Friday, April 1, 2016

Collagraph continued - small study from constructed plate

Here is a small collagraph I recently printed from a plate that I constructed back in 2012. The plate itself was 6 x 6 cm (2.5 inches). It was a simple composition created from application of collected dried plant tops and some other elements including scrap ends of fabric and paper. These were glued onto a small piece of matboard and then sealed under several layers of shellac.

I had made one monochromatic test print from this plate after the shellac coating had dried. Perhaps it was not inked properly but I remember the print off the plate was lacking in something so I put it aside and moved onto other artistic ventures.

Recently I pulled the plate out of storage and decided I would attempt to ink and make a print off of it. I applied oil based etching ink using small dabbers of rolled felt secured with duct tape. (these were about 4 inches in length) I left a little of the felt free of tape on both ends so it could be used to hold and transfer the ink. 
Here I applied a mix of  prussian blue, carbon black and cadmium yellow to create a seafoam green to the lower areas of the plate. I wiped the ink gently using a bundle of soft synthetic interfacing fabric. This was followed by a very light swipe of old telephone directory yellow pages.
For the small circular moon shape I removed ink using a cotton swab.
On the raised surfaces (plant elements) I rolled on a mix of carbon black and forest green ink using a small rubber brayer. Moistened cotton rag paper was set over top of the inked plate. This was passed under the roller of my small table top etching press.

resulting print on rag paper

I was quite happy with the resulting print this time around. 

The next thing I did was clean off the plate and press it into an equal size piece of thin dense styrne (styrofoam). This gave me an opposite image and the raised elements became below surface indentations. I inked the plate with the carbon black/forest green ink and rolled prussian blue and some cadmium red on the surface. Using gentle wiping I blended the two surface inks so that the top area became more of a violet hue.

original collagraph plate (left) and pressed foam plate version (right)

Again I placed dampened rag paper over top and ran it on the press bed under the roller.
Here is the resulting image that was transferred.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Collagraph part II - using low relief dense foam


In my previous post I showed a couple of prints of mine that combined various low relief materials to produce a print on paper. One of the materials that was used was low relief pieces of scratch foam printing plate. 

This material has the ability to embed other shapes into it's surface. It can be used to great effect for adding interesting details to a collagraph print.

I pressed medium grit sandpaper into the foam surface to give this a grainy texture. I followed this by stabbing the foam with a pen tip to give me slightly larger depressions. For some crack lines I drew across with the point of a bamboo skewer.
The objective here was to create a pocky hard rock surface which is very common to the region where I live. 
The mission with this collagraph was to convey a sense of the landscape and elements of Northern Ontario...lots of water with an abundance of Cambrian Shield rock interspersed with boreal forests.

I cut and glued down the foam pieces onto a thick paperboard substrate. Then using an xacto blade I cut away and shaped the material. Using a ballpoint pen tip I was able to press into the foam and create pockets for darker areas to be made when the ink would be applied.

I was able to coat the foam and rest of the materials on the plate using shellac. Once it was dry then thinned etching ink was applied to the plate and it was wiped back and printed.

This is a magnified detail from a section of a test print from another study (5 colour relief print) showing how the texture came about from the styrofoam.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Collagraphs Part 1

collagraphs produced by Grade six classroom drying on cardboard drying board
St. Bernard Catholic Elementary School, Thunder Bay ON

I recently have been exploring collagraphs again in the classroom via my art teachings. I thought the idea of creating a low relief plate using additive and subtractive methods would stimulate and challenge students. They get to use recycled materials and also print their plates using my press.
It is also a lot of fun.
Due to time restrictions we couldn't use shellac or varnish to seal the plates. Instead we opted to spray the service with an aerosol adhesive (done outdoors with masks worn). Plastic food wrap was stretched over top and the plate was passed under the press roller set onto a light squeeze. This forced the plastic to mold over everything and also added some textural effect to the prints. Students wore barrier gloves to keep their hands clean and using Akua carbon black intaglio ink they loaded ink into recessed areas  using old toothbrushes and wiping ink on the surface with their finger tip. We used bunched up pieces of interfacing fabric for wiping back of the ink followed by a surface polishing using yellow pages and gift wrap tissue. Dampened cotton rag paper was placed over top and it was passed again through the press.

My introduction to collagraphs originates around 2008. I viewed a lot of work online of people who worked primarily in this printmaking technique and was extremely motivated. Not having ever tried this I researched the process from reading art instructionn books and by watching online demos in You Tube. Hestor Cox is a UK based artist who is quite proficient in the medium.
Another person whose blog I follow is Southern California based artist Belinda Del Pesco. Her work is stellar.

The first couple of small plates I made using scrap packaging board and glue showed promise but were a little too simplistic. I became a bit more adventurous. I tried adding other materials such as mat board, thin sheet styrofoam, modelling gel medium and liquid PVC glue, sandpaper, bamboo, scrap packaging card, dried organic materials like cedar needles, dried flowers added to surfaces. I also removed some areas of the base mat paper board using kraft blades. These areas would hold ink and allow for darker tones in a print. From all of this two plates emerged and the resulting prints were quite satisfactory.

One of these become a monochromatic piece that I included in an exhibition series titled Wilderness. It is a study of a stream meeting a low rise rock face and percolating down through a narrow cut in cambrian shield rock.

collagraph (monochrome)

It is one thing to see the relief built on the base card but you won't know how this is going to turn out until you actually ink the plate and print it.
I still have the original plate for this study and I am tempted to print a few more by either inking the plate A la poupée (spot inking in various colours of inks) or applying hand colouring with wet media to the black & white print.

Shoreline (pictured below) was a study of a section of pond I observed during one of my nature hikes. The foreground rocks were created by cutting and gluing thin foam sheets to the base plate. I pock marked it and then pressed in fine grit sandpaper to create textural elements into the rock. The cat tails were created using shavings off bamboo skewers and liquid bead of PVC glue. The background was dried fern ends, cedar needles and gel medium applied with a small brush tip. The dark water was created by cutting and peeling off a thin layer of the mat board. I then added some fine lines of gel medium into the recessed area. These were in reverse of the built up cat tail stalks and would create a reflection effect when the plate was inked, wiped and printed. The plate had several layers of Shellac sponged rolled over top to seal and waterproof it.

collagraph (monochrome)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

solar plate etching A la poupée

just doing some experimentation with spot inking very small plates.
this plate is only 2 x 2 inches (50 x 50 mm). It is a solar plate with a pen and ink drawing of a chickadee I exposed onto it. Here's what happened:

  • I applied caligo carbon black first and wiped back
  • then using tiny rolled up felt dabbers applied on Akua intaglio pthalo blue, red oxide and burnt umber. Spot wiped these with thin tissue and tip of my pinky finger.
  • The first pass looked interesting but the black in the bird wasn't reading well. Cleaned and inked the plate again in black.
  • Carefully set plate into the paper where it had slightly embossed and flipped it over on the press bed and ran this through a second time. Bird emerged much better with the additional black and thankfully the plate and print were lined up perfectly, otherwise I would have gotten a double image.
  • Not sure how the got a textural effect in the blue background...maybe water drops on the paper, the way the ink was wiped? None the less I am not objecting to an interesting background effect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

translating a sketch into an etching

etching with hand-colour

etching with hand colouring

I recently made a couple of sketches based on early winter birds that are common in the area where I live. These are also inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and his observations of birds and wildlife.

I placed a pencil sketch underneath a piece of wet media acetate film alternative. Using water thinned acrylic ink and pure ink line drawn with a crow quill pen and fine point pigment marker I adapted the sketches to monochromatic form. 

I then scanned the artwork and reduced it in scale. It was printed using black ink only on my inkjet printer on a clear piece of inkjet transparency film.

These were exposed onto small pieces of solar plate using ultra-violet light (a homemade unit I built using black lights). Unfortunately I wasn't afforded the luxury of a cloudless sunny day to make the exposure out of doors using sunlight.

I pre-exposed the plate first to an ultra-fine dot aquatint screen (for tonal variations and that would keep the etch shallow on the plate surface for about 45 sec. Then I followed by exposing the film based art to the plate surface for about 1 min duration. Each plate was gently scrubbed with an old toothbrush immersed in tepid tap water for about 2 min. I blotted the plate with paper towel and post-exposed it again to UV light for about 10 min. The post-exposure cures the polymer into a tough as nails material but keeps the etched areas.

inked small polymer plates ready to be printed

Carbon black veg. oil etching ink (Caligo Safewash) was wiped into the etched areas and the plates had the surface polished with thin tissue paper. 
I set the inked plates facing upwards on the press bed of my small Richardson press and set slightly dampened 250 gm Magnani Revere felt finish cotton rag over top. The paper is a warm white hue.
Blankets were lowered over top and having a tight pressure set passed the plate bed by hand turning the gear levers on the press.

I had built a home-made drying system out of some reclaimed wood, old picture wire, miniature stainless steel clips, plastic clothes pins. The prints were clipped and allowed a week to dry in a warm room.

I am now in the process of applying colour to each of these. I am using water thinned washes of daler-rowney acrylic inks and a synthetic sable brush to apply it with.

These will both printed as a varied open edition.

I have added both to my shop Borealart in Etsy if anyone is curious. The nice thing about prints is I can replace my sold ones easily as I will have a few of the edition in my print drawers ready to photograph and offer the art buying public.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Boreal - Small Wonders - exhibition of small size original printmaking

a viewer looking at my work and also reading the short little stories that accompany each piece underneath.

Today my series of 24 new small studies on paper officially opened to the public.
The works are hung in the small corner public gallery space at the Baggage Building Arts Centre in my hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
This project commenced in the late spring of 2013 when I applied for and received a Northern Arts new works project grant from the Ontario Arts Council. 
My vision was to focus on creating a series of small studies on paper examining elements of the Boreal Forests of our region in the scope of flora and fauna.

Here is the artist statement: 

An image can relay many things, even from the perspective of a small size in comparison to a larger counterpart. It is my hope these studies that originate from a variety of original print based processes will encourage the viewer to come closer and develop an intimate relationship with each work.
The idea of “small” relates also to the actual subjects being studied, especially delicate tiny plant, mammal, insect, amphibian and bird species native to this region that co-exist with other larger forms of life found within the boreal forest.

Natural environments have been the main component of many of the images I have created to date. With this series I have continued explorations on this theme but with greater emphasis towards personal close up observations of select components of the natural environment.
I have utilized a range of printmaking techniques to achieve the final imagery. These include serigraphy, collagraph and intaglio (drypoint from acrylic plate both drawn art and photo based imagery on the surface of polymer plates). I have also paired hand-colouring with the intaglio plate based images.

The forests of Northwestern Ontario harbour a wide variety of plant, animal and insect life that are unique to this region of Canada. Many rare species have been able to adapt and thrive here due to factors created by historical geographic disturbances and unique climatic factors due to the influence of location between the Canadian North and the Great Lakes. Proximity to Lake Superior has also been a significant factor as it keeps the climate somewhat cooler in areas close to the lake.
Unfortunately conditions favourable for many of these species are being altered due to influences occurring on the planet such as climate change and the presence of man through resource industries such as forestry and mining and others. These factors have been playing influence towards the survival of many species.
Predictions made by NASA scientists in the fall of 2011 indicate that the Great lakes basin area of North America will be one of the most affected regions during the next few decades in the scope of climate and there will be noticeable changes in habitats directly related to conditions that were once favourable for species to thrive in. 
We may indeed see the disappearance of many of these unique components of nature. I feel that documentation of particular components of the natural environment found in this
region is an important issue worth examining.

My role as an artist in this case is to present you the viewer with a series of studies that examine established relationships between environments and habitation of species as they presently exist. It may also raise awareness that the influence our own species has on other forms of life found on the planet.

I did not use relief carving this time due to a shoulder injury that affected my drawing hand and arm. Holding a cutting tool and attempting to carve away a surface for prolonged durations proved to be extremely painful and I was forced to omit using this approach intended for creating a few of the images (that was part of my original vision). Therefore following approval of the changes for my project grant funding from the OAC more emphasis was directed towards exploration of photo images translated to plate etchings. After some rehabilitation I found that I was able to spend time applying watercolour and acrylic inks to these studies with less pain involved. I can happily say that I believe my injury is making a great improvement and I should hopefully soon be able to find full use of the arm for my artistic pursuits.

Caribou Lichen
photo etch with hand colour

closer view

I used the following techniques to create the 24 studies that are listed below:

  • serigraphy
  • collagraph
  • drypoint on acrylic plate
  • drawn/painted original artwork on film exposed to polymer plate
  • photo positive on polymer plate

The 24 studies feature represent five species that include mammals, insects, birds, amphibians and plants that are found in the boreal forests of Northwestern Ontario. They are:

red fox
woodland caribou
red squirrel
great horned owl
canada jay
red-breasted nuthatch
american white pelican
northern flicker
pileated woodpecker
american toad
western painted turtle
caribou lichen
scarlet waxcap mushroom
blue flag iris
wild rose
nodding trillium
smartweed (polygonum amphibus)
marsh calla (berry)
monarch butterfly
flower longhorn beetle

you can view all 24 images in gallery 6 in my website:

There is an article on the show in our local culture publication called the Walleye. Print copies are available free at many different locations around Thunder Bay and region but they also have the issues available online to view.
Here is the link to the most recent issue with the article about yours truly on page 29.
This project was made possible through funding from the Ontario Arts Council.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Forthcoming solo miniature print exhibition - final stages of preparation

For the past two years I have been developing a series of small print-based images on paper that are based on a common theme. Each one falls under the category of miniature art. The collective series is known simply as The Boreal - Small Wonders. It explores flora/fauna unique to the region of Canada that I reside in.
I utilized four techniques to achieve the series. These include serigraph, collagraph, drypoint on clear acrylic plate, polymer plate etching using both originally drawn artwork on film and photography. With the inclusion of hand colouring using watercolour and liquid acrylic inks with brush it became mixed media.

Woodland Caribou
image size: 8 x 10 cm
edition of 15

I decided to pursue this project from a small print perspective for several reasons:
  • working within a preset budget determined the number of works that could be produced
  • the viewer is forced to look at each from a close proximity and perhaps develop an intimate relationship in an understanding of each subject
  • This personally challenged me to work in small scale and make decisions about elements like composition and fine details.

Loons (drying on board and awaiting inclusion of water base media)
photo based polymer plate etching
image size: 7 x 10 cm
open edition

My belief is that small works of art can say as much if not more than larger counterparts.

I will be uploading the entire series to my website to coincide with the exhibition towards the end of this month.

On Sunday Oct 18 I am giving a one day workshop at the gallery space to those who would like to make their own miniature polymer plate etching.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Teaching at KidVentures Summer Art Camp Pt. 2

Picture Book Art Journal
created by James
Kidventures summer camp program
Aug 10 - 14, 2015
Baggage Building Arts Centre
Thunder Bay, Ontario

I completed the second and final week as an instructor working with young artists through the City of Thunder Bay's KidVentures summer camp program. 
This week 18 young talents explored the theme of "Around Thunder Bay" and created a multi-page "Picture Book & art journal".

Here is a daily breakdown of this week's activities

  • Monday, sketch in pencil then fill in with acrylic paints on rag paper.

pencil sketch on paper held onto plasti-core board with green painter's tape. The young artist decided to explore the theme of rivers and fishing in this piece.

applying primary acrylics with brush to the pencil composition

the beginnings of a forested area in brown and orange

a floral theme being explored by this young artist

  • Tuesday, search for imagery from various sources (ie. magazines, newspaper) then cut and paste these onto the painting to create a visual story.

this artist decided to do collage first and paint later

a small collage element (local retailer logo)

a bit of birds added and persons in watercraft in the lower areas

what one would see while canoing down a river


wildlife in the forest

  • Wed, onto heavier board map in pencil another image then using air dry sculpting medium and liquid white glue construct a low relief composition.

rolling out clay-like air dry sculptng medium on plastic sheet with a wood dowel

the artists had the chance to use texture pressing plates (the colourful plastic squares you see at the top of the photo

applying the sculpting medium with liquid white glue onto the heavier paper board 
(this will become the cover of the picture book)

book cover with no colour added, the artist liked the effect just as it was in white.

  • Thursday, apply paint to the dry sculpting medium.               Begin sketch on paper and transfer onto thin styrofoam plate by tracing through using ballpoint pen.

painting the dry sculpting medium on board, don't worry the board will lost it's curl when the paint has dried.

using a ballpoint pen an artist is drawing into flat styrofoam plate that will become a relief print on paper

  • Friday, using soft rubber brayers roll water soluble relief print inks to the foam plates and print onto coloured papers. Create small stamps from scrap pieces of styrofoam and print on paper.

printmaking station - graphic chemical water-soluble inks (non-toxic, easy wash up with water. Good open air working time (up to 2 hours). We used plexiglass to roll our inks out with soft synthetic rubber brayers.

two colours of ink carefully rolled on the plate ready for printing

relief prints drying on a sunny ledge

student stamping using different designs and arrangment

relief print page in the Picture book

We took all of the work and assembled it in a book form using drilled holes and decorative string. A few extra pieces of blank rag watercolour paper were included as additional pages for doing an at-home activity with wet or dry media.