4. First print off the block

A small water sample has been collected from the Nene in the village of Newnham, an ancient settlement now surrounded by the highest hills in Northamptonshire.

Here the river and its feeder streams have cut deep valleys through ancient Jurassic clay at the start of their journey to the Wash estuary well over a hundred miles away. 

The river site at Newnham

The river site at Newnham

On examination, the sample provides ample evidence of living material, which will form the basis of my first print. Not visible to the naked eye, a variety of organisms are surrounded by vegetation and tiny particles of what appears to be sediment, in this single drop of water.

Following the process I intend to use to create all the monoprints in this series, the print block is rolled with a thin even layer of black ink. 

Prepared inked printing block

Prepared inked printing block

The block is then positioned on a prepared grid to ensure that it registers centrally.  The paper to be printed is hinged with tape to reduce the possibility of slippage, and carefully brought down on to the surface of the inked plate.

By continually referencing videos and photographs from the microscope screen, observed marks, shapes and impressions are hand drawn on to the reverse side ‘back’ of the paper.

Paper placed over block with recorded images added

Paper placed over block with recorded images added

One characteristic of this particular sample is the existence of some very dense dark areas of sediment, from which long tubular organisms frequently emerge and become clearly visible as they cross more open well-lit spaces. In these conditions it is noticeable that there appear to be at least two different types of species, which differ not only in shape but also in colour.  They appear to move independently of one another, but strangely also appear to have some awareness of each other’s presence, sometimes gliding alongside or effortlessly crossing paths.

Experimented marks using variety of tools

Experimented marks using variety of tools

Recording these tonal contrasts requires careful control of pressure during the mark making process.  Since the paper is resting on an inked surface, it easily picks up and transfers incidental marks to the sheet, and while this is one of the characteristics of this method of printing, some experimentation is needed - using different tools, from graphite stick to soft pencil and harder points. Direct hand pressure can also be used to add depth to shadowed areas.

When carefully peeled from the block, the details recorded on the face of the paper are revealed.

Completed print  Newnham 1  (2018)

Completed print Newnham 1 (2018)

The completed print records a variety of images and as yet unidentified organisms in their natural environment at 40x magnification. 

I am left wondering if this will be a typical example of the minute kinds of both animals and plants, sometimes collectively known as ‘plankton’, which spend their whole existence drifting, roaming and floating about in water…. quietly keeping us and our planet alive.