Here’s a work in progress of my latest foam plate. Sometimes you need go no further than your chair for inspiration. At a loss for ideas (I actually spend most of my time in that fog) I shifted my gaze away from the blank page and stared off into the middle distance. Luckilly, at this time of the year, my favourite clematis is in full bloom and sight, having climbed up the veranda rail, with a bit of help (see the yarn in the top left of the pic below)
It’s my favourite clematis for a number of reasons; it’s big, it’s bold, it’s blue, and it has a green anemone centre. It looks like aliens have landed.
So squinting and staring, I went ahead and sketched it in big bold lines to capture its essence. My distance vision isn’t perfect, and somehow sitting outside beside it to sketch felt like cheating (sitting outside is my reward for a days work), I reached for my binoculars just to check up on a few details.
Transferring the sketch onto the fragile foam was the next challenge. I like the orientation of the original image, so I definitely needed it reversed as a relief block. For linocuts, this step is easy. You just lay the sketch face down onto the linoleum surface and rub the back of the page. I tried this, but saw no results. For my next attempt, I lay a graphite sheet (paper that has been thoroughly coated in graphite/pencil for tracing images) face down between the foam plate and the sketch, and drew/inscribed onto the back of the page. This left indentations on the foam, and huge swath of image obscuring smudges.
Back to the drawing board. Literally. I used my graphite stick (shown) and drew over and deepened the pencil. (a graphite stick like a pencil that is all lead and no wood)
I tried step one again on a fresh sheet of foam, laying my work face down once again, and rubbing with fingers and checking to see if there was any kind of visible image. Success! sort of. The image was barely visible, so I used a yellow highlighter to redraw the lines. I use yellow or light colour, as I will be using a pen to inscribe the negative spaces.
Since my transferred image was reversed, I needed to reverse my sketch to use as a reference.
Enter the Poor Mans Lightbox.
You can pay a lot of money for a light box, which is a box that houses a fluorescent light, topped with translucent glass. They are handing for tracing, as you lay your page onto the glass, and the light shines through and your pencils show up. If you’re handy, you can make your own for much less. I’m not handy.
I’m not rich either—but I do have a window. So the poor mans light box consists of tape and a window. Here you can see it in action, my sketch has been taped up facing the outwards, I get to use the reversed image for my reference.
Many hours later, my plate is somewhat closer to completion. You may wonder why I don’t just use lino, but there are times when only a foam plate will do. Inscribed foam has soft edges that blend well visually with the gelatin prints I want to layer it with, so it’s worth the work in this case. I have no idea how many impressions I’ll get from the plate. While I don’t formally edition my work (this would force me into counting and storing things), it’ll be limited by the medium itself.