Collagraphs with handmade paper

I’ve long been told that it’s difficult to print intaglio on unsized handmade paper, so it was time to give it a go.

I always print on quality cotton rag paper, usually 250gsm BFK Rives, so my failures can be expensive and wasteful. Years ago I started recycling these prints by separating the print from the blank surround, shredding, pulping and making new sheets to use – but the process washes away most, if not all, of the internal sizing.

Recent shredded prints ready for pulping

This means I’m unable to soak paper to create good collagraphs or etched prints but I can spritz them with water instead. What I like about my handmade sheets is that they retain the feel of the original commercial BFK Rives; the soft, slightly spongy texture that slips so well into the recesses on collagraph plates, transferring the ink easily. My hope is that my own spritz-dampened paper will mimic my commercial paper results.

I’ve tried this before using an intaglio solar plate. It was well cured before use but the results were a complete disaster.

My handmade paper is essentially created from cotton rag pulp, and pressed before rolling onto a flat surface to dry. It’s the cellulose that, under pressure, binds together to form the sheets when dry. However, in usage, anything tacky it comes in contact with risks the paper surface lifting and sticking, or even just raising the surface ‘hairs’.

The photo-polymer surface of a solar plate holds on to the paper so once you’ve run a print through the etching press and try to remove the paper the surface layer remains behind adhered to the solar plate. Not only is this a disaster for the print but, in my case, I’ve been unable to remove this residue from the plate, necessitating it be thrown away.

Now I’m trying collagraphs, which I prefer over solar print plates anyway. I picked an old but favourite plate, something well varnished with a very slick surface to avoid the paper sticking.

Original printing plate & spritzing the paper

I couldn’t have hoped for better results. The paper easily peeled away from the print base, the ink adhered well and the surface of the paper remains smooth with no lifting.

So that’s a winner. The paper has curled a little while drying but that can easily be resolved.


About Claire B

I am a passionate printmaker, paper maker and book artist. I'm a 'forever' student and frequently attend courses and workshops to extend and improve my creative skills.
This entry was posted in My Creative Pieces, My paper, My prints and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Collagraphs with handmade paper

  1. Jacky Lowry says:

    Hello Claire,

    Thank you for you posts. I enjoy following your experimentation.

    I haven’t used my own handmade paper much for printing, so can’t add any experience. It works like a dream for relief prints. I do wonder, since it is so soft, whether handmade paper, especially if quite thick, might not print collagraphs quite well, without pre-moistening.

    I have made paper out of failed prints – can’t waste all that lovely, expensive printmaking paper. The flecks of the old printing ink can add a lovely look to the paper.

    But I did want to comment on spritzing paper with a spray bottle. At Art School we had large vats for soaking paper, and the damp/wet paper hung around and there were old towels and/or blotting paper to blot them, and it all took a lot of space and was messy.

    When I finally got my own press, and set up printmaking in my studio, I didn’t have large enough vats or the space, to dampen the paper in that way. What I devised is simple, results in damp, flexible printmaking paper, and does not require space or big vats sloshing with water.

    I have all my paper ready in a pile, print-side on top. A towel is ready, large enough to wrap the pile of paper. I start by spritzing the towel where the paper will sit. Then I spray the top of the paper pile, turn the top sheet over and place it on the towel. The back of the paper is now uppermost, and that gets sprayed,

    The next sheet is sprayed, turned over and placed on the sheet on the towel, and the back is now sprayed. Wet sheet sits on wet sheet. Until all the sheets are sprayed on both sides, and now on the towel.

    The edges of the towel around the wet pile of paper are sprayed, and the whole pile is wrapped in the towel. Leave 24 hours, and the paper is evenly damp throughout the whole pile, with the back of the paper uppermost, ready for printing.

    Simple, compact, with no mess.

    All the very best, Jacky Lowry


    • Claire B says:

      Thanks for the comment Jacky. I’ll have a good look through your website.
      The only paper I spritz instead of soaking is handmade paper because it simple falls apart if soaked. You’re probably right that it prints collagraphs well when dry but I seem to get more detail transferred on to damp paper.
      Love your routine for having damp paper ready to go and this method was used in a workshop I attended a while ago. It really speeds the process up and means there’s no need for vats of water or damp towels all over the place, great system when doing multiple prints. Most of my practice involves only one or two prints at a time so I chuck a couple of sheets of commercial paper in a vat and that’s it.

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