Sunday, 11 March 2018

Artistic Explorations: 3D Design (3)

Last month I wrote about my experimentation with the 3D printer at MAKE Aberdeen to create printing plates. I have now finished my project with the lasercutter and although there is still lots to learn and to find out which images would work best, I'm much happier with the result!

Video of lasercutter in action

For the front cover I used the same image of tree branches and after many, many, many trials on the lasercutter and perfecting my design in Illustrator, I finally made this in birch plywood.

The front cover is laser cut

For the back cover, the same image was used but it was laser engraved instead of laser cut. I added text such as a title and my website.

The back cover is laser engraved (apart from the holes)

For the pages of my artists' book, I laser engraved four different photos (which were converted into bitmap) onto acrylic plates, 2 and 3 mm thick.

The first image of birch tree trunks had the best result. It did show the horizontal digital lines across from the lasercutter but not so much as the others. According to the studio manager this had to do with the fact that acrylic sheets are actually not completely flat and the lasercutter will read every tiny unevenness! For the images I have been using for this project it's not a disaster as it adds to the markmaking of the trees and leaves in the final print, but I will be very cautious with choosing a photo next time. I would like to spend more time experimenting and see what happens with different kind of images.

Acrylic printing plate with photo engraving

Acrylic printing plate with a different photo engraving

Acrylic printing plate with another different photo engraving

Each plate was inked up with Caligo Safewash ink in various natural colours and printed off (intaglio) on various printmaking papers like Somerset and Fabriano with my Xcut Xpress. I added more or less extender to the ink to vary tones in colour. I also printed off some ghost prints (printing off left over ink).

The 2 mm thickness is definitely not something I would use again as it's too flexible and it's more liable to breaking in the press (which happened to one of my plates!).

Printing the laser engraved plates with the Xcut Xpress

One of the prints of leaves

One of the prints of the birch tree trunks

One of the prints of the bark texture

Different tonal print of the leaves

Close-up of birch tree trunks print

Green print of birch tree trunks

Print of  forest with tree trunks

Close-up of leaves print

Ghost print of moss/lychen texture

After a lot of physical work I had 24 handpulled prints which were then collated and glued to make 12 signatures. These were then handbound with a coptic stitch together with the front and back cover.

This is how it looks finished. The size is 20 x 20 cm.

Artists' book "Woodland", front

Artists' book "Woodland", front and back

Artists' book "Woodland", handbound with coptic stitch

Artists' book "Woodland", pages

I decided to mix up colours and designs. There was one page slightly smaller than all the the others and incorporated this one together with the same design but in a dark green colour into one signature.

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

One of the pages in Artists' book "Woodland"

After I had posted it onto my Facebook page, I received overwhelming positive feedback....from across the world!! Thanks everyone.

My plan now is to make a limited edition of this artists' book "Woodland", with reproductions of my original prints. I had hoped I could do that at MAKE Aberdeen but unfortunately they are going to close down this week. Fingers crossed the digi lab at Peacock Visual Arts can help me with that so I can submit my work to a few upcoming exhibitions.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Artistic Explorations: 3D Design (2)

For the 3D Design course  I'm currently doing (see first article here) at Make Aberdeen, we have to decide what our final project would be. I'm passionate about printmaking and intrigued about how new technologies can be combined with traditional methods. After reading an article in Printmaking Today by The Postdigital Printmaker, I decided to explore ways to create printmaking plates through 3D printing and lasercutting.

Make Digital Fabrication Studio, Aberdeen

Examples of 3D printed designs at Make

Examples of  lasercut designs at Make

Rolls of thermoplastic filament for our 3D printer at Make

Make Aberdeen

Instructions for the lasercutter at Make

Big scary laser sign at Make

3D printing technologies shown in a diagram

Last week I had my first attempt in using one of my images for a 3D printed relief pate with software program Ultimaker Cura. Together with my tutor/studio manager we set some of the parameters such as layer height, wall thickness, infill density and whether white or black should be bottom or top relief. I chose this image (manipulated with apps on IPhone) because of the high contrast.

Iphone photo inverted as the basis for my plate

Ultimaker Cura and parameters

Once sent to the printer, I had to wait patiently for about 1.5 hrs and let the printer do its work.

The self-built Ultimaker 3D printer

3D printing of the plate in action

The final plate is 50 x 50 x 3 mm.

The 3D printed relief plate (top view)

The 3D printed relief plate (side view)

As the plate was too rough, I used sandpaper to make it smoother. Then I inked it up intaglio, pressing the ink in the lower parts of the plate and wiping off with scrim. I took off the last remains from the higher parts of the plate with some tissue paper.

The 3D printed relief plate inked up (intaglio)

I then used my tabletop Xcut Xpress printing press to pull off some test prints.

Printing my plate with the Xcut Xpress

Unfortunately the results look like a relief print (higher part is printed) instead of an intaglio print (lower part is printed) that I was aiming for. I realised this was due to the fact that the plate was built up too high so that the soaked paper couldn't pick up any ink.

Various prints of the plate from dark to light (ghost prints)

Various prints of the plate from dark to light (ghost prints)

After this first test I changed the parameters to make it much less deep, but that didn't work at all as all detail was lost. I might have to spend more time to make this technique work for me but I'm not convinced it can achieve the amount of detail I want in my prints. I'm now in the process of making printing plates on the lasercutter instead and I will share my findings and some print results with you here hopefully soon.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Artistic Explorations: Intaglio Printmaking (6)

Last weekend I went to Edinburgh Printmakers to learn all about Toyobo Plate Printmaking from artist Leena Nammari. Until now I had only worked at Peacock Visual Arts  and Grays School of Art in Aberdeen to make my prints, so it was great to visit a different and beautiful printmaking studio and get familiar with their printing presses and other facilities.

Edinburgh Printmakers seen from the gallery

Etching area at Edinburgh Printmakers

Relief press at Edinburgh Printmakers

Etching press "Bart" at Edinburgh Printmakers

Inking up area at Edinburgh Printmakers

The two other etching presses at EP

Pantone like prints from etched plates at EP

Pantone like prints from etched plates at EP

The studio is based in a former laundrette from the 1920's, a very old (and cold!) but beautiful building with many authentic features still there. However, they are outgrowing their premise so they plan to move to the former North British Rubber Company HQ – Castle Mill Works, and will transform it into a vibrant new creative hub opening to the public in 2019.

Info about new premise for EP at Castle Mill Works

For a long time I have wanted to create printing plates from my photographs by using photoplymer and produce some intaglio prints with them. This course used water-wash photo-sensitive printing plate Printight® from the company Toyobo.

After a short introduction Leena showed us examples of some Toyobo plates and prints. There are two ways to do it;
Tonal (or intaglio), where the image is not too dark and too light. It's incised in the surface and the lower areas of the plate hold the ink.
Relief, with high contrast in the image. Only the higher areas of the plate hold the ink.

Samples of Toyobo plates and prints (tonal)

Tonal print from Toyobo plate (artist unknown) 

Samples of relief prints and plates

Samples of relief prints from Toyobo plate

For this kind of printmaking you need the following:
  • Image on inkjet acetate
  • Toyobo printight plates
  • Randon dot screen (our plates were already dotted) 
  • Some card
  • Darkroom
  • Tray
  • Heat source
  • Thermometer
  • Timer
  • Sponge
  • UV exposure unit 
  • The usual printing materials such as ink, scrim, squeegee

The procdure to prepare the plate is as follows:
After the plate has been pre-exposed with the dot screen, the overall black tone of the image has been set. Then the acetate sheet with the printed image is put on top of the plate and put in the UV unit. The black part of the design blocks out the UV light and the clear parts let it through. Where the light hits the plate, the polymer hardens and where the black parts mask it, it stays water soluble. You can then wash out the black parts using warm water (between 20-25 C). Once the plate is completely dry it's put in the UV unit again to bake it/cure it. It will then be ready for printing.

Due to time restriction we would only create a tonal plate. Another dotted plate was given to us to try out the relief method in our own time.

We first decided which image we wanted to expose onto the plate. By using Photoshop we checked that we had the right tones. I chose this photograph I took while on holiday on Isle of Harris years ago and after some tweaks I converted it to greyscale. Then it was printed on acetate with an inkjet printer.

A ruined Highland cottage was the start of it all

We then created a test plate to see which exposures would be best for the image, ranging from 30 to 60 light units. After each exposure we put cardboard underneath the previous section to mask it, building up strips of exposures.

Acetate sheet with my image and plate with markings on back
to test various exposures

The test plates are ready to be exposed in the UV light unit

In the dark room we filled trays of water, put our plate in and rocked it for 1 minute, sponged the surface for 1 minute and rinsed it with clean water of the same temperature for 1 minute. These times are for a plate sized A5. The larger the plate, the longer the sponging time.
Sponging in the dark room

Rinsing the plates in the dark room

We gently blotted the plate with a few kitchen towels until the surface became sticky.  It was then put on a heater for about 5 to 10 minutes. Finally it was baked in the UV light unit again for about 200 light units; 100 (dot screen) + 60 (test strips) + extra for good measure.

We soaked a few printmaking papers in water such as Hahnemuhle (15 min), Fabriano Rosaspina (15-20 min) and Somerset Satin/Velvet (30-60 min) to make some test prints.

Pulling off the print from the etching press
It was exciting to see how all the test prints turned out!

After a few test prints we assessed which exposure would be the correct one, looking carefully at under- and over exposure areas in the image.

Test acetate sheet with two test prints

Test print with strips of short exposure (30, left) to high expsoure (60, right)

With the help from Leena, I chose exposure 55 to create a new plate for my final image, following the same procedure as above.

The final tonal plate

I used Soft Black, various amounts of Carmine Red and various amounts of extender to further experiment with tones in the print.

The first print had too much red in it. Printed on Hahnemuhle White paper.

This one was printed on Somerset Velvet paper

After printing several prints on different papers I got a feel for what would work best. I then applied two subtle colour differences of ink for sky and land. I carefully scrimmed away the ink, trying not to blend the colours on the plate so I was able to create a two-tone image.

This two-tone print was printed on Fabriano Rosaspina paper,
a gorgeous warm tinted paper

Once home I tried to print the plate on my new Xcut Xpress press experimenting more with how much extender I had to add to the ink to find the right balance in contrast. It worked beautifully!

Printing on the Xcut Xpress press at home

Very light print due to the amount of extender

Slightly darker print by decreasing the amount of extender

Thank you Leena for your enthusiasm, patience and sharing your wealth of knowledge! I'm really excited to experiment more with this technique now and make a relief plate too which involves a slightly different procedure. I'll keep you updated of my progress!