Monday, January 18, 2016

The Importance of Printmaking

I am a printmaker. It's one of the things I'm proud to say about myself. Printmaking is not just a craft, but a way of looking at the world. And one of my life's greatest delights is when I can share this craft and lens with others. Today I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share it with a bunch of kids.

How to make a simple dry-point intaglio print:

First scrape down and round off the edges of your plate. Then plan your work with a permanent marker on the plate.

Then use an etching scribe to scratch the design into the plate. We used acrylic plates first.

Then we used zinc for the second round of prints. The scribe cuts a groove into the surface that has a burr on one side (and sometimes on both sides). This groove will hold the ink during printing.

When the plate is run through the press, the wet paper is pressed into all the grooves, and around the plate, giving a noticeable relief to the print. We can take advantage of this by carving the plate to form an interesting 3-D effect when it's printed.

When using only lines for depth of colour, texture, and form, it can take a very long time to get the whole plate finished.

Some scribes are easier to create deeper lines with, but in the end inking is as much or perhaps even more important to the outcome of the print than the lines themselves.

Ahhh... ink. Thick and sticky, it needs to be mixed well on the glass plate using little cardboard paddles. I don't have a photo of the paper, but generally when we start inking a small plate is a good time to start soaking the thick, fibrous intaglio paper. This ensures that the pulp of the paper will be moveable and will push well into all the crannies of the plate.

Then the ink is wiped onto and rubbed into the etching plates.

Using a smooth paper, we then have to wipe all extraneous ink off the plate! Technically, all the lines (grooves) should hold the ink while it wipes relatively cleanly from the smooth upper surface. However, the wiping can be tweaked in many different ways to allow for a lot of rich moody tones and layers of depth.

Finally, the wiped plate is laid on the press bed, hands washed (for the umpteenth time in this process!), the wet paper laid carefully over the plate, and then a sheet of newsprint and three layers of wool felt. And then we slowly and steadily run it through the tightly-wound press.

And this is what it's all for! That moment when we peel back the paper and discover what we've created!! No two prints are entirely alike, and every time we peel back the paper it feels a bit like a gift.

Between 2-hour-long sessions of intaglio practice, we went out for a very wet rainforest picnic, and to see if we could find some nature-made prints. We found our own footprints, first, then the print left by lichen that has fallen off a tree. We found the hole in the ground left by an uprooted tree, and even an owl pellet! We decided it qualified because, like all prints, it's a mark left by something departed - an impression of the past and a clue about past events.

owl pellet

Prints often have a feeling of melancholy, because of the inherent absence or loss involved in their making. We breathed on the studio windows and made prints of our faces in the steam. They were gone by the end of the day. It's good to think about prints; about the impression we leave upon the world and the impact we have. Prints speak also about memory. They remind us that the impression is not always the same as the original. And like memory, every retelling takes on a different character; a different reality. Prints remind us of our importance in the world, of the many different and multifaceted truths, and of the relative changeability of it all.