Using minimal materials; essentially mountboard, a couple of pieces of lightweight paper and some adhesive foil, I built a low-relief multi-layered collagraph plate. I cut into a few areas, removing the mountboard surface, thereby encouraging the ink to ‘grab’ the uncoated inner fibres so those sections would print dark.
Once complete I coated the plate lightly with Shellac, avoiding the recesses. The plate was then printed intaglio using black oil-based ink.
Great idea, horror print. On the left is the fully inked print, showing a lot of ‘interference’, and on the right is the ghost print, having a much smoother appearance. So what went wrong?
After several attempts with no improvement I came to a few conclusions:
- Not a paper issue. The paper is good quality BFK Rives designed for exactly this type of printmaking.
- Not a paper preparation issue. Paper was well soaked in a clean tray with fresh water and correctly blotted.
- Not an ink issue. I used Charbonnel ink from a tube so there was no risk of dried particles accidentally getting onto the piece.
- Not an inking up issue. Inking the plate was done carefully using a child’s toothbrush, wiped back with fresh tarlatan, with a final wipe with flat tissue.
That only left the collagraph plate itself. By eye it looked fine. When gently feeling the surface with my fingers it seemed smooth. I got out a magnifier, then I could see tiny particles trapped in between the Shellac layers. Dust? No, not dust, I was very careful.
I examined the Shellac jar and found a small amount had settled on the bottom. When I had shaken it before use some of that sediment lifted, in tiny pieces, and swam among the rest of the liquid. Then as I brushed it onto the plate these specks transferred at the same time. Who’d have thought?
And that’s what accounts for the small irregularities in my prints. As the plate has many layers, although still relatively flat, it is a hard to rectify problem. I threw out the Shellac, sanded back the plate surface as much as possible and applied some gloss medium over selected areas, then reprinted.
There’s been some improvement, as can be seen from the left hand print (the other being the ghost print), and I’m not going to get it better than that I suspect. If I continue varnishing the surface I’ll likely lose my tonal variation.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson about plate sealing. I love the design and I’m sure there will be more along this vein down the track, hopefully with better printed outcomes.
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