Sunday, May 1, 2016

miniature etchings from photopolymer plates - a how to photo tutorial

Sleeping Giant
I have been developing a series of small landscape studies that feature key locales along the shore of Lake Superior on the Canadian side of the great lake. The studies will all be the same in overall dimension size and all are horizontal. To date I have created plates for three studies. 
These are printed using a warm black Caligo safewash etching ink. Hand colouring is added to each once they have dried. No one single image off the same plate is therefore identical. 
I hope to have upwards eventually of up to 10 studies that will span locations all the way from Sault Ste. Marie Ontario west to Thunder Bay and then south down to the Minnesota border. 

Late afternoon kayak paddle - a Step by Step Photo Tutorial

The beginning stages of artwork being created on film of a new study that will feature the driftwood laden shoreline of Pukaskwa National Park and a small figure in a kayak in the water off the sandy beach. It started as a pencil sketch. I overlayed a sheet of clear wet media acetate film and added in details and textures using a refillable technical pen and then washes of tusche with brush.

 Duralar Wet media film


I created the artwork and then scanned both the landscape and the kayaker at 600 dpi using a flatbed scanner on my inkjet printer unit. Once the images were imported into my photo-editing program (Corel Photopaint) I imported the saved kayaker scan and merged it into the landscape through a copy and paste application. I then saved the file. This was then resized (scaled down) to the dimensions of the polymer plate I planned to use (2 x 3.5 inches or 5 x 8 cm). I set the printer for grayscale printout and black ink only option. An A2 size of inkjet transparency sheet was placed into the paper drawer and the saved image was printed out. This served as my film positive which I exposed onto the light sensitive coated plate using UV lightsource. You can learn more about this process by visiting this post.

The image was burned into the polymer surface by a chemical reaction to the UV and then I developed the plate using tepid water and scrubbing with an old toothbrush.  The plate was then exposed a second time to UV light to harden the polymer making the etch permanent.

positive with both landscape and kayaker on inkjet tranparency

below: developed plate with ink wiped into the etched image

detail of etch or pitted area of the plate surface. The duration of the exposure determines the depth of the etch. I also pre-expose the plate to a fine dot aquatint screen for 1 min before I expose the artwork positive. This creates a micro halftone dot pattern that will allow for tonal variations and also help keep the etch from becoming too deep.

ink application area of studio. Vegetable oil on the left for cleaning up. I also use detergent and water for cleaning off plates afterwards.

magnetic sheet to hold the stainless steel base plate steady when applying and wiping ink

tempered plate glass square which I use to mix my ink. 
Top left: rolled felt material with tape handle that I use to apply ink to the plate (dabber). Top right: ink spreader. Bottom left: wiping fabric (polyester interfacing) Bottom right: Caligo Safewash oil base ink - Carbon black and a tube containing a bit of caligo easywipe compound. I add a tiny amount of this to the oil ink to make it less tacky and spreadable.

small etching press with compressed polyester and styrene sheet bed. I place a paper template under the plexiglass which is the exact size of the paper the print will be made onto. I center the plate on template sheet and trace the outline in pencil. The inked plate can be set over top of this (as it is easily viewed through the clear acrylic sheet.) The white rectangle to the left in the photo is the cotton rag paper onto which a print will be made when it is registered with the template underneath and placed over top of the plate.

In lieu of soaking the cotton rag paper I spray it first on both sides with water. This is a little atomizer is repurposed from a throat spray. When the bottle was empty I cut a not into the plastic area that fit around the top of the glass bottle. This allowed me to remove it and set it back on the glass bottle. The little flip up wand is where the water is pumped into and it delivers a very fine spray when deployed.

after I mist the paper I quickly blot it between two pieces of newsprint. It is lightly surface dampened. As the polymer plate is quite thin I find that the inked plate won't distress the fibers of the paper as that of a thicker zinc plate might. I also don't worry about bevel of edges for the polymer plate either. I just run a burnishing tool along the outer edge of the plate to smooth any rough metal down.

setting the slightly dampened 250 gm cotton rag paper over top of the plate and lining it up with the template under the plexiglass top.

next step: I am placing a piece of newsprint over top of the cotton rag print paper

 lowering three layers of wool felts over the paper and plate.

The top roller is set to a fairly tight squeeze using the gauge levers (on top with the repurposed wine cork handle grips). I then pull the handles of the press (three spoke type of gear mechanism) and this propels the press bed forward and passes the plate, paper and blankets under the metal roller and out the opposite side.

lifting the felts on the opposite side once the bed has moved and the plate and paper have cleared the metal roller
making sure my hands are clean of any ink I then start lifting the print paper away from the plate.The moment of truth when the transferred image from  the plate appears embedded in the cotton rag print paper.

close up of the print on paper after it was removed from the press bed
 allowing prints to air dry...may take a while and then I will be able to apply colour to each through the introduction of wet media with brush
detail of kayaker from a print. The tiny dots in the water were created from the aquatint screen (tiny halftone dots) that the plate was pre-exposed to before the positive artwork.