It really is something completely different for this member’s profile, which illustrates the wide range of techniques encompassed by contemporary printmaking. I am excited about the prospect ahead of me as I stroll up through the leafy avenues of North London on a late summer morning to visit Rebecca Denton in her home studio. She has agreed to let me watch her create one of her glorious monotypes of London’s Lidos. Rebecca swims at the Parliament Hill Lido, on Hampstead Heath nearly every day, and occasionally at the Ladies’ Pond so these are subjects she knows intimately. Her chosen technique suits them well, as this lovely example shows.
|Ladies' Pond II |
She says ‘I love the monotype technique for its painterly
qualities, the textures and light effects I can create. There’s also a need to
work quickly, before the ink dries, resulting in a unique energy. Although at
times frustrating, I also enjoy its unpredictability. I also like the fact I’m
creating a single unique piece.
Monotypes don’t always work out… it’s not possible to do a test print or
fix a mistake; you only have one go at it. You can’t come back to it the next
day as you might an oil painting.’
Monoprint - or monotype - is a varied and flexible
technique. As someone who makes monoprints in a series of printed layers, with
the opportunity to amend with further marks, I have long been intrigued by
Rebecca‘s work. The prints are very loose and look as though they have been
done all in one pass, like an alla prima painting - and yet they are so
perfectly accomplished. And it turns out that this is exactly what they are,
and what she does.
In essence, Rebecca makes a back-to-front painting with lithographic inks on a sheet of smooth Plexiglass, in a single session of up to five hours, and then puts it through her press. It’s as simple as that!
Rebecca has a Gunning Etching press from Ironbridge Printmakers, and prints on dampened Somerset Velvet 300 gsm paper, a robust paper with a slightly textured surface.
It’s an exacting technique, and as she sets up to begin work, Rebecca says, ‘I have to be sure of what I’m doing before I even start’. So on the day she’s going to print, she first makes compositional, tonal and colour sketches, and then a flipped version, to guide her as she makes the print.
These are all very small and none of them are enlarged to use as a full sized guide under the plate. It is all done freehand with quick glances at the sketches now and then to make sure proportions and perspective are correct, with occasional marks made for key compositional elements.
Rebecca has sketched the main aspects of the subject; the pool, the buildings, the surrounding foliage and sky. The angle of view and in particular, the direction and quality of the light are important to her, and she commits to them at this stage. This emphasis bears fruit in the light effects she achieves in her finished prints. The positioning and details of the figures comes later as she is painting. So the process is a combination of careful preparation and free-flowing execution.
What makes this possible is the fact that Rebecca already knows her subject so well. When she goes for a swim, she takes along a sketchbook and draws both the setting and the figures within it. These drawings and her visual memory free her up to work swiftly and fluently.
But obviously, there is rather more to it than this.
Rebecca studied languages at university then Performing Arts at the Guildford School of Acting. She lived in Budapest in the mid-nineties (her mother’s homeland), where she sang cabaret and featured in two Disney movies. During this time she also studied drawing and painting. For a while Rebecca had her own greetings card company, and worked in illustration. A little later, she attended life drawing classes with Estelle Lovett at the Hampstead School of Art, and it was there that she discovered first of all etching - her other main medium - and monoprint.
Rebecca became a member of the UK Printmakers Council and heard about the Southbank Printmakers Gallery. She submitted her portfolio and has now been a member for seven years.
So in her process, which is quite performative, and involves both a high level of technical accomplishment and the ability to improvise freely on the spot, Rebecca is drawing both on a formal art education and a wide range of creative experiences.
There is also obviously quite a high risk of things going wrong at a relatively late stage, and if Rebecca decides it’s really not working, she wipes it all down, goes away for a break and then starts again. Thankfully, she says that doesn’t seem to happen too often, but I wonder if it isn’t rather upsetting after putting in several hours’ concentrated work. ‘I go away for a bit, and sometimes I have a biscuit’ she responds drily.
By now Rebecca knows which colours work for her in capturing her subject, and keeps to a limited palette. She uses etching and lithographic inks. Favourites for her Lido monoprints are Process Blue, cyan, turquoise, a little cobalt, white, yellow, ochre, ruby red and sepia.
A range of tools are used: rollers, brushes, small pieces of mountboard, the end of a feather, pieces of rolled up scrim and cotton buds.
Once she has everything ready, Rebecca works from top to bottom, laying down broad areas of ink. On this occasion, she has chosen an evening light, and the colours are fairly warm. She begins with the sky, laying the ink down with a piece of mountboard, and uses both the card and a piece of scrim to work into the ink to create textures. Working top to bottom allows her to avoid smudging.
The edge of the versatile card is used to draw a treeline into the sky, and then Rebecca rolls on more of the same blue for the water, which is reflecting the sky.
Next, greens are added, and blended with a cotton bud to establish the background foliage.
Now Rebecca pauses and makes a few small marks in the ink before drawing in the perspectival lines for the edges of the pool.
She then lays in another key area of colour in the top section of the image – the swimming pool buildings - using ruby red and ochre.
Rebecca uses a brush to paint in some shadows on the buildings and then she turns from working additively to working subtractively – removing ink from the plate with the end of a feather, which makes a more delicate mark than a cotton bud or brush end.
She marks in the positions of doors, windows and a fountain. She needs to lift out the initial application of ink from these areas before painting these details in, as whatever colour Is laid down first will obscure any ink laid over subsequently. Sometimes though she leaves just a little of the initial colour if she wants a little bit of blending.
Rebecca now moves on to painting in these details in the upper section, before moving on to the broader areas of colour in the lower section – the water and pool surround.
By this stage, it is very clear why she works in this way – if she worked across the image from the outset, one inadvertent swipe of a shirtsleeve could destroy a couple of hours’ work.
For the broad areas of water, Rebecca uses first a large broad roller, and then a narrow roller for darker toned areas suggesting movement in the water and shadows.
Finally it is time to use a brush to paint in the finer details in the lower section of the print– ripples, shadows, and the swimmers. Rebecca refers back to her lively sketches as inspiration and reference.
And at last it is time to lay the plate on the press bed, cover it with the dampened paper, and run it through the press.
The result is a stunning, atmospheric print, created in a single day.
I am amazed that Rebecca can do this at all, let alone, as on this occasion, while talking me through the process and answering my questions. For someone who claims to be not very good at multi-tasking, it is quite an achievement and I really appreciate her giving us this insight into her work.
You can see more of Rebecca’s work on the Southbank Printmakers Website, alongside all our members,
and also in our online shop,
You can of course also see her work at our gallery in Gabriel’s Wharf on London’s Southbank near the Oxo Tower.
Rebecca has two upcoming exhibitions. ‘London in Colour’ is a group show with North London Printmakers at Citizens Art London Gallery, Blue House Yard, N22, 20th September – 9th October.
And opening in October, she has a solo show of monotypes and etchings at Kalendar, a brasserie with a gallery space in Swains Lane, Highgate, London N6. 15th October – 5th January.