Last fall, I took my first printmaking class. I wanted to take screenprinting, but that is always the most popular and filled up super fast, so I ended up with relief, intaglio, and monotype printing. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it was so worth it in the end. I loved that class.
First of all, my professor, Jack McCaslin was awesome. He played the widest variety of music, made corny jokes, and collected all types of little toys and trinkets in his overflowing office. I remember him being very encouraging and giving me some great advice throughout the semester. He always joked with me about dealing with annoying high school students because I was completing my high school practicum at the time.
The first kind of printmaking we did was relief, which is when you carve into a surface and print what is left (the relief part) onto a piece of paper. I did a 9″x12″ black and white relief print as well as an 8″x18″ color print. I carved into sintra for each one. Sintra is a foamed plastic. For my first print, I wanted to work with pears because I love how they look for some reason, so I worked on a few designs in my sketchbook until I came up with one that I liked. I then transferred my design onto the sintra using carbon paper. Then I started carving. I was still getting the hang of carving, so I made a few mistakes along the way, but several hours later I finished. Along the way I pulled a few test prints on newsprint paper to see how it was looking. At this point, I was able to make my final prints. My two biggest issues while doing this were 1) getting the block (sintra) centered on the paper and 2) putting enough ink on the block. I made more okay prints than good prints, but hey, it was my first time and I was still happy with what I made. Take a look!
The next print I did was a color relief print (my favorite!). I decided that I wanted to do a landscape with more finer line work, so after drawing up my design, I transferred it onto the sintra using carbon paper again. This print took two blocks: one for the colors in the background and another for the details in black, which went on top. The carving for this print took even longer than the last one,
plus each print had two layers and the first layer of ink had to dry before I put the second layer,
plusss I had to mix the inks to get the colors I wanted. Let’s just say it was a very long process. The result of all my hard work was this beauty that I am so proud of:
The next kind of printing we did was called Intaglio which refers to a design cut into a hard surface. In this case, copper. You can draw directly on the surface of the copper using a sharp tool (drypoint), you can cover the surface with a resin ground, draw on top, and then etch it in acid, or you can use photo paper to transfer an image onto the copper and then etch that. Here are some examples of the different processes:
My first print was a 6″x8″ black and white image. I used lyrics from the song “Time is Running Out” by Muse and printed them on a sheet of paper and then drew some designs on top by hand. After a little tweaking, I scanned the entire image in photoshop, printed it out and used photo paper to transfer the image onto the plate. Then I placed it in the ferric acid so it could etch. To my dismay nearly an hour later..I found out that nothing was etched so I had to start over. I got back on Photoshop and adjusted the image a bit so it would successfully transfer using the exposure process. This time it worked. After scrubbing off the photo paper, I was finally ready to print. The intaglio printing process is very different from relief printing. First, you have to soak your paper in water for about half an hour so that it can draw up the ink from the plate.
While the paper is soaking, you heat up the copper plate, push thick black ink into the recesses on the plate, and then gently scrub the excess ink off the surface using a tarlatan, which is a starched cheesecloth. After this, you place the plate on a sheet of newsprint on the printing press, take a sheet of paper out of the water, roll it dry, place it on top of the plate, lay some wool pads on top, and then roll it through.
Then you repeat the entire process again and again and again and again until you have a good amount of great prints. After seeing my first several prints, I wasn’t entirely satisfied, so I worked on the plate some more by hand. And then I started the printing process over. Hours upon hours later, I was done:
My final print was another Intaglio, but with the addition of monotype for some color. A monotype produces a unique print so each one is different. For the intaglio part of this print, I used a 9″x12″ copper plate, covered it in resin ground, drew in my image by hand, and etched it in stages.
After pulling a few prints to make sure they were good, I moved onto the monotype part of the process. I wanted the colors to look organic and slightly messy so I played around with some water-soluble oil pastels. Here’s what I ended up doing:
I placed a sheet of plexiglass over my image and colored on top as if coloring in a picture. Then I dipped my finger in water and blended the pastels together and let them run a little by tipping the plexiglass. After letting it dry, I took a sheet of paper out of the water, rolled it dry, and printed the pastels onto it by rolling everything through the press. Immediately after, I rolled the paper through again, but with the copper plate on top before the paper got too dry.
This was the longest process out of all the processes, but it was so much fun to see how each print was going to turn out since they were all different. Here is one of my final prints:
I am so proud of the work I did in that class, and I hope I get the chance to work with printmaking again in the future!