Redefining Print : My personal experience.

Redefining Print Symposium

Just in case there is any confusion – this is my own personal response to Double Elephant’s project Redefining Print. I am not wearing my “Double Elephant hat” here, this isn’t the official line, this is just a reflection on how it was for me.

To give a bit of context: I feel very fortunate that I have colleagues at Double Elephant who are capable of putting together exciting projects for grant applications and actually win some of the bids for finance. This is an area that I am rubbish at. Double Elephant doesn’t always get awarded the grants that we might expect and sometimes gets awarded with grants that seemed a bit of a long-shot at the time. Redefining Print was/is a very ambitious project and has resulted in an exciting couple of years. The original proposal was put together by Catherine Cartwright and Claire McLaughlin. On being given the all clear by the Arts Council England, Simon Ripley stepped up to lead the project with all of Double Elephant’s directors having various roles in bringing it to fruition.

The two year project, Redefining Print, involved Double Elephant commissioning some mid-career non-printmaking (mostly performance based) artists to work alongside Double Elephant printmakers to create new works. By engaging with printmaking in the workshop they produced artwork suitable for editioning as well as creating new work in their own disciplines as a reaction and response to what they discovered about their interactions with printmaking.

The resulting outcomes of the project culminated in –

  1. an exhibition of the bursary artists work at the Exeter Phoenix;
  2. a box set of prints created alongside Double Elephant members;
  3. associated exhibitions in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter Central Library, Yard Gallery Exeter College and the Brook Gallery Budleigh Salterton
  4. a recording of international conversations about printmaking with Volkhardt Muller
  5. an extremely well attended one day symposium with 9 speakers and
  6. a presentation of films involving printmaking and animation with Joshua Gaunt of Workshops n’ Docs. Eg

My role during Redefining Print was mainly to help bring the bursary artists editionable prints into reality. From my perspective it was very interesting working with non-printmakers to create prints. Without having a history of working in a print room they were asking to do things that a “sensible” printmaker probably wouldn’t want to do.

Clare Thornton edition paper. Lynn Bailey
Clare Thornton

For example; to achieve Clare Thorntons edition I needed to work out how to print on folded paper. When you consider that the paper needed to be 7 thicknesses in one area and one, two or three thicknesses in others, you might realise that this would be challenging regarding setting the pressure on the press right. If that wasn’t enough, I found I needed to devise a folding template to get the folds the same for each print. It took me about 10 hours to fold the paper and then when printing the paper had to be unfolded to dampen, re-folded to print, unfolded again to press without tensions then refolded for presentation.

Mark Leahy

Mark Leahy’s print was challenging because he needed to print etching over the water-based screenprinted text. I have subsequently been informed by another printmaker that this isn’t possible. However, by using textile medium (tougher than the medium for paper) and dampening rather than soaking the paper it was actually possible – although the paper annoyingly expanded considerably more in one direction than another creating interesting registration issues. I was grateful that George Barron looked after the screenprint parts of these editions, I’m happier with intaglio.

Katy Connor

Bryony Gillard’s screenprint was relatively straightforward for George – he just needed to ensure that the merge of three colours was kept reasonably consistent. The intaglio print that I thought was going to be the easiest for me to edition turned out to be the biggest headache. Katy Connor presented me with a laser cut manganese plate. The nicely bitten in lines were easy to print crisply and the uncut areas of the plate had a very pleasing plate tone… Until after I had produced a few test proofs on different papers and varying tints and degrees of plate tone. Katy chose the tone and paper she liked and I put aside time to print the edition. Just a few prints in I discovered that a manganese plate is even softer than an aluminium plate and the action if inking, wiping and printing was polishing the surface to mirror like qualities. I resorted to texturising the surface every 6 prints by stamping the surface with emery paper in order to be able to hang on to any plate tone at all.

Only after editioning for the bursary artists was I able to attend to my own contribution to the box set of editioned prints – The Exeter Portfolio

Urban Apiary

My print for the Exeter Portfolio is created using a drypoint plate and a photo etching plate and is closely related to my Urban Bee work. The drypoint bees had to be deeply “etched” into the plate to ensure it lasted for a long enough print-run (30 prints for the box sets plus 15 for the artists to exchange with each other). This I printed warm brown with dabs of gold ink, plus a roll-over of blue fading to nothing. The photo etching is from my own photograph of where the rooftop bees are located in Princesshay (Exeter’s shopping centre). This is printed in a merge of intaglio colours.

After the editioning work, I could take a bit of a back seat until the Symposium.

The whole of Double Elephant’s team plus quite a few of the membership took various active roles in enabling the Symposium to be such a success. Jobs ranged from decking the stage with banners, looking after speakers, creating lunch bags, delegate packs, marshalling to ensuring that the Phoenix’s loos were a bit nicer than usual, etc…

My role was to document with photographs as well as I could in the dim lighting of the auditorium while keeping a constant stream going on Twitter, FaceBook and Instagram. I’m happy to say that no one using the #RedefiningPrint was left unanswered, retweeted or unacknowledged in some way.

Like the rest of the Double Elephant team, I was so intent on ensuring that my task was done, I couldn’t actually follow all the talks and presentations. So if you missed it too here’s the link keynote speech by commissioned writer Carolyn Black.

And here’s an interesting blog by Doug Burton, Programme leader for Creative arts and drawing, Open College of the Arts.

My colleague Paula Youens with workshop member Janet Sainsbury and Outreach Coordinator Fiona Lovell created some fab feedback posters which people enjoyed filling in.

If you were at the Symposium, or attended any of the associated exhibitions I really would like to hear what you thought of it all and what you got from the various speakers. I think there are a few questions that I would like to revisit with a few of the speakers. What about you?

Commissioned artists (links):

Katy Connor 

Bryony Gillard

Mark Leahy

Clare Thornton

Volkhardt Muller

Double Elephant portfolio artists (links):

Lynn Bailey

Virginia Bridge

Catherine Cartwright

Chowwai Cheung

Jess Davies

Claire Harper

Richard Hodgson

Cathy King

Alison Savic

Martin Staniforth

Speakers (links):

Carolyn Black

The 5 commissioned artists (See above for links)

Elizabeth Tomos

John Phillips

Mantie Lister – Bard of Exeter

Jo Stockham