Wednesday, July 29, 2015

back in the studio - solar plate experimentations and mix media applications

new   Solarplate with inked image ready for first printing

I finally found some time to be creative again in the studio.
After a very busy year with practically 100% of my time occupied as an arts educator in classrooms it is nice to be able to take ideas that have been on the back-burner and realize them.
I have jumped right back into intaglio process and I am translating sketches to plate based etchings.

I also recently gave a workshop in Solar plate printmaking in the community of Kenora Ontario. 
Kenora is located on the beautiful Lake of the Woods that shares borders with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba as well as the northwest corner of Minnesota, our nearby US neighbour state. 
The next blog entry will focus on this adventure and showcase some of the wonderful results that participants created that weekend. I had to adapt some equipment for travel and that could be set up quickly on-site during workshops.

I wanted to feature in this post a bit of process and how I have adapted solar plate to my own intaglio printmaking endeavours.

Tip for working with UV sensitive materials

I have had to work in some dark conditions with ultra-violet spectrum sensitive materials. This meant working in an environment with very little light. However I learned that LED does not emit any UV. I purchased a couple of LED multi-light flashlights at the local Discount store. These came with a small magnet on the back in addition to a pop out plastic hanger. I was able to use them in my basement studio and found I could secure them to metal ductwork installed in a ceiling right over my working area as the magnet on the back has enough hold. 

LED flashlights attached to metal ducts via magnets

Exposure unit

First I want to feature the portable darkroom booth built with the purpose to house my home-made exposure unit. I constructed that unit a few years back to use for exposing the light sensitive plates to a source of UV light when sunlight wasn't an option.

portable exposure booth set up on top of a folding workmate shop bench. You can see my small Blick etching press that I have secured with woodscrews through a base mount board into the top of a box type cabinet I constructed for my studio.

Using a simple wood frame box I built in my workshop I mounted four black light units side by side to the underside of the lid in the interior of the box. I also left an additional area where I mounted a power bar beside the lights into which all four plug into. The box is set onto four 3" x  2" (7 x 5 cm) wood feet that elevate it to  4 inches (10 cm) above the base and this leaves working room to insert a plate, positive, small clamps and smooth edged plate glass underneath the banks of lights. I don't usually work with plates larger than 8  x10 inches (20 x 25 cm) in dimension (actually a lot smaller in most cases) and this provides plenty of exposure area for my plates.
The power bar cord runs out the side of the unit and I plug this into a nearby outlet. When I travel I bring along a 3 prong receptacle extension cord as one never knows where the nearest plug-in might be located.

Since I require an area with no influence of UV light until exposure I created a fold up booth made of recycled corrugated cardboard and a black fabric drape-over curtain. 
I attached black poster paper to the interior side of the cardboard sheets with double sided tape and also set a large piece of the black paper down on the table surface underneath the exposure box. I run a yard stick or two across to span across the top of the 3 sided walls of the booth and have the fabric drape cover as a ceiling and a drop down door for the front of the booth.

Plates are generally exposed with an aquatint screen first.  The very micro size dot aquatint screen works like a half-tone to create tonal variations and pick up fine details. Exposures are usually for a shorter duration than the exposure time required for artwork on film positive or a photo based image printed out in grayscale using an inkjet printer. Tip: I set the inkjet printer to print using a black ink only option. I have an Hewlitt-Packard printer). Some printers do not have this option for black ink only as I learned with an older Epson model. That used to create a blue black from mixing colours and my images did not expose very well. For solar plate purposes I have found that a true opaque black will yield the best results, either from inkjet cartridge or india ink on acetate,etc...

blacklights engaged inside the exposure box

a plate that already was developed being post-exposed to ultra-violet light from the blacklights mounted in the unit. The post exposure cures the polymer and hardens it so that it can be used over and over to produce prints on paper.

Artwork and creating a positive on film

I had a few sketches and photo references I made of tiny blue-eyed grass blossoms I had encountered on one of my nature walks here in the region last summer.

Using a pencil sketch on paper and overlaying a clear piece of Dura-lar wet media acetate I traced the sketch in pen and ink and added background using washes of Pelikan Tusche ink with brush and water dilution. The washes would add in an interesting background with textural elements.

pen and ink/tusche wash positive (left), original pencil sketch (right)

step one: the positive was exposed to a aquatint screen (30 seconds)

Step two: then the artwork (drawn line and tusche positive) was exposed to the plate for 1 minute.

Step Three: the plate was immersed into tepid water in a metal tray that had a piece of magnetic backing (like that found on a fridge magnet business card) to hold the plate steady. Using a soft bristle toothbrush and a back and forth scrubbing motion I gently removed the areas of polymer where I wanted the etch to happen.  I scrubbed my plate for about 1.5 minutes in duration.       

                                                                                                              The chemical reaction that occurs from blocking areas of the plate with opaque elements (artwork) during exposure is what allows those areas to etch in the surface of the polymer when it is scrubbed in a water bath.

Step Four: remove the plate from the bath. Blot the plate surface quickly with a piece of newsprint and then dry the plate surface with a short blast of warm air from a portable hand held hair-dryer.

Step Five: set the plate either under the exposure box or in the sun and let it post-expose for 5 to 10 minutes. This will harden the polymer and cure it making the etched lines and pitted areas permanent and ready for printing.

Step Six: apply ink to the plate as you would to a traditionally etched plate by wiping it into the surface so that the ink is contained in the below surface lines, wipe away excess ink off the surface. Start your printing process by putting dampened rag paper over top of the inked plate and then by passing the plate under the roller of an etching press print your plate.

top: pencil sketch (left) and ink positive (right)
bottom: inked plate (left) and print on rag from plate (right)

I decided to experiment and incorporate colour to one of prints using a film based monotype. The protective plastic film that covered the plate was re-used as a surface to paint on modified Akua intaglio inks. I had first peeled it off the unexposed solar plate and had set it aside. It was the exact same dimensions as the plate itself. I saw this as an opportunity to use as a surface to be used to create a colour monotype and print on paper then print the single colour plate over top.

Using a scrap piece of glass I lay down small swatches of ink that were each mixed with a drop of Akua blending medium. This made the inks more fluid.
I inked the plate first with carbon black ink (modified with a little mag mix powder to stiffen the ink). I set the plastic over top of the inked plate.
Using the inked plate as a guide and with a soft bristle taklon brush I painted thinned inks onto the surface of the plastic. 

Once I had all the areas painted I wanted this plastic plate was carefully removed. I placed the plastic plate face up on my press bed and set a piece of dampened rag paper over top. Setting my roller to light pressure I ran the plate and paper through the roller and was left with a undefined colour image.
I took the inked solar plate and using careful registration set it inked side down facing into the monotype. I very carefully flipped this over making sure that the plate didn't shift and set it down with the inked side facing upward on the press bed. The paper was laying over top. I brought down the felts and covered everything. I  adjusted the pressure of the roller to a tight squeeze for printing an intaglio plate and ran everything through the press again.

protective plastic peel-away film being used as a surface for creating a colour monotype using thinned Akua intaglio inks

close up of application of thinned Akua ink with brush onto clear plastic plate set on top of the inked solar plate

the monotype that resulted from application of modified inks onto the clear acetate film plate

the inked solar plate was carefully registered over the colour monotype image on the rag paper and printed into the monotype to add in the definition

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The last of this school year's art projects through my Artist in Education placements

grade four student painting his low relief study relating to undersea life

I finally collected up and have put together a public display of completed artwork from two classrooms I visited from April/May at St. James Public School here in Thunder Bay. 
This is being hosted by the Waverley Library in our cities northcore business district.

The first display is a collection of 19 mix-media works created by senior kindergarten and grade one students from the classroom of D. Madunic. They used drawing, painting, collage, stamping to explore a regional geographic feature known as the Sleeping Giant. We started by drawing shapes and working out a composition on paper board. 

pencil sketch on board

applying the paint

The next step was to apply colour and texture into the drawing using paint. I asked them to think about animals and plants that might be found around the region and put some of these into the studies. Paper shapes were cut out and glued onto the board. Finally they drew plants and animals into soft foam plates which had been attached to cut squares of cardboard. Water based relief printing ink was rolled onto the foam and these were stamped strategically into areas of their storyboard.

This project worked well as it had them continuously engaged in hands-on activity during each visit.
In expensive all media paper board was used as the surface onto which the artwork was translated onto.
I had originally intended for them to apply some low relief sculpting medium to the boards, but these ended up as a side project since many of these were too heavy to attach onto the boards.

red fox created from air dry sculpting medium and water-based paint

The second project was with the grade 3/4 classroom of teacher 
D. Mayotte. Her students paired mental imagery from a choice of four poems they had recently read with three dimensional low relief paintings on panel.

Students drew sketches in pencil on paper. These papers with drawings were glued onto precut masonite panels. Using air dry sculpting medium they built up shapes on the panel using the sketch as their template. The sculpting medium as bonded to the panel surface using white glue and brushes.

Once these were set acrylic paint was applied to both the low relief shapes and the background. Finally the students wrote short statements to accompany each of their paintings.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grade 5 + 6 Drypoint Self-portrait Project

During the months of March/April I visited 3 classrooms at St. Elizabeth Catholic Elementary School in Thunder Bay and took on a visual art project (intaglio printmaking + wet media) with over a total of 70 students.
In the fall of 2014 I had presented a six-sided You Cube print project in two other schools. That project used carved relief surfaces to produce multiple images (portraits on paper) in various contrast colour combinations. Those images were pasted onto the sides of a constructed six-sided cardboard cube. I saw an idea in Pinterest titled You Cube and decided to adapt this to using printmaking as the medium since it would create multiple images with greater ease than other mediums.

This time I decided to switch techniques to incorporate intaglio using drypoint on thin acrylic plates as the matrix. Students were asked to create sketches on paper from their self-portraits and then translate these onto the plastic plates using etching needles. Ink was wiped into the scratched line and the plates were printed onto heavy cotton rag paper using a small manually turned etching press that I supplied.

I supplied 25 home-made etching needles. Fortunately it worked out that I had different visits with each class at different times and the needles were brought from one classroom to another so everyone got the opportunity to have a tool to use.

We used Akua carbon black intaglio ink to make the print onto the paper. Prints were attached to the top of each print using green painters tape to attach onto both sides of the large sheets of corrugated cardboard (used to construct their cubes from). The were propped up against walls and allowed several days to dry. 

Then the prints were attached onto plasticore boards again using the green painters tape. Students applied colour to each print with wet media that included watercolour and tempera. 
Colour renderings were accomplished in three approaches, using one of the following for each print

  • realistic flesh tone in watercolour with a background
  • flat even colour in either watercolour or tempera
  • fantasy portrait (they were given a few trays of iridescent and fine glitter watercolour to use if they so chose)

These were trimmed and using liquid white glue were attached to the surface of a their 6 sided cube. An additional panel was created using their initials and a zentangle background in dry media. One side of the box was left unhinged to use as a door or lid.

Two of the teachers decided to have their students incorporate a small painted sculpting clay based figure and place these inside the box.

Two weeks back I picked these up from the school and put up a display at two separate branches of the Thunder Bay Public Library. These will be up for a couple of weeks.

Monday, May 18, 2015

experimentations with miniature plate prints - various approaches to colour application

Conifers, Moon and Aurora
Drypoint with relief roll
varied edition
plate size: 7 cm square (2.75 inches)
paper size: 11.5 x 14 cm (4.5 x 5.5 inches)

I have been inspired the last couple of days to experiment a little more with a couple of small acrylic plate drypoint prints.

Today I threw all caution to the wind and just decided lets play with various things and see what does and doesn't work.

I decided to try a unique approach using the small organic conifer tree shapes (see my previous post) that I had scratched onto a small 7 cm square plate. That is 2.75 inches for my US friends and yes even some Canadians.

I wiped a bit of Caligo Safe Wash carbon black etching ink into the scratched linework on the plate. Once I had the plate surface clean post wipe with yellow pages I applied Akua Intaglio ink rolled onto the surface with a brayer. This was a bit of Pthalo blue mixed with a drop of blending medium to make it a bit more transparent. I then used another roller with a bit of a lightened green and rolled it across the surface of the plate into the blue. Then using a small brush I worked and blended this. Using a cotton swab I removed ink from the lower section of the plate. I then applied a deep violet of Akua intaglio ink using a small synthetic bristle taklon brush. I placed the plate onto the press bed and put a small piece of damp Canson Edition rag over top.
The press bed felts were placed over top and it was passed under the top roller (tightened earlier).

The black ink came out a bit light however the colour background was kinda nice. I cleaned off the plate, once again applied the carbon black ink to the scratched line and cleaned off the surface by wiping with a bit of coated tissue paper. 
I carefully set the small plate on top of the print (it set into the slight embossing created by during the first passing under the roller earlier). I carefully flipped this over so the plate was facing upward and the print on top, once again I set the felts over top and passed this under the roller. This gave me a deep rich black from the scratched lines which contrast nicely against the colour background. The effect I wanted to achieve was that of aurora borealis. You be the judge?

I did a second version of this but placed a small paper circle from a three hole punch between the trees.

I had a another study of a small tiny 5 white petal flower (skunk currant) and for this one I did two approaches. The plate size was again 7 cm square. The first approach was to scratch lines into the plate surface, then wipe some ink into the scratched areas to reveal the linework in black, Using a lightbox I set a piece of tracing paper over top of the plate and traced the outline of the flower shapes using a 6B pencil . I also marked on the tracing paper where the edges of the plate would be. I flipped the tracing and set it over top of a piece of goldish-green thin oriental gampi paper. I then went over the pencil lines once again with a firm lead pencil. This transferred the 6B lead onto the tissue and I used it as a guide to cut the small shapes out with a triangular blade x-acto knife. I then sprinkled a little wheat paste powder on the surface of the paper. 
I set the same size square piece of gampi with the cut away sections over top of the inked plate. I misted it with a fine spray of atomized water (to moisten and activate the wheat paste powder). A piece of a damp rag paper was set over top and again with felts lowered was passed under the top roller of the press. 
Unfortunately something shifted when I placed the rag paper over top so there was a slight off registration of the collage colour paper background.

The second version was made using a relief roll of green akua ink and the white areas of the petals were created by again using a cotton swab to remove the green ink. I applied a bit of golden yellow to the plate surface on the tip of small brush.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mini print - a mix-media art project for elementary schools

I am commencing a project with a grade 5/6 classroom in a few days time. A few challenges have been presented for this project including the limited amount of time I will have to work with the students and small budget we have for materials.

I proposed an idea to the teacher to have his students create mix-media artwork using a simple intaglio printmaking technique (drypoint) and combining this with collage of thin coloured papers. 

As a multi-discipline visual artist the miniature size is something I have explored in the past and have had a few small prints included in miniature exhibitions both here in Canada and one in Denmark.

hand-coloured photogravure print
plate size: 8 cm
varied open edition

I drew a simple landscape study of organic tree shapes. My idea was to incorporate colours and shapes through the collage application of thin asian colour tissue papers (known as chine-collé). My design is loosely based on a block print I created several years back titled Moon & Forest. 

Moon and Forest
block based relief print
image size: 10 cm x 10 cm

Due to the size of the plate this presented a challenge for incorporating very small pieces of the paper.
However it wasn't impossible and I am pleased with the results I have been getting using this.
Below is a short video I made from the intial simple sketch on paper through the scratching with the result linework in the surface of the plate. You will notice that placing the clear plate against a black background reveals the details rather nicely.


My plate is made from a flexible type of clear thin acrylic plastic that is used in the packaging industry. I was able to place my pencil sketch underneath and view it through the plastic. Using a sharp needle point tool I basically traced my sketch into the surface using scratching strokes.
Akua intaglio carbon black ink was wiped into the scratch marks and then using wiping fabric (a thin web-type material I sourced from a local fabric shop) I removed excess ink from the surface of the plate. A piece of thin paper (old yellow pages from a phone book) was pressed and rubbed using a circular motion to remove additional surface ink. This is the same process many printmakers use when inking a plate (etching) in preparation for printing.

First I made one test print on rag paper using just the black ink to show me how the scratch line would reproduce. Akua intaglio ink was used and I added a little bit of mag-mix (magnesium carbonate powder) to thicken the rather runny ink (which is vegetable oil based).

I used the plate edges as a guide to trim the small pieces of asian paper to the same dimensions as the plate. The tricky part was then to determine where each piece would be placed. I put the plate (ink side) facing upwards on the press bed. I carefully placed the tissue thin paper on top and moved it into place using the point of an x-acto blade. A fine mist of water was sprayed onto the plate surface to slightly dampen the tissue. A fine dusting of wheat paste powder (strained through cheesecloth stretched over the opening of the jar it was in) was applied. 
Finally I set a slightly moist piece of  250 gm rag printmaking paper over top.
A piece of newsprint was put over top and then the three layers of wool felts were carefully lowered over top of everything, I manually turned the press handles and passed the plate, papers and blankets underneath the top roller which I had set earlier to produce a fairly tight squeeze. 

The pressure forced both the tissue thin asian paper on top of the plate and the rag down into the areas holding the ink. This left the ink on the surface of the colour papers and the pressure fused these with the fine layer of adhesive onto the rag paper. It allowed me to incorporate colour and texture through the simple application of collage. So far I have produced 3 test prints. Two of these use the collage application. You will notice in one I carefully cut out a circular shape to allow me to have a moon behind the tree.

This artistic endeavour in the classroom should prove to be both exciting and challenging for the grade five and six students. I will follow up on this post soon with photos of what they have been producing.