Inspiration: Carry Akroyd and Robert Gillmor

The other day I had 2 hours to kill in beautiful Aberlady, on the East Lothian coast, while my daughter was in her ballet class. I went for a walk in the sunshine and popped into the lovely headquarters of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, which promised a wildlife art exhibition. I was delighted to discover that the artist, Carry Akroyd, is a wonderful printmaker. I was in heaven – I’m not normally a huge fan of screenprints but her work portraying nature and its relationship with man is so full of colour, movement, life and detail… fantastic. Her lino cuts, monoprints, lithographs and collages were great too, but it was really the screenprints/serigraphs that I liked best. I will definitely try to take inspiration from her work, and in particularly her compositions of landscapes.  I couldn’t stretch to buying any prints, but bought a couple of postcards to take home.

On my way out I glanced through the books for sale and pounced on another delight which I couldn’t resist buying – a beautiful book by printmaker Robert Gillmore called “Cutting away“. He’s a fabulous lino cut artist and I already have a few of his postcards on my wall so I was thrilled to find this book. It’s beautifully written too and gives some great insight into the techniques he uses, something I’ll definitely be refering to for inspiration and method when I get back to lino cutting in the next part of the course.

After a lovely walk in the woods I still had time to sit in the sun in Aberlady church yard and do some sketching before going to see my 4-year old’s little ballet show. Perfect afternoon.


Back to masks: “Mother” monoprint

I’m almost there – almost have all the pieces I need to hand in for my assignment (phew). Looking closely at the requirements for submission, I noticed I was missing some pieces, including a second example of a print employing positive and negative masks. My first attempt with this, ages ago, was quite painful, particularly in getting the registration right. But after gaining practice through subsequent work, I found it much easier this time.

sketches for "Mother" monoprint

Sketches and planning

I decided to work with a shape I’d sketched last year. This actually started life as a doodled zentangle curve (in the top left of this photo), the shape of which reminded me of a nursing mother.

I developed this only a little to create some simple shapes that would work as masks, and decided on a three stage process. Past experience with registration meant that that this time I made things easier by including one edge of the figure that “bled” over the edge of the frame shape – this helped to position the masks.

Setting up

Once again I used my masking tape right-angle frame which is stuck directly on my fantastic glass table. This provides a corner on which I can register my printing paper each time, and I can simply use more masking tape as hinges on the top edge of the “frame” to position my masks. Each of the three major masks were attached at the start of the process so I could check their position up front.

1. The first print created the grey background, using a mask that masked out the “frame” of the image and the central figure. You’ll notice that the  print is facing the opposite way from my sketches. This was of course deliberate…. ok, no it wasn’t, but I didn’t noticed till I took the first print (sigh) and didn’t have time to reposition all the masks. I thought it might look good anyway so pressed on and took three more prints, re-inking the glass each time:

2. Next I added the dusky pink of the central figure using one mask that masked out everything but that central shape, and two smaller ones that created the shapes of the mother’s face and the baby, leaving them white.

For the shape of the mother, I had deliberately cut the mask to leave a white border between her head and the grey backround.

For the smaller masks, which sit isolated in the middle of the  image, I used the same technique I’d used in the poppy print – I attached the small masks directly to the previously-printed grey images using small pieces of low-tack masking tape.  (This was easier than trying to lay them directly onto the ink without smudging). At this point I lost two of my set of prints because of some remaining registration problems I hadn’t forseen – here are two that survived after some adjustments:

After the 1st (grey) and 2nd (pink) prints

The small white internal spaces are not quite white – this is becaused I used very thin tissue paper for these small areas, which let a tiny bit of speckly ink through. I looks kinda nice though.

3. The final print used a final mask to add a darker contour to the figure. Both prints came out well, and slightly different. I like this one best:

Mother monoprint - final 3rd stage - dark contour


This was good, I enjoyed it and found the whole process so much smoother now after all the practice I’ve had with previous experiments. Saying that though, I still made a few fairly basic mistakes, but by now I think I’ve understood this is part of the nature of printmaking and know that even the professionals will count on losing a percentage of an edition to various mishaps and errors. I  am pleased with the resulting prints too and that I got it all done within a few hours (hooray for water-based inks!).

This image was created to demonstrate the use of +ve and -ve masks together, so I’ll leave it at that, but if I have time I may take this a little further by adding some backdrawing or texture.

Zoe revisited – More masks and backdrawing

For this print I’ve revisited my previous attempt at a backdrawing of Zoe using a photo of her from a few years back.

This time, I decided to add some background colour first.

I painted three areas of colour – pink, brown and blue – onto my glass table, then masked them off to create the shapes – here are the 4 prints I created. I tried to use brush strokes to add some texture, especially to the hair.

With hindsight, I wish I’d gone for much paler colours, because when it came to adding the backdrawing, it was difficult to get the “drawing” colour strong enough to compete with the colours but without being too inky.

You can see what I mean in the prints below – with a couple of these the first pass of the backdrawing was too light – I had to try again with more ink, but then ended up with a bit of a blotchy mess:

This was the best of those 4:

But I thought I’d give it another go, and created another print, this time starting with the backdrawing again, then used tissue paper masks to add a big pink button to the hat, and some light blue to the collar.


These didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped really – I wasn’t able to repeat the feel of the earlier backdrawing I’d made here, and I think the big masked colour areas of the first 4 prints were just too strong. But I think the two above are ok  – I quite like the last one with the big red button even though at first I thought that was way too strong too! It’s often the case that I’ll grow to like them more after a while.

Red shoes monoprint

As part of my final monoprinting project, here is a print made using a series of masks, textures, scratching and backdrawing. The subject is a pair of my daughter’s red and white boots, worn when she was just a toddler.

1. Here’s a photo of them, and the sketch I made:

2+3. Masks and impressions

The first layer of the print was a beigey background shape using a negative mask.

The second used another negative mask to create  the red shoes shape. (As you can see I created 6 prints each time – lots of work, but in the end it was worth it.)

On some of these I pressed then lifted off some spotty wrapping paper onto the ink before printing – the white spots on the wrapping paper lifted more ink, creating the spots on the shoes.

4. Mask and scratching

Next, for the darker red of the inside of the shoes and the soles, I used a third set of negative masks for the shapes, and then used the end of a paintbrush to scratch in some lines to give a bit of contour to the inner shapes.

At this point I was really tempted to stop as I was nervous about spoiling the best ones with a further stage, but decided to grasp the nettle…..

5. Backdrawing

So the final stage was some backdrawing to add some detail … in the end I had two decent prints left, and here’s the one I was most pleased with:


This was loads of work, but I was very pleased with the result and that my initial planning of the whole process had worked out.

Registration went really well here – all the masks were negative – I just used masking tape to both position the printing paper and secure the masks and it worked really well.

I used thinner paper for the masks than before but found I was able to use the same paper for 8 prints of  each stage, so only had to cut one version of each.

Sketching at St Giles Cathedral

Back in April I was very pleased to meet up with another 3 OCA students for some sketching, at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Sketching in public is a scary thing, and something I’ve only rarely done, but this was so worthwhile. For a start, it was lovely to be out with the other students, finding out about their experiences. St Giles was a brilliant venue for sketching – beautiful surroundings, peaceful, lots of subject matter, and i soon lost most of my self-consciousness. And of course, chairs to sit on. Ideal!

However, I’d not been doing much sketching so my first attempt was tentative, slow and stunted – using a pen I sketched a column and arch, then used a waterpen and watercolour pencil for some shading. Not a great start:

The next was better – or at least easier  –  I found a figure in a stained glass window and drew him – I’m generally much better at this kind of thing (apart from that terrible right hand!), but then it is easier because it’s flat – the original artist had done all the hard work! Made me feel better though!

At lunch I got to see the others’ work – all wonderful, really inspirational, although they also had very kind words for my work too. I was inspired to work more loosely, and after lunch found a statue of John Knox to work from – much better this time  although only a quick sketch:

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the rest of the day, but really enjoyed this exercise. I only wish I had time to do more!

Backdrawing – Zoe

Here’s a backdrawing I made using a photo of Zoe when she was just 2. With a thin layer of dark blue ink, made thinner by taking a quick print to lift some more ink off, I laid the printing paper down, then the photo, then drew lightly over it using a dry pen,  using different pressures to get some light and shade, and also using a sponge to get some of the softer textures. I was quite pleased with the way it came out – and once the print was dry I added some water colour in blue, pink and brown. I think I’ll try this again, and develop it a bit further.

Zoe (backdrawing)

Further experiments in monoprinting

With these prints I was just experimenting with masks, textures and backdrawing. I didn’t really plan too far ahead, but started with a large circular mask, with some smaller shaped masks to fit inside. I used a very thin wrapping paper for the masks, which happened to have spots on it…and it turned out the white spots lifted ink much more than the rest of the paper, so when I lifted the masks after a print, I found the texture left behind. Another happy accident, so I used this in a couple of different ways.

I added some backdrawing/ghost prints and – my new favourite – a sprinkling of tea, to get the effects in the prints above. So…. we have… petri dish? Views into space? Escaping ameobas? Hehe, just some experimenting.