Six days to go? Let’s talk about soap! #curseofkerevesdere

Today is a printing day. I’m working with a material called Ezy Carve, rather than my usual Silk Cut Lino, because I’m constrained in both the size and nature of what I can print. Having spent the better part of seven hours working on the matrix, let’s hope that it works!

I’ll post more about today’s printing for the book launch later but I wanted to talk about some printing I did in a hotel room in Singapore. A wonderful friend, Simone, had mentioned a “50 prints in 50 hours” printing marathon and asked me if I was interested in joining in. I take an unconventional approach to printing, experimenting with a range of techniques and effectively refusing to do things in a straight-forward manner, and I saw it as a challenge to try and print in a standard hotel room, with none of my usual gear. I agreed to set up Studio Nick over in Singapore, to take part.

I’ll tell you what happened but all of the images are contained in an animated GIF below. Read what happened first, then check out the images.

On the flight over, I sketched out a quick logo for the studio: a stylised MONO for fun. (Studio Nick is fine as a name but the logo would have been a little egotistical, even for me.) This was a working trip for me, which meant that I had to fit all of my supply runs and printing into a very short period. Once I got to the hotel, I ducked out to a local book and stationery store (Kinokuniya) and picked up some brushes, crayons, a little poster colour and ink, some 220gsm paper and some plastic sleeves.

My original plan was to paint some colour onto the plastic sleeves and then print this straight onto paper. This is monotyping, because there’s no actual print matrix. I snapped some pictures from the movie “Alien” that I watched on the way over and that seemed like a plan.

But the I saw the small hotel soap and realised it was about the right size to print my MONO logo, if I could carve it with something. And that’s when it got creative. How much could I get done with those things you find in a hotel room? The soap etching was carried out with a coffee spoon and a brush end. Most of the ink I used I made myself by extracting used coffee grounds and mixing that up with water to make a passable sepia. (I later strengthened it with silver poster colour, as you’ll see later.)

As you’ll see, I managed to get a semi-decent print out of soap and coffee, and then started experimenting with other materials to see what happened. (The less said about faux-intaglio work, the better. Must try again sometime soon.)


I had so much fun doing this. I put a list of lessons learned from hotel room printing on my own FB but realised many people couldn’t see it and put it up on the Marathon feed. Here it is verbatim, for your enjoyment.

The next time you’ve got a trip, it’s actually a real blast to run off some quick prints from soap and coffee grounds. Then, during clean up, you can use what’s left of your printing block in the shower. Total recycling!

Tips for hotel room printers.

  1. Almost every hotel room has teeny tiny soaps that are almost useless. It turns out that this is because they are designed for print making and make excellent blocks.
  2. Tea spoons make quite acceptable carving styluses and barens.(If you have a small brush, use the hard end as that’s great.)
  3. Hotel windows make great light boxes (during the day).
  4. Soap is absorbent (duh) so watch your liquid levels as you have a limited time to print and, the more you print, the softer the block gets unless you let it dry out. When in doubt, just print.
  5. Coffee grounds make a tolerable sepia, with 3D effect.
  6. Poster colours and coffee don’t mix well but they do mix. Use that opacity in your favour!
  7. Coffee cups and saucers can be used as mixing stations.
  8. Hotel rooms are full of textures for rubbing, to add background.
  9. The space above the bar fridge is toasty and makes a great drying rack.
  10. Work in the bathroom, if you can. Everything in there is designed to be cleaned easily and you won’t make any mess for the cleaning staff.

It’s awesome fun. I’m going to do this again!

Evolution of a physical artefact

One of the issues with an eBook is that there’s nothing to hand over at a book launch. People like physical things, even if they are big fans of the digital format. As you know, I’m a printmaker, and I decided that I could create something fun that would be a proxy for the book.

QR codes are those two dimensional black and white blocky things you see all over posters, bus-stops, and movie advertisements. (The QR stands for Quick Response, if you’re curious.) You can take information and put it into the QR code, then someone can scan it with a phone that understands the codes and see your message.

This one says “Thine Antique Pen”, for example.

QR codes can also store URLs, the addresses that we use to locate things on the web. Of course, my eBooks will have URLs, one for the Apple store and one for Smashwords. This got me thinking; I could create a QR code that would take people to my book and I could print it out in a way that would allow me to sign and distribute them, just as you would for a first edition at a book launch.

Here’s my test run. I made up a shortening link and I turned it into a QR code (there are many sites that will do this for you), leaving a big hole in the middle for me to be able to sign or personalise any of the prints that I see. QR codes can be set up to allow them to be very tolerant of missing parts of the puzzle and I wanted a big empty space in the middle to give me the freedom to make a simple print more interesting.

I decided to use a 29×29 grid and worked on lino, working in pencil to create the reversed image (relief printing is going to flip it!) and then cutting it out. Finally, I decided to print it at home using only hand pressure, Japanese paper and Gamblin black relief ink (one of my favourite inks). As a test, if the image can be scanned with the innate variability of my hand printing technique, then it will work really well when it goes into a lino press.

Here’s an animation of the process, a collection of photos that take you through the process to the end.

This makes it look a lot easier than it was but it was still huge fun. I worked on this at Union Street Print Studios in Stepney, as well. Want to get into printing? Get in touch with Union Street and the amazing Simone.

It takes about eight hours from start to finish to do this. I like to work slowly and take breaks to avoid over-cutting and I spend a lot of time at the start to make sure that what I have sketched is actually the correct image and is correctly flipped.

Here’s the final print, in all of its shaky glory. But it does scan and that means that, when I finally get the real URLs for my book, they should scan as well. And now I know that people at my book launch will have something that they can take away, if they want to buy something physical as well as digital.

Notice the beautiful “hand made” details. That’s artisanal impact, that is. Feel the quality.


Love and beauty

I’m very pleased to have been able to be part of the Little Rundle Street Art Project for 2016.

My work “Legends for Explorers in Uncharted Territories” is a mixed-media digital/linocut/monoprint/photography composite. All the quadrants are 15cmx15cm.

Statement: Love is a collaborative creative activity; we build a map beyond ourselves, with each participant’s perceptions rewriting the terrain and legends.

Details of the work:

The original linocut, terrain with a blank legend, was inspired by a visit to the Medici household in Florence. The great map room is full of documents that show perceptions of the world, represented as maps, including some highly racist references to the more southern aspects of Africa. As Korzybski noted “the map is not the territory” and this separation between the representative and actual, geographical and the geopolitical, was brought home to me, standing in this grand room where the very powerful once sought to contain a view of the globe.

I used a blended roll to achieve the rainbow colouration, as a recognition of the many forms of love, but also to subvert the traditional colouring of maps. Any two-dimensional map can be displayed with only four colours, without any two adjacent sections having the same colour, but I chose to use more to remind myself that love is not about the minimum required, it is about beauty and that is often gloriously multi-coloured.

The text was cut as a separate plate and, over time as I printed with it, developed a character of its own that I did not erase, forming a monoprint that I then printed in isolation. The four panels are formed from the original printed work, with an early text overlay, and then digital composition of the elements. The black and white terrain is a high-contrast digital photograph of the cleaned plate, reversed.

The words “Our Love” by themselves are, in the digital version, on a transparent background. This was a deliberate decision, to add to the first work where love is a lens through which a terrain is viewed, to show how self-contained the shared perception of love can be, where it can be applied over wherever you find yourselves.

Any recollection of love, whether happy or sad, is deeply personal and yet it must be affected by the actions and thoughts of others. A single map does not show us the true territory through which this love travelled, but it can give us an idea of the shape, the highs and the lows, and whether this journey is over or ongoing.

I hope that you enjoy the work. Thank you for coming to view it.

Legends for Explorers in Uncharted Territories
Legends for Explorers in Uncharted Territories