Tag Archives: Collagraph

Timeout for Art: Etching Press (April A~Z Challenge)



My etching press is small by many standards. The press bed is less than half the size of the one I used in the Kresge Art Center at Michigan State University. The roller is much smaller in diameter, too, making its operation a muscle-building exercise. A good etching press can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars. Mine, when I purchased it more than twenty years ago, cost a little more than six hundred dollars; the heavy press blankets added another five hundred dollars to the bill. It is classified as “student grade,” suitable for use by the individual print-maker. It is perfect for me!

That’s what I am, an individual – and occasional, I might add – print-maker. I don’t teach print-making, so don’t have students and inexperienced users pushing the press to its limits. I rarely use the press for metal etching plates, which can be harder on the roller, gears and felt blankets. It’s main use, in my studio, is for printing monoprints, using a thin plexiglas plate, and collagraphs.

My collagraph plates are usually created on binder board, a dense, smooth cardboard designed for book-binding. Sometimes I just use the cardboard backing from sketchbooks and bound tablets. I’ve learned to get a great deal of textural information from very little actual depth on the plate, so they can be run through the press without difficulty.

After nearly two years of disuse, the press and I are becoming reacquainted. I cleaned each of the felt blankets, and trimmed off the frayed edges. I cleaned the roller and gears of accumulated dust. I wiped down the press bed. Next, I checked and adjusted the tension. Finally, I was ready to try it out.

I had to remind myself of the process, too. Prints to be re-printed and papers for new work all had to be dampened (I use a spray bottle to generously spritz the surface) and layered between sheets of blotter paper. The whole stack, then, goes into a large plastic trash bag for several hours or overnight. I cut mat board into squares, to spread the thick ink over the plate. I cut card stock into squares, and folded each one, to use as holders to pick up and move the inked plate. I assembled inks, burnt plate oil, cheesecloth and starched tarlatan for wiping the plate, and latex gloves to protect my hands. Finally, I was ready to print!

As I worked, I continued to make adjustments: to the viscosity of the ink, the amount of wiping of the plates, and the tension on the press. I remembered, and learned, through my failures. The first long day was almost a total bust, and I left the studio exhausted and a little discouraged.

The second day, I gathered the knowledge I’d gleaned from the mistakes of the first day. I added less burnt plate oil, keeping the ink thicker; I kept a better eye on the surface of the plates, to be sure not to over wipe. I had finally gotten the adjustments to the press right. And I was rewarded, that day, with some good results!


two different versions of “Heart Murmurs”


three versions of “Fever Dream”


three versions of “Redshift”


and this pair: “Shelter” and “Secret Space”



Timeout for Art: Future Art



Robert Genn was a prolific artist and mentor to thousands through his twice weekly “Painter’s Keys” newsletter. His daughter, Sara, a wonderful artist in her own right, has continued putting out the newsletter, since Robert’s death. She takes turns, offering her own insights and advice one day, publishing one of her father’s essays the next. Readers – artists working in locations all over the world and in all different media – discuss, in comments, the topic at hand. I value the connection. It has been a way for me, from this remote location, to get a sense of what is going on elsewhere, in the world of art.

Over the years, Genn gave advice on starting and finishing work, approaching galleries and pricing. One suggestion that has stayed with me is that one shouldn’t talk too long or too much about work that is still in the embryonic stages. Ideas need to be guarded and treated tenderly. A lack of enthusiasm in a response to sharing or – worse – a negative viewpoint can destroy a vision before it has a chance. Sometimes just the act of talking about an idea takes the energy away from it. With that in mind, I am cautious, usually, about talking about future work.

I have plans, though. In this last, dry year, with little time for making art, my mind has still been working. I have several large collage paintings in various stages of completion. The imagery still holds excitement and validity for me; I plan to finish them. Likewise, I have several collagraphs that have been waiting for final touches. I have a coupe large drawings to finish, and a few dozen clay bowls to fire. That would complete the work that is underway.

As for new work, I’ve been intrigued by encaustic painting since I studied the work of Jasper Johns. I have wanted to try it for years. It is a method that fits nicely with the collage/paint/aged surface way that I work. This year, I read three technical books on the encaustic process. I purchased multiple support boards in two sizes, tools, equipment and materials. In the next year, I will do some encaustic painting. In fact, with the idea that I have to leave room for learning, experimentation and mistakes, I plan to do a lot of work in encaustic next year.

There are more things that interest me, ideas I’d like to flesh out and materials I’d like to try…but that’s enough for now.

Timeout for Art:



When I started working in Collagraph Print-making, I wanted to delve into texture and color. There were so many possibilities to explore! To enable me to do this, I chose a simple, abstract shape – a triangle on a square or rectangular ground – for my composition.

The design had meaning to me, as it mimics the roof line of my family home. My childhood bedroom was tucked up into the second floor of that house. That was a time in my life when I felt safe, when others were taking care of all the big decisions, and when my worries were small and few. That was a far cry from what my life was like when I started making these images, and the feelings of child-like simplicity and security were ideas I wanted to convey.

A triangle has a solid base, and it lends itself to the image of a shelter of some kind. Textures add stability to the floating image, and colors add emotion. I made dozens of variations from the plate that produced this image, trying out different color combinations and printing methods. The title of this work is “Sanctuary.”

Taking Time




When there isĀ no time for art, but my spirit needs art, there are ways.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out my sketchbook where I have divided each page into small squares. With my fine point marker, I can fill in one little square…or two, if the opportunity presents itself. The squares are so tiny, no need to think of perspective or balance or composition…just draw.

When there is no time for art, I can cut papers for collage. I am collecting pieces for a collage painting. Quilt-like, it will be made up of squares – cut from old paintings, drawings and collages, each with a triangle of another paper glued on in. I have templates for each shape in sturdy board. I cut each square and triangle by hand. The base I have planned for this work is 2′ x 4′. I estimate that I need about a thousand small pieces. It is mindless activity, yet there is comfort in it. Some small pieces are amazingly beautiful…far better than the large work they were taken from. The thought process will come later, in assembly. For now…just cut out shapes.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out black and white images – collagraphs, run once through the press – and add color. I don’t do editions, so my color choices are fresh and intuitive each time. The lines are already there, I’m just coloring in. Later – when there is more time – when the plate is re-inked and run through the press over the painted image, colors will be highlighted, shapes will be accentuated and small flaws in the paint surface will disappear. Now, when time is short…just paint.