Collagraphy is a printmaking process that has always held my interest. It begins with a collage (and I do so love collage) that becomes the printmaking plate.
The plate can be inked like an etching, where the cracks and textures hold the ink, and release it onto the dampened paper when rolled through the printing press. It can also be inked like a relief print, wood-cut or lino-cut, for example. Then, ink is rolled onto the raised areas of the plate. I combine these two methods, as well as hand coloring areas between runs though the press.
It’s a process that has many steps to completion. Making the plate is a project by itself, requiring preparing the ground, making the collage and sealing the image. Papers have to be dampened, then layered between sheets of blotter paper, and wrapped in plastic at least a day before printing.
Inking the plate for one run through the press can take an hour or more. For the first pass, I usually choose a medium brown-black. I mix the color from tubs of ink, adding a drop or two of plate oil to make it more malleable. The thick, tar-like ink is spread over the entire plate, rubbed in so that it reaches into all the lines and textures, then wiped off with tartalan, a heavily starched cheesecloth fabric. The edges of the plate have to be wiped clean, so not to outline the image.
Finally, the press. A sheet of newsprint protects the press bed from any wayward smudges of ink. The inked and wiped plate is placed face-up on top of it. A sheet of damp printmaking paper is centered over the plate. Another sheet of newsprint goes down on top of that. It is then covered be several layers of felt blankets, the same size as the press bed.
There is a four-spoked wheel on the side of the press, that I use to crank the press bed from one side to the other, through the heavy rubber rollers. Then, one by one I pull the felts up, folding them back over the rollers. I pick up the top sheet of newsprint and toss it to the side. Finally, I carefully lift the paper away from the printmaking plate!
That’s just the beginning. Sometimes, I have to adjust the plate to lighten an area, or give an area more texture so that it will hold more ink to make a darker tone. Then, it has to be sealed once more, before it can be printed again. If the image is satisfactory, it is placed between layers of newsprint, weighted down with a piece of plywood, and left to dry. Hand coloring is next, which I do with watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache.
Finally, it will be inked and run through the press again, this time with a rich blue-black, to redefine the edges and make the colors pop. There are things that can go wrong through every step along the way. I’ve experienced most of them. When things go right, though, and a print comes off the press with colors blazing, and ink like velvet running lines of character and definition through the image…it’s just like Christmas morning!