Using script in painting


The genesis of the idea of using hand-written old family documents in my assignment 3 portraits is explained here.

In part 1 I introduced script into a painting, extracts from the words of flamenco song, written in my own hand.  My tutor then introduced me to the work of Mona Hatoum, who also incorporates script, layered with video photography and voice in her work, recalling her younger self and her relationship with her mother.

I collaged text into the background of one of my part 2 paintings, and my tutor wrote ‘There is scope with aligning script … systematically and deliberately with layers of paint’ – tutor feedback, Part 2. 

In Sian Bowen’s work Ream, the artist uses her paper support as a surface which she folds, stiffens and stains.  Some of her source material includes hand-written letters, and also brings together a range of images, some imagined, from various moments in time.  The viewer must try and piece together what is happening.  Part of her body of work, Nova Zembla, comprises script from found documents juxtaposed with her drawings, and made into a series of artist’s books as evidence of a story.  Again in After Hortus Malabaricus, Bowen incorporates script alongside images in her work.  One quality these works seem to me to gave in common is how the inclusion of script from bygone times endows a feeling of the passing of ages.  In my work for my assignment, by juxtaposing portraits of my subjects as they were decades ago, with script made by their own hand in that same long ago time, I might try to evoke fading memories of people, their story and their feelings.

My aim was therefore to find processes which would allow me to transfer script to various painting supports, including fabric.  I didn’t want to damage or directly use the the original pages in the process, so decided I’d have to photograph them and then print facsimiles on to the painting supports.Through much trial and error I found ways of achieving my aim, developing some useful processes as described below.  At the same time my ideas developed; from the concept of a poem or letter as a simple background layer in a portrait, to it maybe being a physically separate layer, veiled by a transparent painting; to using extracts, and deliberately blurring, jumbling and confusing script in a painting; to integrating the script through the face or figure, not just in the surrounding background.



My first experiment (below, top left) with printing on to fabric involved adhering a piece of calico to the shiny side of a piece of butchers paper, by applying heat with an iron, typing a bit of text into my computer, and then running the laminated support through my inkjet printer.  The process worked well, but I realised I’d be limited to A4 or smaller, and wouldn’t have the ability to play easily with how and where the text was printed on the support.

I wanted my dad’s actual handwriting, not typed text, so I took a photo of a page and loaded it into Photoshop Elements.  I hadn’t used the software before, but I managed to work out how to adjust contrast and flip the image so it would come out the right way round after burnishing.  More tricky was learning how to get rid of the background (crinkly paper shadows) and change the colour of the script, but I found this described on a photoshop forum.

I thought I’d try inkjet-printing onto the shiny side of the waxed paper, rather than directly onto the painting support, and then hand-burnishing the resulting print onto my support.  My first trial with a piece of calico (above, top right) was very encouraging.  I tried laying a watercolour wash over the printed script and that took well, with no smudging.  I had another go on a piece of Kozo paper, and that burnished very well too.  It blurred a little with a water wash, so maybe I’d consider laying script over a portrait rather than printing it as a lower layer.  I loved the look of the script combined with fabric and fabric-like paper, and watercolour wash, and I felt quite excited about the direction I was going in.  The burnishing process would allow me to print the script and parts of the script directly onto the painting support, where and how I wanted them, very easily.

A trial on more loosely woven linen (above, lower half of page) was very hard work to burnish so I tried dampening the fabric and this time more ink transferred, but then started to bleed into the dampness.  Also, as I hand burnished the fabric stretched and moved easily.  I though maybe I could stiffen the fabric with a soaking of acrylic medium before printing; also a couple of layers of tissue laid over the support before burnishing, together with slow, patient work, helps a lot to reduce movement.


My inkjet-printed hand-burnished trial on silk (below, bottom sample) had similar results.  Then I tried using the trace monotype technique to see what would happen.  I laid the silk over the inked plate, and a print on copy paper of the text over that.  Then with a biro I laboriously traced the script by hand.  The impression on the silk is quite strong; it’s difficult to control the quality of the line and background smudges and blips are inevitable.  The swatch is interesting though; a short, puzzling extract of script, more jumbled and confused script in the background, perhaps alluding to a state of mind, or befuddled communication.


Hand-burnishing inkjet script onto both dry and dampened linen, pre-coated with acrylic medium.  Adding quick watercolour stains in the form of simple portraits, below. I like how the script runs through the portrait, it seems integrated with it.


Inkjet script hand-burnished onto photocopy paper.  10g semi-transparent Kozo stained with a simple portrait, laid on top.  The layers partly glued together with a bic water-based glue stick where the script can be seen more clearly (top left). 

Fruit-wrapping tissue paper  (below right).




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