De Monsterkamer

Pattern, paper, printmaking

Some years ago I was designing little handmade book cards which I covered in beautiful Japanese hand stencilled and hand silkscreened decorative papers. I had been supplying the Victoria & Albert Museum shop in London for a few years and thought —  why not create my own patterned papers?

I had trained as a typographer and graphic designer in the mid 1960s when there was an explosion of exciting modern artists and designers. Applied art was all around us. During my early years as a designer I created patterns as a means of communication for specific clients, drawing on the influences of geometric design which was popular at the time.

Patterned papers by Frances Kiernan

Patterned papers by Frances Kiernan

The desire to create patterns has never left me, neither has my love affair with paper. I have notebooks, sketchbooks, journals everywhere – my studio is bursting with them! I have an irresistible need to buy them. Paper, for me, touches all the senses. Whenever I can I champion the importance of introducing young children to the tactile qualities of paper. They certainly know the difference between photocopy paper and the beautiful feel of a good paper.

Designing patterns

When I am designing my patterns I am mindful of the choice of paper and of which printing process I will be using for the intended decorative function. Researching, experimenting and asking advice from the experts is so important. I am a big fan of Japanese papers. For hand screenprinting I found that Kozuke 44gsm – a sized 70% kozo paper, machine made paper – holds the ink well and folds beautifully. It’s tough, tactile and it’s affordable! Another paper that holds ink well is 100gsm Heritage Book White. This paper prints and folds well but does have a grain. Recently I designed a pattern and screenprinted a number of sheets before realising that I had printed the pattern against the grain! I had wanted to use them for book covers. A mistake I hope I won’t make again.

Hand stitched notebooks and hand screenprinted on 370gsm cartridge paper

One of my favourite pattern designer is Enid Marx (1903-1998). She was one of many young and emerging artists in the 1920s and 30s commissioned by Curwen Press who produced some of the most important books and graphics of the inter-war years. They became known for their patterned papers which were used on books, either as end-papers or as decorative covers.

Although there are two strands to my work — one design the other fine art printmaking & book art – I find that they co-exist quite happily. Both have the same requirement for paper and both begin with sketching and drawing. Patterns tend to be hand drawn, computer generated or linocut. Etching is my preferred medium for my fine art work but of course concept determines the medium.

Beyond the Window
When I was commissioned to produce artists’ books for the Enchanted Palace exhibition at Kensington Palace I went through a long conceptual thought process before knowing which printing process would be the most appropriate for each book. The printing process then determines the paper. My brief was to respond to the life of Princess Caroline (1683 -1737). These were to be shown alongside the contemporary fashion installations inspired by the stories of the seven princesses who once lived there — Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana. One of the books, Beyond the Window (shown here) represents Caroline’s longing to travel the world. I placed the book in a compartment of a cabinet with mirrored floor and sides so that the windows appear to go on and on to convey how her dreams could never be attained. I used a watercolour textured paper for the concertina pages and covered the hand cut window panes with Matsuo kozo paper screenprinted from pencil drawings. The ‘Maru-chitsu’ wraparound case is screenprinted onto bookcloth and can be closed with a Japanese bone clasp.

Beyond the Window. Artist’s book for the Enchanted Palace exhibition at Kensington Palace in 2010

Screen printed threads used in Beyond the Window

To be able to combine both art and design and apply it in different ways is a lovely way to spend a life! My love of patterns, paper and printmaking will never end.

By Frances Kiernan