I like my coffee on a plate…

I love etching. I don’t know why it appeals to me so much as it requires a lot of precision and cleanliness, and I am one of the most haphazard and messy people in the print room. I am always amazed to see students, dressed in spotless white tops and immaculate jeans, working on their plates and somehow managing to keep even their hands clean – whereas I have ruined most of my clothes and am resigned to having to work alongside them in a black-, orange, or red-streaked T shirt.  Their prints are placed beautifully in the centre of the paper, parallel with the sides. Mine are usually at an angle.

Last weekend, however, I was in the print room alone for the first time in ages and got myself set up properly, with a bin close at hand, gloves, ruler, sharpie, for marking out a template, spare cloths, scrim and tissue paper. I had it all to hand, and it paid off.  I produced ten perfect prints, with clean edges, perfectly placed on the paper.

I have been working with coffee lift, which consists of instant coffee mixed with a little water then painted onto an aluminium plate. The plate is then covered in etching ground, baked, and allowed to sit for 24 hours before being etched in a 50: 50 mixture of salt and copper sulphate diluted in water. I learnt last week that the stronger the mix, the finer the etch, because the solution eats into the lines more accurately and deeper than a slower, weaker etch. The ground lifts off where the coffee has been applied, so it is possible to get quite a painterly effect. A tonal range can be achieved by masking out areas, either with a stop out ground, or, as I prefer, a speedier, but less accurate and simpler method is to rinse and dry the plate at intervals as you go along, and stick parcel tape over the areas you want to keep a bit lighter.

people on the beach in the evening

Well – now you have found me…

In my blogs, I am going to show you what I have been experimenting with over the last eight months, and what I am trying to achieve. When I started my MA, there were so many aspects of print that I knew very little about, so I was very grateful to be offered the opportunity of joining the second year students initially, and recently the first years, in their taught classes.

The first area of print we looked at was woodcut – and you can see my attempts to use the medium for portraits in my gallery. We then moved on to linocut, and the three colour process using three separate lino blocks of the same size. Here I learnt some useful tips which can also be applied to three colour or more woodcut printing. First, make a registration plate large enough to fit the paper you plan to use (and the plate of course).  When you have cut away the light areas on the first plate (label it on the back as plate 1 – or the yellow plate, depending on what colour you are going to print first), ink it up and print the first print on to a piece of acetate, which is taped  along one side on to your registration plate. Then, while the ink is still wet, you can lift this up, slide the next plate underneath (plate 2) and transfer the image from plate 1 onto plates 2 and 3, which then gives you an accurate image of subsequent areas to be cut out.  This is probably old hat to most of you, but for me it was a revelation.

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