Techniques: Tools and the Marks They Make

An aspect of learning any new art process it learning about your new tools and the marks they make. Each tool in a new material makes a different mark, add in something new and it alters the mark made. Learning these marks is a whole new visual language.

Enter in my exploration of drypoint via the use of recycled materials. each material responds to the tools of dry point- etching needles, needles, sand, grit, and other tools in a slightly different manner.

This plate is a good example of how the substrate changes how the coffee bag responds to my tools.small drypoint of a cabin in the woods

I glued the coffee bag to a piece of old binder board, one I never liked for books because it has what I can only describe as a “soft fluffy” texture. It indents wit a finger nail and though it cuts with ease, I’ve used it as a base for collagraphs in the past and hated it. But here, it works great. I did run it through the press a few times, each on successively increased pressure to compact the soft fluffy fibers.  It is still soft, but less fluffy.

This soft texture allowed me to press into the board with some decent pressure, giving nice bold lines. Light pressure allowed me to get the finest of fine line. I used some sandpaper with varying amounts of cross hatching to create some very fine lines that created a nice depth of texture and darkness. It really evokes the depth of the woods in that area. the plate for the previous print

The sandpaper wrapped around a finger and then with the plate spun under it gave the swirls of lines in the branches. I really like the look and hope to make a few texture tools with sandpaper to give more control.

Anyway, now that I I know I like the coffee bag on a substrate as a method of printmaking I’ve been able to experiment with the look that each tool makes as I use it in different manners. I’m having fun with it and developing a visual language of marks. I’m learning each and every tool.

Trash Printmaking More Coffee Bag Process

My previous post utilized coffee bags stuck to stiff card, from soda cartons and cereal boxes. I found a bunch of old soft binder board and decided to try that with my next batch. We got more coffee and as soon as I emptied the bags I was delighted to find that they were made with the mylar layered bags.image of the pickled onion

More results: The paper coated and mylar layered bags work great. The all plastic work well, but one must be very careful to use gentle pressure or the plastic will warp and stretch, creating a bulge and bubble between the coffee bag and card.

The mylar doesn’t seem to bulge or bubble, but the plastic does eventually peel away from the mylar. I was able to do 13 copies of one of my plates, but they aren’t all the same color, before the plates started to break down. I did notice that with the spray glue the coffee bag began to peel away in the middle of the plate around print nine. This seemed to happen around folds and wrinkles in the original coffee bag. I did not try to smooth these bags with a low iron, but may try that in the future.

Paper backed shows the texture of the paper

With spray glue I put the glue directly onto the back side of the coffee bag. I had an epiphany when I was working on the new plates with PVA- with those I put the glue on the card. I realized that doing so allows for an even coating all over the coffee bag once it is adhered. I realized that I could do the SAME thing with spray glue and if anything the card with spray glue would be easier to handle than sticky curled coffee bags.

The process for making a coffee bag plate with PVA

  • cut and clean a coffee bag, trim all seams away
  • coat a piece of stiff carton card larger than the coffee bag piece with PVA
  • apply the coffee bag to the card label side to the glue, shiny silver side up
  • allow the glue to partially dry
  • cover in waxed paper, and run through a press
  • allow the glue to dry, under weight or pressure
  • trim away excess card

I used soda carton, cereal box, and frozen pizza box card. This stuff tends to be thick, stiff, and a single layer of pulpy card. It absorbs a great deal of glue. I let it get tacky then checked to see if I needed to add more glue. Then applied the coffee bag.

Anyway, I’ve got a lot more to experiment with when it comes to these layered plates. They are pretty simple to make and I can make a bunch of them in a sitting.

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Trash Print Making: Coffee Bags

My next experiment with printing with trash utilizes coffee bags. If you haven’t guessed from my art depicting coffee, I drink a lot of it. So I always have a variety of empty bags around the house.

I had the vague idea of gluing coffee bags to a backing then printing for a few days, but someone pointed me to this Curious Printmaker blog post. Which uses melted crisp (chips here in the US) bags, and suggested doing the same with coffee bags. Instead of melting them I wanted to stick them to a backing for added stability and then print them.

I started out by slicing and cleaning a bunch of bags, I then cleared off labels and glue, since everything will print. Then I used spray adhesive and stuck them, shiny side up to a piece of soda can carton. This worked really well, except when I slathered on too heavy a coating, the edges stuck but oddly the middle didn’t. This was remedied by using a light even coating.

After that I trimmed them to square and scratched into the soft plastic surface with a sharp needle, etching tools, exactos, sand, and sandpaper. It all worked really well. Every mark prints- from scuffs on the bag to the creases from the folds to the delicate lines I etches with the super fine sharp tapestry needle.Coffee bag print and plate

Because I have a wide variety of coffee bags I tested several different styles of bags- all plastic, plastic backed with paper fibers, and the standard layered plastic and metallic bags in shiny and matte. They each scored and scraped really well. Like many of the recycled plastic plates I’ve tried, a lot of etching in one area throws up a heavy burr that traps too much ink and the detail of the cross hatching is lost. With this the bur can be burnished back a bit to bring back the detail. The images below are of my test plates showing all 4 types of coffee bag.

My next experiment is to add in carborundum and sand through acrylic mediums and glue.

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State of the Art: Trash Printmaking and Plastic Coated Everything

The great thing about trash printmaking is that you become hyper aware of plastic coatings on everything. I mean, okay, that’s not great. So many things in our world are coated in a thin film of plastic and that means they can be used for making prints.

At least I can reuse many of the plastic film coated things.

I picked up a meal at a fast food chain. (Don’t judge, we all have our weak moments.) The cups were made out of paper card and the ice cream pie I added on had a plastic coated card container. I decided to test them out to see if I could print with them.

Results were varied.

They had a super thin film of plastic, soft and pliable it feels more like a membrane than anything else. I washed and dried them then cut them into flats. Any glue layers were removed as was the cup rim and bottom seal for the cup. I should have taken pictures of this process but, alas, I wasn’t thinking of documenting the process.Skull etched into flatten hershey pie carton

I used a variety of tools- needle, needle scribe, and an Exacto knife to scrape and score into the surface. It was clear that all the tools were raising a burr and breaking through the surface of the plastic film. I could feel the paper fibers raising up through the scores. The plastic film began to peel a bit as I cross hatched lines. Peeling back the plastic film was surprisingly easy it revealed super smooth cardstock, peeling that back left a fiber-y ink soaking surface. Brain and blames etched into a paper drink cup from BK

Both stocks felt similar but the ice cream pie box felt softer and thicker.

I used Speedball Supergraphic black ink. A water soluble but oil based ink. It’s a favorite but relatively stiff and sticky. Even with the first print of each small thin slivers of the plastic from cross hatched areas peeled up during the wipe. The sticky ink pulled it up despite the warmth of the day and my studio.

The printing went well and the plate released from the paper well.

The second printing is where things got… rough. The soda cup survived the second print, loose slivers of plastic stopped peeling up* and the second print was as good as the first. The pie box, well not so much. The membrane started to peel even during the adding of ink.  I used a soft piece of waste cardboard and scraped the ink over, only to have the membrane peel of in some areas. When I began wiping, well larger areas peeled away. This lent an interesting effect to the print. Some areas that had had ink on them duding the previous print, printed deeply dark while newly revealed areas showed a paler area of dark- charcoal gray. And areas that peeled away entirely were fresh and white showing the etched in areas in great contrast.

Flattened hershey pie carton

You can see how the box started to break down in just warm water when I washed it.

This means that the box and the cup create monotypes with etched in details. Which is fun, but, I greatly prefer that if I’m going to go to the effort of etching in details that I get more than 2 prints were piece of trash. detail of the second skull and circles print

I do wonder if the oils in the ink broke down the plastic and if a loosened up waterbased ink would work better. I have some Speedball waterbased inks so I might try some of those with them. It is also tempting to mix up some paste and black watercolor to test these pieces of trash.

Anyway, even if it is a single print it’s better than just tossing the stuff in the trash. (This sort of packaging is not recyclable in my area.) The plate is also a work of art and can be mounted and framed. Some won’t be as successful.

With regards to using Akua inks. I know that a lot of blogs and sites call them “water-based.” They are not they are made of a modified soy oil that is water miscible, which means they are oil based and water soluble. If it is the oil that started the break down of the plastic film the same would happen with Akua inks.

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State of the Art: Success and Failures

I think it’s important to share both my success and my failures on my blog, so that readers can see that everything doesn’t turn out as expected all of the time.

I was really excited about this plate. It’s a bit bigger than some of my others and it’s a subject that I enjoy exploring- the Super Chicken building in my neighborhood. When I first moved here is was… Something else. The owner had painted the lower half of the old brick building bright glossy red. To say it was ugly is an understatement. It was garish and a lot. Recently* they did some renovations and painted the lower half a sedate cream and gray color scheme and installed new gray awnings. Classy.

This image is from a photo I took of the building in it’s old garish glory.

I had hopes of using textured cardstock to create the feeling of the rough painted over bricks and then the brick above that, plus the old concrete of the sidewalk and the beaten up street.

The reality is that I didn’t leave enough room between sections of the cardstock to create the lines I needed to make the darker areas. I had too much of the textured card in some areas and not enough in other areas.

I wiped back the front of the building more to create a lighter area, and left the shadowed section darker, but it all comes out as a similar gray. Largely because the areas that should show lines, aren’t because they are too close together. The result is an image with too little dark, too much gray even tone, and not enough light area.

Anyway. It’s a failure as a finished image but I learned a lot- I need a certain distance between collaged on elements and that the texture doesn’t need to be pronounced to be seen in the final print. Also, when I apply glue to torn out areas, the application must be thick enough to coat all the fibers and rise above them. I’m also noticing that any white glue that I apply becomes crackled when I put the acrylic varnish on. Which this is a good effect for some applications, it’s not the best for everything. Here I really wanted a pure white area in the windows. I might need to switch over to shellac or use the waterbased poly I have instead of the craft varnish.

I keep cataloging things I learned from this process. I really dig the texture sheets I made with modeling paste for this image. I’ll definitely be using them again in the future. While I don’t like to work directly into modeling paste to create an image, this was both fun but also looks great. It is an area to explore in the future.

Every art piece disaster is a learning experience.

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State of the Art: More Recycled Printmaking

We try not to buy a lot of things in plastic packages that are already in plastic packages. But sometimes it happens. Now I have a way to reuse that packaging that will never get recycled.plastic package etched with skull and daylilies image

Plastic makes a great matrix for dry point. Many people use thin acetate sheets, like the stuff that was used with overheard projectors. You can run them through a printer and print your design on them, well plastic packaging can’t be run through a printer and it’s a bit thicker, but it works great.

skull and daylilies

I left the packaging intact, enjoying the idea of reuse juxtaposed with the living flowers and representation of death with the skull- on a polluting piece of plastic.

I can see where I went wrong with this plastic, areas didn’t need to be so deeply scraped and etched. The lines held up surprisingly well for many passes through the press. Generally dry point plates don’t last a long time, but I managed to run this one through 10 times for 8 good prints! (I managed to damage it when I scraped off ink with a credit card that had a bit of sand on it.)

I used an Exacto blade, upside down, blade pointed up so that the tip and back of the blade scraped through the plastic. It worked really well. The next plastic package I get I’ll be trying my needles.

close up of skull

You can see on the left of the skull where it is a bit over worked and the ink couldn’t be wiped away.Anyway, really excited by this particular reuse.

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State of the Art: Recycling in Printmaking

Most folx know that I’m devoted to recycling. I started to explore recycled items as part of my printmaking process with the use of heavy card packages- like cereal,  frozen pizza, and seltzer can boxes. As I was flattening the boxes in our bathroom recycling bin, I realized that most of the boxes had a plastic coating, and thus could be used much like aseptic packaging. We’re talking things like facial toner and toothpaste boxes.a stack of flattened packages from toothpaste and beauty supplies.

To start I opened up the boxes and trimmed off any torn or wrinkled areas. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to leave the flaps on the boxes or cut them off, but using the mini press constrains my efforts, so for these, I trimmed them off. They just wouldn’t fit on my paper or press. After that I wiped then down with Simple Green. Finally I ran them through the press to flatten and smooth them.

Some people like to trim off the folds and just use the parts of the boxes that are smooth and flat. I chose to leave the folds to get a larger space for creating images. I ended up with plates roughly 4 x 6 inches.

I’ve been wanting to use toner transfer for awhile so I printed some skulls and brains. I used my chartpack blending marker. It smells like hell and uses xylene but it’s the one thing that I have found that works flawlessly for the toner in my Brother B&W laser printer. I made the mistake of trying to run the whole thing through my mini press between my plates and it hazed the clear acrylic top plate, so that’s fun.

Anyway, no need for the pressure of the press, the marker does the work on its own. I ended up with pretty good transfers on most of the packages. I combined these transfers with some freehand sketching with a sharpie. The sharpie doesn’t seem to transfer from this packaging to the final prints. It does with other plates.

Finally I scratched and scored into the card with an Exacto and a needle. I also used a ball embossing tool. All worked pretty well. For larger dark areas I cut into the plastic and card with the Exacto and peeled away areas of the plastic and card. Most of this packaging has the plastic layer, plus a super smooth very sealed layer of card, then the pulpy fiber layer of card. Finally the plates were sealed with a top coat of water based varnish. Normally I seal the edges and back of the cards, but wanted to get printing. This was a mistake. The edges of the cards hold a lot of ink and can make for a VERY mess printing experience.

Inking was done intaglio style. I used a brush to lay down ink and push it into my lines. I ended up using a silicone scraper to push more ink in and scrape off the surface ink. After that the surface ink was wiped away leaving behind a bit of plate tone to make a more interesting print.

Skull and flames

I really dig the dark flames at the top. They were cut and peeled. You can also see where the package imprint wiped cleaner than the surrounding area. If I’d been thinking I’d have carved and peeled this away too.

skull and forked tongue

I’m not pleased with this one, the tongue doesn’t slide through the sockets properly and is distorted. I probably won’t print this one again.

nerves

This one is fun, I’ve always liked the image of nerves running through the body. I just embellished. You can see the embossed details of the package.

brain, skull and flames

meh. I won’t be printing more.

As you can see from the pictures these little plates make really interesting images and print surprisingly well. With the exception of the Pixi box. That coating seemed to get a bit sticky with the ink. It might do better with Akua or other watersoluble inks. But it did not like the Speedball Supergraphic Black ink.

It was a lot of fun making these plates and printing them. It’s very freeing to use trash to make art.

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State of the Art: Return of the Mini Press

Yesterday marks the Return of the Mini Press! As much as getting the press was a pain in the rear, the customer service person who I dealt with was lovely.

Now that I know more about the press, and I’m checking pressure with EVERY plate change, it’s working great. I spent a few hours and inked up a few plates and it was really nice to work on the prints.

I wanted to focus on one print and plate. The inked plate.

The plate is made up of 3 sheets of cardstock cut from a pizza box. I laminated this together with regular old white glue (PVA if ya fancy) and put the whole stack in my book press for a few hours. I then let this dry in my drying rack.

I sketched directly onto the plate with pencils. I went over that with an extra fine Sharpie. This was okay because I knew I’d be sealing the plate. I have found that under pressure and with the use of the Speedball Supergraphic ink, unsealed sharpie lifts onto the print. It makes a halo the color of the Sharpie. Annoying.

After that I cut shapes and peeled the paper back. I etched into the plate with a needle and craft knife. When I was happy with my base image, I went back into the image with a liquid matte medium and sand mix*. I brushed this onto areas I wanted to be deeply dark. I used a q-tip (cotton bud) to move the sandy mix around a bit. Then I wanted to try something fancy, I coated the light area in the sky with that white glue. I knew that with the amount of moisture in the air (it’s been humid AF here) that when I coated the sky area with the acrylic based varnish I use, it would crackle, but be mostly white. I was right. Even if I hadn’t been I had known in advance I wanted that area light. The crackles  were purposeful and look, to me, much like thin branches you see in the sky when you look up through a tree canopy.detail of the crackle sky detail of the crackle sky

A thing that I noticed is that the rough areas of the plate- in the trees and large swatches of dark, it starts to break down. That card from the recycling bin is very absorbent. I’ll start adding a thicker layer in those areas from now on, but I’m going to reapply more varnish over those areas. detail of the cabin

I also need to “wet-pack” my paper. Basically, Spritz down the paper I’ll use for my printing session with clean water, stack them together in a plastic bag, and then print with the resulting soft damp paper. I’ve been printing with dry paper or paper that has been lightly misted just before rolling it through the press. Since I’m cutting quite deeply into my card the paper has to be soft enough to make it into every nook and cranny. small print of a cabin in the woods, small cabin is overshadowed by large trees Mini press, purple and white press Continue reading

State of the Art: Printmaking Woes

I had a grand idea- and it has given me some printmaking woes!

The idea was simple- combine my bad brains relief blocks with dendritic monoprints. The look is AMAZING. The process works okay. I kinda like how the texture of the thick acrylic paint breaks up the thick black of the relief print. Next time around I’ll use a thinner more liquid paint though.

The woe? It does not want to dry, at all. I’ve written a few Insta posts that my relief prints using Speedball Supergraphic Black ink looks great but take forever to dry, it turns out that my studio is just too humid. So I’ve been using the car baking method of print drying- the prints get spread out in the back of my car to dry. Depending on the weather and length of time I’ve dried them in the basement, it takes anywhere from 8 hours to 2 days for them to dry.

So the bad brains in my car now- the brains printed on paper? Dry and perfect. Brain bits on the glossy thick acrylic paint? Still slick.

I might need to break down and pick up some cobalt or other drying agent to get this ink to actually dry. I really want to avoid using those since they are wildly poisonous. No matter what I do I end up with ink on my hands. I’m also going to try a few other water soluble oil based inks. I tried the Speedball fabric ink, in brown, and even without heat it did dry.

State of the Art: Alternative Presses for Printmaking

A few posts back I mentioned my deep dive into YouTube and how it woke my interest in alternative presses for printmaking.

Back in my undergrad years I’d heard about people using a variety of different tools to make prints, top among them the tortilla press! Way back then I attempted to make my own press from scrap wood my Dad had laying around and it was a pretty dismal failure. I know a lot more now than I did then. I probably should have asked my Dad for help in building the little press. After that I built another press with 2 thick slabs of crappy plywood, 4 long bolts, some wingnuts, and a handle. It worked well enough but I soon used it more for pressing notebooks than anything else.

Somewhere along the way I bought the little 5×8 Speedball press. Back then they were a more reasonable $30, currently they run $90! (Though available at most discount art suppliers for around $70!)  Good investment. Though I had initial terrible luck with getting smooth even prints with it. Live and learn, literally. It needs a pusher to even out the pressure from the lid if you are going to print in the upright traditional manner.  The Speedball relief press works on the same idea as a tortilla press- hinged lid and a lever for pressure. That’s all you really need to make a relief print.

Then there’s the Open Press Project, which is a miniature (very tiny) 3D printed press. You can print it yourself for the cost of time and filiments or buy one ready made. They offer them at cost and also at a bit of a profit- a pay what you can offering. Even at the base cost of just materials, it costs well over $100. I’m not sure what it would cost if you were to 3D print it your self. There’s also a proofing press, called the F-Press that you can purchase from the designer. YouTube and instructables are littered with instructions for building your own presses.

Of course there is the good old wooden spoon or rolling pin. If you want an upgrade from a rolling pin, there’s the stainless steel Akua pin press, aka a fancy stainless steel rolling pin.

Or homemade barens? I’ve wrapped a few cardboard rounds in news paper and fabric and secured that with masking tape to burnish the backs of prints. I’ve read about people putting flat head push pins into a block of wood and burnishing with that. Or gluing a fist full of toothpicks into a cardboard tube!

All of these ideas allow you to put pressure onto the back of  the art to get a good relief print. Sometimes they work for intaglio process, sometimes not.

But the idea of a craft embossing press as an etching press? That was new to me.

This led me to looking into other ideas for getting the slightly higher pressure needed for intaglio style printing.

Pasta makers!!! You can feed small thin intaglio sheets and paper with felt through the largest setting of a pasta maker!

Other folks still will print their work by sandwiching their plates between pieces of plywood and running over it with their car a few times! Often printmakers will have an event where they’ll rent a steam roller for a day or two and spend a day making massive 4x8ft prints in parking lots. I’ve never been to one of these events but I’m always interested when I see the resulting images and photos of folx having a ton of fun.

Or what about those cold roll manual laminators? I saw a guy on youtube using one for relief prints, he reported using it for an etching but couldn’t say that it would last. But he’d made over 4000 lino and relief prints on the one inexpensive cold laminator!

If you are old enough you remember “knuckle busters” or the old school credit card imprint tools that were used at check out. You’d get a little carbon copy of your receipt. One person has repurposed a knuckle buster (So called because cashier often ran their knuckles over the store’s info on the bed of the machine, which hurt… a lot!) to print little relief prints.

Learn from my mistake- most of these alternative presses can give you the pressure you need for collagraph and other intaglio style work, but you need to take care with the amount of pressure you apply and adjust it for every material (my big error) you run through it. If you are pressing relief prints you don’t need intaglio pressure! The press roller just needs to exert enough pressure for an even print, and most can do it at a lower pressure than you expect.

Because I had a rather traditional printmaking education I was stuck in the idea that I needed wool felt blankets for printing intaglio style. I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case. Almost any material with little grain or pattern will work. So craft or fun foam, mouse pads, yoga mats (any pattern squishes out of them), cheaper recycled plastic craft felt, neoprene rubber, and a variety of other less natural materials will work. They are also significantly cheaper than traditional wool blankets. With the little craft presses or cold press laminators, you may even need less packing than in a large press. IF the rollers are rubberized then they may give a bit of the cushioning you need to get a decent imprint and adding additional blankets actually decreases the pressure.

Wool blankets are so expensive that a kevlar blanket protector was developed by Keith Howard (1998) in the 90s to protect them! I have distinct memories of fellow students getting worried about getting ink on the blankets and hoping the professor wouldn’t notice. When I first read about using foam and other materials I balked then realized that use of these new materials opens the door for more people to be able to take part in printmaking. Cheaper newer materials opens the door for more people to explore and enjoy printmaking.

Anyway, if you have used anything interesting to make prints, leave a comment and tell me about it!

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