This is not expected to be a high quality print. I don’t know how to use the tools, nor how to achieve any desired effect. The only way to learn is to try. So I turned to one of my favourite paintings, Manet’s Olympia, and tried to copy her as a woodcut. Great fun to cut, but very hard to envisage the final result. Trying to copy a painting is probably not a good start. You can’t produce varied hues or subtle tones. The cut block initially gives a very false idea of the print. The block had white, cut wood, red uncut wood and black drawing. The print is stark black and white, with no intermediate tone. I think for the next one I need to start with a monochrome drawing. But you learn as you go on.
The best print was on thin Japanese paper. The Somerset paper was again a disappointment. So many printers swear by it. I must be doing something wrong.
This is an unfamiliar medium for me, so I am practicing with a familiar image. We went to Intaglio Printworks in Southwark on Wednesday. Paradise for a print maker. Amongst many bits and pieces, I bought three sheets of Japanese plywood for woodcuts. This cuts beautifully with my Pfeil lino tools, but it is so different. Grain to cope with, plus splinters. I painted the wood with red ink to start, to highlight the cuts. Then started work on a copy of my copy of Manet’s portrait of Berthe Morisot, one of the world’s greatest paintings in my belief. Had to photograph it and reverse it first.
Looks good as a red carving. Then I inked it with water based ink and printed it first on textured Somerset print paper. Really bad, I just threw them away. Then on some Japanese paper, which was much better but still too thin for my liking.
Then I tried the oil based ink which I also bought. It is so different from the water based. Much thicker and stickier. After a lot of working I printed another proof on Japanese paper, which was better, and finally onto a spare sheet of Zirkal paper which was missed from an earlier run and that was at last something worth while. I think the block still needs some work, especially around her mouth, but that is for later. Cleaning up the ink is not a lot of fun.
I’ve completed my triptych based on the Folie Berge Bar, but what to do with it. The three panels lend themselves to being displayed together, but how? Sticking the arms at each side seems logical…
But swapping the outer panels makes, I feel, a better composition…
The eye travels better, from the flowers, across to the oranges, then down to the loose orange and across to the bottle. I also like the way that the three secondary colours, green, orange and purple are so prominent. That wasn’t planned, it just emerged.
It would also be interesting to display them as a free standing item. But where?
A second small panel based on Manet’s Bar at the Follie Berge. Here I have shown the girl’s right arm with the rather disgusting looking creme de menthe bottle moved across as the displayed object. No idea where this is all going, but I have plans for the bowl of oranges next.
Just to remind you of the original.
I need to start looking at another artist, but it is true that if you try to carefully copy another artist’s work, you really start to see things you couldn’t notice before. These four small portraits will do for now.
The one of Berthe Morisot (top right) is by far the best. Also the quickest, taking less than an hour and no reworking at all. The soldier was very hard, and I still can’t figure out what is wrong with him. I have repainted the bar maid’s face completely, but she is still awkward. Olympia looks a little harsh. I have reworked her face two or three times and it is OK. Interestingly, my phone camera recognises Olympia and Berthe as faces, but not the other two. Not sure what a mark of quality that is.
I have always admired Manet’s paintings, although he did produce some rubbish. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day now and then. I need to improve my portraiture, so copying some of Manet’s is a good place to start. I learn more this way than I ever do from books.
First go is with the bar maid in the Folie Berge, which I have seen in London several times over the years. Sad looking girl. First stage is a rough charcoal sketch, which is then blocked in with thin acrylic.
Then it was a question of really trying to copy the colours and shapes as closely as possible.
I’m quite pleased, although I have got her whole head a bit elongated and she looks like she has been dribbling grape juice down her chin.
The whole picture would be more of a challenge…