Monday, August 6, 2018

Health issues affecting my abilities & significantly reduced studio time

hand-coloured polymer plate print
varied open edition
image size: 5 x 9 cm (2 x 3.5 inches)

It is the first week in August and you might have noticed that I hadn't posted any new blog entries since May.
I have been dealing with two problems involving my health and that have been affecting creative pursuits.

About 13 months back I started to display some mobility issues with my right shoulder accompanied by noticeable pain in the rotator cuff. I was referred for physio-therapy and did this for several months usually once a week. However there really didn't seem to be much improvement occurring.

By mid winter I noticed real discomfort occurring while using my right arm that forced me to limit the amount of time and type of physical work being done ie. creating plates. It was especially difficult when I was using a press (the manual rotation movements required for turning press gear handles).
The inflammation and accompanying pain would require me to take a couple of days of rest before I could resume anything. The exception was low impact activity like painting small work, as the arm and shoulder joint weren't as taxed. But this also required shorter duration periods of rest between applications.

In the spring I was referred to an orthopedic doctor. Back in the late fall I underwent ultrasound imaging. In April I had more detailed imaging which confirmed I have a sizable calcific formation located between the bursa muscle and the joint in my right shoulder rotator cuff region. The recommendation of the surgeon was for me to undergo an ultrasound guided lavage (needling). This procedure has a syringe tip puncture a protective barrier that surrounds the calcification, fracture the deposit and allow the calcium to leach from the area and absorb back into the body. After a lengthy wait I finally underwent the procedure last week. I am presently keeping the arm and shoulder moderately active during recovery but not subjecting it yet to turning press gears. It has lifted my spirits a bit too and there are a few projects I am anxious to return to asap.

The other major health issue is still unresolved and has proved to be a bit of a mystery. I was experiencing digestive issues back in the fall and early winter (some discomfort after eating but also some other things like fatigue, sensitive spots around the body.)  I altered my diet to reduce fats as I believed there might be a link.  After undergoing a number of imaging procedures (colonoscopy, endoscope, barium xrays and CT scan) nothing proved to be a problem with the digestive tract. Some guesses were made about it being gastritis. Conditions like irritable bowel were not looked at though. The restricted diet caused my body weight to drop over a a period of 2 - 3 months by 20 lbs. The problem of the last month or so has been trying to regain weight...I am finding this to be very difficult. Have made some slight improvement (a couple of pounds over the last 4 weeks) by really increasing daily calories. (referring to info i obtained after doing some online research for healthy sources of calories). 

I have still been experiencing short periods of discomfort after consuming some foods that contain fat (although I have made it a point to consume low to moderate fat in the diet...after all we do need some facts for body function). And I am mindful of daily physical activity so as to not burn too many calories. Unfortunately some of my favourite activities during the warmer months have not been possible ie. hiking, kayaking and even working on home renovation projects. It is just something I have made peace with for the moment. Hope the slow gain in weight will eventually have me back to a normal life down the road. 

For the meantime I am working with health care providers (and a dietitian) to explore possible issues with my metabolism, thyroid problems and also other organs like the gall bladder, pancreas and liver to see if we can determine what is the root cause. (CT scan didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary and the doctor told me that the dreaded "c" word was not detected.)

To keep my spirits up and also keep my creative juices going have been hand-colouring some small prints from the storage drawers. I also have been working on a small acrylic painting or two. These activities are not really painful on my arm and shoulder.

Last but not sign my rotator cuff is improving is I can put my arm behind my back without too much pain. Couldn't do this since last July. It may be the benefit from a shot of cortisone that was also injected at the end of the lavage needling. Will have the shoulder area imaged in about 6 weeks time to determine if the lavage has succeeded.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

print from a single plate that combines three techniques

Back in October of last year I posted about a print I had made from using a single clear acrylic plate.

This combined colour relief roll, monotype and drypoint. I had only made a couple of prints at that time. The plate was put into a safe place and I became involved with other projects   

Over the past couple of days I decided to return once again to printing a small edition off of this plate. I took photos during the process which I believe may explain better how I achieved each print on paper from the plate. I am hoping to print an additional 6 for a total of 20 over the next day or two. To date I have printed 13.

I am printing these using Caligo Safewash etching inks. The etching ink is also used for the relief/monotype stage.

Each print is made onto Somerset satin white rag. Using moisture activated butchers tape I affix each print onto a thin mdf panel where they are allowed to dry. The tape also keeps the slightly damp paper from buckling. 

The plexiglass (aka perspex) plate. Here the surface scratched line is revealed by applying and wiping black etching ink across the surface.

The plate showing colour relief roll of ink on the surface and the beginning stages of subtractive monotype. I create a colour blend for the blue on another larger piece of acrylic using a soft rubber brayer. I achieve this by applying prussian blue with a little white to establish the darkest hue at the top. I set a little white a couple of inches beside this and by rolling the ink with the brayer forward many times the two intermix until a nice blend from dark to light occurs. I then carefully transfer this from the roller onto the plate surface.
The light biege ink on the bottom foreground rock was applied with an even smaller width rubber brayer. This is achieved by first determining by eye where to start the brayer to meet at the line of blue and moving it across the surface to deposit the ink and not touch the wet blue ink. It requires a bit of skill and steady hand co-ordination.

Here you can see where I have removed ink using various tools (cotton swabs, rolled tissue, tip of a bamboo skewer) that will print as negative space.

Result of the printing of the colour relief roll and monotype for the first stage. 
The plate was set onto the press bed inked side facing upwards. I used a registration sheet underneath with markings made in light pencil to center the plate and also indicate where the corners of the paper should be. Soaked and blotted Somerset satin 250 gm rag was set over top. A piece of clean newsprint was set over the somerset and then the three wool felts were placed over all of this. The plate had a 45 degree bevel filed along the edges earlier. The pressure of the roller created an embossed mark around the print edges during printing. This will assist in positioning the plate a second time (ink side facing down) for the drypoint.

The colour ink residue was cleaned off the plate surface (using a rag and vegetable oil). I wiped carbon black etching ink into the recessed lines that were scratched on the plate earlier (the drypoint component). 
So now came the really tricky part. Carefully using a combination of steady hand and eye coordination I positioned the plate ink side facing down and set it over top of the colour print. The emboss from the bevel helped me to set it into place. 
I then set my clean hand over the plate. I placed my other hand underneath the paper and with a bit of slight pressure set it under the area where I had the plate pinned to the paper with the other hand on the opposite side. 
I slowly flipped it over so that the plate was underneath. I set this down on the press bed at a 45 degree angle and as the plate was lowered into a horizontal position I removed my hand slowly from underneath but made sure my hand over top of the paper and plate was pushing and making sure the plate wasn't slipping out of position underneath. I could tell once the paper was down flat as the raised shape of the plate from the previous printing held the plate in position. 
Clean newsprint was set over the back of the paper and once the felts were lowered. This time I set the hand that wasn't turning the press gears on top of the felts over the plate and paper area to hold in place until it was caught by the edge of the roller as the bed was moved under the roller.
When I lifted the paper after it had cleared the roller on the other side I saw that the drypoint element had printed nicely where it should be and the colour underprint was also in alignment.

Prints drying in a warm room. I use both sides of the boards to attach prints so angle them slightly out from the wall to allow for airflow on both sides during the drying process.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

collagraph - printing plate made from recycled material

collagraph print progress proof (shoreline study) made from a thin plate cut from beverage carton - colour not yet added

Recently I was organizing a collection of materials that originate from everyday household products. I saw potential use of finding another use for some of these things that would either end up in the recycling container or worse a landfill if they were tossed into the garbage. I was saving boxes worth to use in possible art projects with young artists either in classrooms or in workshops at community art centers.

One item that is common in this household are 1 litre and 2 litre beverage containers that dairy and milk alternatives (like almond, soy, cashew, etc.) are sold in at the local supermarket. A couple of years back I discovered that these containers worked very well for simple printmaking applications. The paper card is coated on the both the outside and inside of the container with a thin layer of plastic fused over top making them waterproof. It is thin enough to cut using scissors or utility blade box cutters.

Below is a link to an earlier blog post where I used a carton based plate to create a simple drypoint print.

Once a week I wash out the inside of the collected empty cartons and then cut 4 panels from each carton.

I have amassed a lot of cartons over the past year and a half that have yielded nearly a shoe-box worth of panels. 

Here are instructions how I achieve getting panels from a beverage carton (if you are wanting to try this for yourself). Tutorial follows photos in rows across then down to next row.


Row #1 across 
a. Using a box cutter knife lay carton on it's side. b. About 1 mm in from where the angled area of the top of the carton meets the straight portion insert cutter blade into an an area and start cutting following the edge. c. Turn the carton as you cut across each side. 

Row #2  d. Repeat using the same method to remove the bottom of the carton. e. cut in about 1 mm from the bottom. f. interior of the carton. One side has an overlap join that has been glued during manufacturing. 

Row #3 g. Stand the hollow carton on it's end and cut down side corner where the paper join is inside. h. Fold out the four panels. i. using metal cork back ruler edge trim each remaining panel away from corner edges by about 1 mm. (this removes the raised edges). I cut my panels on a plastic cutting mat. 

Row #4 j, k & l show trimming of individual panels.

( Note: Some cartons have little embossed markings in a bit from the bottom of the carton. I generally trim this area away.) 

the small panel I cut from a milk carton to use for creating a collagraph print. Plate size is 8.25 x 14 cm ( 3.25 x 5.5 inches). The text on the printed side is in both english and french. Canada is a bilingual nation.

Motivation for this recent project was landscapes from my region. I decided to construct a plate that would print as a collagraph. At present I have only done one plate to date and pulled a couple of progress proofs on rag paper. I am deciding whether to incorporate an additional plate or two or add colour elements to the print image through hand tinting of the printed image.

Stages of the collagraph plate

I started by first tracing an outline of the panel cut from the carton on scrap paper. Then I made a basic sketch of the landscape within the borders of the rectangle. This image was then traced onto thin vellum using a 6B graphite pencil.

tracing in 6B graphite made on tracing vellum

vellum is flipped over and by re-tracing over the visible drawing (that was done in 6B graphite on the backside) the image is transferred to the panel plate surface. The image on the plate would then be as a mirror image. 

graphite is visible on the plate surface. Darker areas would be achieved with recessed areas holding ink. I cut using a scalpel and carefully peeled back surface. Exposed paper fibre is rough in texture.

detail of where I cut and peeled away surface layer to reveal rougher paper underneath. I began adding in small details along the top edge that would hopefully read as a tiny treeline

Since the plate was small and I was working with aging eyes that don't focus as well on small things I used a swing-arm magnifying lamp to enlarge my view while working on the plate

to help reveal the small marks I made in the surface and cut away areas a little charcoal powder was gently brushed over this areas. I then ran some tissue across the surface to remove excess powder.

after working on below surface elements I concentrated on the addition of low relief surface textures. I used a couple of mediums to achieve these.

small amount of acrylic modeling paste was applied to create the foliage of a small shrub.  I used a very small brush tip and also the end of an embossing tool to work the medium on the surface.

I also applied thin areas of acrylic based micaceous oxide with a brush. The very fine particle in the charcoal hued medium would print as small mid tone on the rock surface.

I sealed the plate with clear shellac when all the textural mediums were dry to touch. 
Black Caligo safewash etching ink was mixed with a small amount of easy wipe medium. I applied this to the plate surface with a  tightly rolled crafting felt dabber. Surface ink was removed by wiping with a fine mesh polyester wiping fabric (quilt interfacing from a fabric shop) followed by a few swipes with the barrier glove covered palm of my hand and a piece of old telephone book page.
The plate was set inked side facing up on my etching press bed and slightly damp Somerset rag was set over top. A piece of newsprint was laid over this followed by three wool felt blankets. I adjusted the press roller gauge to a fairly tight pressure and turning the gears passed the plate/paper/felts under the roller. After I removed the print on paper from the press bed it was fastened to a smooth thin wood particle board for drying using gum adhesive butcher's tape.

My next blog entry will most likely show the introduction of  colour into this image.

Friday, March 30, 2018

studio activity - collagraph print

Summer evening

Recently I made a return to collagraph plate printing. I am in admiration of the works of a many print-makers that I view online. Through social media I have been able to converse with a few of them. Our exchange of info has renewed an enthusiasm for again experimenting with the medium in my studio.

                                The image shown at the top of this blog post (Summer Evening) is the result of the combination of two mediums, those being monoprint and collagraph. The past couple of days I have printed a range of images off plates (anywhere from one up to three plates). The first few have been mostly printed to test the image produced by alterations to the plate surfaces.

Let's start at the beginning. The print began by making a free hand sketch referring to a photo I had taken in the late summer of 2013 during an evening on the shores of a lake where I was staying. I had the photo displayed on my tablet and reversed it using mirror image in my photo editing app. The plate would require imagery to be in reverse so that during printing it would reverse to the original direction.

I drew the landscape and foliage in graphite onto a piece of smooth mat board that was trimmed to 11.5 x 11.5 cm (4.5 x 4.5 inches). I went over the graphite with permanent black fine line marker. Using a scalpel blade I scored into the outline of the distant hills and the silhouette of a rock outcrop that would protrude into the water just in front of this. I carefully removed the first surface layer of paper from the board by lifting and pulling it slowly back. The core layer of the mat was exposed and left a slightly rough surface (that I wanted). 
Then I sealed both the surface and the back of the plate with a thin even coating of clear shellac using a 3/4 inch wide soft taklon paint brush and also by wiping the wet shellac across the plate surface with a soft lint free cloth.

the plate with the landscape and foliage would print as the key or main definition image.
here the plate shows the area that was cut with scalpel and surface paper removed for the distant hills and the outcrop of rock into the water.

When the shellac was dry I worked into the surface of the coated plate where the foliage areas were drawn using an xacto knife tip and a diamond tip drypoint tool. I then wiped black oil based etching ink on the plate surface and into all the areas below the surface. I polished the plate surface with newsprint and set a soaked + blotted scrap piece of cotton rag over top. I ran this on the press bed under the tightly set roller of etching press to see how it would print and pick up the fine line detail in the foliage areas.

I then made a second plate (using same size scrap of mat board as the first). This would be to produce an interesting cloud formation in the upper area over the hills area. To achieve this I first placed a piece of thin tracing paper over the print I had made from the first plate. Using HB graphite I sketched shapes that would hopefully read as cloud formations when the plate was worked. I flipped the sketch over with 4B graphite traced the lines showing through. I reversed the paper once again and set this over the second plate surface. I retraced the lines with regular graphite pencil so the heavier graphite underneath transferred to the plate surface. I cut into the plate surface using scalpel again and created recessed areas to contain ink and print darker. Then using a surface application of pva glue and acrylic gel medium dabbed on using a finger tip or small brush tip I randomly worked the viscous mediums around and into the cut recessed areas. These were allowed to dry and then I lightly sanded them back using a fine grit sanding block. Two layers of shellac were applied to the front and back of the plate. Once dry I wiped a bit of thinned prussian blue oil based etching ink into the plate surface and printed it on a small scrap of cotton rag that had been soaked and blotted. 

2nd plate with cloud formation created using combination additive and subtractive processes to the plate surface
detail showing removed surface and addition of gel and pva medium to create low relief shapes

thinned prussian blue oil based etching ink was wiped on the plate. The resulting print on paper.

I then re-inked both plates and printed them one after another onto another scrap of cotton rag to produce a 2 colour print. 

two colour plate print - testing proof

Combining Monoprint and Collagraph plates

I thought that instead of introducing colour in the usual manner I had been using (hand colouring with watercolour or liquid acrylic inks) it might instead be worth trying the addition of a third plate. It took a bit of pre-planning plus the use of small brayers but I was able to succeed in blending etching inks on an acrylic plate as a monoprint element. Due to the small size of the plate it proved to be a challenge to roll colour into small sections.  It requires a great deal of patience and practice I very quickly learned.

The above print was created using Akua Intaglio inks on soaked and blotted Canson Edition cotton rag. The inked was rolled out to a very thin transparent state on a plate cut from 2 mm acrylic sheet (a non-glare type used as an alternative to glass as protective cover over artwork in framed work). In addition to roll blending areas of ink were also removed from the plate surface carefully with gentle dabbing of the tips of cotton swabs.

a slightly thicker layer of blended ink for the monoprint background influenced the way ink from the 2nd plate printed over it.  The result created whispy blue tinted cloud formations

The real challenge with combining plates is accurate registration of each plate. If it is off ever so much the result can be disastrous in success of the print image on paper. I chose to set each of my plates down over the monoprint on paper using careful & steady hand/eye co-ordination. Each plate would set into the slight embossed lower area of the first plate print then would have to be flipped over and set on the press bed with the rag paper over top. I found using a thin piece of bristol card (same size as the print paper) helped provide a firm support to set the inked plates and paper on and made the turning over process a little less stressful. I did have one image off register though, but it was part of the learning process.

Anyhow my plans are to keep going with the edition and see how many prints the plates might yield.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Miniature print series - Birds of Northwestern Ontario

Progress has been happening with a series of miniature intaglio prints that began a few years ago when I decided to use up a few pieces of scrap polymer plates being stored in a small box in the studio. They are based on a common theme of birds found here in the region of Ontario where I reside.

The plan was to create art on a small scale and transfer the work to a plate. The plate would be inked and printed onto rag paper using an etching press.

scale of work compared to a $2 Canadian coin which is
slightly larger than a $0.25 cent coin).
Print size is 1.25 x 1.75 inches (3 x 4.5 cm)

My very first study from one of those small plates was of a  chickadee at a feeder. The square plate size measured 1 inch (2.5 cm).

chickadee 2015

Translating hand-drawn artwork onto a plate

I took a sketch made on paper and made a high resolution scan of it.
Using a photoshop program the contrast was adjusted in the scanned image. I also adjusted the tone and lightened the image that was being viewed on screen by 20%.This was printed using grayscale setting with black ink only option from a HP inkjet printer. It was printed onto an inkjet transparency. 
I placed the transparency tightly against a thin metal plate that had a thin coat of light-sensitive polymer fused onto it's surface. I clamped the transparency to sandwich it between a small cut piece of tempered clear glass and a wood backing board that had a thin piece of bubble wrap taped along the edges. Using four inexpensive plastic shop clamps (these resemble large close pins) I clamp in on the glass and board from the corners about .5 inches (13 mm). You need to have the artwork pressed flush against the plate but clearly visible for ultra-violet light to create a chemical reaction in the polymer.

The art work and plate received a timed 3 minutes of exposure to a UV light source (a small box chamber I had constructed several years back). It had four banks of 18 inch(.5 metre) long black lights mounted to the underside the box inside). Black light emits ultra-violet spectrum light. If there are clear sunny skies you can also expose the plate outdoors. 

Plates post-exposure are developed using warm tap water and gentle scrubbing using an old toothbrush. I blot the wet plate after the image appears etched into the polymer surface. The plate is then exposed once again to UV light for ten minutes to harden the polymer to create a permanent set.

I wipe oil based (non-toxic) etching ink into the plate surface. The ink by wiping into shallow pitted surface areas that will reproduce the image from its surface when very intense pressure is applied from a press roller passed over the plate surface.

Hand colouring images

Since it would be very difficult to wipe various colours of etching inks into lines in very small plates I paint colour into the image using brush and watercolour pigment. Each print varies slightly and is unique unto itself in application of the colouring.

Bird Series - Intaglio based miniature prints

After printing a small edition of the chickadee I made a decision to expand on the miniature plate intaglio process and develop this into a series. 

Downy was the next original image that began as artwork on a positive and was once again translated to polymer plate.

Downy 2017

This was followed a few months later with the study of a blue jay.

Bluejay 2017

Drypoint plate intaglio

Beginning 2018 with renewed creative energy I have continued the series by adding another two added to the collection (see photos below). To date there are now a total of five prints in the series.  I am still in the process of applying hand colouring to the new works (printed in editions of 15).

This time I used drypoint as the medium. Each originates from a drawing scratched into the surface of a clear hard acrylic plate with an etching needle. I can put my sketch underneath and use it as a guide to scratch in the image.
The plates then have etching ink wiped into the surface marks. Damp paper is set over top of the plate (set on a movable bed) and by turning the gear handles manually they are passed under a stainless steel roller. The extreme meeting of the paper and plate surface literally drives the paper fiber into the recessed inked lines to transfer the image (in reverse) onto the paper.

Colour is introduced after the print has dried once again through diluted watercolour pigment applied with brush.

nuthatch 2018

Whiskey Jack 2018

The plan is to continue adding new studies to the series. In the meantime I will be making these available through both local venue and an online handmade retail site  (Etsy).