Relief printing at home – hints and tips
This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
For those of you that don’t know me, in addition to being an OCA tutor, I am a practicing printmaker. I have a Masters degree in Printmaking, I have worked in the print industry as well as in education for the last ten years, and have exhibited my prints in exhibitions all over the world. During my career, I have come across some sticking points in relation to printmaking at home, and I thought it might help some of you if I shared some handy tips.
1. Acrylic vs. Oil based ink
In the range of relief printing techniques, the finish you get with acrylic ink is very different to oil based ink, and when working with relief printing people develop a preference for one or the other.
However, many people steer away from trying out oil-based ink due to the need for solvents, such as white spirit, to clean up. This is a shame as it is important for any printmaker to test their prints using a variety of inks in order to make an informed decision on which inks work best with each process.
What many practitioners don’t realise is that there is a non-toxic alternative for cleaning up oil-based ink. You can use a combination of ordinary cooking oil and dilute washing up liquid.
Apply the cooking oil to a rag, a cut up old t-shirt or tea towel for instance, and work it into the work surface and relief plate or block, this will disperse the ink enough to then use the dilute washing up liquid to clean away the remaining ink residue.
2. Collagraph Do’s and Don’ts
Collagraph is a tricky process, the translation of imagery through the building of layers and the combination of objects on a plate surface isn’t easy, and the results are often hard to predict. I have compiled a few tips which I hope will help with this process;
Subtlety is key – the more subtle the changes in your plate surface, the more effective your prints will be. Items to steer clear of include pasta (too thick and too recognizable as pasta) rice (also too thick and recognizable) string (depending on how thick it is, the thinner the better) lentils (also too thick).
Try to consider the items you apply to your plate in terms of what texture they will produce. A handy tip is using a combination of different tapes, such as masking tape, brown packing tape, and gaffa tape, this can produce different surface textures whilst maintaining a subtle change in surface height.
Cutting into the plate surface itself – this can add some interesting textures, even after varnishing, particularly if you are using mount board as your plate. It can also add a controlled differentiation between areas in your composition, and also help when describing man made structures which require hard, sharp lines.
3. Applying pressure
This is a learning curve for most printmakers, how to apply a good amount of pressure in order to produce effective relief prints without a relief press. Some printmakers favour a baren, which are fine but tend to wear out after a number of uses. My tip for this is the humble wooden spoon.
Held with the tips of the fingers in the concave part of the spoon, you will find you can achieve a good amount of pressure, however, you do need to be thorough in order to achieve a clean all over print. With careful handling, you can check the finish of your print and if it needs a bit more rubbing the paper can be carefully replaced.
For multi-colour, multi-block, or reduction lino cuts, the task of registering these prints over the top of one another can become an issue. This is when being organised and thinking ahead is vital if your prints are to work. First thing you must do is produce a registration guide, this will show where your plate and paper will go every time you print, and will allow you to print as many times as you want on the same area of your paper.On your guide you will need to have clearly marked on it the position of your plate, and the position of your paper. You can also place registration tabs (made of card and fixed with double sided tape or super glue) along your guide marks, making it easier to just slot your plate and paper into your guide marks every time.It is important that your guide is made of some sort of plasticised sheet so that it can be cleaned, thus making it reusable and preventing waste.’