A Full Five Days of Learning Printmaking Techniques

Australia Ghost Gum Monotype with watercolored ghost print

This past week I was being a student of printmaking taught by Mary Quinnan Whittle. Her delicate copper plate etchings are lovely and this was the first chance our schedules coincided. The monotypes above I learned how to make on the first afternoon of class. The 5″ x 7″ plexiglass plate was covered with a thin layer of oil based sepia ink and then I pulled off the ink that was not relative to the image I wanted. What I wanted was a print of a ghost gum, a ghost gum inspired by a photo I took in Alice Springs, NT many years ago. I loved this and used the ink left on the plate to create a ghost print that could be watercolored. There is something about an image appearing out of nothingness that is very appealing. Like woodblock carving it is all about finding the light.

gelatin plate monotype with watercolor

In the morning of the first day we learned how to make gelatin plates with the addition of glycerin. It was amazing how firm and long-lived these plates can be. I tried Mary’s suggestion of making a monotype using watercolors on the plate. I made this image three times because there was enough of the color left on the plate to see where to redo the image.  The effect of blurriness when the hand presses the paper into the squishy gelatin plate is interesting but not where I would like my prints to go. But great fun to teach students in the Experimentation with Materials class because now the gelatin plates will be so much easier for them to use with this new recipe.

Bamboo Solar Plate and Prints

Day two was making solar plate prints. I had done this with Susan Baran in Australia a few years ago and was so intrigued with the results I got. But plates are expensive so I did not return to it. Mary’s class was a good time to take another look. The bamboo image was created by drawing with white gouache and a brush on a frosted glass plate. I put several layers of paint on but the solar transfer of the bamboo lacks clear edges and again a bit blurry for what I would like. Good experiment though.

Australian Ghost Gum dry point plate and prints

On the third day I am back to the ghost gum and trying a dry point etching on a student grade etching plate that I purchased from Melbourne Etching Supply in Melbourne, Australia last spring. There is a limit to how many times a mylar plate that is dry pointed can go into the press. What holds the ink here is the burr created by scribing into the plate and when that burr is worn down the image will continue to get more blurry. But it is a quick and no acid needed technique. I think it also lends itself to being tinted with color, just because of that softness that occurs in the fifth print onward.

Australia Ghost Gum on tiny plate with prints

The afternoon of the third day I am still working with the photo and earlier monotype print of the ghost gum. Now it is my first copper plate etching that I carve the image into. The plate is only about one by one and one half inches. This was fun and Mary was smart to only have us start with such a small copper plate just to get something that could see completion. I am also staying with the sepia oil based ink. I can now print several of these on my own press.

Woods scene plate test images with watercolor

On day four I took a photo with my iphone into the woods near the studio. Mary let me have a four by five inch copper plate to see if I could get the feeling of being there onto the plate. It took three times into the etching bath to get the image I wanted. Mary kindly left a book of Rembrandt’s etchings on my work table so I had the best of inspiration while working. Here is the plate, the final print and a ghost print that has been water colored with the subtle shades of fall. Some of this work spilled into the fifth morning. But there was still time to do another copper plate.

Australia Outback copper plates and prints

You can see two plates here because the first one on the top was not covered properly with the resist and the etching appeared in places that could not be incorporated into this tiny image (1″ x 4″) of the Australian Outback with a small sheep in the shade of a tree. I had to carve a second plate and etch it in slow stages to get what I wanted. Below you can see the two plates.

Australia Outback plate do over

The one on the bottom has mistakes in the etching and I eliminated one of the sheep in the second plate above. Time is becoming quite dear by now and I need to finish up.

Australia Outback plate and watercolored print

This is a print that I water colored just before writing this blog entry. Anything I want to add to this will have to be done by dry point etching as I do not have access to an acid bath and do not want to get involved with that right now.

The class was everything I expected and more. Last night I slept a full ten and a half hours and I think that was partly due to the exhaustive clean up necessary in a class that was as open as Mary’s. I would have liked just the etching copper plate part for a full five days but took advantage of learning anything else she was tossing out there. It was a great chance to see how others choose to learn and participate. I hope to get another chance to work with Mary and two other enthusiastic students I met this week.