September 18, 2020

Dancing with Color

        Back in early May I had a craving for something bright, colorful, energetic, and cheerful.  Quite probably this grew out of sheltering-at-home and the oppressive grey feeling of so much of life these days.  At any rate, most of my block prints are black and white or maybe another dark color or two, and I wanted something brighter.  My mind turned to Matisse collages.
        When I used to teach middle school art full time, one of my favorite projects was Matisse collages.  We looked at the collages Henri Matisse (France, 1869-1954) made in his collection Jazz, and analyzed the color schemes and emotional impact, and the way Matisse used the colored paper.  He didn’t just cut out various shapes and glue them down, positive space on a background.  Rather, he cut out shapes and then used both those shapes and the leftover pieces of paper from around those shapes: negative space.  After we talked about all this, I let the kids loose on the Fadeless Art Paper, which is sheer artistic heaven.  Unlike the 5 or 6 coarse, dull colors of cheap construction paper, Fadeless Art Paper comes in 20 or more rich, intense, smooth, luscious colors, in large 18x12 inch sheets.  (Do I sound like an advertisement?  I promise, I’m getting nothing from Fadeless for saying this!)  It is absolutely impossible for any child and most adults to see an array of this paper and not want to get right to work.
        Now, every time I assign a project to my students, I do it first, and the samples I had made for this Matisse collage project particularly pleased me.  Further, I would always make mini-collages out of leftover bits and scraps of paper while the kids worked on their assignments, and these collages are almost certainly my favorite abstract art I’ve ever done.  So when I craved bright color, I thought about the collage designs I’d done and decided to turn one of them into a print.
        My first thought was to do a separate block for each color, but then I decided I would try something new, and I devised a scheme to make stencils for each color.  So essentially the concept of this print is like silkscreen (which is how Matisse’s collages were reproduced), except without a screen to hold the stencils in place.  Definitely a rough-and-ready poor-artist’s version of the concept.
        Step 1 was to adapt the design to an aspect ratio that would fit better in a standard frame size AND could fit on 8.5x11 paper.  
        Step 2 was to make the outlines of all the shapes on the computer and then print 5 copies on lightweight card stock.  (Hence the need to fit on standard sized paper that could go through my printer.)
      Step 3 was to cut out the shapes with an x-acto knife.  On each of the five sheets I cut out all the shapes of one color.  (I had also had to do some slight modification to the design to ensure that there would be no untethered bits of card: no islands of color anywhere.)
         Step 4, to print, I laid down the first stencil and pounced the first color of ink through the cut-out areas.  I did only one color each day, and it was quite laborious — not nearly as much fun as printing blocks with a brayer!
        This method made for the occasional messy place when ink got under the edge of the stencil, and it was enough of a pain that I do not have any plans to do any more, despite having another design prepared.  Still, as an experiment I think it was 
pretty successful, and I am quite pleased with the bright, colorful, energetic, and cheerful 
final piece, which is just what I had been needing.  I hope it brings a little cheer to others, as well!

[Pictures: Dancing, collage by AEGN, c 1993;
Dancing, stencil print by AEGN, 2020;
Untitled mini-collage by AEGN, c 2015.]


Wordsmith said...

I like these colorful pieces. Artistically they grab me, I can imagine other combinations of colors, too. Do these designs lend themselves to print mediums?

Keep up the colorful palette.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Wordsmith,
Well, they lend themselves well to silkscreen, but not particularly well to block printing, alas.