Saturday, January 07, 2012

Making “The Great Library”, Part 1: Inside

From my first reading of the Art & Lies extract by Jeanette Winterson, I wanted to depict the boys in their eyries.
Initially, I planned to make a varied edition of altered books and I progressed as far as buying Condensed Readers Digest books in sufficient numbers, before I realized the difficulty of hand-carving hundreds of pages over and over to make the edition. Fortunately, another structure came to mind.
The Structure
At Ed Hutchins’ Single Sheet Structures workshop, a couple of years ago, I learned about the story box. It’s a simple structure that can be very effective when it supports the concept, and in this case it was perfect. With the image of the eyries in my head, I plunged into working on the inside of the box.
For this edition, I really wanted the warmth of a hand-pulled print, despite having more experience with digital printmaking. Having only made a couple of etchings before, I chose to do the inside image of the library as a drypoint on a Perspex (acrylic) plate, 30cm x 42cm. I did not want to make a large acid-etched plate in case it wasn’t successful.
Below you can see the plate now.
To inscribe it I used two drypoint tools, which you can see too.The one with the wooden shaft is an inexpensive diamond point from Dick Blick. The diamond makes an incredible difference in the pressure you have to apply. I’m not sure whether this particular tool will last very long, but if not I’ll certainly be replacing it with another diamond point. If anyone has a favourite tool for drypoint they recommend, please do let me know.
Digital Background
The British Library
I found this lovely photo (above) of the book stacks at the British Library by Steve Cadman on flickr. It was the inspiration for the colours I initially prepared for the background of my print, using acrylic inks (below left).
Right: In progress, showing lightened areas in two places
I scanned the background and planned to create areas where the eyries would be positioned using the “lighting effects” in Photoshop. Obviously, this darkens those areas of the print that you haven’t chosen to be “lightened”.
In case you haven’t used this, you just go to:
Filter>Render>Lighting Effects.
There are a lot of options, but a good place to start is with either Omni or Spotlight (found in the Light Type window). From there you can play about with intensity and narrow or wide focus. It maybe useful to adjust the “exposure” and/or “ambience”, which can be found under Properties. I’ve found these to be the most fundamental controls to achieving simple but effective lighting effects. Beyond that, you can spend hours playing to see what can be done.
Combining the Digital and Drypoint Prints
In total I created five “lightened eyries”, which showed up quite nicely, but the background was now looking rather dark and dull. I altered the saturation and colour balance until the background printed on the Rives BFK printmaking paper to my taste. As this isn’t a paper for inkjet printing, there aren’t any colour profiles online, so I had to make numerous small test prints on the actual paper in order to see the colours.

Left is the final background, as the file appears on-screen. Right, a scan of the artists’ proof (drypoint over digital background on Rives BFK).
More next time!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this process Amanda! I really read this post eagerly and attentively! It's so fascinating how you managed all that. And the result is truly magical! I really haven't used the lighting effects filter in PS very much at all. Your use of it is inspirational. I'll definitely give that a go in future. Bravo. What a fabulous result you have and how generous you are to share your working methods!

  2. Fascinating. Look forward to seeing how this develops.

  3. Very cool, Amanda! I wish I had your skill at digital printmaking. It's really interesting to see how you went about making your book: it is such a great piece, and I feel very lucky to have one in my collection! Thank you. Sara x

  4. What Sara said! I absolutely adore you piece. Its so nice to see your process here; even though Im not sure I totally understand it. . . so you did a drypoint and printed it and scanned it and added the background colour in a digital program like photoshop? or am i way off?

  5. Hi Amanda
    I'm new to BAO (group 5) and I wanted to say how much I like your book about the Great Library at Alexandria.

  6. What a great informative,sharing blog. Not being a printmaker in a traditional sense I am interested in using ink jet or photocopier to edition. Can you recommend a transparent/translucent paper for this that will also fold well? I hear you used a good paper in your edition 1 BOA project but have not been able to find details on your blog (probably not looking in the right spot).Perhaps also where I might source this paper. Thanks Jack

  7. Really interesting; it's amazing, the multitude of combinations of methods for making images that are now possible. I have questions, but no time. I'll be back to learn more.

  8. Hi Amanda - I missed this post the first time round but picked it up when I read the latest one. I love observing and understanding people's processes and this was such an open and informative piece - I learnt heaps, so thanks!