‘Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle’: the stencil-making.

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After the gouache and pencil study has been produced to work out how I want the print to look (see above), I begin on the stencils. These are first drawn and painted onto lithography film, and thereafter photo-developed onto the micro-mesh screens used to produce the prints. All but the last of the images below are of the stencils that will create the black layer of the print. I work with a greasy lithographic crayon, an oil-based pencil for finer marks, and a special fibre-tip pen with opaque ink. The pen marks are red here, but once this stencil has been rendered as a screen to print from, all the marks you see will be printed in black ink.

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A pencil on paper is mark-making with the tonal qualities created through pressure of the hand. However in screen printing any mark is a mechanical one, and any tonal aspect has to come through colour mixing, through layering and by the close proximity of the small dots of ink forced through the micro-mesh of the screens.

The images for the Gawain series are produced on film of two types: smooth and granular. The irregular surface of the granular TruGrain, means that a wax crayon drawing on it consists of dots caught on the raised parts of the film.

Below, a detail of a wax drawing on TruGrain taken with light behind it clearly shows the dots that build the effects of graduated tone. I’ve also used a scalpel to scratch through areas at the upper left and down the right hand side, to vary the mark-making in the finished print.

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Below: tens of thousands of tiny dots build the tonalities I want in the finished print.

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Below: the completed drawing on TruGrain ready to be transferred to a screen for printing.

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The black layer of the print is the one that holds most of the compositional detail. The ‘coloured’ layers that will be printed beneath it, will be made up of one layer of red, two of blue and two of yellow.

Finally, a picture of the stencils ready to be rolled and sent to Dan Bugg at the Penfold Press. The image appears a little fuzzy only because it consists of six translucent layers.

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The Knight and the Virgin

Making a screenprint.

Rough sketches. There were several of these, but the one below was the guide to the study painting.

Below: working the face in some detail on mountboard before beginning to lay on paint. The drawing disappears almost completely under the first layer of gouache, but by that time it is already ‘locked’ in my head.

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The Virgin and child painted onto the lining of Gawain’s shield begin to take shape.

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Gawain’s helmet plume. Gouache and pencil.

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Camelot, worked in sgraffito and pencil. The ground is heavy, acid-free mount-board that allows for the inscribing with a needle.

Rendering in gouache and pencil.

The finished study. Gouache, pencil and sgrafitto on board.

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The composition re-drawn as a ‘master-drawing’ to guide the process of making stencils on separate layers of transparent film. Each stencil represents a single colour in the printmaking process.

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Camelot rendered in wax crayon on transparent film. In the study, the ‘etched’ look was created by using a needle to ‘indent’ the card, and then working pencil over the top. With the stencil I had to use a technique more akin to scraperboard, wielding a needle to clear areas of the wax drawing. It was massively time consuming as the sticky wax detritus had to be constantly brushed away before it got stuck back down by the pressure from my hand resting on the surface. This stencil, which is a small section of the composition, took two days to complete.

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Layers of transparent film create the quality of mark and tone Dan and I were looking for. The stencils are all made in black and red. No point in working in colour at this stage. It’s easier to see what’s going on in the layers by simplifying. The pattern on the inside of the shield was particularly taxing. In the painting the pattern was made by using yellow ochre whipped in with a fine brush over the top of the red. For the printmaking, the ochre has to under-print the red, and so all those pattern marks on the stencil had to be painted around. A long day’s work.

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More layers of stencils. Even though they’re transparent/translucent, eventually it becomes hard to see what’s underneath the top five or six layers.

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The stencils fixed in place with registration pins to assure correct alignment. The colours at right are the guide for Daniel Bugg. Each corresponds to a layer of stencil. The big brush is to dust the stencils and keep them free of detritus, though usually a few stray hairs from Jack end up in there.

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This is how Gawain looked when composed of all the layers of stencils. Quite sooty!

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Proof stage by Daniel Bugg. The two stencils for the colours shown here have been processed as screens by Dan. Each screen is made of microfine mesh stretched on a frame, through which the printing ink is squeezed to make the impression.

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Proofing stage.

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Adding one of the black screens to the proofing stage, to check how things are looking.

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Another proof, this time adding shades of ochre before laying in the black. Red and cobalt teal laid over each other make a rich, bruised purple.

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Below: the finished print.

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The Armouring of Gawain. 2016.

Screenprint. 55 x 55 cms. Edition of 75.

Opening 8th September at the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff

Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press.

Prints, paintings and drawings exploring the medieval poem

Invitation to ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’

Please join us if you are able at the opening of:

Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press

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Prints, paintings and drawings on the theme of the medieval poem

Thursday 8th September, 6 pm – 7.30 pm at

The Martin Tinney Gallery

18 St. Andrew’s Crescent, Cardiff. CF10 3DD. +44 (0)29 2064 1411

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Exhibition runs from Thursday 8th Sept to Saturday 1st Oct, 2016

Art commentator James Russell writes of the Penfold Press collaboration between artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and printmaker Daniel Bugg:

“The story is the kind you might find in The Mabinogion. Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.”

 

 

 

Print N0. 7: Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle

Work has begun on the seventh print in the Gawain and the Green Knight series. Titled Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle, much of the poem’s narrative takes place within the walls of Bertilak de Hautdesert’s sumptuous home. Here Gawain will find rest and succour and be treated as an honoured guest, though his stay is made awkward by the seemingly amorous attentions of Lady Hautdesert. All is not quite as it appears, though he won’t find out until after he’s left the castle what deceptions have been practiced on him.

Here’s a clean drawing laid out ready for me to start in with the colour.

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Fair Castle is reinvented here as a gold and enamelled Byzantine citadel. The steep ascent spirals the crag on which Fair Castle perches, and Gawain’s horse, Gringolet, looks uneasy at the prospect of climbing it.

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Pollarded trees reference the tattoos of the Green Knight seen in an earlier image.

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Above, detail from The Green Knight Arrives.

Change of Title

The Green Knight Speaks, while a great title for the fourth print in the Gawain series, doesn’t quite fit my image as it should. In the finished study for the work, the Green Knight’s lips remain firmly shut, and so the title must change. Right now I’m toying with several options, none of them yet quite there.  Suggestions if you have them, please.

In the meantime work is underway on the stencils that will create the print. Each title in the series begins as a series of rough sketches in which I try out ideas. In this print, the Green Knight, having retrieved his decapitated head, holds it aloft to speak

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After the ideas have been hammered out in rough drawings, I make a fully rendered painting of what I propose for the print. The image below is a detail of the painting for this print, showing the embroidered caparison of his horse.

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The next stage is to produce the ‘master-drawing’, the template that sits beneath the layers of transparent film on which I draw and paint to make the stencils. A master-drawing sometimes differs in detail from the painting, as it’s my opportunity to make any corrections to the composition.

Once the master-drawing is has been drafted, the stencil-making is a relatively straight-forward process of tracing and separating the elements of the image into layers according to colour. Here is a detail of the master-drawing that will underlie the drafting films to guide me through the business of making the stencils for this print.

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I begin with the stencil that will print as black. In dark red opaque marker-pens which enable me to make the sharp outlines of the embroidered motifs, I trace the background of the textile on a sheet of transparent Truegrain laid over the master-drawing.

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At the next stage I work with lithography crayon to soften and shadow the pattern, and then add a second stencil to print the green of the embroidered elements. A third adds the orange background.

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I use two varieties of stencil. Trugrain has a granulated surface that produces interrupted colour and mark-making… a kind of glittering effect… while drafting film is smooth and can yield dense fields of colour and unbroken lines. The stencils are worked in tonal variations of red-oxide and black, using pens, crayons, pencils and paints. On each stencil I make a note of the layer of colour represented. As I assemble the layers of stencils, I have to imagine what the colours will look like when printed over each other. For this print there will be seven stencils: black, yellow, mid-blue, dark-blue, red, orange and turquoise-green.

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The textile in this image is an invention in which I riff on traditions of Coptic and Romanesque embroideries. In the absence of any buildings or landscape in the background of the print to give it a location, the motifs of scattered talisman-like eyes, flying peacocks and scrolling tendrils bearing oak leaves and assorted fruits, fills one half of the composition with a sense of place and mystery. The Green Knight brings the wilderness into the halls of Camelot, through the decorations on his horse and the inking on his skin.

“blood unfurling, not gushing”

 

The Green Knight’s Head Speaks.

Final pencil study awaiting paint.

So here I am at the moment of the drama when the game changes, all the rules of the natural world broken. The blade has descended, flesh has parted and the head has rolled. But this giant of a man doesn’t lie down, even though separated from his seat of reason, and he strides off to retrieve it from where it’s rolled and rested. Arthur’s knights, unknightly-like, have kicked it for sport, making a football of the thing. Little wonder Camelot will one day fall.

The decapitated Green Knight, head in hands, turns to face the throng. Is the event to be shown from the front, or from the side, from a distance or in close-up? On horseback or off? More importantly, how is the severed head to be held? The territory is ripe for clichés. Somehow I must avoid them. Swinging the head by its hair is not an option, or it will look like every other scene in Game of Thrones.

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I explore the alternatives.

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Having tried it all ways I resolve to show it grasped and held aloft in both hands, tilted to an angle with eyes sliding sideways from under half-closed lids while beard and hair stream and snap like pennants in the wind. But this is indoors, so is the wind a supernatural unsettling, or an earthly one, racing through a doorway left gaping after the Green Knight’s arrival? It doesn’t matter. We can’t see  anything of the space anyway. And there’s no wound for us to gawp at either, as I don’t want to distract with bleeding stumps. Nevertheless the head is off, no doubt about that, absent from where it should be and present where it should not, held high and cradled in strong hands.

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There’s blood, or what passes for it with old magic at work. Dense with flow, not kinetic, but hieratic, spouting, fountaining frozen, blossoming atop a frilled column. This is blood unfurling, not gushing. My reference is a fungus I once found bursting through the black plastic of a neighbour’s bale of hay. It was huge. I broke away a grapefruit-sized part of it and brought it home to photograph and draw. I’ve lost the drawings, but a photograph of it survives, fluted like cathedral fan-vaulting and flowing in overlapping scallop-shapes. It will make a strangeness in the composition rendering the event not just supernatural, but beautiful. There’s beauty too in the horse’s embroidered caparison, which will swarm with foliate meanderings and flighty birds.

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A significant element in the composition is the animal’s wildly rolling eye and fearful expression. The human observers are out of frame, and so it stands in for them in the matter of a response to what’s happening, its astonishment more meaningful than anything we might expect from those loutish, head-kicking bully-boys pissed on Christmas wine.

Above, reference photo of fungi, and below, beginning to create the embroidered patterning of the horse’s caparison.

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The Allure of Layering

I am in thrall to the processes of making the separations that Dan Bugg at Penfold Press  transforms into the screens he uses to produce our Gawain prints. Drawn and painted onto layers of transparent film, the limited palette of greys, black and red oxide are substituted in the printing process for the rich colours I favour for the project. But there is a sobriety in the layers of artwork that appeals to me.

The light works in so many interesting ways on the films, that I find myself photographing them at every stage of the work. Luckily they survive the process of transference to the screens, and afterwards Dan stores them in his plan-chest. It might be interesting to exhibit them one day, together with the prints that were made from them. The screens themselves get cleaned and used again, and so the transparencies alone are the record of how the prints were made.

The following images are of transparencies for the third print in the series, The Green Knight Bows to Gawain’s Blow.

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