Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Solarplate: work in progress

Last week I booked half a day in the studio at Impress Printmakers, my first time there to work on my own, rather than attend a workshop.

I spent some hours beforehand preparing more than I thought I would need for the time, as I wanted to make the most of the afternoon there. I took four transparencies of cloud imagery to expose to solarplate using their UV box, as well as plenty of paper, torn to size for testing and printing.

I tested the cloud imagery using a small piece of solarplate and a 1 minute exposure in the box, as recommended. The imagery has been simplified and is now a straightforward relief plate, designed to be printed on an etching press. Below you can see one of the original images and two of the plates.

The test worked perfectly first try so I was able to expose all four plates. Next step is to wash the plates in water using a soft brush to gently remove the parts of the plate that have not hardened. With an intaglio plate this is not a long process, but with relief you remove the polymer down to the metal plate (the grey areas you can see above). All that scrubbing took a while, and after two plates I only had about forty minutes left till I had to leave. It's quite possible to delay this stage, so I put the unfinished plates into a black plastic bag to protect them from the light, and left them to clean up at home.

This gave me a chance to quickly ink up one of the finished plates and test out the ink and the press, which were both new to me. The ink I chose from the studio supply was a Heidelberg relief ink which washes up in water. I didn't really enjoy working with it, and although I did love the colour (prussian blue) I wouldn't say it's a great ink for a beginner, like myself.

That was as far as I got at Impress, but on Saturday at home I was able to test out two plates using the pasta press. The relief ink I've been working with here is made using the Georgian block printing medium which is coloured by adding ink paint. I actually find this really nice to work with, and I love the almost chalky-look of the ink when printed. Despite it being oil-based, I don't find it's hard to clean up. I use vegetable oil followed by soap and water.

So below are the first impressions from two of the plates, and I am pretty happy with the results so far.

Below: detail

Monday, July 20, 2009

Photographing your art

When I was studying ceramics we did a photography subject which was geared specifically at teaching us to photograph our ceramic work. This was slightly before the "digital revolution", and I'm quite pleased to have had that grounding in basic technique with an SLR camera (single lens reflex).

Back then slide transparencies were the benchmark for entering work in competitions, and I am quite thankful that era has nearly disappeared, because the film was pretty expensive especially when you consider the need for "bracketing". For those not familiar with this term, it means take the same shot with three concurrent exposures, just to be sure you get the perfect image.

Photographing ceramic pieces is not as straight forward as you might expect, because you often have to cope with shiny areas due to the glaze or ways of highlighting translucency. I found out the expensive way that the training we had in our ceramics course made me better equipped for the task than some professional photographers (but that's another story...) and I know that I'm not the only ceramic artist to fork out lots of hard earned dollars for images that simply were not usable.

Still, I was frustrated that even with digital technology, my photos just weren't quite making the grade. At college, we had this great box thing with a lovely white curved perspex surface which you could position your work in and then snap away. I've often thought longingly of that "box" (I'm sure it had a proper name, but I can't remember it). It seemed to assure a great result.

Then I stumbled on this great post over on Strobist. Basically it explains how to use either natural or artificial light and make your own "box" (ah, he calls it a light tent!). I'm not going to repeat everything he says here, you can just follow the link, but I am going to post a photo of mine in action (below).

I didn't clear up my studio at all, because I wanted to show you how simple it is to use, once contructed. I just plonked it on my table after sweeping the rubbish aside slightly. All you have to do is choose a spot near the sun (that window faces west) or even better is to carry the box outside and place it in the sun. Below you can see the lovely even soft light that the tissue paper creates.

Above: caterpillar binding as learned from Adele Outteridge

And I have to say that books are about 100x easier to photograph than ceramics, but even they turn out much better with Strobist's Light Tent. Thank-you Strobist!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monoprinting skies

Writing about your work is such a valuable tool. I wonder whether most of us use it often enough? I am sure that I don't. Writing my last post really helped me to clarify in my own mind what I was doing (obvious really, if I am going to explain it to you!) and this helped me see where I was getting caught up.

I've been a little too anxious to use the solarplate technique for everything, just because I wanted to use it. It's far better to look at the creative problem that you have and then decide the best possible methodology that you have at your disposal, and this definitely includes the media. This was always clear to me with ceramics, which was my first media. It's simply not good enough to say you are making such-and-such from clay, because that is what you do. The choice you make is so much more important to the work than that.

So, I realized there were other, more effective ways to depict the sky in the way that I am looking for, and I have started to test them out. Monoprinting is a very free way of working that really appeals to me, despite the fact that I don't have a background in painting, as many monoprinters do.

I used the new Golden Open acrylics on paper and perspex for these. Some of the perspex ones have added acrylic and drawing. Some of these look more like water than the sky, but that's all right. They were great fun to make, and lead me in a variety of directions, as well as coming much closer to solving my original problem.

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!