four stencils into this nine stencil print. Here’s a record of the work so far.

Above and below: preliminary sketches.







Below: details of the ‘master’ drawing used to guide my work on the print.



Below: creating the first stencil.


Below: the dead stag from the first of the three hunts.



Below: the granular texture of the TruGrain on which the stencils are made is apparent in this detail of the kiss.



I use a limited palette of red, grey and black to make the stencils, favouring a combination of opaque fibretip pen, greasy lithography crayon, oil-rich black pencil and acrylic paint.


Below: the colours planned for the print are dull blue, red oxide, dull sand, black, cyan, purple and orange.



Below: beginning to render the embroidered details of Bertilak’s jerkin.






13 thoughts on “The Exchange

  1. Pingback: Update on ‘The Exchange’ | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. You are, as ever, generous with sharing the knowledge and screen printing can be difficult for some to understand. You make it very accessible. I am intrigued by the use of red and grey to produce stencils. I’ve always been told that it is only a dense black that can block out the light on exposure. May I ask what effect the other two colours have on the process? The results are stunning. That embroidered jacket is so textural and beautifully detailed.

    • Thank you, Lesley. Dan, my collaborator and friend on this venture, has been endlessly patient with me and is a wonderful tutor. His generosity at every turn has informed how I feel about this magical – one might almost say alchemical process – and I’ve massively enjoyed sharing online what for me has been revelatory.

      I need to work in various materials to get the effects we’ve been achieving. Plus because there are so many textures and layers of ink in the prints, to work in only in black on black would make it almost impossible to see what I produce as the many stencils overlay the guide drawing. So we’ve had to be quite experimental in our uses of materials.

      I use a limited palette to better get an idea of how the layers fit over each other, and black, red and grey work well for me. The opaque red pens are specially made for the purpose and Dan has no problem developing screens from the stencils made with them. Originally I used a specially formulated (and expensive) Tusche acrylic for painting onto the TruGrain and film, but quickly discovered that my usual heavy-bodied Golden brand acrylics work just as well. I use a red oxide and occasionally – if I need another large area of flat colour on a stencil – a neutral grey, just to be able to differentiate between the stencil layers as they build up. Most of the black you see is made in lithography crayon of varying thicknesses and hardness, though I use a sharp Faber-Castell Polychromos pencil too, for the more detailed work. The Polychromos pencil is the material Dan has most of his difficulties with when it comes to developing the screens, and the stencils he most often returns to me for strengthening. But we persevere because when we get it right, the results are more delicate than when I use only the heavier, greasier lithography crayons.

      I think if Dan has any frustrations with how I produce the images, they most likely focus on the frequency with which he has to remind me to work with a heavier hand when using the Polychromos pencils. He says he can always pull back when exposing from a stencil, but he can’t put in what’s not there. This has become a constant dialogue between us. Each time he reminds me, and each time I promise to do better. But it’s very hard for me to make a stencil drawing that looks overly heavy, as I don’t have the print-maker’s confidence and experience that it can be given a light hand at the printing stage. I like a stencil to look right when it leaves the studio, so that at a first glance Dan can see that what I intend is right there in front of him. Then he exposes a screen, pulls a proof and sends the offending stencil back with the evidence, so I can better see what’s needed. This slows things down I fear. I’ll learn eventually.

      • Clive, thank you for the detailed reply. Like I said already, you are very generous not only with the information but also the time taken to formulate such a constructive reply.
        I am in the process of setting up a home exposure unit using an idea shared by another generous artist who has been teaching me screen printing. I love the process and I’m getting used to working in layers but no more than 3 at the most. I understand completely the point about transparency between the layers and get the colour choices now. That is very sensible and an idea I might pinch from you if I may?.

    • Rosie, it is indeed expensive, as I rediscovered last week when I had to order an additional roll to complete the prints in the series. I use the less expensive lithography film too, for any areas of flat render or detail, but the TruGrain is used for about 80% of the work in the this series. I love the texture it lends to the process. As a painter I favour roughened surfaces and use all sorts of processes to make grounds with ‘bite’, so it comes as little surprise that I love working on the granulations of TruGrain.

      • A roll! “sigh”. I can only dream on 😁. It is a truly lovely surface to work on though. I tend to use it for very small photopolymer etchings, using every little scrap. I love these screenprints, you bring the complexity of painting to what can be a very flat medium.

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