Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Another newcomer.....Hello!

Hello!  My name is Helen Thomas and I live in Bristol, UK.  I retired from a long civil service career about 3 years ago.  Freed at last from the day-job, I have been developing my drawing and printing skills through a series of short courses and a part-time Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at the Bristol School of Art.  I have been making quilts for many years (I'm a member of the Quilters' Guild Contemporary Quilts Group), but working in media other than textiles is new.    

I've been watching ALAW via the blog for ages, and admiring the many beautiful interpretations of the idea.   So when the call came for members ready to join for challenge in 2013, I took a deep breath and signed up.   And then panicked!  I am very new to making my own art, and this challenge is very public and therefore very scary.   But everyone has to start somewhere, so I am plunging in, and have been pondering quietly about how best to integrate my ALAW alphabets into my work as a printmaking student.  Recent difficulties with blogger have also delayed my introduction to the group, but I hope I've got those sorted out now.

In October 2012 I began an MA in Multidisciplinary Printmaking at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and the first module has been a series of workshops to introduce us all to a range of printmaking methods as the basis for developing our individual work over the rest of the 3-year course.  I actually have very little experience in print-making, so each workshop has been a real adventure for me.  We have experimented with etching, screen printing on paper and textiles, plate lithography, monoprint and relief printing with both lino and collagraph plates, and letterpress.  We have also had workshops on book-binding and enamelling, and had introductions to digital photography and printing onto ceramics.   

Recently, we learned how to laser cut using images prepared in Adobe Illustrator.  I imagined that laser cutting would merely give you interestingly shaped pieces of wood (or card, plastic, perspex, lino, leather, fabric, whatever - anything but metal).   What I did not know until now is that you can also set the laser to burn into the material, but not to cut right through it, and also you can take out broad areas of the surface, not just a drawn line.  And  this allows you to make plates for intaglio or relief printing.  This is the first simple piece I designed and cut.  The piece on the right is an etched version, which should be useable as a printing plate using an etching press.

I have also recently discovered that you can create a computer font made from your own handwriting:  I used an i-pad app called i-font maker (the link is here 2ttf ).  My first attempt looks something like this...but the possibilities are endless.

So suddenly I found I had an idea for my first ALAW 2013 alphabet:  I have created a personal font (actually, several - it is quite addictive once you start) and will use this to create files for laser cutting from which I will print each letter. 

On Friday, after quite a lot of struggle to get the hang of Adobe Illustrator, I made files for letters a,b,c and d, in both upper and lower case, and in two different formats for each letter: one will  will cut out the shape of each one (which of course also gives you the negative shape left behind) and the other will etch the outline of each letter.   Time was against me but I did manage to get two test pieces cut - one etched and one cut-out - using grey-board.  Here they are....

I plan to play with these over the next few days before making more Illustrator files for getting further letters cut at college next week.  

My plan is to use these in various forms of printing - I will cut some of the letters in lino and some in card for use as relief prints.  For some, I may be able to use the cut-out shapes for embossing.  Some I plan to etch into perspex to use as intaglio plates through the etching press.  Some I can print onto paper of various kinds, and some may be on fabric.  Some letter shapes may work better in some kinds of print than in others.  

I may decide that one method works particularly well, and stick to that for the entire alphabet.   I do need to think about the overall coherence of the set, so some of my experimenting may not see realisation in the final set of letters.   There is also a choice to make about whether to use all upper or lower case, or whether to stick to one uniform alphabet throughout, or whether to mix and match between several fonts.  I am clear that I will only use fonts which I have created myself.  

I hope that this project will serve several purposes: first and foremost, it will be my first set of letters for ALAW 2013.  But it will also encourage me to experiment with lots of different approaches to print using simple letter forms, it will get me familiar with creating Illustrator files and using different materials for laser etching and/or cutting, and will also challenge me to find a good way of bringing all the letters together, in a book-form or otherwise, when all 26 letters are complete.

I think this is going to be a great project for the next few months, and the fact that it is going to be very public, via the ALAW 2013 blog, adds to the sense of excitement.  


  1. Hello Helen and welcome to ALAW 2013! My, you took the plunge right to the bottom of it! It looks like you're having great fun and I really enjoy all your letter-creating efforts. Looking forward to more!

  2. You seem to have set yourself an interesting project. I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

  3. Hi Helen - this sounds very interesting! I think you're right - it's giving you a great opportunity to experiment - the cut letter A is gorgeous, and that's before you've done all the things you want to do with it! I admire "perfect" letters, but I like your A more because it looks like it has real character!

  4. Hi Helen. Wow, I really enjoyed reading about all your ideas. As a lover of printing (mostly fabric), your new experiences with laser etching sounds so interesting. I'm really looking forward to seeing where your experiments lead you.--Julie

  5. We certainly have an interesting mix so far and it's only the start!

  6. Helen - welcome. Wow, you've really put a lot of thought into this so far! Once you are done with an alphabet, you will certainly have something of your very own which could be used in so many different ways! Can't wait to see more!

  7. Helen, I wish I was on your course - it seems to include a lot of exposure to, and teaching in, all sorts of new things!

  8. Welcome Helen, how nice to hve a new participant. Look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  9. Helen it all sounds amazing and fabulous - I am sitting here in awe of all the things you can and might do. I loved the link to the font maker - and expect it could become addictive. Enjoy your time here - it's as much about exploring and experimenting as it is about making great letters. Looking forward to following your adventures...


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