I have been experimenting with various printmaking processes as a way to create imaginative backgrounds for my works. In this post, I will be discussing how to create a collagraph print! Because I want to use acrylic paints on top, I am using water-based inks and watercolor paper for this process, specifically AKUA brand inks on Strathmore 140 pound coldpressed paper.
To create a plate, I took some twigs and things from outside and embossed them in a thin application of acrylic matte gel medium on a sheet of bristol board. Any very thin board surface will work. Once the impression was made, I removed the natural elements and allowed the surface to dry overnight. When fully dry, I lightly sanded the surface.
When it comes to printing, I stretch the paper by dipping it in a tub of water 2 to 3 times quickly. I place the wet paper inside a large folded towel on a flat surface. I use a wooden rolling pin to take off any moisture.
To ink the plate, I mix the water-based ink with magnesium carbonate to achieve the desired viscosity. The magnesium carbonate thickens the ink for application onto the plate. The thicker the ink, the more detail achieved. I tend to use about a slightly less than a 50-50 ratio of ink to magnesium carbonate.
Wearing gloves (to avoid fingerprints), I apply a thin layer of ink to the plate surface with a small square of mat board. Once I have coverage, I use a tarlatan cloth shaped into a nice flat surface. Using a broad circular motion, I gently remove any excess ink from the surface of the plate. If the cloth gets too built up with ink, I just refolded the tarlatan and continue with the circular motion to remove all excess ink.
To do any fine detail removal, I use newsprint or old catalog pages on top and repeat the circular motion with a very light touch. This will slightly remove the areas of light so that you have contrast between what is on top and what is in the recessed areas. You don’t want to remove all the ink, so apply a very light, flat touch with the newsprint pages. If you get any ink on the edges of the plate remove it with a cotton cloth or T-shirt type material.
To do the actual print, you need to set up your press. I don’t personally own a printing press, but I use the one at the local art university where I teach as an adjunct. Most major cities have a place to go where artists can use a press. Check with your local art school for leads of where to print. If you do not have access to a press, you can use the back of a wooden spoon, but it is much harder to do.
To get the press ready, I set the appropriate pressure. Depending on the thickness of the plate, I will adjust the pressure accordingly. Sometimes, I have to produce a few prints in order to make the right call when it comes to pressure.
Onto the surface of the press, I place down two layers of newsprint. This will prevent any leakage onto the printing press that may go over. I then put my inked up plate face up on top of the newsprint. I align my damp watercolor paper over the plate and cover it with two more sheets of newsprint. I then place the blankets over the newsprint covered plate and paper and run it through the press with one continuous motion. When a print is all the way through the press, I lift up the blankets and the newsprint to see the image. Typically, the very first image is not as good as the others to come because it is just getting the plate inked and primed.
Below is a video clip of a custom collagraph plate I created being printed onto handmade paper. In addition to the debossed paper, the magnesium carbonate that I add to the water-based ink creates a really wonderful relief surface. At the end of the video, I show both the plate and the imprint. The plate is made with heavy matte gel medium that was debossed with natural textures from leaves and vines as well as synthetic lace material.
I like to experiment by placing multiple inks, typically a metallic ink with a regular ink mixed onto the surface of the plate to create intriguing effects. I really love the way the ink can get so dimensional and the paper becomes embossed and debossed! Each time I run a plate, I keep a journal to document my results for paper, inks and press settings
Once the ink is dry, I seal the surface with acrylic matte medium. On top, I like to use transparent acrylic paint in wash-like applications to the surface. I love the way the paint moves throughout the raised and recessed surfaces.
When done, I clean the collagraph plate with water so I can reuse it again. There is so much to learn and experiment with when it comes to printmaking! The next step is to draw and paint a subject into these really interesting and tactile surfaces. Below is a video of a work in progress. It is of a bonsai tree at the edge of a cliff. There is a lot of relief and gold elements that were created using a collagraph print.
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