“Making art is like walking a tightrope”: DKW journey into the unknown with Jacob van Schalkwyk 2016-07


Blogger: Jessie Cohen

Finally, we have the pleasure of hosting visual artist Jacob van Schalkwyk in our workshop. The collaboration has been five years in the making and for the last year van Schalkwyk and DKW master printer, Jill Ross, have had a lively “colour correspondence,” throwing out ideas for possible colour combinations to use when the collaboration would come to fruition.

Why is colour key to van Schalkwyk’s practice and how does he approach it?

“Because colour is infinite in its complexity, I need some rules to apply”, he says. Van Schalkwyk uses Josef Albers’ colour system Interaction of Colour (1963) to arrive at colour combinations to use before he starts drawing.

Van Schalkwyk consults Albers’ colour system before he puts ink to paper, always sharpening his eye for colour intensity which he sees to be “a life’s process.”
Colour theory
Van Schalkwyk gives an example of colour theory in practice – demonstrating how the central pastel yellow registers differently on the orange and on the green.

Eventually, van Schalkwyk decided to use a combination of dark grey, red violet, pastel yellow, yellow-orange and tinted green in his experimental prints at DKW. He will also be mixing the colours together “so that they can vibrate on a molecular level”, he says.

Colour range using at DKW
Van Schalkwyk’s selected colour range for printing at DKW

DKW printer Kim-Lee Loggenberg mixes the inks according to the bold range selected:



In his Cape Town studio, van Schalkwyk works with antique rice paper and lithographic ink, which he mixes with various mediums to achieve different thicknesses, textures and drying methods. An example of his recent work can be seen below:

“I think that painting as the ultimate pursuit is a  problematic value judgement … I look at my drawings as inquires into the unknown. My training is in paper and drawing … Lets just say I work with paper. When I’m painting I use what I’ve learned through drawing, but at a more leisurely pace” – van Schalkwyk

As can be seen in the image above, van Schalkwyk conducted various experiments according to pre-Renaissance painting techniques. This meant experimenting with mediums and varnishes – a process he enjoys because “it refreshes my interaction with the ink itself.”

Van Schalkwyk characterises his process as an “additive, building method until the image becomes saturated and can’t go any further. Then I glaze it in multiple layers, much like Rembrandt or Titian did with their paintings, to generate light.” He describes this as “walking a tightrope – once you lose the paper [gives in from the weight of the drawing materials], you fall. It’s a journey into the unknown.”


At DKW, van Schalkwyk is working in various mediums, which he will combine in layers. He is experimenting with much of the range that we offer, including sugarlift, aquatint, linocut and woodcut.

After colour, van Schalkwyk is most excited to be working with paper. He is honoured to be working with rice paper that Alice Goldin, the pioneer in SA printmaking who died earlier this year, left in the workshop some years ago. He is bringing his drawing methodology into the workshop by saturating the paper with marks as well as different printing techniques, but taking great care not to damage the paper in the process:

“We’re using transparency bases to impregnate the fibers of each piece of rice paper in order to maintain the luminosity of the paper and to strengthen it so that I can experiment with printing on both sides without damaging it” – van Schalkwyk
Van Schalkwyk revels in the qualities and possibilities of the rice paper. This is an example of a piece of rice paper which he printed on and ended up preferring the quality of marks that appear on the opposite side to that which was printed on directly. His next move might be to print new marks, possibly using a different printing technique, onto this preferred side of the paper.

One of the reasons van Schalkwyk enjoys working in layers is to make his process visible to the viewer:

“It is important to my practice that people can see the development of the work. It’s like sharing a joy of discovery”, van Schalkwyk says as he shows us some of the early results of his prints where mark-making is key:

Jaco's studies in mark making
This “inquiry into the unknown” (seen above in full size and in close-up) is intaglio, for which van Schalkwyk used a Dremel tool to “dance on the plate” according to a rhythmic pattern which he played in his head and allowed to direct the movement of his hand.

The philosophy of the avant-garde art movement, COBRA, has influenced van Schalkwyk when it comes to trying different methodologies for mark-making. For the artist, the movement legitimates “the investigation process of how things come into being” and getting to grips with “the essential building blocks”. As a result, he explains that “the species of art that interests me here is not working in figurative/known forms. I want to speak about abstract forms”.

Van Schalkwyk’s printing experiments REVEALED..

First, the artist points to one of of his prints in the early part of the layering process, referring to it as “a single gestural event”:

A thin layer of linocut was then applied to start building the process of saturation in terms of marks and layering of mediums:


Another early test: the artist tested different wood grains with the DKW team before this new medium entered the layering process.
Carborundum: Jaco attached a feather duster to a Dremel, giving a rough spiral effect.
The artist mixed carborundum with PVA paint to make a gritty paste. He then dipped a feather duster into the mixture and attached it to an electric drill, resulting in a rough spiral effect which varies in texture and consistency depending on where the paste spun onto the plate. This print is the result of this experiment.

DKW also printed the work in violet:

Carving the woodcut...
Carving the woodcut…


DKW printer Sbongiseni Khulu and RISD Joanna Cortez ink up the woodblocks to layer on the cardorandum print
DKW printer Sbongiseni Khulu and RISD intern Joanna Cortez ink up the woodblocks to layer on to the carborundum print.
Pressure's on: Khulu and Cortez register the block to align with the carborundum print to test the layering idea
Pressure’s on: Sbongiseni and Joanna meticulously align the woodblock with the carborundum print before layering the images.
Van Schalkwyk watches with anticipation as the two images finally meet under the pressure of the press
Result! Jaco, Jill, Sbongiseni and team assess the success of the layering
Result! Van Schalkwyk, Jill, Sbongiseni and team discuss…


For Van Schalkwyk, art must be practice-driven:”My work is led by experimentation … it would be incapacitating to lead with thinking. The answers come from doing.”

And there’s certainly no shortage of doing at DKW with Van Schalkwyk around…

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