Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Solarplate advice: Start Simple

I’ve been fuddling about in the studio lately, and don’t really have anything much to show for it. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on art, but it has all been very experimental and not really terribly successful. Of course they do say that you only learn from mistakes, and I guess that means that I am slowly working out what not to do! That said, it doesn’t leave me very motivated to post about my “discoveries”, as I suspect they are the type of discoveries that a beginner needs to make, but that seem pretty obvious unless you are in the position of trying these things out for the very first time.

You might remember from this post that I was quite hopeful about the potential of these images. The de-bossed figure really appealed to me, and is something that could work nicely both on paper and on porcelain. So since then I’ve been working on the imagery in Photoshop, and then testing it by exposing small strips of solar plate and printing them.

I’ve run up against my usual problem which is being overly ambitious before I've developed the technical skills and know-how required. In the test above, the de-bossing is achieved by making a relief plate and running it through an etching press. This is a step beyond making an ordinary relief print, and I managed to confuse myself for a while, although I did eventually work out what was happening.

In addition, I think I was trying to get too much happening at once, with not enough general printmaking experience and very little solarplate experience. This makes it difficult for me to visualize exactly how things on a plate will appear when printed. Below is the image I 've been working on, hoping to achieve the clouds popping out from the page, the figure de-bossed into the page and the sky floating somewhere in between these two.

To achieve this type of tonal range you need to use a double exposure, which I had learnt at the workshop I wrote about before. First, you expose an aquatint screen, followed by the image. I am exposing using sunlight, but even in winter here we reach a UV level of 4 most days, so there hasn't been any problem with UV intensity. I tested 3 different exposures before I was satisfied that I had developed sufficient detail.

And below is the result:

Left: printed with Charbonnel soft black etching ink

Right: printed with block ink made from Georgian block printing medium and alkyd paint

You can imagine that this is not the effect I am after, as it is pretty muddy and uninspiring. However, I think the test plate has been successfully exposed, the result just doesn't look how I had visualized it would. This comes from my general lack of printmaking experience, I believe. I think I will achieve a result more to my liking by separating the backgound (sky) from the foreground (figure and clouds). So it's back to the drawing board and I'll be putting up a sign to remind myself of my new motto: Start Simple! And if any printmakers are reading this, please feel free to comment!


  1. Hi Amanda - separating the background from the shadows of the people will help. Also, you might want to use transparent medium with your printing ink for the shadows to make them more see-through if this is the effect you are after? Good luck with solarplate printing - it is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.

  2. Knowing absolutely nothing about this, and not really knowing what you were hoping for, if I just came across these prints I'd think they were a beautiful effect. Which of course is of no help to you - but I just like the look of them. I toyed with the idea of buying one of those small solar print kits at the MCA shop yesterday but decided that I need to master book making before I add to my collection of unused equipment.

  3. Thanks Jay Dee - I have worked on a separate background plate and it looks much better already.
    And thanks Carol - it is easy to miss the good in something when it doesn't go as planned. As for the solar print kits - I'm not sure what sort the MCA has, but if it's like the one I got at the Tate, it would be a perfect thing to do with grandchildren...