"Frida and Diego, Passion, Politics and Painting" has just closed at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition twice. On my first trip, I was mezmerized by the story of their lives and on the second I was able to just enjoy the art, for art sake. It was a fantastic exhibit and their lives are legendary, but I've been so caught up with my new press that I didn't think much about their work when I was creating these two new paintings. Then my husband looked at them and commented that I'd used the Mexican colours I'd seen at the show. He was right! Those colours had gone right into my subconscious and come out in my paintings. I hope you enjoy them! They're in my Etsy shop now : )
Now that I've finished my press, it's hard to know what to do first! I think I'm an experimenter at heart. I keep wondering what will happen if I use this paint, or that ink or this paper or that technique and I just have to try it! I have two piles of paper now. The "Doesn't Work and Never do that Again" pile and the "Would Work if I Slowed down and did it Properly" pile. The "Doesn't Work" pile contains all my experiments with oil paints and acrylics which I did before I decided to just go out and get some etching ink. I have learned there's a reason printmakers use printmaking materials!
I've wanted a printing press for quite a while but what really drove me to make one was seeing collagraphs. Not the kind kids do in school with macaroni, but the kind done by Kim Major-George and Lynn Bailey . I love the idea that you can just glue little scraps of cardboard and whatnot to more cardboard and come up with such intriguing prints.
Here's my plate; everything is glued to a piece of mat board:
I used a cereal box for the houses and the wheels, sandpaper for the sail, string, sequins and pepper. For the hull of the boat I scratched out a layer of the mat board. This was a mistake because the hull in the final print was always too light. That stuff which looks like dirt is actually pepper. Lynne Bailey, in her collagraph how-to video talks about something called "carborundum". I didn't have any of that, but I improvised with pepper. Everything is well glued down with mat medium and then a couple of coates of varnish are applied. I like to varnish the back as well to keep it from bending and make it easier to clean. When I varnished to back I left the plate to dry on some paper and the varnish dripped onto the front and stuck to the paper. I couldn't get it off and it left those blobs in the lower and upper right corners. Being in a rush to try this, I carried on. I don't really mind the look it created.
Black etching ink is applied once everthing is dry and then the excess is wiped off. If you want to try this, watch Lynn Bailey's vimeo. She shows how to do this much better than I can explain. I used Stonehenge paper which which was soaked for several hours and then blotted dry with newsprint so that it was damp but not wet. Here's the resulting print.
I'm so excited by this effect! It looks kind of old and worn. I hand tinted the coloured parts with watercolour. I can't wait to try some more.
About the Press
The Black and White Press is working amazingly well for something constructed my me. It uses an 8 ton hydraulic car jack and I have learned that this can exert too much pressure. I've actually cracked a piece of plexiglass, but no harm came to the press itself. If anyone is interested in building one, I made a substitution for the complicated ramming cup. The ramming cup is the part the jack pushes against when you start pressing. The ramming cup required that you bend metal. Bending metal sounded way too difficult to me, so I searched the hardware store and found this perfect thing!
Never before has anyone been so happy to find a doorstop! That rubber part is not attached. Take that out and it makes a perfect ramming cup. The jack head fits perfectly into the round ring and the metal plate at the back even has holes so you can easily screw it on.
If anyone has any questions about the press feel free to ask!
The Black and White press
Here it is! My new press. Thanks to Charles Morgan posting the instructions here. The task seemed daunting at first, but once I got used to the idea that dealing with lumber is not like putting together Ikea furniture, it was not that hard. The trouble with lumber is that sizes vary ever so slightly. Here's a picture of my press upside down, when I was putting the base together.
See that little gap. Even though all of the vertical boards were all 4 inches, the middle acted as a teeter totter. I figured an unstable base would be a very bad thing. The hydraulic car jack (only $38.00) can move 8 tons which will put a lot of strain on the structure. The secret to building with lumber, I have found, is sanding.
If it doesn't fit, you make it fit! You can get sanders quite cheaply now and I wouldn't have wanted to be without it. My husband, who kindly did some of the sawing for me, said I couldn't sand oak because it would be too hard. Haha, Yes I could, but I wouln't want to do it by hand.
So now I have my press. It ended up costing me around $225.00 You could definitely make it for less if you had some lumber or used a discarded countertop. I bought cheap kitchen cabinet doors for the base and the platen. The melamine finish makes the press easy to clean.
Here's one of my first test prints. I wanted to see if there was enough pressure to embosse a leaf skeleton. First I rubbed the skeleton with a watercolor crayon, then I put it on a piece of acrylic that I had painted with dish soap and watercolor paint. I used damp paper.
It worked! You can't see the embossing in this picture but it is embossed and the watercolor transfered nicely without being grainy. The press groans and creaks and at first I was a little afraid it would explode under the pressure. I'm getting used to it now and I don't see any signs of cracking or stress. I think it just likes to complain! The beauty of this press is that if any parts give way, they'll be easy and inexpensive to replace.
I look forward to doing some more printmaking soon!
For the past I've been mulling over the idea of building my own printing press. I've collected pictures of home-made presses on pinterest and spent hours reading of peoples successes and failures on the internet. The last time I was this obsessed with something, I ended up with a Bernese Mountain Dog.
Well,l he turned out to be great in every possible way. So now I'll try building the press. I know from past experience that I have no talent for carpentry. I always seem to measure things wrong and saw things crookedly. I don't expect this to be a thing of beauty, but I'm really hoping it works. I'm using Charles Morgan's instructions which you can download here.
So far, photos cut pieces of lumber in my laundry room are truly boring to look at, but look at this!
I would love to have this in my laundry room!!! This was built by Christopher Clark. (Click the picture to see his Flickr). The wood is so nicely cut and it's stained. I'm envious! Hopefully mine will look a little like that. I have great plans to be making wonderful collagraphs soon!
In the mean time, here's my latest linocut, now available in my Etsy store. It is done on tracing paper and laid over a story book page.
I'll be back soon with more news on my press!
© Laurel Martin 2010