Sunday, May 31, 2009

Exploring text as image

Life's been full and as ever, challenging since my last post. I attended an orientation to the facilities at Impress Printmaker's Studio and am now eligible to book time there to use the equipment. It's the same studio I mentioned in previous posts, and they have a UV box for exposing solarplates and a number of presses. I'm quite excited about the possibilities this opens up for me, and the convenience of the studio, being only 10 minutes away from my home is wonderful. I've heard on the grapevine that they are thinking of re-locating to larger premises, which would be good for them but I hope it doesn't happen too soon.

In preparation for my first session at Impress, I am working on images to expose for a book. I've been using Photoshop to experiment with ordering and layout - ah, what a wonderful tool PS can be! Here's a peek at two possible pages - it's just a rough "sketch" .

As well as pages based on imagery, I've been exploring some text-based pages. I love constructivist, dada and futurist art with their use of typography as a graphic element, and of course artists in these movements were the first in the 20th century to produce artists books. This is one of my favourite examples of this type of work.

Ruth Laxson is a book artist who is a great source of inspiration to me. She began her press, Press 63 Plus, at age 63 and established herself as much respected in the field. Her books expressed a real playfulness with text and are reminiscent of concrete poetry.

Playing around with text in Photoshop (which, by the way, makes exploring that kind of artwork so much easier) I have decided that I really want to develop my own style with text. The beauty of the constructivists is that their artwork looks deceptively simple, but that is the way of all good design. Of course, it never is that simple to achieve the dynamism and perfect composition required. Like Ruth Laxson, I hope to make the visual impression of the text echo the sense of the words. I came up with a number of alternatives - the one below is the one I find most satisfying.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Testing the limitations of the pasta machine as etching press

Despite spending most of this week trying to recover from the stress of the past few weeks, I did manage one afternoon in the studio.

Add ImageFollowing on from last week's post about solarplate etching, I decided to run the test plates from the workshop through my pasta machine press. To anyone who has missed earlier posts where I've mentioned this little beauty, it is exactly what it says - a pasta making machine which I use for intaglio printmaking. I learned about this in an online printmaking course I took a couple of years ago.

To pass the test plates, which are only small strips approx 10cm x 3cm through the press, I decided to place the plate on some perspex. The dampened paper goes does next and then I experimented with the "felts". For the pasta press I use half sheets of the felt that you buy from craft shops. Depending on type of plate you are using and therefore how thick it is, I have used up to 3 layers of felt to give the desired pressure. In this case, with the perspex backing sheet, 1 layer of felt was all that would fit through between the rollers. And the results are below:

I have to confess that the umber speckles on the person are old sepia ink from the workshop that I hadn't cleaned off properly. They make the clouds look more like land masses I think, and could be useful in certain circumstances. I am pretty happy with how these tests turned out, and plan to continue developing this imagery. I think the pasta press has shown that it is definitely up to doing test runs, and if the imagery is not as finely detailed as the clouds on the left, it can even be used for the final print, especially where embossing is a feature.

Next I thought I would try my zinc etching plate through the pasta press, just to see how that worked. Almost straight away I discovered a problem:

Photo: kschmic, photobucket

Unless your plate is shorter than the distance from the rollers to the base plate, it needs to be flexible, so you can pull it forward as you wind the plate through. Previously I've used perspex, mylar and mat board for the plate, so flexibility has never been an issue, but with the zinc plate being 20cm long and obviously inflexible, it couldn't pass through the press. Oh well! maybe I'm the only person crazy enough to think of putting a zinc plate through a pasta machine anyway!

I do have a couple of prints of the etching I did on zinc to show you. It's not completely finished but the term of classes I was doing at Studio West End has come to an end, so this is as far as I can take the etching for now. I apologize for the quality of the images, but the prints are a bit large for my scanner so I have photographed them, and it's getting a bit dark.

This first attempt (below) is just the line etch with plate tone in sepia. I quite liked it, but I thought more atmosphere could be created by working with the light.

For this version (below), we added a number of aquatints, progressively darkening the plate. I think we've maybe gone a bit far, but it is possible to burnish back some areas to lighten them. I was about to try this when I discovered the pasta press couldn't be used to print the result.

Soon I will have access to an etching press through the community printmaking studio Impress Printmakers, so I'll be able to keep working on this plate then.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Solar-powered techniques Part 2: Solarplate printmaking

Thank-you to everyone who has written to me with best wishes for my mother. After 8 days in hospital she is glad to be home. I was able to clear out most other commitments and made it as easy for myself as I could, so that I could be there for her as much as possible. I am pretty tired out now and am trying to take it easy in order to recover. I hope that you will understand if I don't respond to your kind messages personally.

In April I finally made it to a second workshop at Impress Printmakers Studio. My first one was in 2006 and was my introduction to artists books. This recent workshop was on Solarplate Printmaking.

Solar plates are a method of exposing plates either for relief or intaglio printmaking. It's another low toxicity technique that looks pretty simple and that I have been aching to try for about 3 years. Luckily, I purchased the "bible" on the technique around that time, as it is out of print and as time passes, the price is rising in a rather unbelievable fashion. Dan Welden took solar plates from their commercial application and experimented with their use in fine art settings. He wrote the book with an Australian scientist and artist, Pauling Muir and gave it the rather lyrical title "Printmaking in the Sun". I believe that a second edition is currently being written.

The book is amazing. It is wonderfully thorough but if anything, the talk of exposure times and test strips made me feel that I really needed to attend a workshop before I could give this technique a try. Once we went through it at the workshop, I realized that the basic technique is simple, although each print you make will be different and a certain amount of testing and "tweaking" is necessary to get the result you want.

The basic process is:
  • prepare your artwork on e.g. wet media acetate, OHT, drafting film (intaglio images are not reversed while relief ones are)
  • place your art and the plate in a contact frame and expose to UV light (the sun or a lamp/light box will harden the polymer in the areas it reaches)
  • remove and rinse in water, using a soft brush to remove areas that have not hardened (i.e parts of the image where the UV could not pass through to the plate)
  • print!

Personally, my greatest interest is in finding a way to make intaglio prints. I don't really like the idea of working with the acid and other materials necessary for traditional etchings. It seems very daunting. Recently Wim de Vos at Studio West End took me through the hard ground process, together with aquatinting and that has dispelled some of the mystery around the whole thing, but I still feel it could take me years to produce anything I find truly satisfying. I like the idea of working away here at home with solar plates; plus they provide the option of using my photographs as a starting point, which is very appealing to me.

The major drawback I can see with solar plates is cost. The plates themselves are not cheap: $14 for a 15 x 21cm plate against $7.90 for 12.5 x 20cm zinc plate. And while there are no other chemicals to buy for the process, it is quite possible to ruin a plate with the wrong exposure (once you've rinsed the plate, you can't re-expose if you aren't happy with the result). I guess this is where real discipline needs to be exercised to ensure you test your exposure and print your test plates, and keep testing until you have the result you are looking for. That way you are only wasting small pieces of plate, rather than a full plate. According to Dan Welden, it is possible to re-work plates by scratching into them with etching and drypoint tools, but I can imagine this wouldn't always give the result you were seeking.

Well, I suppose you might like to see some results from the day for yourselves. I'm not too sure how impressive they will look online, but they will give you some idea. I plan to re-print them using the old "pasta machine press" to see how the plates respond.

This first test (below) is an intaglio print made with some of my cloud imagery. This was originally part of this photo.

This silhouette (below) comes from the cover of "Resistance" (which by the way I hope to return to soon, now that the weather is cooler). They were both printed in both relief and intaglio. The lovely thing about them is the debossing, which you can't really pick up in these pictures.