Big Fag Press Emerging Artists Residency – Laura’s Studio Notes

I should begin by confessing that I am a novice printmaker, my only firsthand experience being crude linocuts and one attempt at etching back in high school. In many ways my current practice could be seen as the antithesis to printmaking, using video, performance and installation to avoid a finished work. Yet there is something in the methodology of printing that resonates with me; perhaps it is the re-mediation of an image into multiples or the construction of a work through layers.

blackboard_web
working sketch

A print can imply the history of its own making if you know how to read it; colour variation though halftone, spatial depth by overlap, movement by misaligned registration. In most cases a correct image does all these things and erases evidence of itself in the final product. This may sound fairly obvious to someone fluent in design and picture making but to me it is a perplexing sequential process for which I’m missing the instructions. Which perhaps suggests why I am drawn to disciplined compositional work like Joseph Albers’ Homage to the Square series.

For my residency at the BFP I was interested in working with the layered process inherent to printmaking, separating out a print to reveal the order of construction and potentially have the layers interact in unexpected ways. I wanted to defy the flatness and fixity of the outcome but first I needed to get my head around the idiosyncrasies of using the FAG. I often work with layering video in an expanded-cinema-esque method of projecting past over present, however as I quickly learnt, with the press there is less room for variation. The offset process builds an image in layers but its function and efficiency is in producing multiple copies of the same thing. Once I began experimenting with the press I found variables within the process that could evidence slippages between these layers; transparency mediums, paper translucency, shifting the paper or plate and half toning.

experimenting with tracing paper
experimenting with tracing paper

acetate
mock up layering acetate

Rifling through the Big Fag drawers Lucas pulled out some Rubylith and halftone screens, which sent me on an investigation of these outdated photolithographic processes. Pre-digital plate imaging essentially projected a photographic negative onto a light-sensitive coating on the surface of the plate, which was then chemically developed. The halftone screens were used as a kind of tonal filter and a measurement of the colour density; the higher the % dot range the darker the colour. Given the materiality simply handling the screens and superimposing them created interference patterns. This effect is generally to be avoided in print by generating halftone screens at set angles 30° apart, C= 15°, M=75° Y= 0° and K=45°. This allows the colours to overlay in an unobtrusive rose pattern invisible to the naked eye.  If any screen is not perfectly registered the halftone spots clash, the rose pattern will disappear and instead you get distracting interference patterns know as moiré.

original halftone screens demonstrating the moiré effect
original halftone screens demonstrating the moiré effect

As an aesthetic effect it is rather dated, reminiscent of raster graphics or op art but it remains a common error in photography, printing and video, essentially any re-mediation of the dot pattern. The effect is intensified through movement either of the superimposed screens or by the viewer as they move around the image. Holographic-like in effect and quality, here I found a potential for the print medium to infer the third or even fourth dimension.

I decided to print my own halftone screens- allowing them to be both a print of a screen and a screen in itself. Preferring the imperfections of dust and finger marks I chose to scan and enlarge old tone sheets rather than use a digitally generated bitmap. Whilst Louise and I were printing, trying to correct the image on paper before we moved onto acetate, we printed the sheet on top of itself and were rather shocked with the result.

printed_halftone
one layer of halftone

two layers of halftones
two layers of halftones – hero shot

Something that felt so liquid and fluid was captured in ink on paper. The effect was comparable with interlaced video or even tapestry. Even more interesting was how the print appeared through a camera lens (remediated again of course) – as Lucas pointed out, it looks like we are holding a portal to another dimension. Pleased with this we continued to experiment, trialing double printing, double inking and moving the paper to overlay the screens at different angles.

experimenting turning the paper on the press
experimenting turning the paper on the press

To work this effect into an image I re-photographed the screen I had created holding it both in front and behind. I had been playing around with this mirroring effect throughout the process, alluding to the page as an object, with a front and back. I had hoped that overlaying these screens within the printmaking process would cause them to interact with each other and zing, creating a moment where the print exceeds itself.

front/back mock up
front/back mock up

front plate
front plate

finished print
finished print!

The finished print: back on paper, front on acetate and installed slightly apart and offset (that’s my Albers description for you). The moiré effect photographs differently each time but you can get a sense of the celluloid-like materiality of the layered acetate. Surprisingly the re-photographed halftone screens don’t interact as strongly as the rest of the image. I haven’t yet concluded if this is an error in my pre-press or perhaps more fittingly a built-in unpredictability. On hindsight perhaps printmaking is less of an antithesis of my video practice, more so a synthesis of composition and chance; a system of archiving layers that speaks of its own history – all things I continue to seek in my work.