Well, I have carried on with the dremel lookalike experimentation and have progressed a bit further. First I did an additional set of marks on a plate – this was because I also recently acquired online a set of diamond tipped engraving tools for less than £2 with free postage! There are 30 different sized and shaped head attachments to try out – will playtime never end? Here is a small plate of marks made on a piece of aluminium that had previously had etching ground applied. I am showing two versions of the print – one with the ink wiped off the surface of the plate and one with some ink left on (thin) in places.
I then found a piece of plastic that had been lying around for ages – a remnant of a large sheet I had bought from the local hardware superstore to use in lithography, but it was the wrong sort. Anyway, it was a wet day, I was in my shed and had nothing better to do so I thought I would give it a try. It was strange engraving on plastic as it leaves a burr. I started to scrape this off, but was a bit worried I would scratch the plastic so I left most of it. I really liked the fact that I was working with a cheap material – it wasn’t going to break the bank if I went wrong and that was quite relaxing. I could sketch fairly loosely, except when it caught a bit on the plastic. This is a print taken from it – some of the marks look a bit mechanical, but overall I am quite pleased with the effect. I have made the image large so that you can see the juddering of the lines caused by the machine. If I set the speed faster, this seems to be less noticeable.
Several years ago I was given a Dremel for Christmas. For those who don’t know wghat a Dremel is, it’s an electric hobby tool which has a number of attachments and can be used for grinding, polishing, engraving and even drilling (very small) holes. It came with an additional extra – an almost pen-like attachment that is driven by the main body of the Dremel and which because of its size, is a much more controllable tool. Naturally, I managed to break this part almost immediately: it never really worked, and I think this was down to my incompetence when joining the two parts together, but, in mitigation, also because the instructions were really inadequate – no writing, just some rather poor illustrations on a single sheet of paper. Anyway, recently, I spotted a much cheaper version (not a Dremel) on the Internet, and even better, because it came with the stand that holds the main part of the tool, and which is vital if you are going to use the pen-sized part for any length of time. Now I have a working version, I have been able to experiment and have been engraving marks on small pieces of copper and aluminium – some with etching ground on them and some just bare metal. I have then etched and printed these ‘plates’ to see what the marks look like, and I find them quite exciting. Here is one of my experimental mark plates, printed in a range of colours.
And here is an enlargement of the black one so you can see what the marks look like close up. I think that I am going to have a lot of fun with my engraving tool.
Recently I have been experimenting with collagraph, a low tech poor man’s print medium. I say this because all you need is some card for the printing plate, or another backing medium such as thin plastic, wood or metal; preferably this should be mount board, because areas of this can be cut into and peeled away and when inked up the cut away area can give wonderful textures, and it can also be slashed – which again will give another dimension. I can see that the possibilities of collagraph could be endless as almost anything (within reason) can be added onto the card, taking into account that it still has to go through the printing press. Plastic plates can be melted with a soldering iron and ink will sit in the indentations, and PVA can be added loosely to form organic raised surfaces. . Everything has to be well stuck down, and plates have to be sealed to stop them coming apart because of the ink, and also cleaning. This can be done with waterproof PVA or with button polish thinned with some methylated spirits. The plates can also be inked up in different ways – intaglio, i.e. ink applied to the raised surfaces, usually with a roller, or like an etching, with ink pushed into the cut away areas, or both, in different colours. The amount of ink applied can also make a huge difference. You can see this in these three prints from the same mountboard 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.
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.