Project 3: Two coloured masked mono prints

Project 3: Two coloured masked mono prints

I chose the subject for this project from the sketches done previously and particularly I chose a silhouette drawn from an old picture of mine.

I simplified the image trying to adapt it to the purpose, then I cut it.

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On my first attempt of printing I realised straight away that the picture’s details were too small so I changed subject, a face drawn with a continuous line.

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That was definitely a better choice as the colour could easily cover the large areas of my masks. Unfortunately the pencil I used to draw the mask was too soft so it got transferred onto the paper.

I had one more go with different colours.

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I was quite happy with the result, even though I am still adjusting the right amount of paint and its thickness, which I find very difficult to get right so far.

Variations using masks and multi-colours

Using the same mask, I printed this time in three different colours, trying to create an interesting effect by expressly getting the registration wrong.

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To get familiar with this process and loosen up my creativity, I tried printing overlapping colours and using simple geometrical masks cut and ripped quite freely.


I found the outcome quite interesting especially because it helped me to get a better idea of the ink’s thickness necessary to obtain certain effects.

Another experiment consisted in modifying the ink surface by using found objects: I used a kitchen cloth, some cling film, a make up brush, a garlic net, a T-shirt and my fingerprints.

On the first print I used some dark green leftover ink which I thought wasn’t really good for this purpose as the image resulted really confused.

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A better result came out using blue ink.

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I found it very difficult to represent a landscape in monoprinting and with textures, the main reason being the fact that printing by hand gives already a texture to the ink. It has been really difficult for me to achieve a readable image and very difficult to make the textures stand out.


In this example, I proceeded by layering the sky at first, using the back of a sponge to create some clouds. I then put a darker layer of blue and tapped a t-shirt on it to create a base for the sea. The darkest part of the sea has been layered later, with a palette knife and a sea sponge. For the cliff I used a dark brown first, rolling some pasta over it, and then repeated the process with a lighter brown, applied with a palette knife. The vegetation on top of the cliff has been applied with the palette knife and tapped with a sponge. I had problems in getting the quantity of ink right, as it seemed to me either not enough (making difficult to impress a mark in it) or too much (it was expanding in the process of printing, hiding the textures impressed in it).


The last step for this project consisted in back drawing.

I experimented first with white ink on black paper, trying to choose a subject with few lines. The first print has been done drawing on the back of the paper with a stick which produced an interesting thick line.

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A second print has been done with a simple ball point pen. I found it way easier and the line produced more versatile.

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The next print has been done in the same way, just changing colour and paper.

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I also tried to repeat it using a more diluted ink, but I think the outcome here is quite confusing, even though the line looks soft and expressive.

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I tried back drawing with three different colours. I used the design that didn’t work for the negative and positive masks prints, which in this case worked very well.

I first drawn the main figure in red, then proceeded with a light blue background and lastly using bordeaux to make the figure stand out.

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Finally I tried drawing from life, using the back drawing technique. The only place available to work at this experiment was next to the window, so I took an impression of the view.

I tried keep the drawing quite loose and free. The print came out quite clear, even though the ink has overlapped in some areas. Also the darkest green ink used for the trees was too liquid so it moved on the sides of the lines, producing a white space.

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Summing up this project, I have gone through different difficulties and made quite a lot of mistakes, but all of it helped a lot to get a better confidence with the process of monoprinting and to get my creativity stimulated by using processes completely new to me.

Research point

Researching about back drawing I found very interesting results in prints from Paul Klee, Tracey Emin and Richard Downs. by simply observing some of the images, I found that while Richard Downs’ prints seem to be a little more ‘planned’, probably because of his illustration background, the Paul Klee and Tracey Emin’s ones look more ‘instinctively made’. In all cases the lines are very expressive and warm and that is my favourite aspect about back drawing. What I am learning from these artists is too experiment using the lines more freely and just take advantage of the fact that the technique itself adds character to the final result.

Paul Klee
Richard Downs
Tracey Emin
Project 2: Positive and negative masked mono prints

Project 2: Positive and negative masked mono prints

The design I chose for this exercise has been modified from a picture of a real fox. I sketched some images first and then copied the fox onto light newsprint, before proceeding with carefully cutting it out.


I then mixed the ink and I rolled it onto the glass plate, trying to obtain an even coloured layer. I placed the mask onto the plate and then printed off on simple cartridge paper. I was really pleased as my first attempt came out quite clear, even though I used water based inks, the process was quick enough to produce an interesting result.

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I took a second impression from the plate, which is really faded, and then I removed the mask to take a third impression, also very confused.

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After that, I started working with the positive image cut out from the mask, this time with a dark colour. I inked the plate, placed the cut out onto it and printed off. A very interesting effect was produced by the contrast between the dark background and the light silhouette, as it looked exactly as a fox that has just been spotted in the middle of the night.

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I was not careful enough in printing the bottom of the image, so the second impression lifted more ink from that area.

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But the most interesting result of all was obtained by printing a third time, after the cut out silhouette was removed. The figure is here defined by a blurred edge which I find really interesting.

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I worked at this exercise with a second subject and obtaining the masks from tracing paper, rather than newsprint. When printing off the first time, from the negative mask, I realised straight away that it was a little too rich in small details, despite the simple design.

Also the ink felt weak, maybe because of the light colour chosen, so the second print was taken straight after lifting off the mask. The result is actually more interesting than the first one, but there are some imperfections due to the mask being creased under pressure.

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Using tracing paper seemed to me a wonderful idea until I realised it got all curled up, didn’t really stick to the ink and also was too thick for the purpose. However, I kept going with the positive mask: the first print turned out to be very bad, as I couldn’t get any detail.

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The ink looked again to weak for a second impression, so I jumped to print after lifting off the silhouette and that is where I got the best result. The details are quite defined and at the same time the blurry appearance matches with the subject.

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I had a second go using the same masks but trying to use acrylics instead of printing inks. Unfortunately it didn’t work at all. The colour dried up in no time leaving just a faint impression of the image and the masks kept curling up, making the process quite difficult and messy.

I was quite frustrated by those experiments, but I definitely learned a lot from all the mistakes I made and discovered new interesting effects and textures.

Research point

I think Matisse’s Blue Nudes power lies in the ability of the artist depicting the subject in few sinuous lines. During the process I realised how difficult was to simplify an image and make it recognisable. I kept it simple by choosing to represent the subjects from a side view, but Matisse’s point of views keep the images vibrant and with a sense of tridimensionality.

Project 1: Your first monoprints

Project 1: Your first monoprints

Experiments in mark making and painted plates

In this first project of Printmaking 1 course, I started exploring how monoprints work.

The relief printing inks I used are quite cheap and water based; I used red, blue and yellow for these experiments and obtained other hues by mixing them.

In the first mark making exercise I realised how quickly the colours were drying, so I had to try my best to be quite fast, as I could not add much water.

I used different kind of brushes and also a small palette knife to spread the colours on the glass, finally used ordinary cartridge paper to lift the ink off the plate.

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I have to say the most interesting part came when I started to mix the colours. By then I also started to gain confidence with the medium and tried to spread a background colour rather than just making marks.

When painting over the background, the colour looked like moving rather than mixing. The palette knife point dragged through the ink also moved it to the sides, exposing the plain glass.

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Considering that I had never tried mono printing before this was a very useful experiment to explore new techniques and effects and to start becoming familiar and confident with them.

Research point: Monoprints by Edgar Degas

I looked at Degas work with monoprints and actually realised how interesting is his approach to printmaking.

He was working on etched plates, modifying each single print by manipulating the ink and adding other mediums over the finished prints. What he was actually producing were monotypes.
The freedom in the approach is definitely what I can learn from Degas and his printed works. We are often scared by the ghost of perfection, mostly trying to do things following the rules, without realising how imperfection and experimentation produces far more interesting results.

Painted monoprint from life

I worked on a still life choosing two very simple objects, I placed them in different ways and sketched them a couple of times.

I then started with inking the plate. I found it quite hard in the first place to depict something onto glass with quite fluid colours, trying to make it recognisable and at the same time trying to work quickly.

The first print I pulled off was in fact quite a disaster. I found interesting the brush strokes in the depiction of the objects, but the overall impression is quite confused, due to the colours being exposed to the air for to long.

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In my second attempt I tried working faster and adding a bigger quantity of colour on the plate. I also fixed the paper to the plate, so that I could work a second time on the areas that where less clear, by adding more colour. It definitely worked better, but I realised that the confused impression was also due to a poor choice in matching the colours, so I decided to try again, using a light background.

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My third and last attempt worked definitely better, the image is more recognisable and at the same time it present interesting textures. Changing the orientation from portrait to landscape also helped to get a better overall impression.

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I am satisfied with the last result, considering how poor was my confidence at the beginning. However I am definitely considering to get to work with some oil based inks, for richer textures and longer time span to work on more complicated figures.

Assignment Five: Seven days

Assignment Five: Seven days

Part one: Pre – work

I begun working on the fifth and final assignment by brainstorming on the theme given, Seven days. The first ideas where in connection with the names of the days of the week, in particular with planets and deities of the ancient greek/roman heritage. To expand the possibilities, I searched the net. In this way I found several connections regarding the number seven and wrote down the ones that interested me.

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After thinking of possibilities to illustrate the various themes, I was still intrigued by the two initial ideas, so I started making thumbnails.

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For the connection between days/planets, I thought of a character who is visiting a planet per day, absurdly going through a series of consequences given by the various atmospheres he encounters on each of them.
For the theme days/deities, I thought of a character behaving everyday like the gods and goddess of the ancient times. Particularly I thought to adapt modern actions to the ancient gods features and characteristics.
At this point I made a little survey involving some of my friends and relatives: what would have been more interesting between the two options?

Pretty much everyone preferred the one planet a day – option, so I carried on that path.

Now was the time to write a brief, the idea was still very vague and I needed directions:

Brief : Seven days up in space

Summary : to illustrate a children’s book, for early readers (aged 5-7 years), entitled Seven days up in space.
The story must be summed up in 7 main illustrations regarding a character spending one day on each planet connected to the days of the week, and experiencing the consequences of the various atmospheric conditions.
Four additional illustrations are required, two opening and two closing the story.
The book wants to educate a child to appreciate his/her life as it is and to enjoy the pleasures and the bad sides of discovery, that gives precious opportunities, teaching us lessons that will always be part of our path.

Story : The text on which we would like the illustrations to be based on is the following. The spaces indicate the rhythm of the story, where the pages turn.

It was a lazy day for Ivan.
He spent the whole day wondering what to do.
The programs on TV where the same as always and he didn’t even fancy going out to play with his friends.
Suddenly he had a brilliant idea.
“I will go for a week holiday!” he thought, excited.
He took his helmet and his rocket-boots and he left, to explore space.
It was Monday when he stopped on the Moon. He spent the whole day jumping and floating but when he didn’t find any cheese, he got bored and flew away.
He arrived on Mars on Tuesday. He was sure he would have met new and interesting looking friends.
Fortunately he brought along his space goggles, because all he found there was a storm of reddish dust.
On Wednesday he headed to Mercury. They told him it was the best spot from where he could admire the sun and enjoy its warm wind…maybe a little too warm!
Thursday was the day for Jupiter. Unfortunately it was quite foggy over there.
So he travelled to Venus on Friday and the weather was so hot there that he melted under some weirdly green clouds.
To recover from the heat he decided to go to Saturn on Saturday. He heard that an amazing ice rink was surrounding the planet. And here he was, skating all day long.
But ops! He felt a little frozen after that. “ I am going to sunbathe now”, he thought on Sunday, travelling to the Sun.
After a while he realised he was just getting burned. “I forgot the lotion!”, he exclaimed sadly. He decided to go home then, back on planet Earth. After all, he started to miss that place…
And there he was. Seven days was gone and the journey had its ups and downs. “You appreciate what you have only when you miss it”, he said to himself smiling.

Format: The book will be composed of 24 pages in total, 22 illustrated plus 2 free pages opening and closing the book. the first page will be blank and the last one will be featuring the words ‘The end’. The final reproduction size will be on a square format of 8 inches by 8. You can work at a smaller (minimum of 4’’x4’’) or bigger proportional size.

Text: As a general guidance, the text will be positioned on the left pages, meaning the illustrations have to be centred on the right side, with few details on the left.

Colour restrictions: The illustrations have to be in full colours.

Part two: Working on the brief

Having my brief ready and a draft of an idea, I started the hard work.
First thing was thumb – nailing all the pages to se how the story worked (the text, which I had to write by myself, was actually adjusted on the way, the final version being the one used in the brief).


I quickly sketched the images, this time in a bigger version and considering left and right page as a continuos flow.

At this point I started painting. I worked in a smaller square format (5’’ 1/4’ x 5’’ 1/4’) so that I could adapt both left and right page in an A4 sheet. In this way was a lot easier to work, considering that I don’t have much space and also considering an easier scanning and posting process.

I produced a total of eleven illustrations, seven of them being at the core of the book. I used watercolours, gouache, indian ink, fine liners and pastels.

I then digitise them and inserted the text.


As a final stage I created a cover and then printed the images out to produce a mock up in a smaller version, to see how everything would have worked.

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Unfortunately, even though I love bookbinding and I have some skills, the lack of tools made it really hard to produce a well made mock up. The quality of the print is quite poor (I also had some issue with printing at the same size from different documents!) and the glueing process was quite messy, yet I think the outcome serves its aim of showing how the story is visually working.

I really enjoyed this work and I am proud of the outcome, even if I can spot some technical mistakes. I am obviously not a writer, so I tried to keep things simple, but I am really satisfied with my illustrations. Particularly, I think the best one is the one I have done for the last page, and which required advice from my relatives and friends once again.
I was in fact carrying on with a first version of it, when I realise how stuck it was. I didn’t like it.

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The scene looked really empty and boring. It really needed a twist.

So I stopped and sketched more alternative versions, thinking I had to change point of view, which is the same for the whole story.

I made a small survey and asked for advice. Thanks particularly to my brother’s suggestions, I came up with the final version.

The character is standing in front of his home door, he just came back from his journey. The sky is fusing with the door, meaning that he will always carry that experience with him. His simple expression is pure happiness for two reasons: on one side he is now appreciating what life is offering him and on the other hand he enjoyed the journey, even though not perfect.
The perspective is aerial and slanted which I think creates so much dynamism to make me imagine how everything is moving and also make the viewer literally fall in the image.

Seeing my result made me realise how much the other illustrations are more static, but how much those mistakes where necessary to that process that definitely lead me to learn.

Exercise: Educational strip

Exercise: Educational strip

What’s happening to my body? It is all going mad!
This is the title of an educational leaflet for which we are asked to produce an illustrated strip by this exercise.
I started by researching on puberty, reading some articles and watching some videos, which revealed to be very useful specially to understand what language to use to communicate with an early teenager or even pre- teen, in the best way.
My first idea was to compare puberty to a caterpillar metamorphosis, so I also researched a little on this process. I used thumbnails to explore hypothetical frames, but I was not satisfied so I passed onto a more simple idea of showing the effects of puberty on the body. I chose to work on a female perspective and I sketched some frames in thumbnails. I really wanted the effects to pop out of the frame, using it to focus on the parts of the body involved in the transformation, but I thought it was looking quite boring, specially thinking of what my audience would have been.
So another idea came, to use the body as a frame. I thought of five steps in the development of the female body through puberty. It is a succession of images connected between each other – like those paper garlands everyone has cut in their childhood – following the growth of this young girl to her adulthood. I shaped the bodies in a simple way, describing some of the aspects of puberty on each of them.
I used watercolours and fine liner to complete the piece.
The original idea was to create a leaflet shaped as the body, so that the text would be contained in the image.

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But then I tried working on the finished image in digital, quickly mocking up a simple little brochure. I imagined it accordion-folded in five pages, the first one being in the front. I wrote a brief text for each phase, trying to be playful and to introduce the issue in an easy and relaxed way.


I also tried to cut the image just like a paper garland and even though it is quite funny and interesting (for example could be very nice to draw the back of the bodies as well), I thought it would be quite hard to insert a text, as the space is not really much and would be disturbing a smooth reading of the images.

I am very satisfied with the outcome, particularly for the nature of the idea. I think the problem is presented in a way that would attract the attention of the audience for which it is intended.
I am also quite satisfied with the technical outcome, even though I felt the outlines a little to heavy marked. I had a few problems with the printing, has the image of the brochure came out cut on one side and the definition of the image was very poor. Was also a quite bad idea to colour the edges of the garland in black, it was much better with the light background or none. I enjoyed the experimenting though, it was very useful to understand how the imagine actually worked.

Exercise: Working with children

Exercise: Working with children

When I was a kid I remember being terrified by an image from the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. It was hunting me at the point that I used to keep that particular page always far away from my eyes, turning the book and keeping distance from it. Only now I realise how much an image can affect a kid.  I could say that images are not only a media between text and reality, they can be alive through imagination, and this is a great power kids are capable of.
However, as an images lover, illustrations and visual products in general still have a great impact on me.

I visited my local library to get more familiar with children illustration, which has evolved quite fast since I was a kid, obviously giving space to digital images.
I could distinguish the five main categories given by the exercise brief:
The first is the one of the patterns, simple shapes, textures and colours, clearly for the youngest.

A second category sees the introduction of characters, simple drawings, still featuring textures and bold colours but accompanied by a simple text, often teaching some very basic lessons like numbers, the names of colours and so on. Very often the brief stories contained in those books are moral lessons.

With the third category the illustrations start to be more articulated, more detailed and more accurate, with shading and with a larger variety of colours. The text is also much more detailed, taking the shape of proper tales.

A fourth category sees a more mature approach to the images, which are giving more and more space to the text, now completely mature, only different in subjects from the adult one.

For the category older age groups I think the main illustrated subject becomes the comic book and the graphic novel.

I thought it was not always simple to distinguish the categories, and also I think the impact the illustration is having,  really depends from the personality of a kid (If I think that I was very interested in some of the books it really makes the theory just a theory!).

I chose to work on the preschool category and on the established reader one.
I brainstormed on some of the words given by the exercise and then chose the ones which inspired me the most.

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I matched a couple of animals per category and then combined them with the chosen word, recording some ideas in thumbnails.

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In the end I selected two images: An elephant walking on a very poorly stable bridge, symbolising the word journey and a angry wolf patrolling the forest at night, for the word scary.

I used a different approach for the two images.

The preschool images is treated in a less realistic way, not only in the shapes but even the action is practically impossible. I think to make the characteristic really extreme in this case conveys the message: a journey might be not always easy and pleasant, it can be really dangerous, but it is always going to bring you to something good.

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The established reader image features a more realistic situation, even though the colours are probably not responding to reality.

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I am satisfied with the outcomes, I think they are communicating what they are suppose to. However, regarding the technique, I believe the wolf illustration is better than the first one.

I think colours have a huge impact on children, far bigger than the one they can have on an adult.
I don’t think it is correct to generalise and think that full colour is always the right approach with kids. I think even monochrome can have a major impact of them, influencing their mood. To conclude, I believe the combination of colours is far more important than the variety.


Exercise: Packaging

Exercise: Packaging

It was quite fun to work on packaging illustrations, maybe even more because it involved extinct animals, which lead me to a very interesting research.
The brief asked illustrations for three different flavoured biscuits, raisin, choc chip and ginger.
It had to include extinct animals interacting with the biscuits and to be in full colour.

The first step was researching about the existing products: I noticed packaging targeted for kids are often featuring animals and are really playful, which I think demonstrates how pester power is the key in the success of those products. The only thing that is probably really attracting parents to buy them is when nutritional information are displayed, and particularly the ones relative to the supplements for healthy growth of their kids.

After observing different packagings, even through internet, I started researching on the animals.
Obviously I was dragged straight away to the thought of dinosaurs, but I decided to focus my research on other extinct animals, the ones few people know about, the ones who where relatively recently lost for ever.
The research started to make sense when I found out about a book, Cari estinti by the Italian author Arianna Papini.
I managed to see some of the illustrations of this beautiful children book and thought it was amazingly inspiring and at the same time extremely useful to my research.
I managed to list all the animals featured in the book and went on trying to find images.

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In the end I chose three animals, from three different habitats ( there is a marsupial, a bird and a cetacean). The Tasmanian tiger, also known as thylacine, was a carnivorous marsupial extinct in the 1936.
I managed to watch a video taken of this beautiful animal and I was really impressed by its elongated enormous jaw, that looks like changing shape from when its closed, similar to a dog one, to when it is wide open.
The Baiji dolphin was a freshwater cetacean, only peculiar of the Chinese river Yangtze. It features a really long and narrow mouth and its fins look shorter than a regular dolphin.
Even thought not declared extinct, the last exemplar of this specie was seen in 2002.
The Great Auk was a flightless bird and was the first one defined as a penguin. It was found in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Ireland, Great Britain and even northern Spain. It went extinct in 1852.
Before sketching I thought to match each animal to the colour palette of the flavours. Particularly I chose the yellow/ochra Tasmanian tiger to go with the purple raisins; the grey/blue Baiji dolphin with the light yellow and ochre ginger; finally the black/white Great Auk with the reddish brown chocolate.

I started to sketch after recording few ideas in thumbnails and I created line visuals.

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I then decided to colour my line drawing with gouache and picked the Tasmanian tiger and the Great auk. I tried a quick mock up with both a hand drawn font and a digital one.

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I loved the outcomes, even though I think the Tasmanian tiger purple background looks a bit uneven, due to the fact that I just recently started off with gouaches after long time not using them.
I think in this case the digital fonts is more successful, looking sharper than the hand drawn one, even though this is also due to the tone chosen for each one.