Printing the new plate

Further to my last post, where I started creating my new collagraph plate (without the large cut away areas), once the Mod Podge solution dried I slashed into the plate surface, glued on some thin cardboard shapes and added some gel medium pressed with a patterned fabric.  The plate was then sealed with 4 layers of Shellac.

Above: before and after Shellac.

The Shellac was interesting as it soaked into my finely cut lines, swelling the cardboard and so further defining the areas.  This is particularly evident on the right hand side of the right image, top and bottom corners where the lines appear thickened.

The carborundum sat well within the Mod Podge but, once dry, it seemed to have sunk to the bottom of the solution and the surface wasn’t really as rough as I’d hoped.

Once the Shellac was brushed over the plate as well I wasn’t sure if I’d get any texture in these areas on my prints at all.  It was a case of fingers crossed and just give it a go.

Trial 1:

I started with the light-weight Chinese cotton as I need two more prints to complete my (very bright, lairy) series of lining sheets for the book.

OK, not bad but I was correct that I’ve lost any texture I was aiming for from the carborundum.

Coverage isn’t bad for a first print but I need to push the ink into the areas surrounding the high points so I get better outline definition.

The honeycomb effect from the fabric pressed into gel medium has come out well, as have the ‘Shellac swelled’ slashes.

Trial 2:

Great coverage.  Thank heavens these coloured prints are done.

Now to the front and back inside linings, in a heavier-weight paper.  My last post showed great results using damp 250gsm BFK Reeves paper.  However, I’m a great fan of Stonehenge, although I know many printmakers aren’t.  It’s less flexible than BFK Reeves but has a super smooth surface that I like.

Inner lining 1:

Bone black ink + 50% extender on 250gsm damp ivory Stonehenge. 

Wow, now that is gorgeous.  Beautiful definition, thrilled with the result.  As you can see, there is a difference in the  image between this print and the previous two.  That’s because this (and the next print) are on smaller pieces of paper.

Inner lining 2:

Bone black ink + 50% extender on 250gsm damp ivory Stonehenge. 

On this one I removed more of the background ink and lightly brushed telephone book paper across the entire surface.  This has crisped the image and (yes!) brought out some of the carborundum texture in my piped lines.

And a full image just for me:

Bone black ink + 50% extender on 250gsm damp ivory Stonehenge.

Great result.  Printing for this project is now complete and in a week or so, when the oil based inks are nicely cured, I’ll start book assembly.

A final note: Always remember that fifth ‘P’ – perseverance.  It doesn’t only relate to print-making you know.

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Printing collagraphs: The next stage

In my last post I talked about the necessity of understanding the type of paper you’re using to print on, depending on the print method.  So, seeing as I still need a few prints on lightweight paper, and I’m using a collagraph method I’ve a new plate underway.

I’m avoiding deep cut away sections and instead have mixed carborundum with Modge Podge (a thick PVA type sealer/glue) and piped it onto a mountboard surface, thus creating high points – the opposite of my previous plates.

Whilst waiting for this to dry, which will probably take most of the day due to the thickness of the solution, I’ve printed my previous plates on soaked and blotted BFK Reeves paper.  I’m determined to see if my detective work (previous post) has paid off and I’ll get perfect prints.

Nope, not yet.  However compared to my previous red print on Chinese cotton there is more ink pick-up on this one.

I’m obviously rubbing away too much ink from the surface, which is also dragging some ink out of the cutouts, reducing the amount that can be printed.

So for the next ones I left more ink on the plate, with the thought that if there was too much transfer to the paper I could carefully and lightly blot them with tissue paper.

Well just look at that.  Two smaller prints with fantastic printed imagery!  Love the linework where each plate abuts the next (sometimes white, sometimes black), the tarlatan imprint on medium is well-defined, the punched circles are bold and definite, and those cutouts are magnificent.

Now that’s what was in my head!!  Front, back and spine of book completed.
New plate for inner lining pages yet to finish.

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The four ‘P’s of Printing

Loving my latest printing project although all is not going to plan.  But isn’t that the beauty of printing?  The serendipity of result when peeling back the printed sheet from the print plate?  The unexpected joy or frustration at seeing something unique – be it good or bad – on paper.

As I’m not achieving my goals I think a review of techniques and materials is in order.  Good for me to reconsider how I’m working and, hopefully, a benefit to anyone else learning or wanting to revisit the basics.  So here are my 4 ‘P’s of printing:

P1: Print plate

The print plate or substrate is the base used as the ink carrier and transfer substructure.  In my current project I’ve created a collagraph; a mountboard base which has items adhered to the surface and also cut away sections.

Above left is the set of collagraph plates I’ve used and shown on my blog so far.  They were sealed with satin varnish.  On the right is my new set, sealed with shellac.  I’ve done away with most of the modelling medium which creates rough print areas and instead used a gel medium and pressed tarlatan (like stiffened muslin) into it to form a grid-like pattern.  Sorry, impossible to see from the plates, wait for the prints.

Reflection: Happy with my plates so far.

P2: Pigments/Printing inks

I’m using oil based printing inks, good quality and consistency.  They allow me time to position colours and rub back sections without drying out.

Above, close-up of latest print with good ink pick-up, great definition (white line) between my ‘jigsaw’ of plates.  I’ve abandoned the yellows of my previous trials and have moved to cadmium red dark + a touch of black.

Reflection: Even though I’m not the greatest printer on earth, I know how to mix and apply inks correctly.  No problems here.

P3: Pressing

I’m using a large etching press with 2 blankets and a 10cm deep foam on top of the plate.  This should ensure that the paper is pushed into all the crevices and so picks up ink in both relief and intaglio.

Reflection: Press pressure is good, foam seems to do its job and ink transfer is fine, except….

Some of the cutouts aren’t picking up the ink, but I don’t think the issue is with the press.  My feeling is that it is something else.

P4: Paper

Oh, the minefield of paper decisions: heavy or lightweight; dry, damp or spritzed; cotton rag or other; handmade or commercial; smooth or rough surface.  Need I go on?  I feel my problem lies here, and here is my explanation.

My mountboard plates have both positive and negative print areas.  As can be seen from the photos below, I have adhered some textural paper to the plate surface, bringing additional height in some areas.  In other areas I have cut away the mountboard surface creating depressions or cavities.

These cavities are fairly deep, and I think too deep for the paper I’m using.  Here is how collagraphs work (I’m concentrating on a mountboard or similar base).

There are several ways of carving into mountboard.  Using a craft knife, scalpel or Stanley knife precise shapes can be cut and removed as shown.  Using the same blades, simple cut strokes can be made.  However, as nothing is removed, this method creates a ‘burr’ either side of the split in the surface – and this will attract and hold ink.  Usually you can also cause minor depressions in the board surface without cutting at all – hammering lightly, punches and the like achieve great results.

If you apply ink using a piece of cardboard across the surface, you should get good coverage across the whole plate and you should find that the ink (if you have the correct consistency) slips into, and pools, in the cutouts and the higher regions.

Follow this with a rub over with some tarlatan and you can create highlights by removing selected areas of ink (see close-up of print left).

If you roll ink over the surface instead of the cardboard method then it’s likely that the ink will not sink into the cutouts, particularly very narrow cuts where no board was removed.  Instead, it will catch in the burrs as per the diagram above left and your cut strokes will not print.

I used the cardboard method, had ink in every cut away section, rubbed away selected areas and still it didn’t work correctly.  So we turn to the paper.

Generally, dry paper has no flexibility so will sit over cut areas and not pick up ink (diagram A).  This applies particularly to the most popular heavier weight printing papers.  Keep in mind that the ink sinks into the depression and may not be level with the surface due to rubbing away the excess with tarlatan.

Lightweight dry paper can sometimes stretch slightly and dip into crevasses but often won’t pick up ink at the edges of a cut area (diagram B).  Lightly spritzed Kozo, Iwaki, Hosho and other Japanese print papers may fare better.  Spritzing these isn’t always advised though.

Cotton rag paper, designed specifically to be soaked then blotted before printing, will have a decent degree of stretch and can mould itself well into peaks and troughs.  By making cut out areas shallower and using a well soaked and blotted print paper such as BFK Reeves, Hahnemuhle, some Fabriano papers and the like you should get good ink pick-up (diagram C).

Reflection: My cutouts are too deep and wide for the paper.  I’m printing on dry lightweight (maybe 50-60gsm) Chinese cotton and, whilst it has some give in it, it isn’t flexible enough to stretch into every nook and cranny.  Why don’t I dampen it?  It’s simply too fragile.
Solution is to move to damp BFK Reeves when using this plate and make a new, more suitable, plate for the remaining prints I require on the Chinese cotton.

BONUS P5: Perseverance

Never give up.  The beauty of printmaking is that you never, never stop learning.  What works today might not be so successful next week, but you just need to keep going.

When it works, when you finally achieve something spectacular (whether anyone else thinks it is or not!), the feeling of satisfaction is worth every second of that labour-intensive struggle.

I’m off to check on my stock of BFK Reeves printing paper.  No this project isn’t finished yet.  Stick with me and let’s hope the results will be worth it.

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Mixing more pulp

After my paper-making last week I had a little pulp remaining and decided to de-freeze some banana fibre pulp I made last year and see how it would mix with the rest.  I also had a bit of recycled pale yellow cardstock to use up.  It feels a bit like making a cake – gathering all the ingredients together and then hoping for a good result.

Above from left: The first couple of pages were plain cardstock.  I then added some orange pulp to it and gradually, on later sheets, some banana pulp.

The cardstock has leached colour and become a lovely ivory, whilst the fine orange peel has retained its vibrant orange.  So the paper has lovely flecks of colour throughout.

The banana pulp was made in two parts.  Some of it I pulped very finely but the rest was left coarse so that fibres would be evident in the final product.  By doing this I created a good change in colour (resulting from the fine pulp mixing entirely with the cardstock and orange) and a fibrous texture.

Above from left: These pieces are almost exclusively cardstock and banana pulp, gradually progressing to more banana and less cardstock.

The colour darkens and the fibres and small clumps become more evident.

This paper is very strong due to the longer fibres that interlock and bind it together.

As all the papers were dried on the window they have one very smooth side (dried against the glass) and one very textural.  These papers are being prepared for printing on and I love the fact that I will be able to get very different print outcomes depending on which side I decide to use.

I made these sheets with a friend of mine and she also got some great results using some of her own recycled paper from her office mixed with some of my pulp:

Photographing paper is a horror.  Very, very hard to correct the colour for decent on-line imagery, and I’m no expert photographer either, but you get the idea.

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Off the grid

Yesterday.  At home.  Computer off.  Mobile phone out of sight.  Just my husband, my dog Jack and myself.  A rare day, determined to keep the world out.

The sun was bright, a little windy but warm and I was in the garden making paper.

I mixed two pulps; some recycled white and cream paper and some roughly pulped orange peel and pith.  This second one came from my own oranges last year, pulped and frozen until now.

Thanks to the loan of a small paper press from Primrose Paper Arts I’m able to easily make and press A4 sheets at home outside.

The press above has a top that lowers on to it and then screws in place tightly.  Very portable and simple to use for smaller sheets.

Although the wet sheets, straight from the vat, appear very orange they dry quite pale with the orange peel inclusions.  I started with only the white pulp and added more orange pulp as I went, creating a variety of outcomes.

They were dried on the window, as usual.

Still can’t really tell what colour they will turn out as the sun shines through them whilst drying.  As I ran out of pulp the sheets became more light-weight.  So my first 14 or so pieces are at about 110gsm, and the remainder are reducing in weight to around 60gsm.

At the end of the day I achieved 24 perfect sheets, some plain white and others beautifully textured with flecks of orange throughout.

A peaceful and rewarding day.  Now back to the real world.

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Continuing printing collagraphs

I’ve managed to squeeze in enough time for another couple of prints in my collagraph series.  So far I’ve done 2 trials (posted here) and here are the next 2:

Trial 3:

Trial 4:

So much better ink coverage than the first two.  Once plates have been inked a few times they seem to print so much better.  Must retain some oil and residue that continues to transfer perhaps.

Yes, they’re still looking weird and discordant at this point.  Eventually, the project will come together into what I hope will be something very unique.

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Drawing – still life

This One and Twenty exercise got off to a slow start.  After agonizingly drawing the main sweetcorn kernels I realised that time was about up on my allotted 20 minutes.  Was I to leave my food in place until I next got a few minutes to continue?  In 38°c heat, on my outdoor balcony, that wasn’t an option.  With my husband calling me to lunch I just had to grab the pencil and go for the rest of it in one minute flat.

OK, no shadows on the turned corn leaf but to draw the leaf, apple and shadows in a single minute was pretty impressive I thought.

In future I need to put the timer on for 15 minutes, then rush the last 5 minutes.  The results seem looser and more flowing.

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