The other day, Porcupine Art Club Director and fellow artist Catherine Cribbs, held an informal workshop with some club members on making collagraph plates for printing. (Catherine is also avid print-maker – among her various other media she works in – and she was the one who taught me linocut in 2011.) Collagraphy, is a form of printmaking that uses plates made of a thicker paper or cardboard, on which various flat, but textured media are glued down – essentially creating a collage, but instead of the collage being the final work of art, it becomes the tool for making more art.
For my first attempt, I experimented with gluing string down on a piece of scrap watercolour paper that had been torn up to roughly 4 X 6″ in size. The edges are kept rough to give nice aesthetic to the print, rather than a forced straight border.
I penciled in a very rough outline of the Hollinger Headframe and Timmins water tower, making sure I had the scene lined up backwards. For the lettering, I broke up a couple of white pine (?) needles, and carefully glued them into place. The S was too complex for the rigid pine needles; therefore, I used a piece of string. Originally, I had built up the water tower from one continuous length of thread glued down, but then the lettering became to wide, and I had to pull up the string and lay down a fresh one. Working without tweezers on such fine detailing took a good two-and-a-half hours.
A few days later, I painted over both the front and the back of the plate with white acrylic paint to seal up everything. I had to first move the second I in TIMMINS, because it was butted up right against the edge of N.
While thinking about textures, I decided to experiment with the scrap rafts I had from many 3D printing projects. (When using a fused deposition modelling 3D printer, you generally have to switch on the option for “rafts”. The printer then extrudes 6 layers of melted filament to build up a foundation on the build plate before starting the 3D model. The raft will always take on a bit of the shape of base face of the model, and sometimes on a flat shape, such as a stamp, the raft can take up to 40% of the total build time of the model, only to be discarded if it cannot be recycled.) I dug through my bucket of scraps and found the raft from when my husband had styled a “Courage” medal when he played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz in 2016. Since I had torn up a 6-inch square of the scrap watercolour, I decided to glue the medal raft to it. The first layer of the raft is always a set of rows of interesting continuous lines made up of a repeating squared-off S-shape, and I chose that to be the side that would be inked.
Additional scrap I also collected were the coiled “threads” of filament produced when I changed filament reels. In order to make sure the filament was feeding through the extruder properly, and to flush out the contamination from an old colour to a new colour, I ran the filament through the extruder anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, which resulted in a coil of filament that would harden on the build plate. Since these created an interesting shape and a stringy texture, I glued three of them down to a bookmark form. I used wood glue for this, since I did not have PVA white glue handy.
Inking and Printing
Once all the plates had been designed, sealed, and dried, the next part was inking the plates for the printing press. Since the brayer would be too rough on the collage materials, and the ink would not get into all the detailed areas, the artists made “poupées”, little pieces of cloth stuffed with a cotton ball and tied up firmly with an elastic band (i.e. like a fabric doll or puppet’s head). The poupées were then dipped in various colours of oil-based printing ink (similar in viscosity to oil paint), and the ink was dabbed over the different sections of the collagraph plate. Usually, I tend to print in black or a single colour, but I decided to experiment with a full colour plate for the first couple of print runs.
The first attempt was run through the printing press on to a 5 X 7″ 140 lb watercolour greeting card. I decided not to use white ink for the water tower, since the paper was quite bright white. The impression was not too bad, but the colours made the image look more like a child’s drawing than a print.
I tried a second full-colour version with an old piece of watercolour paper that was close to beige. I used white ink on the water tower and ran it through the press. Again, the result looked more like a child’s painting than a print.
For my third attempt, I used black ink over the plate (not cleaning off the colours that were underneath), and was much happier with the result, which looks like a print. Since the ink is oil-based, the print can later be enhanced with watercolour paints, if desired.
I ran some colour experiments with the 3D filament “thread coils” and liked the results…
… I ran a “blind print” (that is, an uninked plate, which makes an embossed image) of the 3D medal raft, but did not make any inked prints…
… and, I also made up an adjustable plate out of 3D printer raft scraps. I took a white backing, removed the “S” track layer, and taped on a circle with a bump from a Christmas ornament, a sort of cartoon bus shape from printing off a model Hollinger House on its side, and I overlaid a line of the “S” track on the bottom, to create ground. The scene was designed to be hot air balloon flying over a field.
The first print ended up with quite a bit of ink bleeding from the “S” track being larger than the plate, and the background had not been inked, but some traces of ink had transferred the lined pattern on to the print.
For the second attempt, I removed the “S track entirely, and inked up the background plate to look like sky and ground. I then taped the balloon and basket layers on, after inking them up with red, and brown respectively. This created a much better, and more interesting print – some larger squiggly lines on the edges are from where parts of the “S” track layer remained stuck to the raft.
Overall, my first attempt at collagraphy was successful, and it has also given me a good use for the scrap 3D printer rafts I collected up over the last three years.