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!

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