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