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)
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.