Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Contrails collograph experimenting without a press

Sketchbook pages for contrails
mixed media ©2012 Lisa Le Quelenec

Continuing experiments with the contrails and sunsets in my sketchbook toning down colour and trying a small watercolour version led me to thinking about collograph printing. I've only ever done it a few times at college many years ago and assumed that without a press I wouldn't be able to do it again. However some time back on Jeanette Jobson's blog - Illustrated Life she wrote about collograph printing without a press. She inspired me to give it a go.

For those that don't know collograph printing is a form of relief printing where the plate is made of collaged textures. All sorts of different things can be used. I've seen bits of fabric, string, spaghetti, cardboard, corrugated paper, and grit all used with great success. Not having a press at my disposal, I
thought I'd better not use anything with too much texture as I wouldn't be able to apply enough pressure for a successful print by hand.

The plate all ready to be printed
To begin with I cut a square of ordinary mount board. I used the back as it was a smoother surface. Then I drew out the design. Mount board is made of thin layers and by scoring into it I could peel back some of the layers to reveal a fluffier paper fibre surface. I did this all around the outside of the plate to make a border and also to the lowest contrail shape. Very carefully I cut a circle for the sun with a scalpel going right through the board. I envisioned the prints needing some hand finishing and so would paint in this colour later. For a couple of the contrails I used an acrylic medium made by Liquitex called Blended Fibres. I painted this on not letting the relief area stick out more than about 3mm. The linear element of the design was embossed using ball point pen. The final stage in preparing the plate was to give the whole thing a coat of acrylic medium to seal it.

collograph plate

To give myself a fighting chance of getting a good print I thought I would use watercolour and watersoluble crayons to 'ink' the plate. I thought by using them and printing onto damp paper I wouldn't need half as much pressure than if I used printing ink which is much stiffer. The crayons I used were a mixture of Caran d'Ache Neocolor II and Derwent Aquatone and they adhered to the plate really well. The watercolour balled up on the surface which I expected but I was hoping when I printed that the pigment would bloom onto the damp paper. Here's the plate all ready to print.

collograph print
After soaking some watercolour paper (Arches 90lbs Hot Press) for a couple of minutes I was ready to go. (The paper was wet all the way through but dry enough to not have a sheen on the surface.) Laying the plate on one drawing board and covering it with the wet paper I put another drawing board on top. Then I stood on top of this sandwich moving around to try and get even pressure all over and kept my fingers crossed. Carefully taking off the top board and holding down one side of the paper so that it wouldn't move out of position I took a peek. It has mostly worked except for one small area so I put the paper back down and pressed by hand in this little spot until all the paint had adhered. To 'fake' a plate mark, which it would have had if it had gone through a press, I ran the back of my nail along the edge of the plate until it had embossed the paper. It's heavy work on the hands but looks better for it. The print didn't photograph well at this stage, the colours were more intense than they show here. I printed 3 more from the plate, two I did with NOT watercolour paper (the surface interferes with the texture a little too much when pressing by hand.).

Once the prints were dry I worked back into them with coloured pencil and acrylic ink. I even used some gold acrylic to wash over and pick out some areas. Below is the finished piece. I'm not sure what to call this so if any print makers could let me know I'd be grateful. Is it fair to call it a hand finished collograph or would it be better to call it a mixed media with collograph. I'd like to make a series of these and it would be handy to know.

Heat Have I - print I/IV
Hand finished collograph 17x17cm
©2012 Lisa Le Quelenec

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noted that the image is 'back to front' from the original drawing. I thought it would be good to add this to the experiment and see how the change would affect the composition. I think the composition does still work and I also like that not all the contrails have come out. The composition feels much more circular now and much less cluttered. I enjoy the surprises thrown up by changing mediums and processes, I wouldn't have ever gotten a result like this if I had stuck to painting.

It was a fun day experimenting in this way as I was totally unsure of the outcome or even if there would be an outcome. The whole process is magical and full of discovery for me and I will definitely be doing some more.


Anonymous said...

Lisa, you stood on it !!!!!(LOL)….. You may have just been able to use a brayer or the back of a spoon (LOL)….. There must be something in the air right now, as I have been doing a lot of watercolour monotype printing lately, with mixed results. One lady is not coming back to my classes because she thought it was too much like ‘craft’…not painting! Even though I kept stressing that it was just another way of applying watercolour to paper.... and as you said in your post...the results from your prints here or my watercolour monotype prints could not be achieved any other way. Fabulous of you to share your process…so creative, and I LOVE the finished piece and what you have done to enhance the print. I don’t know enough about printmaking to have thoughts on how it should be accurately described…. but if you are planning on selling these a small promotional flyer with the piece explaining briefly about the process would be a great marketing plan. I think there would be enough interest in this to do a ‘demo day’ at your local gallery when you have a series ready to hang.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

I'm glad it gave you a chuckle Maggie :o) Anyone looking through the window would have thought it looked very od as I was shuffling up and down and then dipping down to check on the print and popping up again. I never would have gotten enough pressure just pressing by hand or with a spoon to pick up the different textures. It may not show in the photos but the images have some of the embossing of the textures like collographs that have been through a press.

Sorry to hear that you have lost a student, it's a shame they couldn't be open to new processes. You never know where something new can leave and painting doesn't have to involve a brush all the time. I hope the ideas I emailed will be of some help in the class that you are going to do on water, if I think of any more I'll let you know.

oh and thank you about the finished piece! There are a few more on the go now...

vivien said...

Lovely! and so interesting to see how it worked.

I love doing collagraphs but don't have a press so had ruled them out. I do them in the same way as you, peeling back the top surface etc, rather than sticking coarse textures on.

I did read about someone driving the car over the print sandwich for more pressure - but can just imagine my neighbours faces !

Anonymous said...

Lisa, the ideas you suggested have sparked off many more....thank you.....

RH Carpenter said...

I saw something in an art magazine (going through old ones I've collected) and the artist was stomping on her print! I've also heard of someone unintentionally running over her's with her car and then liking the result so much she began doing it on purpose (until she bought a printer)! I think this is gorgeous and am loving these forays into another dimension for you, Lisa :)

Bruce Sherman said...

Good Easter Morning Lisa!... A great voyage of rediscovery always freshens "regular" endeavour! As they say... "A change is as good as a rest."

The result is very pleasing and exciting ... ample proof that you enjoyed the segway! Good for you!

Good Painting and Collaging!
Happy Easter and Happy Spring!
Warmest regards,

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Vivien, thank you. I've been keeping an eye out for a mangle that I can convert. The other thing that I think might be worth a try if only I knew what to call it.... the tool that gardeners use to flatten ground ... big concrete type thing like a hand roller...I guess they make them in plastic now and you fill them with water or sand. If I work out what they are and get my hands on one I'll give it a go.

Hi Rhonda, thank you so much. It's been fun trying something new.

Easter greetings Bruce. Thank you. Best wishes for your move, it must be getting close now..... what fun!


lisa you must have been really pleased with the results lisa you finished it off beautifully , very delicate ..... old mangle sounds interesting , ... i have a really heavy old weight that i leave sometimes on small sections over night.... will you try printing with more pigment on your stencil /template

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Jane, thank you. I love print making and would like to do more. I enjoy the random subtleties that you get with this technique. I might have a go using acrylic to 'ink' up the plate to see the difference in results I've a feeling it won't be half as subtle though. One day I will invest in a press, until then I'll keep looking for a mangle :o)