Making the 100 Promises banknote

When I first started thinking about making an artist’s currency, way back in 2014, I thought about it both taking the form of coins and notes. Along the way, it was clear that most artists’ currencies take the form of notes, and it’s easy to understand why.

Notes are far, far simpler to make than a metal coin. The first banknotes were just written promises to pay a sum of money, after all.

Notes and coins are both immediately part of the language of money, but notes carry the connotation of high value. The exception is in the US, where their single dollar is still a paper note… but the US’s cultural capital is so strong that it’s made sure that the visual shorthand for money takes the form of a greenish paper bill.

So although I wanted to create both coins and notes, a paper bill had to form part of my currency, no question.

Why screen print the 100 banknote?

Printmaking is the technique that one would obviously turn to when aiming to reproduce currency – because there would have to be several of the same notes in “circulation” – and etching is the printmaking technique associated with banknotes and with money in general.

Just because I wanted to create a banknote didn’t mean I wanted to copy a banknote… I also wanted to evade expectations somewhat. Give a bit here to the accepted concept of money, take a bit away there.

Screen printing is a very interesting technique, as it can be dead simple or ultra-complicated. Multi-colour screen printing is difficult to perfect without a professional system for registration, so getting perfectly identical prints was always going to be near impossible. I liked the idea of the human touch coming through the attempt to mechanise the process, with all of the “flaws” – misregistrations, bleeds and fading – form an essential part of making each note an individual work of art.

Also, there’s the fact that I feel as though the medium of screen printing is part of my personal artistic practice. There are lots of things I like to do and to try, but only a few I think of as “what I do”: painting, screen printing, ceramics and sculpture.

Elements of the visual language of money: colour, shape and symbolism

I stuck with the immediacy of green. For the first banknote I would make, I had to keep it simple; this is an artwork made to illustrate a concept, and it had to speak out the concept clearly.

Although I initially planned for the piece to take on an overall more pea-green, but not quite Kermit, tone, things got derailed one-third of the way through the printing. I decided to incorporate a more olive-toned palette

The same thing went for the shape and general format of the portrait. It may seem as though I was immediately working with lots of design constraints… but in the beginning stages I planned the note to be square, just to mess with our widely-held ideas of what money should look like. That just didn’t feel right though, so rectangular it was.

What I did particularly want to play with was the abstract patterning on the notes. I just love geometrical arrangements and started to experiment with the idea of optical mixing by overlaying printed acetate sheets in a kind of “lite” op-art.

Layering a couple of half-tone screens on top of each other gives each note a unique patterned effect, as each one can look very different from the other if the alignment is changed only slightly.

Bottom of rear side of banknote saying: "the borrower is a slave to the lender".
100, rear detail – “The borrower is a slave to the lender.”

The back side of the note features four tools of the artist’s trade – the pen, brush, pencil and gouge, referencing the variety of media in which I work. I’ve taken on this motif as a kind of identifying crest, repeating it in my pewter 250 coin… and it’ll be a repeating feature in other coinage and notes.

The back of the note features a quote from Proverbs 22:7, saying, “the borrower is a slave to the lender.”

The symbolism of 100

The denomination was always going to be important. As a central part of a larger body of work, this piece had to carry the anchoring number, and it had to relate closely to its value as an artwork – so in that sense, it chose its own denomination of one hundred.

One hundred what? This is the first of my money artworks to explicitly carry the name of my currency as “Promise”, although that is inferred as the title of my screen printed cheques.

Why promises? Well, the value of all currencies are in what they promise to give you in exchange. The money itself isn’t really any good to you; it’s what you can exchange it for when you need to exchange it. It’s the promise of transforming itself into something else, whether that’s a loaf of bread or a tank full of petrol.

If you have the nerve to put your face on something and assign it monetary value, then you’re making a lot of promises.

How it was made…

The images were mostly hand-drawn and repositioned by extremely old-fashioned cutting and pasting, with a lot of photocopying to resize. It’s left me with a sketchbook full of copied pieces and variations, which is interesting in itself.

Of course, I realised after doing most of this that I should have designed it all on a computer instead for pinpoint accuracy, but the fact is that the handcrafted element does reflect my personality and working style. Will I adapt to take on faster methods? Absolutely! But this piece has had a lot of hand-work put into it, which makes it special to me.

The piece is a 3-colour, double sided screen print, which is a technical challenge – 6 opportunities for something to go wrong! Actually, there were seven pulls in all on each note, as the note’s number is added afterwards with a separate screen.

Each colour had its own unique screen which was printed light to dark. Several different papers were tested for their colour and handle, but I selected a light cartridge for its bright white colour and flexible handle – the note is meant to be held as well as looked at!

Overall it was everything I enjoy in my work – a technical challenge and a deep concept to dive into.

See more pictures and buy online.

Studio Notes 22/03/19

When you’re thinking about being productive and/or successful as an artist, it really helps to look at the big picture. I tend to worry about not getting enough done from week to week, probably because I know I’m going to come onto this blog and confess every Friday.

But that weekly cut-off time frame doesn’t matter, really; it’s an arbitrary limitation that I’ve imposed on myself to help myself. It spurs me on, even though absolutely nothing will happen if I don’t make any art or if I don’t post about it. *crickets*

This week I’ve attacked the work. It’s been hard to make myself stop long enough to write about it, actually! And all this after moping last week about not getting enough done – the thing that worked was turning up, doing a few materials tests, and letting the little embers catch fire.

I made a mistake…

Last year I knew I couldn’t go straight through the process and print my notes, because I had to have surgery. So I did the next best thing and got all my prep out of the way – I mixed up all three of the colours I would need, and tested them out. Great, right?

Three green screen printing inks in squeezy bottles
Feeling prepared – my first mixed colours

Well, when I did that, I ended up re-mixing the lightest colour, as colour no. 3 was too close to colour no. 2. That means I ended up with four bottles of ink.

Of course, three months on, I picked up the rejected colour and started a full run of prints, and only realised what I’d done after getting through most of the first side!

That meant I had to totally reformulate the two colours that came next, which was a waste of time. But… after having spent time this week listening to a podcast episode about sunk costs, I was happy to brush that off and work on making my second round of colours better than the first. After all, I knew the first iteration wasn’t amazing, so this was a chance to shoot for that!

Screen printing and drying prints with bulldog clips
My drying and printing methods are quite basic.

More about sunk costs…

I found this to be such a motivating concept, and one that I think needs to be broadcast to artists as well as economists. It gave me the kick to clear out the corners of my studio that had become a shrine to the 5+ year old class notes and projects that I didn’t really want, but had once put a lot of time into. Into the bin, and I feel fine.

So I’m sure I’ll be writing more about that, eventually.

But for now, I’ve got money to print.

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Studio Notes 22/03/19

Art Supplies Haul – February 2019

I’ll get this out of the way – I spent absolutely nothing on art supplies in February.

That’s not to say that I didn’t add anything to my substantial wish list, and neither does it mean that I didn’t receive any art materials either!

Art supplies haul February 2019 - a delayed delivery from Homecrafts

Last month I finally got my last bottle of Jacquard Solarfast from my December order from Homecrafts. It was out of stock and took ages to arrive, but as I wasn’t able to work over the last few months it wasn’t a big deal for me.

But it did arrive at last, so now’s a good enough time to show you all of the colours and what I think of them.

If you don’t know how Solarfast works, it’s a UV dye that reacts to sunlight. I did a review of Inkodye, which is a similar UV dye product that is no longer available, but I’m now moving on to trying Solarfast instead.

Art supplies haul February 2019 - Jacquard Solarfast dyes, wash and thickener

They look fantastic all together, and it’s made me want to jump straight back into the banknote printing project.

One of the things I bought back in December was a set of squeezy sauce bottles from eBay. The plan for these was to use some of them for dispensing mixed screen printing ink, and to use the rest for the Solarfast and Inkodye for screen printing.

But the problem with using these for dispensing thickened Solarfast is that they would let the dye become exposed over time. My solution to that was to use black electrical tape – we got a pack of three rolls from the pound shop – to wrap the bottles and block light whilst storing the ready-mixed dye.

Squeezy bottles to hold UV dye

Guess what – it works very well, and I’d definitely recommend it!

This won’t be a full review of Solarfast colours and screen printing with Solarfast, because I did a little test, and realised that I needed to do quite a bit more on different materials. That full review should be coming soon, and I’ll link to it here when it’s ready.

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Art supplies haul February 2019

Studio Notes 15/03/19

Overwhelm has hit me hard.

I really, truly hate to say that, as I think it’s so commonplace and it’s something that I’ve gone through and defeated before, and I can already see its cyclical pattern laid out before me: it comes and goes, and I get that it’s absolutely pointless to fret over it.

Backing up – the return of a shelved project

So why slip back into feeling swamped? Well, I was listening to a podcast whilst tidying up, as I often do, and this one happened to be about increasing creative productivity. I wasn’t going out in search of self-flagellation, I promise – I just cycle through different podcasts for creatives and for marketing, and this one popped up.

It was great, actually – engaging and thought-provoking, and it pushed me into reconsidering my timeline for the course I’m writing. I should say, into reconsidering the fact that if I don’t start writing this course as a priority it won’t be finished this year.

Fast forward through the buzz of that evening to the grim reality that the course is not a simple project at all… cue feeling swamped and overwhelmed.

Writing the course I want to take

I’ve been through plenty of art education, and I can see a lot of low-quality courses bandied around online.

There are even more blog articles telling you that you can easily create a course and earn passive income from it. This is the problem – a lot of low, or at best, mid-quality content encouraging you to create low or mid-quality content as a course. Actually, the same goes for ebooks. I think that if you want to write and publish a book in a week, as I’ve seen suggested online, you should accept that you’ll be writing and publishing a bad book at best, or more accurately, an assortment of related articles.

This really isn’t something I’m happy to do, but I’m not happy to sit on my idea for much longer either. I feel as though I need to make this a priority just so that I can get it off of my shoulders and carry on with the artwork that I had to shelve at the end of last year.

What I want to do is to write the course I would want to take, and to write the book I would want to read. Sounds good, but both of those things have to be, for me, substantial and specific, high-quality offerings. The kind of things that require time and research, and a lot of focus.

What I’ve done to get unstuck

Nothing gets done via hand-wringing and worrying.

One of my first jobs this week was to start cleaning and organising my studio, as it had been neglected since my enforced break at the end of last year. This will help with absolutely everything – being able to quickly do some work in some stolen time or find the resources I need for a job.

Another was to organise my existing course/book notes, see what I already had and what else I needed, and come up with a writing plan.

So far, the plan is to flesh out the existing headings into chapters and write the entire text as I would write a book. When the first draft is done, I’ll see if I can package it as a course by recording it. After that, I’ll add to the text, then refine and edit it into a full book. If it’s a bad book, then I’ll make it better. Simple plan.

What helps me to stop freaking out is that part of the plan is only looking at the steps that are right in front of me. Writing a book is a big deal; writing ten thousand words is less so, but writing one thousand words about one single topic is not as terrifying.

Also, I learned that I really like writing notes longhand instead of typing them.

Testing Solarfast dyes under a lamp.
Testing the Solarfast dye under a lamp.

Doing the work

It never ceases to surprise me, just how easy it is to actually get on with the work. Sound strange? Well, I find that thinking about doing something is invariably more stressful than the task itself actually turns out to be once I get started. I managed to start testing my Solarfast inks with the screen printing thickener and come to the conclusion that this was absolutely not the right medium for the money project.

Turning over a double-sided screen print note.

The great thing about this is that even though my tests didn’t turn out as I wanted, the way forward with the inks I mixed and tested in December is totally clear and I’m not left with any niggling doubt as to whether I should try something different.

I’m going to keep the same train of thought for the writing. Just sit down and do the work, even if it’s just a tiny bit, or just to answer that small nagging question. It’s rarely as hard as you imagine it to be.

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Studio Notes 15/03/19

Studio Notes 08/03/19

It’s been a busy creative week, but most of my creativity has gone into writing, which, when I sit down to write about what I’ve done, makes me feel awkward about not hitting the goals I had in mind.

On the other hand, looking back at where my time has gone made me realise just how much has actually been done.

Feeling slightly dissatisfied?

This week I’ve been less artist than writer, businesswoman and agony aunt.

In the last week, I’ve worked on eight articles and published six of them, with the other two due to go live in a few days. In some cases, creating the visuals for the articles has taken longer than preparing the text.

These all live on platforms I built from scratch and control myself. I worked hard for a few years to get to the point where a blog could earn me money and now can say I earn money from my writing on my own terms.

Not bad, right?

Yet I still find myself feeling bad because I haven’t been able to work on the newer projects I wanted to. Today I’m trying to work around that by writing it away.

I’ve created a communication machine

One morning when I had planned to plough through some writing, I got an email from a reader, asking for advice.

This was on a different site, on a subject that’s very difficult and very stressful. Whenever I get reader emails on this topic, I try to reply straight away, but a good, detailed answer can take a long time to put together.

I feel good about being able to earn from my ideas and my words, but I feel great about being able to use my ideas and words to provide help for people who need it, who feel as though they have nowhere else to turn to. I only wish that I could do more to help, but in truth there’s only so much that I as a writer can do. Still, when you think about it, that blog has touched more people than my art has…

That doesn’t mean I’m ever going to ditch creating art, but it does mean that I can start to feel good about weeks when the writing takes over.

When the writing starts to feel like a machine that I’m tied to, as it does from time to time, then it’s time to step back and take a look at the machine that I personally created. It’s mine, I can do what I want with it, and it helps people.

It’s still creativity, just not in the marks-on-paper sense.

See? I feel a lot better now!

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Studio Notes 08/03/19