top of page


October 2021

Eight Vessels gif.GIF

Eight Vessels
William Kentridge

Eight Vessels is a new photogravure by William Kentridge produced in collaboration with Master Printer Jillian Ross and Steven Dixon at the University of Alberta, Department of Art and Design. The work consists of four plates: each plate is printed onto a single sheet of Hahnemühle paper, each is arranged and overlapped to form a single image that is then hand-painted and pinned.

Eight Vessels by William Kentridge

Photo by Carey Shaw

Eight Vessels stems from a larger body of work based on a series of investigations of a still life as a result of the COVID-induced lockdown in South Africa starting in March 2020 when Kentridge was in the unusual situation of being isolated in his studio without the normal interactions of his long-time collaborators.

This isolation allowed for a sustained investigation into the significance of the studio in meaning, making, and working process without truly knowing the lasting effects to come from COVID-related events.


Still from the animated film, 

Studio Life: A Natural History

of the Studio. 

Self-Portrait As A Coffe Pot by Willam Kentridge

And so began the investigation of Studio Life which started off with the investigation of a still life.  

As usual in Kentridge's working process, 'Studio Life' had many different manifestations in drawing, film, performance and in print.


During this time of isolation, inspired by the everyday objects around him and the historical Master Painter Giorgio Morandi, Kentridge created enlarged objects in his home studio and began arranging them on a table as subjects to be drawn. 

Giorgio Morandi "Grande natura morta con la lampada a destra" 1928 

etching  9 7/8 x 13 3/8 in

Kentridge’s still life includes water jugs, vases, an ink tin and a bottle of whiskey.  (Note: an alcohol ban was being enforced during the South African COVID lockdown in 2020).

During this period of investigation, the image of the still life features as a number of different iterations in Kentridge's artworks:

  • Originally as foam core & paper cut-outs in an investigative performance (Still Life Sculpture) for The Long Minute;

  • As a charcoal drawing (Drawing for Studio Life (Still Life with Black Jug I ), which was photographed and translated into a new series of stop animation films included in Studio Life: A Natural History of the Studio; and

  • Lastly as a photogravure print (Eight Vessels), published and printed by long-time collaborator Jillian Ross whilst she was relocating from South Africa to Canada and herself being in isolation from her normal working practice.  


Ross and Kentridge in conversation over Whatsapp between their respective studios in Canada and South Africa.

Since studios were in isolation, one of the ways of continuing to collaborate in printmaking was through an age-old, but highly technical, printing technique called photogravure,

(See part 3 - still life in PRINT for a technical explanation of the process.)


By utilizing the photogravure technique, Kentridge and Ross were able to continue their collaborative partnership whilst working in their individual studios which are on different continents.

Eight Vessels is a photogravure print collaboration with William Kentridge in Johannesburg, Jillian Ross in Saskatoon and Steven Dixon, the photogravure expert, at the University of Alberta Print Studio in Edmonton. All three studios working together in collaboration.

WK Excercise 2 LR.jpg

Studio Life Series. Exercise 2

William Kentridge, 2021, Photogravure 

Simultaneously a second photogravure project called the Studio Life Series developed in South Africa that documents this investigation and the studio's everyday practice.

The Studio Life Series is a series of photogravure images that stem from photographs taken of William working on drawings in his studio in Johannesburg during lockdown whilst producing the ongoing, yet to be released, film series Studio Life.

This second photogravure project was introduced by Jillian Ross as a project between William Kentridge (the artist) in Johannesburg, long-time collaborator David Krut Projects (the publisher) in Johannesburg, Zhané Warren from Warren Editions (the photogravure expert) in Cape Town, and Jillian Ross (the project coordinator) in Canada.  

Eight Vessels

William Kentridge

64cm x 96cm (28¾’” x 39¼”)

4-Plate Photogravure with hand painting

4 sheets of Hahnemühle Natural White, 300gsm

Pinned using 11 round 1/8” matt black map pins

2020 –2021

Edition. 20

Publisher Jillian Ross Print

Printed at Jillian Ross Print

Printers Master Printer Jillian Ross

Plate creation by Steven Dixon

PartsAndLabour_Nov2021_001 LR_edited.jpg

part 3/3 - still life in

The making of a photogravure print with Steven Dixon and Jillian Ross in studio.  

Eight Vessels is a collaborative photogravure print between William Kentridge, Master Printer Jillian Ross, and Steven Dixon, a photogravure expert with 30 years of experience, from the University of Alberta Print Studio in Edmonton, Canada. 


In Eight Vessels, William Kentridge and Jillian Ross continue their collaborative process using collage and pinning to develop large artworks as seen in the Triumphs and Laments Woodcuts series and in prints like Scribble Cat.

Breaking from the traditional photogravure format of a small image from a single plate, the artwork for Eight Vessels is made using four plates / prints to create the single image. Further to this, five different black inks are used in the prints development which are then pinned together in an overlapping arrangement.

¹Photogravure is a highly technical and specialized skill taking years of training to perfect. The technique must be performed under a controlled environment to ensure consistency and quality. 

Photogravure is a technique that allows for the transfer of a photograph from a film onto a copper plate using a light sensitive gelatin tissue and etching. The copper plate is then inked and printed onto paper. 

  • A photographic film, with an image on it, is exposed to the gelatin tissue using UV light. This transfers the image from the photo film onto the gelatin tissue.

  • The gelatin tissue is then developed on to the copper plate through a warm water bath. This transfers the image from the gelatin tissue onto the copper plate leaving a gelatin resist on the copper. 

  • The image on the copper plate is then etched in a chemical bath. (The copper is etched more deeply where the gelatin resist is thinner and vice versa.) 

  • The image has now been transferred from a photograph onto the copper plate ready for inking and printing onto paper.  

The 'tonal range' of black and white in photogravure is its strength. A traditional black and white photograph can have a very broad range of gray tones which can be transferred onto the copper plate through the light sensitive gelatin. Because of this, an artist and printer can achieve a wide range of gray tones to develop a tonal range from very dark to very light. This creates a depth and softness in the image.

The four plates that make up the

image of Eight Vessels.

Eight Vessels gif.GIF

The photogravure process

from film to gelatin to copper to paper.

Steven Dixon etching a copper plate and Jillian Ross wiping a copper plate.

¹ visit Wikipedia for a more

in depth explanation into photogravure.

With special thanks to Steven Dixon, Sean Caulfield and Marilene Oliver of the University of Alberta.

Luke Johnston and Alex Thompson for their printing assistance during the project.

Articulate Ink in Regina for the use of their facilities while our home studio was being set up.

Lisa Baldissera from Griffin Art Projects and David Krut for their support during this entire process.

Anchor 1
bottom of page