Saturday, October 29, 2011

Printing Intaglio Without a Press

If you are just starting out, a student or don't have the room for a nice press, printing intaglio work can be quite a challenge. I wanted to share a technique of pressless printing that I learned a long time ago from my friend, Margaret Craig, who teaches at the Southwest School or Arts in TX.

What you need are the normal things you would to print your plate + weights, transparent etching ink base and Golden Medium's Targel clear acrylic medium.

Here are some images of my quick setup at home. (You'll see I use some phonebook pages during plate wiping as well.)

In the picture above you can see the inks, targel (which you can get in smaller amounts), plates and plexi that I use to mix ink on. I chose a copper and zink plate from my old stash, the other has a deep aquatint on it and the other just a thin line etching. So you can use this technique for a wide variety of plates.

The picture below you can see my paper, cheap paintbrush, registration sheets and book that I used as weights.

To begin printing, wipe your plate like you normally would. If you have a lot of clear areas on your plate, in other words non-aquatinted areas, roll on a thin coat of transparent base so that your paper does not get glued to the plate. After the transparent base has been rolled on, paint on a thin even coat of Targel with a brush. Place the plate on your registration sheet, paper on top and layer some heavy things on top of it.

Tip- learned from Dan Welden's newsletter that instead of tarlatan, you can also use organze silk for wiping your etching plates. If you can get your hands on some, give it a whirl... Supposedly it lasts longer than tarlatan.

Back to printing- Let the plate dry for an hour or more, depending if you are in a humid or dry environment. We have really dry indoor air in Germany so dry time was a couple of hours. This is a good time to get a snack, do some exercises, watch an episode of your favorite tv show or go play with your baby/dog or husband.

After the acrylic has dried, you can peel the paper off the plate and the ink will stick to the paper. If you peel too soon, as I do in the video, the targel is still wet and will not completely adhere to the paper. When the acrylic is dry, the plate will peel off quite easily- be mindul of peeling your edges though. If you got targel around the edges, it might not start peeling and will tear instead.

The reason that the technique works is that the acrylic dries much faster than the etching ink. We are using Targel because it has "an extremely resinous, syrupy, stringy and tar-like consistency" as described on the Golden website. It's so sticky that it pulls the ink from the grooves of your etching plate when you separate the paper from the plate.

Now, this technique obviously is not the fastest in the world, it will take you anywhere from an hour or more to pull an image, but compared to no press at all, it is better than nothing. If you commit to print an edition this way, I would advise to store your ink under ceramwrap on a glass or plexi. You could also fold the mixed ink in foil/waxpaper and keep it in the fridge. I have not tried it, but you could maybe try to speed up the process by blowdrying the paper on the back to dry the acrylic faster.

Here are images of the cow print. You can see the edges have some paintbrush marks, where I did not paint the targel on very evenly, and the middle has a spot where the targel did not adhere to the paper. That could have been either because I peeled the paper off before the gel had dried or because there was no clear etching base on that spot and the gel adhered to the plate instead of the paper. Maybe even heavier weights would have solved the problem. Best thing is to do a couple of practice prints- carefully coating the plate and to figure out how long you need to dry the print before peeling the paper off the plate.
Here is a closeup of the same print. I printed the cow two times, so this is a different print compared to the one that you see in the video.

For another variation for the adventurous printers out there, you can also print on just the targel without paper. Do all the steps just as above, but paint a slightly thicker coat of targel on top. Leave the paper and weights off the plate and just let it airdry. When the targel is dry, you can peel the skin off the plate, with your printing ink attached to it. Now you have a transparent, stretchy print, that you can let dry like that, you can stretch it over things or distort it in other ways. Margaret has done so in some of her works, you can see an example here.


If you get spots in your print after you peel it off, try adjusting these things:

Your targel had not dried yet. Clean off any targel remains from your plate and start again and let your plate dry longer. Your paper and plate should separate fairly easily when you peel them apart -always be careful around the edges.

You did not cover your plate evenly with the clear etching ink and the acrylic got stuck to your plate instead of the paper. Clean plate, ink your plate again and be careful to cover the whole plate evenly.

You did not cover cover the plate evenly with targel, and some of the ink remains on your plate. Clean plate, ink your plate again and be careful to cover the whole plate with an even coat of gel. Be careful not to gob it on too thick either.

There was an air bubble in between your paper and plate. Smooth paper on the plate starting from one edge.

I hope this posting has been interesting for you. If you get a chance to try it, I'd be happy to post some pictures or experiences from others as well. Or if you have a problem that needs solving, let me know. Next post, we'll look at my latest small engraving. :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Studio, Exhibition and Interview

I finally got a chance to sit down and write from in between illustrating and running the house. While I have been busy with my nose buried in the studio every week, my hedgehog engraving has been popular in Etsy Treasuries, here are a couple for you to see. They are all quite beautiful.

NEWS: My work is currently up in the real world at the Washington State Convention Center. The exhibition is titled PS 5 and it features prints by South Puget Sound artists Dorothy McQuistion, Bill Colby, Janet Marcavage, Ann Johnston-Schuster and me. The exhibition runs through Oct 23rd, so you have plenty of time to go see it. The address for the convention center is: Level 2 South Galleria, 800 Convention Place, Seattle, WA. Hours are 7am-10pm.

The other bit of news is that my work and an interview are also featured on the Printsy Blog. Its quite a fun little interview with pictures of prints for sale in my shop.

I love to browse the other entries on the blog on my free time. The whole site is devoted to printmakers who are on Etsy and the articles feature work from one end of the spectrum to the other. It is wonderful and encouraging to see how many talented printmakers are selling work in alternative venues outside of the traditional gallery system. I like galleries, but with the constant moving, I find it easier to sell online and though exhibitions.

Mentioned in the previous posts was that I had carved a place to work in our new house. My husband is the greatest, and let me take up half of our living room to use as a studio, with flat file, presses and equipment. Otherwise it would have had to go up two narrow flights of stairs, to the third floor, which was not the greatest option. I bought this white and orange retro bureau (see below) from a yard sale, that has a shelf that folds down to a writing table. It works perfectly in a small space to paint on. I have given myself a time limit to finish all the rest of the illustrations in the next two weeks. I have been painting or drawing just about every day for a couple of weeks now, and am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I only have 5 images to draw and paint.

So to illuminate the process, I took some pictures. When working on a book illustration with a character, you want it to look the same thoughout the book. Being towards the end of the book, I have a set way of painting the little wren that makes it much easier than in the beginning, when I was just getting to know the her. When working, the whole place looks like a big mess, since I spread other finished illustrations on the table next to me with the manuscript and reference images, so I can constantly look over to make sure colors look the same thoughout. I tidied it up for the picture a little bit...

I start by sketching on any sheet of paper that I have handy- normally I do have something better than a notebook though (but you never know when inspiration strikes). Here is a sketch for a 1/3 page illustration of the little wren sitting in her nest. I normally just keep drawing over and refining the sketch until it is they way that I want the final illustration to look. Then I trace the main lines on watercolor paper and start painting away.

How do I know what to draw for the book? I have gone over the manuscript with the author in the beginning. We talked about color themes, how she envisions the illustrations and what her expectations were. The text was also divided up to fit 1/4 - 1 page illustrations. The author had a general idea of what she wanted me to draw for each one but was open to suggestions and input from me. Throughout the process as I finished images, I sent them to her for approval. Sometimes I made suggestions on how to adjust the illustrations and sometimes she had some changes to make. So it has been a flexible process as we go along. The author I am working with is wonderful- she gives me a lot of freedom to interpret and if needed change the illustrations around. Working with such a great partner also makes me want to paint even better and make the book look absolutely beautiful. I can't wait for it to actually be finished.

I am painting borders for each page of the book. Below you can see how the finished nest illustration will look set on a page. The text is obviously missing, but it will go on the top and if needed slightly around the illustration.

Here is the beginning of another image. On the left you can see the manuscript with a quick sketch of my idea on it. The sketch for the illustration is in the middle. I just use watercolors to paint with and normally use a dark outline around the basic forms on the page.

Here is the little wren singing. I decided to flip her facing the other way to make her look more natural in the layout of the pages.

After I am done with the illustrations, they will all be scanned in with a high resolution. Then they'll be set within the borders. Everything will be imported to Adobe InDesign to put the illustrations together with the text and then the book will be ready for publishing! It has been a very exciting process, and I will keep you posted on when the book is ready. I don't want to give out too much information before it is all done.
So now you know how I work, not very glamorous, but it works and I would not want to do anything else! Next time I'll share a small intaglio printmaking tip from Dan Welden.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Interview with Abigail Anderson

It is not often that I come across a new technique and a fresh point of view in printmaking. If anywhere, the SGC and MAPC conferences are great events to attend if have been lacking inspiration lately. Abigail Anderson's artwork caught my eye at the last MAPC Conference and I just had to share it with you. It's been an interview long promised, so I hope you will be as inspired as I was when I met her.

Abigail Woods Anderson is a Minneapolis- based artist and educator. She received her BA from St Olaf College in 1999 and currently works with the Walker Art Center's department of education and community programs. Abigail is also an instructor and member of the artist cooperative at Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) and made her curatorial debut there at the Lerner Binder Gallery this spring (a multidisciplinary exhibition What Follows What Came Before).

I was drawn to her work because of the detail that she was able to get with photopolymerplates and her hand drawn negatives. Here is what Abigail had to say about her technique: "What's striking about letterpress is that it is at once anachronistic and in vogue. Artists working in letterpress have a vast array of technologies (two millenia) at their disposal. What sets my technique apart from most contemporary letterpress practitioners is my preference for handmade, rather than digitally derived, negatievs to generate photopolymer plates. I thrive off the direct mark-making and problem solving ingenuity of DIY processes and analog materials. Occasinally, specific projects necessitate the facsimile quality that a computer affords, but usually my process is more akin to drawing and painting."
Degrees, detail

Abigail was great in sharing how she makes her negatives. Her basic technique is to paint a solid surface of India Ink with a foam brish on acetate and let it dry. Then you can use the scratching tool of your choice (x-acto knife, etching needle, sandpaper, wire brush, etc.) After you make the drawing you can expose your plate the way you normally would. I'd suggest making a couple of trial plates to get the exposure right.
Now, here is an image of one of Abigails negatives. You can see how much detail and fine lines she has. That is what was so mind blowing to me. I asked her what the trick is to keep the fine lines from washing away after exposure. Her reply was to keep the highly detailed areas close together, and then have the rest of the area open. If there was one little mark in the middle of a large open area, then it would wash away, but having the lines so close together keeps them "safe".

I asked Abigail to share some more of herself and her work with us:

How/when did you start letterpress?
I confess- I had no idea what letterpress meant when I signed up for a workshop at the MCBA in 2008. My first instructor was Allison Chapman and my first projects were entirely engrossing and overly ambitious. So I was compelled to continue coursework at MCBA by taking classes in advanced letterpress and polymer plate making. I knew I had the letterpress obsession once I noticed myself laying awake at night concocting letterpress projects. So, to satiate this creative impulse, I joined MCBA's Artist Cooperative which consists of artists making independently driven work in the book arts disciplines- papermaking, printmaking and book binding. In exchange for monthly dues, we get a host of benefits, not least which is access to MCBA's studio space and equipment.

Re-Embroidered II, letterpress, 7"x7", print above, detail below
For someone who has not seen your work, how would you explain it?
I think my artwork has a certain "telescoping inward" quality. While subjects vary, my prints and paintings consistently are small scale and highly detailed. The notion of making visual riddles- compositions held together by some kind of tension or enigma- has held my attention recently.

Strange Loop is a good example. I developed a resource about this painting that is a hybrid of an artist statement and statement of influence. Artist voice/Artist Choice was a project proposed and supported by my colleagues at the Walker, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It invites artists to discuss their own work in relation to resources held by the Walker and/or Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Shelf Fungus, letterpress & chine colle, 4"x2.5"
Do you work in any other media than polymerplates?
While I only discovered letterpress about three years ago, I discovered love for printmaking about 12 years ago in a college intaglio class. But graduating college meant saying farewell to a sophisticated studio. I scaled back to art forms that could be accomplished in a small apartment. For several years I worked in pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, and gouache. Now that I am invested in printmaking, those direct media still interest me but are on the back burner. Within the medium of letterpress, I use primarily polymer plate, but occasionally employ metal type.

Where do you get your inspiration from for themes and colors? Do you always work with nature themes?
I often work with nature themes, but over the years my approach has edged a bit more towards abstraction. Recently I completed two works relating to mathematical principles. {2, 3, 5, 7, ... 2203, 2207} and {2, 3, 5, 7, ... 1789, 1801} are meditations on the prime number sequence. These prints reference the work of mathematicians Stanislaw Ulam and Charles Sacks.

Nulla Dies Sine Linea, letterpress, detail above and print below
Any great plans for the future?
To be fair, this is less of a plan and more of an ambition, but I'd like to edition an artist book about water bears. Also (totally unrelated) this summer I've got what I'm calling my "Gutenberg gig". On Spetember 24-25 I will be demonstrating the use of a Gutenberg replica press at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Other exciting things? This summer I have an experimental outdoors project called Open Phenology (science of how and when living things change over the seasons). I engage the public every friday in a meandering walk and conversation during which we identify species, hypothesize about our observations and share knowledge. Then I use a blog to keep records of our phenological observations (with a good dose of musings and non-authoritative content). Open Phenology is my contribution to the Walker Art Center's Open Field and Field Office. It's part of my bigger fascination with citizen science and the perils and powers of inviting non-scientists to be collaborators in scientific pursuits.

I fell in love with your prints, do you have any for sale?
My art is available at the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis.

Minuend, letterpress, 8.5"x5", detail above and print below
Thanks so much for sharing Abigail!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Studio and Two Shows

The studio has been somewhat taking shape, there is still a lot of organizing to do. I will get a shelving system in August that I will be able to put a lot of my things in, but until then, it will be messy. I am going to try to get it organized, since I need to get going on finishing up illustrations for a book and start work on new projects. The image is a photo collage, sort of a 360degree view of my space. I just need some more space in the form of shelving to be organized and use the space for printing, drawing, watercolor, and design work...

My work is featured in two shows, one in Helsinki and one in Seattle. The one in Helsinki is already up at Galleria G, Pieni Roobertinkatu 10.
Mon-fri 11am-5pm, sat-sun closed

The popular summer members exhibition has new work from both well known and new graphic artists. Here are a couple of overviews of the gallery area. This is the gallery for the finnish graphic artists society, and you will find a wonderful large collection of prints to browse through. If you are not in Helsinki at the moment, many of the artists works can be viewed online, here is the english version link. You can view works either in Sales Collection or Artists.

These were just a few of my favorites:
Ritve-Liisa Virtanen, Bear Your Cross I, 2011, Screenprint, beeswax, collage

Pia Kousi, From the series: Topsy-turvy-photo-stereo-synthet, 2010, pigment on film, plexi

Maija Lavia, Puun Kosketus II (Touch of the Tree II), 2011, pigmentprint

Kirsi Neuvonen, Matkakertomuksia: Sininen Portti (Travel stories: Blue Gate), 2011, etching, aquatint, copyetching (not sure what that technique is)

The other exhibition will take place at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, 800 Convention Place, Seattle, WA. The exhibition is installed on July 15th, so you can stop by to see the work after that. If I remember correctly off the top of my head the show is up for at least two months.
"PS 5" features five Puget Sound printmakers work: Bill Colby, Dorothy McQuistion, Janet Marcavage, Ann Johnston-Schuster and Mirka Hokkanen. I hope to get some photos from someone when the show is up to post those as well.

Next time we'll look at some illustrations. Until then, have a great day!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Splendid Spring!

I have not disappeared, and am still here. This move has taken all my strength first mentally and now physically, but we are finally on the home stretch of it I believe. We are in Germany, in a "permanent" house and our furniture arrived on Friday. Since then we have been furiously unpacking our belongings and trying to find a place for it all. My studio will be quite an interesting mixture of locations, having my heavy presses and flat file downstairs occupying half of the living room and the rest of it currently on the third floor attic/loft space. My feet and hands are swollen and my body - oh so - tired from unraveling paper, lifting and going up and down stairs. I tell 'ya I haven't had any trouble sleeping at night. ;)

My work has not been unnoticed during the last week or two, and prints were featured in three treasuries on Etsy. I'll relay them here, for lack of better pictures to post at this time. I'll put some pictures of my studio in progress this week.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Modifying Photopolymerplates with Acrylic Media

The moving day is inching closer by the hour. Moving trucks are rolling in first thing on Monday, and I have been organizing our house and the studio for weeks now. I have a couple of last minute things to complete before we head out. A couple of people are coming over tomorrow for a last minute photopolymer class and there are 6 huge panels that need to be finished up for a church commission. I have been taking some progress photos, and will post those after this moving madness is over.

Until then, I am pleased to feature a great article by Australian print-maker Annie Day. She has been a practicing artist since 1974, and is a passionate advocate of safer, healthier and more environmentally friendly printmaking techniques. A short plug- Annie and her sister Robin Ezra are teaching an exciting class in Florence, Italy, this summer. The 60 hour class covers the following safer printmaking techniques: waterless lithography, drypoint, monotype and collography. The class will be held at the world famous printmaking studio, Il Bisonte, where artists such as Picasso, Annigoni and Moore have worked. The workshop is suitable for any level of experience- you can find more information about it at their website here. I would love to go and take this class, the setting is ideal. (Maybe next year, since I'll be living a lot closer!)

Modifying Photopolymerplates with Acrylic Media
by Annie Day

Less than perfect polymerplates can be readily rectified by modifying the plate surface using acrylic media. A small section of the plate can be transformed, as in the example "Chamellia"; of for a more complete overhaul, the original plate may be covered in gesso and reworked.

Camellia before and after

The original plate was overexposed resulting in a loss of contrast between foreground and background (see before). This was easily recovered however, by adding pastel primer to the plate in the areas where more ink was required, resulting in a darker final print with better contrast (see after).


-Wash the plate first, this will help the acrylic media to form a good bond with the surface. Clean the ink off the plate with vegetable oil, then using soft brush or cleaning mitt and a little detergent with water gently work the surface until all ink and greasiness is removed, rinse and dry with towel. Surface is now ready to apply acrylic media.

-Use various acrylic media: gesso, pastel primer, acrylic varnish, PVC glue, and gel medium for example. Art suppliers carry a huge range of these mediums and you may already have a few types.

-Carborundum or ground pumice mixed with or sprinkled onto gesso or PVC glue will give a finish with "tooth" for darker areas similar to the pastel primer used above in Chamellia.

- The medium can be painted, applied with palette knife or other implement and drawn into to create lines and textures.

- The surface can be built up by gluing a variety of low relief textural materials- such as paper or fabric using PVC glue, seal the surface with watered gesso or varnish.

-Once the desired finish is achieved, dry the plate thoroughly with a hairdryer or airdry over night at room temperature. To speed up the process use an oven at very low temperature, 50-60 Celsius, no higher or the plate may dry out too much and crack. The plate must be completely dry before inking to avoid paper sticking during printing.

- Apply ink with a short stiff brush, wipe with a small flat piece of tarlatan and finish with paper wipe. Buy cheap flat bristle brushes and cut bristles with scissors.

Plate being modified with pastel primer and gesso
Clear pastel primer was added for darker areas, and gesso thinned with water painted over the leaves.

The sky in the print to the right was lightened using gloss varnish on the plate.
This print after was created after a visit to the Northern Territory, Australia, it tells the story of the great Rainbow serpent, Boulong, who lived in a deep waterhole, at Nitmiluk- named after the song of the cicadas.

Wash the plate with a soft brush or cleaning mitt in water to clean thoroughly. Gloss varnish, thinned with water, applied to sky areas to lighten. Keep the print nearby while you work and refer to areas that need change.

Fossil Fish
Before and after

Plate showing tissue glued to the surface with some thinned gesso and gloss varnish added over the paper. The fossil fish, Clibming Galaxis- live today in small pockets around the world. The fish has been in existence for millions of years. They are found in tiny streams leading to Manly Dam near my home.

The fish plate was too dark. I covered the background in PVC glue and attached tissue paper. A thin coat of gesso and thinned gloss medium were applied to the plate. In retrospect, the paper layer might have been more succesful if I had used crushed or textured paper and added gesso applied with palette knife for more interesting textural effects.

- Art Spectrum Colourfix pastel primer was originally designed for coating surfaces in preparation for pastel drawing, but is a great medium for our puroses as it holds ink where the artist needs darker areas to print.

-Try experimenting with various acrylic media and pasting paper and textiles etc. The plate becomes a collagraph when you add media to the surface.

- Sometimes it is difficult to find where you need to apply the medium. Outline areas you are modifying in ballpoint pen. It makes it easier to see and will not show up in the final print.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Horse printed and Craft fair

Greetings from rainy Dupont. Its been one of those on again/off again weeks with rain. We even had a nice little snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. It's been pretty amazing that every time I have taken our dog out for a walk, the weather has always been nice. God's pretty cool in the little things he does to bring sunshine in our day.

After arriving home from TX I had the Tacoma is For Lovers craft/art fair the very following weekend. I had time to sew a couple of things for one half of my table, and then I had prints on the other half. Here are a couple of shots from the very Valentine's day themed fair:

Here is what else I spied from around me. If you live in Tacoma area, the TIFL fairs are really worth making it to. The wares are affordable and there is so much variety. I will really miss going to them after our move. My table was next to Laurie Cinotto's. She has the most wonderful things made from paper. As a printmaker, how can I resist! Of course I did not take a picture of her table, but you can see her beautiful things at her website. I already had one pin, and had to splurge on another one as well. I also ended up getting a pair of earrings from Maija McKnight, who does equally beautiful jewelry (and who, of course, I did not get a picture of either...).

So after a busy week of sewing for the fair and unpacking after the trip, I got a chance to print the horse plate at a local high school with a small printshop. The press was a nice Conrad Machine press. Mental note, the day when I save enough money for my own nice press, make sure it has gear reduction drive in it. I was breaking a sweat and growing biceps like Paul Bunyan cranking the plate back and forth though the press 40x !

As you can see from the picture above, I was using a sheet of mylar for registration. That always works well for me. I have dried my prints by now, but am hesitating signing them, because I am not quite sure if I want to add watercolor in the effect of chine colle, and have a light yellowish background for the whole print area. I like the effect of setting the print apart from the border that way, but its a pretty big area to cover uniformly, so I can't decide if I can handle the agony of trying to manage it. Should have thought of it before I printed... We'll see.

I also took down the last exhibition I had in Kent last week. Now I have two more classes to teach and 10 more illustrations and I can finally pack my bags and move. We are having a lot of trouble because of Army bureaucracy, but I hope it will be ironed out in the next couple of days before it gets too late. I am still waiting for the interview I've been promising, but in the mean time I have a guest writer share some tips on polymerplate printing (intaglio style). Excited about that. Have a great week, Nappi (our dog) wishes you a happy early spring!