Printmaking studio class – Collagraph #1

During January-February-March 2023 I took a printmaking class at Abington Art Center in Abington, PA. I have some experience of printmaking, primarily relief printing with linoleum, and we did some work of this type during the sessions. In addition, this class exposed me to several other methods of making prints. I’ll give you my experiences in a series of posts.

Essentially, in this printmaking form, you make a collage with some relief to it, and that’s your printing plate. There you go! That’s the idea.

I’ve never done a collagraph before, so let’s get started – my first attempt at collagraph work.

Making the plate

I took a piece of matboard for my surface. Then I cut various shapes from cardboard (the thin kind from cereal boxes, etc) to make a little cityscape. Here’s what it looked like (after printing – there is ink residue on it. Remember, the background started out as a white matboard).

It’s not very big, maybe 4″ x 6″ or so.

One thing I learned – the raised portions of the plate should not be very high. Using thick pieces gives a less precise print. The pressure of the press is so great that it doesn’t take much relief to do the job of creating an image. This information surprised me. I had thought – the taller, the better! In reality, something like masking tape would have worked well.

One step that I didn’t do, but that is often a part of the process, is to seal the plate with acrylic medium, to give it a slick surface. My decision not to do this was more along the lines of – let’s see what happens! – than a considered plan. My plate here has two types of surfaces – the background is a bit absorbent, and the cityscape items are slicker, because of the coating on the cereal box cardboard.

Preparing the plate for printing

To make the print, first I soaked the paper to be printed on in a large tray of water; then I removed it and pressed out most of the water so that it was merely damp. This step is done so that the paper will push down around all the ups and downs of the plate.

Then I inked the plate using Akua ink. This kind of ink will not dry on the plate, so I didn’t have to ink things up and then rush to the press. And – I used an inking technique called intaglio. It requires a press in order to get the best results, and my printing experiences had always been limited to hand printing, since I don’t have a press or access to one.

In this method, I covered the plate with the ink, scraping it in many directions so as to cover the plate in its every nook and cranny. Then, using a special fabric called tarlatan, I removed ink from the high points of the plate (the cityscape) using a gentle circular motion. This step also spreads the ink around the whole place, helps it get into the crannies, and allows for regulating how much ink is on what parts of the plate.

So, what’s going to happen is – the low parts of the plate will print more strongly than the higher ones, because they have more ink on them. This is different from relief printing, in which the high parts of the plate would retain the ink and transfer it to paper.

Confused? Yes, I was too. So I just went through the steps and hoped it might work out.

Results – Print #1

Since it is the first image done from this plate, it’s spotty, but I like it that way. What you can also see is how the ink was retained in the low areas, especially around the edges of the scene, and the higher points had less and were therefore lighter.

You can also see some white lines around the buildings where I did not force the ink into those areas as I should have. The white is the paper showing through in those areas.

Results – Print #2

This time the ink is more evenly distributed (the plate held more and I got better at wiping). I feel I needed to wipe the building areas longer to remove more ink. The slick surface of the cardboard I used for these areas helped me, but I needed to work it more, because I would have liked more contrast between the background and the buildings.

Cleaning up!

All right. These are the only two prints I had time to make for this plate on that class day. Now that I had a better idea of how things worked, I planned to make another plate or two to print in a later session.

19 thoughts on “Printmaking studio class – Collagraph #1

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