Layering space

Jack Youngblood, Spate, 2003, Inkjet Print
Jack Youngblood, Spate, 2003, Inkjet Print

Collaborative Print Studio Project:

Going back some years with this print studio collaboration, and although inkjet technology has advanced somewhat I believe the projects sentiments are still valid: Thinking through making and working outside of industrially defined print parameters.

In 2003 I worked as the Master Printer on a residency program that was organised by the CFPR as part of an AHRC research funded project. The Master Printer role also extended to the reviewing of residency applications, which is when I came across Jack Youngblood’s work.  Highlighted as an artist who would advance the CFPR’s knowledge for generating digital images were evident in the virtuoso qualities of his submitted work. Youngblood’s practice was originally based in painting before developing over a number of years towards digital processes. Because of this incremental development, and his experience with digital technology, Youngblood’s practice had now become based in digital technology whilst referring outwardly to other disciplines such as painting and photography.

The Exhausted Spaceman, 2003 with sketches and notes for the digital alterations of
The Exhausted Spaceman, 2003 with sketches and notes for the digital alterations of

The initial discussions for the printing of the Spate image took place during the production of The Exhausted Spaceman. Having made relatively swift progress with the printing of The Exhausted Spaceman there were a few days of the residency remaining for us to try proofing the Spate image. Prior to our work on the Spate project, Youngblood had described his disappointment with the lack of tonal depth in the darkest areas of the image in his previous attempts to print the digital file. This, I believed, was partly due to using a cotton-based paper, although Youngblood was insistent that this was the paper that was to be used for this image. The specific printed realisation for the Spate image had been put on hold until the technology either improved or a solution was found.

Youngblood’s original image for Spate was based on a traditional oil painting by Jacob van Ruisdael from c.1660, housed in the collection of Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. The elements that contribute to the composition of Youngblood’s image are obvious on comparison in the following images.

Above left: A River in Spate, Jacob van Ruisdael (1629-1682), oil on canvas, c.1660 Above right: Spate, Jack Youngblood, digital print, 2003
Above left: A River in Spate, Jacob van Ruisdael (1629-1682), oil on canvas, c.1660
Above right: Spate, Jack Youngblood, digital print, 2003

The clouds are replaced by a black, star-filled sky, generated in Photoshop™ with the aid of some celestial charts. The house in van Ruisdael’s painting has become the space module (downloaded from the Internet), which has been integrated with a range of land details from photos of actual moon missions, in particular Apollo 16. The surrounding cliff profile was kept as close as possible to the original painting’s view, with the river and trees transformed into rock formations. Each of these landscape elements was created in Bryce, a three-dimensional landscaping and animation programme. The software and its capabilities were best equipped to deal with the metamorphosis from one form to the other.

As with The Exhausted Spaceman, Youngblood had created a hugely complex image comprising of a mixture of imported files and generated components made within and outside the programme (see following selection of screen grabs from the process).

four of the 50 screen grabs from the process for Jack Youngblood’s Spate, 2003
four of the 50 screen grabs from the process for Jack Youngblood’s Spate, 2003

Prior to Youngblood’s residency, the CFPR had been experimenting with the possibility of multi-pass printing on a wide format inkjet printer. This required mechanically adapting the printer’s industrially designed function as a single pass printing device. The adaptation meant that the printer would be able to layer a succession of individually printed colours on top of one another, creating colours that could not ordinarily be achieved through the single pass process. The initial CFPR experiments concerned layering areas of flat colour on top of one another using a pin registration system (as used with traditional printmaking) that allowed for the specific placement of colour within the space of the paper. Although the multi-pass printing method had not been used for photographic imagery up until this point, I believed that the printing method would lend itself to solving the issues and concerns that Youngblood had with rendering his digital file for Spate as a printed artwork.

Production of Spate, printing in two separate layers, 2003
Production of Spate, printing in two separate layers, 2003

The needs of the artist and the project:

The hybrid multi-pass method that was used for the Spate image added a further dimension to Youngblood’s usual digital proofing strategy. The Spate print was created by separately printing two images with one image printed on top of the other. This method is similar to traditional printmaking techniques such as screenprint or lithography, where the separate layers do not work in isolation. The success of this process in digital print depends on the tonal and colour alterations made in Photoshop™- proofing through printing, and then subjectively assessing the quality of the work.

The final decision can only be made through the printing of both layers and the physical relationship that these layers have with one another.  Proofing through looking at the image on a monitor does not offer enough information to make the final decision. The proofing of one image printed in this way was time consuming and required some ability to predict what one particular adjustment would produce once the second layer had been added.

Corrections in Photoshop™ for Spate, 2003
Corrections in Photoshop™ for Spate, 2003

Observations towards forming the collaborative strategy

Throughout the residency Youngblood worked intensely at the computer for long periods of time. This intensity was equally matched when revising the printed proofs, as Youngblood would produce sketches and notes of the digital alterations that were needed prior to returning to the image on the computer screen. The production of Spate was by no means straightforward, as the process was essentially new territory for both the artist and the CFPR studio. The proofing of the image in this way was time consuming and required plenty of speculative thinking when pondering how an adjustment to one of the Spate files would render within the double-pass printed image.

During the production of the Spate print, Youngblood and I discussed how the physical layering of ink on paper would dictate Youngblood’s adjustment methods and the successful blending of the two files as a printed image. For example, the order in which the files were printed, ink-drying time between printing, and airing of the paper prior to printing all played a significant role in ensuring that the two prints registered with one another.

The realisation of the Spate print was achieved through the assessment of Youngblood’s aspirations for the work, the utilisation of a bespoke digital printing method and the collaborative development of the process for a specific image. The Spate print was a particular project that pushed the boundaries of the CFPR’s knowledge and digital print methods, and was the closest to a collaboration of shared knowledge rather than a division of labour or simply technical assistance. The project started with a focus, a shared goal rather than pure experimentation.