Flashback: Plate is Proof Shirt 2000

A friend of mine commissioned me to design a shirt for a protest back in 2000. As part of the rules of a re-enactment group, the decision was made that plate armour would be proof, in battle, against arrows. Any number of people were very annoyed with this decision, and so my good friend came up with the idea of a protest shirt. We workshopped it, and then I went away and got the deed done.


Plate is Proof smaller wm
Above: the image as screenprinted onto the tee-shirt


So this is an image taken from one of Durer’s woodcuts, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, c1495. I was going to add ‘being martyred’ at the end of that sentence, but I just bothered to do a bit of reading about Sebastian, and it would seem that he was meant to die from being shot by arrows, but was nursed back to health after being left for dead. Then he was martyred by being beaten to death – so there you go. Nonetheless, the image of St Sebastian being peppered by arrows is an enduring and recognisable one, and well suited to the cause.


Durer St Sebastian c1495
Above: Albrecht Durer, The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, woodcut, c1495


I isolated the figure of Sebastian, and added a background which probably came from another Durer print. The armour came from another – possibly from his horsemen of the Apocalypse – or perhaps from researching the correct style of armour from the same time period. Unfortunately, all the working sketches and proofs probably lurk in the Architectural Drawers of Doom, so I’m drawing on hazy memories from 14 years ago, but it was all visually researched and correct for the time period and place of the Durer print (as opposed to the saint’s lifetime).


sebastian plate and print wm


Durer as a printmaker (aside from his painting) was primarily an engraver, woodcut designer and cutter, but he did also dabble in etching. Being the most proficient in etching out of these three, this is how I decided to proceed. I used zinc plate, which is the standard modern metal plate for etching. At the time, this was the best option for me, due to time constraints in getting the job done, and lack of knowledge of what was a better option (copper or iron would be the answer).


sebastian plate wm
Above: the zinc plate prepared by etching


I can see now, in retrospect, that I was very timid and conservative in the linework – it’s all a little hesitant and unsure. It probably also wasn’t bitten by the acid for long enough to beef up the lines and make them deeper, able to hold more ink, and therefore be bolder in print, to partly counteract the hesitant linework. That’s something which I think would turn out very differently today based on 14 years more experience, but it’s also very good to look back as well.


sebastian head detail wm
Above: detail showing face


Suffice to say, I was quite surprised to find this plate on a dark and dusty shelf, somewhat uncertain as to what state it would be in to print again, and delighted with the result. What it probably needs is a darn good polish to get rid of some of the surface scratches which have resulted from being shoved onto that dark and dusty shelf.


sebastian print wm
Above: scratches on the plate, the horror!