I learned a little more about printmaking at a brilliant free class ‘Modern Masters Printmaking Masterclass’ at The McManus last weekend. Local artist and printmaker Scott Hudson started by discussing the process of etching – both traditional and current. Then gave us a demonstration of drypoint etching on card – a technique that is similar to etching on metal or engraving – but much more simple and more direct.
We then went to explore The Modern Masters in Print exhibition. This exhibition is touring from The Victoria and Albert Museum, London and showcases the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Andy Warhol. I did some of the marketing for this exhibition and had previously visited it on a number of occasions. I knew I liked the diverse nature of work explored in the 50 prints on display, I liked that it gave insights into the way printmaking influenced these great artists during their long careers (which collectively spanned a 75 year period) and I loved the detail that was captured in some of the prints.
However, on this quick specialised tour – as we walked round Scott encouraged us to ask questions about the printmaking techniques. Something I had not considered in such detail on my previous visits. Therefore, this visit was spent exploring the techniques each artist had employed – with detailed explanations of the process of these techniques. I gained a new understanding of how Picasso may have etched such impressive detail into prints such as ‘Le Repas Frugal’, a new appreciation of the soft quality and texture in Picasso’s ‘Le Cirque’ and Matisse’s ‘Nu assis de dos’ prints that would have originally been grinded into limestone using the lithography technique and I marvelled at the multiple colours in Dali’s ‘Paris’ and ‘Normandie’ prints that as a traditional offset Lithograph I imagined must have been created using a taxing series of layers.
It was definitely an inspiration, and whilst I had no aspirations of reaching their level of ability when we headed back into the creative learning to suite to get crafting, I certainly did feel inspired. I was keen to get my hands dirty and test something, so I started with a very simple print where I was mostly interested in testing how the different marks I made in the card would come out in ink. So I cross hatched, I cut squares, I scribbled, I applied Chine-collé and I scratched with sand paper to make a vague representation of buildings. Then it was time to ink up, so I applied ink (perhaps slightly generously) then proceeded to wipe away most of it, before sticking it in the printing press and turning the magic lever. Then voila – my first etched print was born.
For my second print I dashed round the museum quickly for inspiration – sketching the curved roof in the Victoria Gallery, the straight lines of the spiral staircase and a model aeroplane. I decided to create something abstract with these shapes and just merged them all into one a4 page that was ultimately a further exploration of how the ink would show up different textures. A success.
I think it is important not to forget the value of creative learning classes like these. I know learning and education have been embedded in museum and gallery settings for a long time. However, it is important to remember how they offer visitors a brilliant chance to engage with the exhibitions, and local artists in a dynamic and exciting way. It is always great to learn more about the history and context of work, but this additional understanding of the process of creation is of equal importance and means that the simple words on a museum label (etching, lithography, screenprint, woodcut, linocut) gain a new relevance when looking at pieces of art. Particularly useful if you don’t have a background in printmaking or an art education.
Words & Images © Hazel Saunderson