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.
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.
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.
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.
Dan continued to print in my absence. We messaged:
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.
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?
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.
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.