Let me introduce you to “Paisley”:
Paisley is collagraph print of a scarlet Macaw, the largest of the parrot species and native to forest canopies in Southern Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Trinidad. Macaws are now listed as endangered, due to the destruction of the rainforest and the sale of Macaws as pets. Parrots fascinate me; not only are they monogamous, spending their whole life with only one mate, but the male and female birds both share the responsibility of looking after their young. This includes spending equal time sitting on the eggs before they hatch. Parrots are very social birds and live in large flocks. Communication is so important to them that they have the ability to mimic other birdsong, even the human voice. If this isn’t enough, their plumage is stunning. The Scarlet Macaw has vivid red, blue and yellow on the outer wing. This isn’t visible on “Paisley”, because you are looking at his underbelly with his wings outstretched.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on parrots; this is just my first attempt at capturing the bird in print. There are some limitations with collagraphs, some of these only becoming apparent AFTER I had made the block! Sometimes it really is best to try something, find out what doesn’t work – the hard way! Then go back and correct the problem, and hopefully see an improvement. Only then do you really learn and improve. This is what happened with the “Paisley” board. I made the plate and tried inking it up, very much influenced by the photograph of the bird which inspired me in the first place. The collagraph technique requires a darker colour to be applied in the first instance, to show up all the textures. The initial inking is referred to as “intaglio”, because the ink is worked into all the crevices and cracks on the plate and then polished off clean. It’s quite a physical workout! The choice is to either just use one colour over the whole plate, or work different colours into different areas (referred to as à la poupée). The trouble with the second option is that lighter colours are liable to become tarnished by other neighbouring colours – it’s not easy to keep them separate. Also if you use lighter colours e.g. red or yellow for the intaglio inking, the textures don’t really show up sufficiently.
For the first proof I decided to use prussian blue for the intaglio inking, polish it off really well and add some red by doing a roll-up over the raised surfaces, with a bit of à la poupée (e.g. the lighter blue for the area around the feet – I thought 2 blues together wouldn’t cause a muddy mess!). On the top of the wing, when rolling over the red over the blue, I could see that the red would lose it’s purity when put through the press because it would pick up the blue from the intaglio inking underneath. Hmmmmmm!
This is the first proof. The background was added spontaneously with rollers, to give a feeling of movement. I was right about the red ink on the wings, and on the body. But on the other hand, I like the textured effect on the body! This is when I start to think more in terms of the benefits of collagraph, rather than about the limitations of the process for the image I have in mind. I decide to make alterations to the plate: add more textured surfaces to the wings and the tail.
Materials used on the plate: PVA glue, textured wallpapers, tissue paper, PVA mixed with polyfilla (to create the “ridged” effect in the outstretched wings). I also used a knife to score movement lines around the wings, and to outline the beak and head.
By this stage I had completely forgotten about the original photograph. I called my parrot “Paisley” – inspired by the swirly patterns now showing up on his wings, head and belly. He has taken on a character all his own – quite cheeky! When I inked him again (2nd proofing!) I continued to use the prussian blue for the intaglio – spurred on by great feedback from fellow printmakers on the Collagraph World Wide Facebook group (thanks!!) and with more raised textural surfaces I was able to roll over the red a bit more easily. I had to clean and re-ink the roller for each wing, to keep the colour unadulterated by the blue. My daughter Natasha said I should make the background more grey, so the vivid red stands out. The result is at the top of this post. He’s still a work in progress, but I am fairly happy with him – he has character, he looks like he’s flying, I managed to incorporate several different materials onto the plate, and he looks like a parrot – if a little more groovy!