Most of you know that I'm a printmaker, but I'm sure that some of you don't know how exactly a print is made. It's not actually that mysterious, but it does require some trial and error and it helps if you can learn to "think backwards." And for some reason, I really enjoy that. Some printmakers are very process-oriented, and some like to try things out and see what happens. Either way, it's a surprise what happens. You can plan and plan, but never truly know what your print will look like until it's finished. That can be frustrating, but also part of the fun.
I was asked by The Visual Arts Center of Richmond to contribute a 2-color print for a 2013 Calendar that will be handletterpressed by printer and teacher Paul Morris and other generous volunteers. Sales of the calendar will go towards buying new rollers for VisArts' platen press, which was donated by the Valentine History Museum and rescued from a life of storage. This collaborative, community project is being created by some local art-stars, including Diego Sanchez, Dennis Winston, Aimee Joyaux, Mary Holland, and others. The calendar date grid was typset by hand, and the images were created by artists using linocut, woodblock, lead typesetting decorations, and hand-drawn artwork converted into magnesium plates. The calendar will debut at VisArt's 48th Annual Craft + Design Show on November 17th and people will be able to take pre-orders until the limited edition of about 300 calendars is released to the public in December.
I will now show you the process of creating the April calendar page. I call it "April Mouse."
First, I think about the month of April and what it means to me. I wanted to incorporate Dogwood blossoms, but decide it doesn't really work with my composition because I want to include a mouse in there. So I research on the internet about an early-blooming plant and the Bleeding Heart is my choice. I search on the internet and print out some reference photos of mice and bleeding hearts, then sketch ideas until I come up with a composition I like.
And the first plate is carved!
Such a sweet mouse.
Then I proof my image. The print will be in two colors, brown and pink. The first plate is to be printed in brown. I set up a little make-shift print studio in my bedroom because these prints are just to help me check that I like my carving and to figure out where to place the next color. I roll up some brown ink on a cardboard slab covered with saran wrap (plexiglass would be better, but I had this on hand).
Using my brayer, I roll a nice even coat of brown and then transfer it onto my block.
Here is the proof print. It's not perfect, but I don't need it to be for my purposes. Notice how the image is reversed?
I let the print dry and then I go in with a pink colored pencil and color in the area I want to be pink.
I take a piece of tracing paper and trace just the areas that will be pink.
Then I repeat the process of transferring the drawing onto a 2nd plate using carbon paper. I carve my plate so just the areas to be printed in pink will remain.
At this stage, I decide to proof the pink print.
Here is the pink proof!
Here are a couple of proofs of the pink and brown together. They look pretty crappy because I was trying to work fast and just test things out. I didn't wait long enough for my inks to dry, so more of the pink showed through than I would want for the final print. But the proofs are good enough for me to think that they will print fine. I decide I liked the darkness of the brown color in the top print, and the pink color in the bottom print. These are the proofs I will give to Paul Morris when he mixes up the colors for the printing of the actual calendar pages.
And before I am ready to give the plates and proofs to Paul, I decide I will carve a bit more texture into the bricks. I don't bother proofing that step since I'm guessing that they will still look pretty good once printed.
I usually print the plates myself on an etching press, but for the Calendar project it was going to Paul Morris to be printed on his vertical press at Benj. Franklin Printing Company. His printer is much faster! When Paul was ready to print my pages, I biked over there to watch him and okay the final print.
Here's the studio! Lots of machines.
Here is my pink block locked into the press. The ink appears red on the plate, but will print pink on paper.
Here is a close-up. I also carved some little ornaments to go in the calendar grid area, which you can see on the right.
Paul printing! The machine is fast and looks a bit scary, honestly. But Paul really knows what he's doing.
And the pink is printed! We talk about how light I want the pink, and Paul is much obliged to get the color exactly the way I want.
Paul lets me look at a Pantone color guide to figure out the color brown I want. I look at the handprinted proofs I gave him before and settle on a shade of brown.
The next week I go in and help Paul finalize the brown color so he can finish printing it. And here is the final image!
So as you can see, creating a print from start to finish can require a lot of planning. But I think it's worth it in the end :) I hope that seeing this has helped demystify printmaking a little bit. Let me know if you have any questions! And I will post more updates about this calendar project as it comes nearer to completion.