Sunday, May 1, 2016

miniature etchings from photopolymer plates - a how to photo tutorial

I have been developing a series of small landscape studies that feature key locales along the shore of Lake Superior on the Canadian side of the great lake. The studies will all be the same in overall dimension size and all are horizontal. To date I have created plates for three studies. 
These are printed using a warm black Caligo safewash etching ink. Hand colouring is added to each once they have dried. No one single image off the same plate is therefore identical. 
I hope to have upwards eventually of up to 10 studies that will span locations all the way from Sault Ste. Marie Ontario west to Thunder Bay and then south down to the Minnesota border. 

Near Rossport - small polymer plate based etching with hand colouring

Sleeping Giant

Late afternoon kayak paddle - a Step by Step Photo Tutorial

The beginning stages of artwork being created on film of a new study that will feature the driftwood laden shoreline of Pukaskwa National Park and a small figure in a kayak in the water off the sandy beach. It started as a pencil sketch. I overlayed a sheet of clear wet media acetate film and added in details and textures using a refillable technical pen and then washes of tusche with brush.

 Duralar Wet media film


I created the artwork and then scanned both the landscape and the kayaker at 600 dpi using a flatbed scanner on my inkjet printer unit. Once the images were imported into my photo-editing program (Corel Photopaint) I imported the saved kayaker scan and merged it into the landscape through a copy and paste application. I then saved the file. This was then resized (scaled down) to the dimensions of the polymer plate I planned to use (2 x 3.5 inches or 5 x 8 cm). I set the printer for grayscale printout and black ink only option. An A2 size of inkjet transparency sheet was placed into the paper drawer and the saved image was printed out. This served as my film positive which I exposed onto the light sensitive coated plate using UV lightsource. You can learn more about this process by visiting this post.

The image was burned into the polymer surface by a chemical reaction to the UV and then I developed the plate using tepid water and scrubbing with an old toothbrush.  The plate was then exposed a second time to UV light to harden the polymer making the etch permanent.

positive with both landscape and kayaker on inkjet tranparency

below: developed plate with ink wiped into the etched image

detail of etch or pitted area of the plate surface. The duration of the exposure determines the depth of the etch. I also pre-expose the plate to a fine dot aquatint screen for 1 min before I expose the artwork positive. This creates a micro halftone dot pattern that will allow for tonal variations and also help keep the etch from becoming too deep.

ink application area of studio. Vegetable oil on the left for cleaning up. I also use detergent and water for cleaning off plates afterwards.

magnetic sheet to hold the stainless steel base plate steady when applying and wiping ink

tempered plate glass square which I use to mix my ink. 
Top left: rolled felt material with tape handle that I use to apply ink to the plate (dabber). Top right: ink spreader. Bottom left: wiping fabric (polyester interfacing) Bottom right: Caligo Safewash oil base ink - Carbon black and a tube containing a bit of caligo easywipe compound. I add a tiny amount of this to the oil ink to make it less tacky and spreadable.

small etching press with compressed polyester and styrene sheet bed. I place a paper template under the plexiglass which is the exact size of the paper the print will be made onto. I center the plate on template sheet and trace the outline in pencil. The inked plate can be set over top of this (as it is easily viewed through the clear acrylic sheet.) The white rectangle to the left in the photo is the cotton rag paper onto which a print will be made when it is registered with the template underneath and placed over top of the plate.

In lieu of soaking the cotton rag paper I spray it first on both sides with water. This is a little atomizer is repurposed from a throat spray. When the bottle was empty I cut a not into the plastic area that fit around the top of the glass bottle. This allowed me to remove it and set it back on the glass bottle. The little flip up wand is where the water is pumped into and it delivers a very fine spray when deployed.

after I mist the paper I quickly blot it between two pieces of newsprint. It is lightly surface dampened. As the polymer plate is quite thin I find that the inked plate won't distress the fibers of the paper as that of a thicker zinc plate might. I also don't worry about bevel of edges for the polymer plate either. I just run a burnishing tool along the outer edge of the plate to smooth any rough metal down.

setting the slightly dampened 250 gm cotton rag paper over top of the plate and lining it up with the template under the plexiglass top.

next step: I am placing a piece of newsprint over top of the cotton rag print paper

 lowering three layers of wool felts over the paper and plate.

The top roller is set to a fairly tight squeeze using the gauge levers (on top with the repurposed wine cork handle grips). I then pull the handles of the press (three spoke type of gear mechanism) and this propels the press bed forward and passes the plate, paper and blankets under the metal roller and out the opposite side.

lifting the felts on the opposite side once the bed has moved and the plate and paper have cleared the metal roller

making sure my hands are clean of any ink I then start lifting the print paper away from the plate.The moment of truth when the transferred image from the plate appears embedded in the cotton rag print paper.

close up of the print on paper after it was removed from the press bed
 allowing prints to air dry...may take a while and then I will be able to apply colour to each through the introduction of wet media with brush
detail of kayaker from a print. The tiny dots in the water were created from the aquatint screen (tiny halftone dots) that the plate was pre-exposed to before the positive artwork.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Collagraph continued - small study from constructed plate

Here is a small collagraph I recently printed from a plate that I constructed back in 2012. The plate itself was 6 x 6 cm (2.5 inches). It was a simple composition created from application of collected dried plant tops and some other elements including scrap ends of fabric and paper. These were glued onto a small piece of matboard and then sealed under several layers of shellac.

I had made one monochromatic test print from this plate after the shellac coating had dried. Perhaps it was not inked properly but I remember the print off the plate was lacking in something so I put it aside and moved onto other artistic ventures.

Recently I pulled the plate out of storage and decided I would attempt to ink and make a print off of it. I applied oil based etching ink using small dabbers of rolled felt secured with duct tape. (these were about 4 inches in length) I left a little of the felt free of tape on both ends so it could be used to hold and transfer the ink. 
Here I applied a mix of  prussian blue, carbon black and cadmium yellow to create a seafoam green to the lower areas of the plate. I wiped the ink gently using a bundle of soft synthetic interfacing fabric. This was followed by a very light swipe of old telephone directory yellow pages.
For the small circular moon shape I removed ink using a cotton swab.
On the raised surfaces (plant elements) I rolled on a mix of carbon black and forest green ink using a small rubber brayer. Moistened cotton rag paper was set over top of the inked plate. This was passed under the roller of my small table top etching press.

resulting print on rag paper

I was quite happy with the resulting print this time around. 

The next thing I did was clean off the plate and press it into an equal size piece of thin dense styrne (styrofoam). This gave me an opposite image and the raised elements became below surface indentations. I inked the plate with the carbon black/forest green ink and rolled prussian blue and some cadmium red on the surface. Using gentle wiping I blended the two surface inks so that the top area became more of a violet hue.

original collagraph plate (left) and pressed foam plate version (right)

Again I placed dampened rag paper over top and ran it on the press bed under the roller.
Here is the resulting image that was transferred.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Collagraph part II - using low relief dense foam


In my previous post I showed a couple of prints of mine that combined various low relief materials to produce a print on paper. One of the materials that was used was low relief pieces of scratch foam printing plate. 

This material has the ability to embed other shapes into it's surface. It can be used to great effect for adding interesting details to a collagraph print.

I pressed medium grit sandpaper into the foam surface to give this a grainy texture. I followed this by stabbing the foam with a pen tip to give me slightly larger depressions. For some crack lines I drew across with the point of a bamboo skewer.
The objective here was to create a pocky hard rock surface which is very common to the region where I live. 
The mission with this collagraph was to convey a sense of the landscape and elements of Northern Ontario...lots of water with an abundance of Cambrian Shield rock interspersed with boreal forests.

I cut and glued down the foam pieces onto a thick paperboard substrate. Then using an xacto blade I cut away and shaped the material. Using a ballpoint pen tip I was able to press into the foam and create pockets for darker areas to be made when the ink would be applied.

I was able to coat the foam and rest of the materials on the plate using shellac. Once it was dry then thinned etching ink was applied to the plate and it was wiped back and printed.

This is a magnified detail from a section of a test print from another study (5 colour relief print) showing how the texture came about from the styrofoam.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Collagraphs Part 1

collagraphs produced by Grade six classroom drying on cardboard drying board
St. Bernard Catholic Elementary School, Thunder Bay ON

I recently have been exploring collagraphs again in the classroom via my art teachings. I thought the idea of creating a low relief plate using additive and subtractive methods would stimulate and challenge students. They get to use recycled materials and also print their plates using my press.
It is also a lot of fun.
Due to time restrictions we couldn't use shellac or varnish to seal the plates. Instead we opted to spray the service with an aerosol adhesive (done outdoors with masks worn). Plastic food wrap was stretched over top and the plate was passed under the press roller set onto a light squeeze. This forced the plastic to mold over everything and also added some textural effect to the prints. Students wore barrier gloves to keep their hands clean and using Akua carbon black intaglio ink they loaded ink into recessed areas  using old toothbrushes and wiping ink on the surface with their finger tip. We used bunched up pieces of interfacing fabric for wiping back of the ink followed by a surface polishing using yellow pages and gift wrap tissue. Dampened cotton rag paper was placed over top and it was passed again through the press.

My introduction to collagraphs originates around 2008. I viewed a lot of work online of people who worked primarily in this printmaking technique and was extremely motivated. Not having ever tried this I researched the process from reading art instructionn books and by watching online demos in You Tube. Hestor Cox is a UK based artist who is quite proficient in the medium.
Another person whose blog I follow is Southern California based artist Belinda Del Pesco. Her work is stellar.

The first couple of small plates I made using scrap packaging board and glue showed promise but were a little too simplistic. I became a bit more adventurous. I tried adding other materials such as mat board, thin sheet styrofoam, modelling gel medium and liquid PVC glue, sandpaper, bamboo, scrap packaging card, dried organic materials like cedar needles, dried flowers added to surfaces. I also removed some areas of the base mat paper board using kraft blades. These areas would hold ink and allow for darker tones in a print. From all of this two plates emerged and the resulting prints were quite satisfactory.

One of these become a monochromatic piece that I included in an exhibition series titled Wilderness. It is a study of a stream meeting a low rise rock face and percolating down through a narrow cut in cambrian shield rock.

collagraph (monochrome)

It is one thing to see the relief built on the base card but you won't know how this is going to turn out until you actually ink the plate and print it.
I still have the original plate for this study and I am tempted to print a few more by either inking the plate A la poupée (spot inking in various colours of inks) or applying hand colouring with wet media to the black & white print.

Shoreline (pictured below) was a study of a section of pond I observed during one of my nature hikes. The foreground rocks were created by cutting and gluing thin foam sheets to the base plate. I pock marked it and then pressed in fine grit sandpaper to create textural elements into the rock. The cat tails were created using shavings off bamboo skewers and liquid bead of PVC glue. The background was dried fern ends, cedar needles and gel medium applied with a small brush tip. The dark water was created by cutting and peeling off a thin layer of the mat board. I then added some fine lines of gel medium into the recessed area. These were in reverse of the built up cat tail stalks and would create a reflection effect when the plate was inked, wiped and printed. The plate had several layers of Shellac sponged rolled over top to seal and waterproof it.

collagraph (monochrome)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

solar plate etching A la poupée

just doing some experimentation with spot inking very small plates.
this plate is only 2 x 2 inches (50 x 50 mm). It is a solar plate with a pen and ink drawing of a chickadee I exposed onto it. Here's what happened:

  • I applied caligo carbon black first and wiped back
  • then using tiny rolled up felt dabbers applied on Akua intaglio pthalo blue, red oxide and burnt umber. Spot wiped these with thin tissue and tip of my pinky finger.
  • The first pass looked interesting but the black in the bird wasn't reading well. Cleaned and inked the plate again in black.
  • Carefully set plate into the paper where it had slightly embossed and flipped it over on the press bed and ran this through a second time. Bird emerged much better with the additional black and thankfully the plate and print were lined up perfectly, otherwise I would have gotten a double image.
  • Not sure how the got a textural effect in the blue background...maybe water drops on the paper, the way the ink was wiped? None the less I am not objecting to an interesting background effect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

translating a sketch into an etching

etching with hand-colour

etching with hand colouring

I recently made a couple of sketches based on early winter birds that are common in the area where I live. These are also inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and his observations of birds and wildlife.

I placed a pencil sketch underneath a piece of wet media acetate film alternative. Using water thinned acrylic ink and pure ink line drawn with a crow quill pen and fine point pigment marker I adapted the sketches to monochromatic form. 

I then scanned the artwork and reduced it in scale. It was printed using black ink only on my inkjet printer on a clear piece of inkjet transparency film.

These were exposed onto small pieces of solar plate using ultra-violet light (a homemade unit I built using black lights). Unfortunately I wasn't afforded the luxury of a cloudless sunny day to make the exposure out of doors using sunlight.

I pre-exposed the plate first to an ultra-fine dot aquatint screen (for tonal variations and that would keep the etch shallow on the plate surface for about 45 sec. Then I followed by exposing the film based art to the plate surface for about 1 min duration. Each plate was gently scrubbed with an old toothbrush immersed in tepid tap water for about 2 min. I blotted the plate with paper towel and post-exposed it again to UV light for about 10 min. The post-exposure cures the polymer into a tough as nails material but keeps the etched areas.

inked small polymer plates ready to be printed

Carbon black veg. oil etching ink (Caligo Safewash) was wiped into the etched areas and the plates had the surface polished with thin tissue paper. 
I set the inked plates facing upwards on the press bed of my small Richardson press and set slightly dampened 250 gm Magnani Revere felt finish cotton rag over top. The paper is a warm white hue.
Blankets were lowered over top and having a tight pressure set passed the plate bed by hand turning the gear levers on the press.

I had built a home-made drying system out of some reclaimed wood, old picture wire, miniature stainless steel clips, plastic clothes pins. The prints were clipped and allowed a week to dry in a warm room.

I am now in the process of applying colour to each of these. I am using water thinned washes of daler-rowney acrylic inks and a synthetic sable brush to apply it with.

These will both printed as a varied open edition.

I have added both to my shop Borealart in Etsy if anyone is curious. The nice thing about prints is I can replace my sold ones easily as I will have a few of the edition in my print drawers ready to photograph and offer the art buying public.