Today I’m reviewing collagraph printing and how to get a variety of effects. This is both for my own reminder and as a permanent record I can refer to in the future. If it’s useful for anyone else than that can only be a plus!
Making the plate
This is called the print strata, the base you use to ‘pull’ the print from.
Anything sturdy and flat will do as long as it takes varnish or a sealant without major buckling, wrinkling or bending. I use either mountboard or plywood usually.
When creating a texture on your strata you have the choice whether to add or takeaway from the surface – or both.
Above is my latest plate using a mountboard strata and sealed with Shellac. You can see where I have used a craft knife and cut away some long narrow sections from the mountboard, peeling away the first layer or so, thereby recessing that part of the design. I’ve then mixed carborundum with PVA glue and piped it onto other areas (similar to piping glue with sand mixed in). I turned the craft knife over and, using the tip, scratched into some of the flatter sections. The entire thing has then had 3 coats of Shellac.
So my plate has a profile like this:
Now this is interesting. Firstly, what effect are you looking for? And depending on that, you have a choice of methods to apply ink to the surface.
Let’s look at each:
- Roller – Rollers come in varying degrees of hard and softness. A hard roller will only pick up texture on the very highest plate relief, whilst a softer roller can ‘mould’ slightly more into some other sections, but both will still miss large chunks of your print strata and the result will have a lot of white paper showing. However, if you use one of the other methods described below first and then over-roll with a roller in a different colour you can obtain some interesting outcomes.
- Paintbrushes – These can be used to force inks into very detailed sections which are hard to get to. The surface can then be wiped back and you can print the recessed areas to great effect.
- Toothbrushes – These can either work as per the paintbrushes, pushing inks into lower areas or, instead, to apply a light ink coating to all the higher areas, leaving lower sections clean.
- Mountboard ‘paddle’ – With this method you pick up ink along one edge of the card and wipe it across the whole print strata covering it completely. The surface is then wiped back (using tarlatan). This ensures that every recess has a good level of ink in it. It’s a great way to get heavy coverage and you can decide how much you wish to wipe away from the higher relief areas to obtain an all over tonal effect.
Here are a couple of examples where 2 different methods have been used to ink up the same plate.
The left hand side prints show the strata having been inked up using the mountboard card method. Several mountboard squares were cut, one for each colour, and individually applied to the strata surface before wiping them back (using tarlatan). It’s easy to spot the issue I encountered when trying to remove the ink from some lower recessed areas to obtain a sharp detailed outcome.
The right hand side prints show the same plates where the ink was gently applied using toothbrushes, one for each colour. I’ve managed to apply ink only to every relief area (high points) and miss out the lower mountboard strata itself. That is clearly demonstrated on the top right image where the scrim (muslin) was glued to the mountboard and has printed with a pristine, sharp result.
The collagraph Golden Rule
Creating and printing collagraphs isn’t a fast process. Whether you are aiming to print the relief (higher) sections, the recessed (lower) areas or something that will give you sharp imagery with plate tone (i.e. no white showing) the number one rule is to take time inking up.
It’s not like rolling over a linocut 4-5 times and you’re done. This is a process where you ink, wipe back, examine the strata, apply more ink, move and blend colours, remove more, hold it to the light to see if you have ‘puddles’ in the lower areas and need to continue removing excess ink, and so on.
My Other World plates are 24cm square (less than 10″) and I spend about an hour inking up before I’m satisfied and ready to print. They still don’t always have the effects I’m after but I know that without this level of attention I will never achieve a great print result.
I hope this is useful to anyone exploring collagraph printing. So go and print and enjoy!