Photo by lawriebarton.com
Hello! I am very happy to be back with another Printmaker Profile. Our featured artist this time is Diane McLellan, who joined Southbank Printmakers in April 2021. Diane’s work includes photopolymer etching, lithography and cyanotype. For this home studio visit, Diane gives us a detailed demonstration of polyester plate lithography, a fast, flexible and unpredictable process.
'Winter Sun', Photo-polymer etching
Diane also prints at Richmond Art School, (above) but says ‘Working in my home studio is perhaps more immersive as I am not under any time constraints. I like having everything around me and being able to just step into the studio, cup of coffee in hand, without leaving the house - which was very handy in lockdown. ‘
Diane in her loft studio
Diane is from Leeds. She spent ‘four fabulous years’ at Aberystwyth, one of only two universities offering a joint honours degree in Art and English. After a year, English fell by the wayside as the art took over. The course covered a broad range of disciplines, so Diane was able to study illustration, painting, sculpture and printmaking.
The fourth year was a certificate in education, after which Diane headed for London. It soon became apparent that she was not destined to be a teacher. So she found work in pubs, and in an art shop in Covent Garden. Diane would size up customers, enquire what they did for a living and then ask them for a job. This led to unpaid work with a pair of computer animators who were working on MAX HEADROOM, a satirical animation series for Channel 4.
‘They worked in a basement just off the edge of Covent Garden. It was full of people starting out in computer animation who never slept, or woke up with ‘qwertyuiop’ written on their foreheads’.
Diane was working three jobs, but it led to paid employment in television post-production, and eventually to work as a graphic designer for ITV.
Working in an intense, creative industry with tight deadlines, not to mention raising a small child, it wasn’t possible to pursue another creative activity, but eventually Diane was able to take up painting again. The loft morphed from a hangout room for her son into her studio. When she signed up for a printmaking course at Richmond Art School and encountered lithography, she was hooked.
Diane uses her camera phone as a sketchbook. Visual ideas
come to her while working on her laptop, rather than by drawing. She thinks that some of her work reveals the
influence of her previous work on moving pictures. She is interested in ‘stolen moments’; occasionally, images
are taken from still frames in a sequence of moving images.
Diane also conceives an image from the outset in terms of layers or levels. Working in imaging software and printmaking share this approach, so for Diane this was a particularly easy transition.
'Driving Home' original photograph and three plates for print layers
Lockdown has led to a painterly element coming back into Diane’s work. She acquired a small press and started to combine painting or monotype with lithography. She has a very loose approach to inking up, using rollers and palette knives. Typically, when printing a series with monotype backgrounds, a graduated ink roll out evolves with each print. Sometimes the monotype layers come first, followed by a lithograph layer, as in DRIVING HOME, which was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2020. In other prints, she might print the lithograph layers then add a monotype layer, or some hand painting.
POLYESTER PLATE LITHOGRAPHY - DEMONSTRATION
Diane explains the process. ‘Lithography is based on the immiscibility of oil and water. It can be done on all sorts of surfaces - traditionally stone. The water repels the ink from the background so it just remains where the print design is. Polyester litho paper is a flexible sheet onto which you can draw or print an image, using sharpies, crayons, biro or a printer. It is then washed with a gum arabic and citric acid mix before being inked up with relief ink and printed. It’s very quick, adaptable and low-tech. ‘
Diane begins with a hand-drawn image. She draws on the plate with Sharpies, a biro and oil pastels. Ordinary wax crayons and lithographic crayons also work. The drawing needs to be a flipped version of the intended image.
The plate is soaked in a solution of mainly water, with a splash of gum arabic, to help the water adhere to the plate, and a dash of citric acid to avoid scumming.
Plates can stay in the bath for up to a week, but must not be allowed to dry out.
Diane rolls out a dark oil-based relief ink, and inks up the wet plate, using a sponge soaked in the water mix to soak up excess and remove unwanted marks.
Diane lowers the plate onto Somerset Satin paper, covers it with tissue and runs it through the press.
The result is a print with a beautifully granular quality to the line drawing.
Diane has painted into another version of this print with watercolour, creating a delicate, charming image which shows her love of children’s book illustrations.
This process also works with images printed onto to the plate with an inkjet printer. The secret is to ‘cure’ the plate after printing by putting it in a very low temperature oven for about 3-4 minutes.
In fact curing is often advised for hand-drawn plates, to harden up marks created with softer media such as crayons. Care needs to be taken to set the oven at the minimum necessary temperature.
For the next image, two plates are printed in high contrast with dense blacks; a positive for the tree layer, and a negative (inverted image) for the coloured background layer.
Diane uses rollers and palette knives to roll out a black ink and a graded colour wash for the background.
She inks up the inverted image with the graded wash and prints the colour layer.
I ask Diane what the drying time is between layers, wondering if she has one she prepared earlier. ‘I print again instantly. I like the blurring effect you get when you print wet in wet’. Diane inks up the positive plate with a dark ink, and registers it by hand against the coloured print and prints.
As is often the case, the first print is not quite there yet – areas of colour are missing and Diane decides she doesn’t want the clouds to be too dark. This process does require a few prints before the plate starts to print out really well. Diane blends and softens the graded wash, so that the sky colour is lighter, and prints again. This looks fine, so using a narrow roller she inks up the clouds in red and prints again.
It is getting there, with more areas of the plate printing well, but Diane feels she needs to clean the plate and ink up again afresh to improve the image further. The speed of the process allows for this developmental approach.
This is the beautiful end result, with a little additional watercolour added by hand.
It is easy to see why Diane was hooked – it is a wonderful way of combining photographic, drawn and painted elements in a print. And as she says, it is very low tech. Diane has even demonstrated this technique using a pasta machine as a press!
Since joining SBP Diane has exhibited with the group at the
Oxo Tower on London’s Southbank and in
2022 she will be again joining fellow member June Corpuz to run Southbank
Printmakers’ popular Mini-Print
Her own work can be seen together with all our members’, on the Southbank Printmakers’ website, on her own site, and also on Artfinder.