New Ways of Seeing: Printmaking as an Introduction to University Part 4
By Mohammed Rahman, on 3 June 2020
This post is the fourth in a series on the Printmaking Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London. It focuses on the Chine-collé extension workshop which was added to the programme this year. It is written by Isobel Napier, Slade School of Fine Art graduate 2018.
Fine Art university courses demand a high level of autonomy and self-direction and this is a big change from project-based and carefully guided A-Level (or equivalent) courses. Communicating this helps school students gain an understanding of what an art degree/foundation course is like. After the success of our initial workshop, where we introduced students to the fundamentals of dry point etching, Taylor and I were keen to plan a follow-up workshop that would be less prescriptive, with a focus on pupils experimenting and working more independently. Printmaking encompasses a huge range of traditional techniques and our aim was to encourage students to investigate specific historical printmaking processes, to develop their own prints further.
Chine-collé is a very old method of adding colour to a print, by collaging delicate papers onto the printed surface. It’s a quick and immediate process that lends itself to experimentation. We provide traditional, coloured Japanese papers that are cut or torn into shapes, placed on top of the inked up plate, and run through the press. The final result doesn’t become clear until the exciting reveal, as the paper is slowly lifted off the press bed, and it’s notable that students particularly enjoyed these moments throughout the session (as did we!).
This technique does not alter the plate itself, so each print is unique, and provides an opportunity for radically different uses of the coloured paper, in each pull of the print. The application of the coloured paper is also not confined to the area of the plate, so students are able to spill over these bounds. We encourage them to think about using colour both literally and abstractly for this method. It’s very effective to highlight a particular piece of the image, by tracing and cutting the coloured paper to fill a specific shape, or choosing appropriate colours to suggest something such as areas of sky or land. However Taylor and I both get most excited when colour is used in a less illustrative way: areas of colour applied, at odds to the etched image. The work of Barry McGee, is our favourite example to show the group how Chine-collé can be used in these two contrasting ways, and the effects of each.
We’re really keen for students not to be precious about their original drawing, and fully surrender themselves to all the mess and possibilities of the printmaking process. The Chine-collé method is especially effective at moving focus away from concerns more associated with drawing, to the qualities and effects that are unique to printmaking. I was interested to find in my research into contemporary artists who used the technique that all of them were predominantly sculptors. It seems the technique suits those who enjoy materiality and process. We show these examples of the technique to the group, at the start of the workshop. An important point is made here: that printmaking is a great practice to develop alongside other modes of making, especially those that are less commercial, like large sculptures, installations or videos.
The best mode of instruction for this process is demonstration, which we get on with very quickly, then step back and let the group get going! Students test a number alternative approaches and in every workshop a student will use the technique in a way that we haven’t come across before. The levels of experimentation and imagination always inspire me and create a great atmosphere. The students show each other their tests, so they all benefit from the successes and failures. It also continually increases our understanding of the possibilities of this technique, that we then pass on to successive groups. The process is really fun and effective, and almost all students are obviously engaged and very much enjoying themselves, needing no encouragement to repeatedly return to the press. The most enthused students will often produce up to ten prints by the end of the workshop.
As the end approaches, we ask the students to look back at their test prints, thinking about what worked best, and decide which elements they would like to take forward into their final print. The delicate Chine-collé papers bond especially well to the high quality printmaking paper we use for these, and the final prints always make a gorgeous and compelling collection, which we lay out, and discuss briefly as a group.
I gain a lot from every follow-up workshop and I feel strongly that they are of great benefit to the students. Being able to revisit each group, and reinforce and develop the ideas we are putting across, means we are fully delivering the aims of the outreach programme.