Timeout for Art: Failures

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painted failures 001

There are many things that can go wrong in the process of Collagraph Printmaking.

Each original is run through the press at least twice – more often five or six times – before it is finished.

Each printing is another invitation to disaster.

The colors can become dull and muddied.

The printing plate can deteriorate between printings, altering the image.

A poorly prepared plate can cause ink to run, pool or bleed.

The most common problem is poor registration.

An image with poor registration will show two lines – or three or four – where there should be one, so close together that it often results in a “strobe effect” that is never acceptable

For each printing, all the edges have to line up perfectly, printing paper with plate, for the image transfer. This includes not only the outside edges, but any lines or edges within the image as well. That’s hard enough to accomplish all on its own. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the paper has to be dampened before printing, so that it will stretch over the contours in the surface of the plate, rather than tearing. Printmaking papers expand when they are moistened. Dry ink prevents them from expanding as much…in some areas. Trying to place that  – variably sized – paper over the static plate so that everything matches is quite a challenge.

A challenge that is often met with failure.

So, for every completed original, I end up with several failures.

I save them all.

Printmaking papers are high density rag, acid-neutral papers that can cost ten dollars or more per sheet.

The trash bin is always the very last resort!

Sometimes I use printed papers, as Degas did, as a basis for soft pastels. The ink lends “tooth” to the paper, allowing the chalks to hold.

Sometimes I use the printed image as a basis for watercolor painting. It’s kind of a mindless activity, like working in a coloring book or filling in a “scribble picture.” It’s a good exercise to gain control of the medium and to try out different color combinations.

Now and then, one of these pieces is brought back from the brink of disaster and becomes a gem.

Most often, its designation remains, but has given me further entertainment and instruction along the way.

Not a bad life cycle for a failure!

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About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

8 responses »

  1. I admire you for sticking to your printing process, most of your prints that you’ve shown here, to me, are quite wonderful — color and shape rich. I didn’t realize all the problems behind the kind of printing you do. I used to do silk screen printing and soon grew frustrated with what seemed to me hundreds of details that caused me more problems than what they were worth. I have very few of my silk screen prints remaining; the ones that were ‘bad’ I tore up and used in collages.

    • I find the biggest disadvantage of printmaking as an art form is that most people have no idea of the process. I am often in a position of trying to educate people as to the difference between what I do and, say, a giclee print that was run off by machine in an edition of 10,000. In fact, I’ve noticed that silk screen printers have quit identifying their works as prints, and just call them Serigraphs. I have started saying “Original Collagraph” to avoid the confusion. Thanks for reading, Gretchen, and for your comments!

  2. I can relate to this! Some of my worst candle failures (read: turned out nothing like I’d planned) were my best candles, or at the very least taught me valuable lessons.

    I was picturing how your piece would look with “poor” registration and thought it would be a subversive way to make the onlookers think they were going blind. Fun for the artist to watch the reactions!

    • You know, Sara, I have thought of that, too, especially when everything comes together beautifully EXCEPT the registration. If only matting and framing weren’t such a big part of the expense.
      I often see the pieces that take on “a mind of their own” come out more thoroughly realized than the ones that I plan and control from start to finish. Glad I’m not the only one! Thanks for reading, Sara, and for your comments!

  3. Hi Cindy, I’m doing some blog catching up and it’s wonderful to read your words. I had no idea how complicated and how many steps they are to printing. as you say someimes you find a gem and for me the process always takes me somewhere and I learn from things. Take care, Claire x

  4. Amazing to read how many steps can go wrong in developing your printing, but I also enjoyed reading two you can save pieces too. I have these experiences too w/OPs and sometimes they can be saved and others , well . . . my trash bin is alway smiling.

    • Oh, I know about the trash bin…though with collage and hand made papers I too often save the scraps and bits that should be relegated to the trash. My failures seem to multiply, as I cut, tear and divide them! Thanks for reading, Mary, and for your comments!

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