Illustrator Lucille Clerc explains the inspiration behind her screenprints featuring nymphs
Illustrator Lucille Clerc takes us behind the scenes on this self-initiated project where she creates images of nymphs that embody the plants of the world
Kodama is a personal project rooted in my love of nature. I was researching legends and traditions relating to nature and that’s when I fell in love with Kodama: forest spirits from Japanese folklore. I decided they would be the focus of a series of images I would create.
My Kodama inhabit trees and are generally peaceful, but sometimes they are cross with us because of our attitude to nature. They’re like nymphs that are half human, half vegetation, and they hide in our gardens and in the last bits of greenery in our cities, reminding us of how different our relationship to nature could be.
The area I come from in France plays a big part in my love of nature. I grew up near a forest, my family owned cattle, the soil is rich and people work in the mining and wood industries. I’ve lived in the city for 15 years, but still feel the need to go back to where I grew up. People who were born on the coast need to see the sea, I need to see forests and fields.
I’ve been sketching plants for a long time, in my garden and in the botanical gardens in London and France. My sketches form a large collection.
I use Moleskine and Fabriano sketchbooks because I like the format and the paper quality. I don’t like drawing on white paper; off-white or coloured with a grain is better. It doesn’t have to be fancy though, I also love drawing in old notebooks found in flea markets.
The drawing is done with ballpoint pens, or Bic/Muji Criterium mechanical pencils. The hardness of the graphite varies and the sizes I use go from 0.5mm to 3mm, which is very thick. I use Winsor & Newton watercolours and Lefranc Linel gouache.
I draw all the elements by hand. It is timeconsuming, and is meticulous work, but I find creating the detail is really therapeutic. It puts me in a sort of hypnotic state, which is both soothing and quite addictive.
When my drawings are complete, I scan them and arrange my composition in Photoshop.
I see the work done on the computer as being like the tape that holds the montage together.
The figures in the Kodama drawings are like totems that represent the seasons. Each image in the first series uses different types of plantlife; woods, succulents, algae, rainforests, mangroves and flowers in bloom.
Guilt is frequently used to get people to think about ecology. I wanted to remind them of how marvellous nature is, and convince them to care about conservation through viewing this positive and soothing message.
The colours are meant to harmonise, and one print leads on to the next. Creating them was technically challenging, but after trying different settings during the printing process, I’ve managed to make it work without having to simplify the artwork.
When an image is complete, registration marks are added and I separate it into four colour channels – cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The layers are converted into bitmaps, and each is printed in black on a layer of clear acetate. This is the print positive.
The screens are aluminium frames with silk mesh. I use a very fine mesh to preserve the details. The fabric is coated with light sensitive emulsion, which has to go on thinly and evenly in order to get the desired effect.
I then place the positive onto the screen and expose it to sunlight, to a 500W halogen light or
to a UV light in a vacuum exposure unit. After exposure, I wash away the unexposed emulsion and when the screen is dry, I tape over the edges to prevent ink reaching the edges of the frame. I can then print by saturating the screen with ink, which goes through onto the paper wherever the emulsion wasn’t exposed to the UV light. The trick is to use the registration marks very precisely so that the colours go down exactly where they should, producing an image that is as crisp as possible. Preparing to print and sorting out registration are definitely the most time-consuming aspects of the process.
My Kodama seasonal images use various different inks – metallic, shiny and matt – so the colours interact in completely different ways. This is the great thing about screen printing: you can create something that can’t be done in a digital print. It’s much more subtle. The pigments are strong and long-lasting. I printed 40 of each and I’m selling them on my website, on Outline Editions and at three galleries. My goal is to keep experimenting and try new techniques. I have a new set of Kodama artworks based on the seasons, which I plan to screenprint soon.
03 Lucielle assembled cards and old pieces of paper and drew the silhouetted character, which is the centrepiece of each spirit, in pen.
04 Lucielle has been collecting sketches for years, adding to them with each visit to a botanical garden. Some of them became part of the Kodama spirits. 04
01-02 From intriguing tropical leaves to delicate fiddlehead ferns, dozens of elements were meticulously sketched by hand for Kodama. 01
06 Work in progress sequence showing the four different ink separations of the succulent print: yellow, magenta, cyan and black.
05 Test screenprints. When screenprinting four colours, registration is one of the biggest and most time-consuming challenges.
07 The Mangrove screenprints, with colours far subtler and richer than you can achieve in a digital print.
09 09 Bloom is an optimistic image and is full of petals of many descriptions – each painstakingly sketched and shaded..
08 08 Mangrove’s Kodama spirit has a semi-submerged hint about it.