Planned Spontaneity
: The Construction of a Modular System of Relief Printmaking Matrices for the Platen Press

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Modular System draws on traditional wood engraving, woodcut and letterpress practices. It comprises two printing surfaces and printing furniture specifically devised to facilitate offset and transfer relief printing. Rigid acetal resin tint blocks, hand or laser engraved, generate tone or colour that may be applied to more than one image. Multiple overprinting produces variant colour mixtures. Their function is similar to late nineteenth-century tints devised for colour letterpress printing. Compound printing surfaces of linoleum or vinyl are segmented and joined to make removable and replaceable parts. They print variable configurations in a process that resembles historical solutions to simultaneous colour printing: from the Mentz Psalter (1475), to the compound plates of William Congreve (1820) and the segmented wood engravings of John Holt Ibbetson (1819). These compound surfaces also act as receptors for impressions from the tint blocks. Repositioning and offsetting them is expedited by press furniture especially devised for the project. Registration devices are based on the simple Japanese kentō system and laser-cut circular chases derived from traditional letterpress furniture. Printing the tint blocks directly onto the flexible compound surfaces produce two viable prints that are offsets of each other. They are reversed, but one offset is also tonally inversed. It is this unpredictable tonality that has driven this experimental project. Both the construction and processes developed using the Modular System directed historical research into functional colour relief printing which consequently unearthed examples that would influence the further development of the project. This has generated both devices and processes capable of wider applications. Printing surfaces employed in the Modular System may be laser engraved or cut and adapted to use in both lithography and intaglio printmaking.
Date of Award04 Jun 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorPaul Croft (Supervisor) & Colin Cruise (Supervisor)

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