A thoroughly enjoyable weekend workshop with the lovely, generous, talented Ruth Barrett-Danes, concentrating on the use of environment board for collagraph.
Here are some examples of her work.
The course was perfect for me and relevant as Assignment 4 of my next course includes collagraph printing. With very little experience of printing with presses (one weekend course last year) and no knowledge of environment board, I learned lots of tips to produce a variety of textural and colourful prints.
Ruth had prepared and collated numerous, meticulously labelled, environment board plates and printed samples to illustrate her teaching, which we could refer to throughout the weekend. She explained different techniques to produce texture and passed examples around for us to examine. Some samples showed half the board sealed with button polish or Pledge (floor cleaner) and the other half unsealed. The majority of her boards were unsealed and had withstood 20+ prints.
A variety of textural surfaces had been created by:
painting or stencilling with a mixture of carborundum and pva, gesso, Polycell Fix & Grout (which can be impressed with textures), gesso and carborundum, pva (waterproof), masking tape, cutting a design with a scalpel and carefully tearing away a layer of the board, a variety of etching tools.
Different tones can be achieved with the same plate using a combination of the above suggestions and different methods of removing ink. Carborundum holds the ink well and produces good dark tones, as does masking tape and cut away areas. Ink can be removed from the slightly glossy surface of pva allowing the white of the paper to be part of the design. Stencils can be used to apply or remove ink with a sponge or cotton bud for example.
She demonstrated a neat and tidy, self-contained working method which would be easy to replicate at home, which involved a small pile of newspaper to ink up on, disposable gloves, a packet of baby wipes, a roll of kitchen paper, some small pieces of tissue paper, a carrier bag for rubbish, Hawthorn stay open inks, Linseed reducing jelly and a small piece of card to apply ink.
Adopting the CNYK method we used Cyan, Magenta and Yellow ink, keeping each colour separate and taking care not to contaminate one with another.
- Wearing gloves and using a small quantity of ink we used about 1/3 linseed reducing jelly to 2/3 ink and mixed the paint to a dropping consistency. A small plastic glue applicator for each colour was a handy tool to use.
- Placing the prepared plate face up on the pile of newspaper, ink was applied with a small rectangle of cardboard. (Ink can be applied more effectively to heavily textured plates with a stencil brush)
- The ink was blotted by bringing the edges of the newspaper onto the plate and pressing gently with the hands. The used sheet of newspaper was carefully folded and put into the rubbish bag.
- The plate was turned over and the back wiped with a baby wipe, which was then disposed of.
- A paper towel was then used flat to gently brush up and blend colours and remove further ink from the front of the plate. The used towel was put into the rubbish bag, keeping the workspace clean and tidy.
- The entire surface of the plate was lightly polished with acid free tissue to create a smooth finish. (Use a flat hand and polish very gently).
- Adjustment to tone was then made by carefully removing areas of ink with a cotton bud or placing a stencil gently onto the plate and sponging or dabbing colour on or off through the stencil, taking care not to accidentally go over the edge. (The stencil could be man-made such as sequin waste, hessian, lightweight plastic mesh or cut from card or acetate) Newspaper can also be used as a mask to create an edge.
- Colour can be mixed on the plate, or by inking a second plate and printing on top of the first – a whole new area for experimentation!
- Lastly the edges were thoroughly cleaned with paper towel.
During the first day, we were generously invited to use Ruth’s printing plates to familiarise ourselves with the inking process. This was very helpful and enabled us to get straight into printing and determine which techniques we wanted to try when producing our own plates.
We worked with 14cm x 14cm plates and 18cm x 18cm paper which had been pre-soaked, blotted and stored in a plastic bag. A simple registration method had been set up on the printing presses, a piece of graph paper marked with a 14 x 14cm and 18 x 18cm square, covered with an acetate sheet and taped to the bed of the press.
- The inked plate was placed face up on the middle 14 x 14cm square, the damp, blotted, printing paper was placed right side down onto the plate with the outer marked square, the damp paper was covered with a piece of paper towel.
- Placing one hand gently on the paper towel, the printing blankets were lowered and the print put through the press.
- The blankets carefully lifted and the paper towel, paper and print carefully inverted and the print plate removed.
- A baby wipe was used to clean the acetate on the print bed ready for the next use.
At the end of the printing session the plates and brushes were cleaned with white spirit and the work area with baby wipes.
On the second day, Ruth shared some of her printed, hand-made artists books which were delightful and also demonstrated a rollover technique for us to experiment with in future.
Using an inked textured plate, ready to print, a clean roller is used to roll over the plate to remove any excess ink. A further clean roller is used to apply another colour (Ruth used a pale duck egg/slate blue grey, which looked fab with magenta). The new colour stuck to the background and slightly to the textured area with lovely results. The same technique used on a heavily gesso/pva type plate leaves traces of ink on the peaks of texture and a little on the background.
This was an excellent workshop enabling lots of experimentation in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Ruth Barrett-Danes skillfully demonstrated and generously shared methods and tools enabling me to significantly add to my printing skills.
Initially, it was difficult to get a good print and it became apparent that the consistency of paint was important, too little linseed reducing jelly and the paint was too thick, too much and the paint too liquid and/or transparent. A gentler touch was required and holding the paper towel or tissue flat and applying pressure with the finger tips was most successful.
Ruth Barrett-Danes’ plate inked with cyan at the top and yellow at the bottom, blended with a paper towel. Magenta added through hand cut stencil, accidentally sponged over the edge of the stencil so added some more sponging, not a good idea. Ink wiped away with cotton bud to give white moon and hill top.
Ghost print of above.
Above plate, inked with yellow at the top and magenta at the bottom. Became aware that Ruth’s design included a bird so inked it in with a cotton bud. Interested to see sky turned green with retained blue ink on the plate from previous print. Removed ink with cotton bud through sequin waste and added blue with sponge through sequin waste. Excited to see the potential of this printing and the potential for colour mixing.
Using two of Ruth’s plates tried printing both. Bit of a disaster but can see the potential if approached with more caution and care with colour mixing.
Using a heavily textured plate of Ruth’s, I had difficulty inking it up with enough ink. I quite like the result but know it needed more ink or a greater pressure on the press. The second attempt was even less successful, but think the pressure was a bit light. Tried a further print on a different press, too much ink!
Last print using the above plate, definitely better, but much more experimentation and patience required.
Returning to a smoother plate of Ruth’s, tried a quick print, mixing paint. Really like the subtle colour results.
Cut a simple design into a piece of environment board with a scalpel. Added a few dots with a pricking tool (wish I hadn’t as the prints were quite interesting without)
Pleased with the intensity of colour where the board is peeled away. Interesting texture as a result of wiping paint with kitchen towel roughly and not polishing off with tissue paper.
Unsuccessful, not enough ink or pressure on press.
Like the blending of colour and although the overall finish could be cleaner I quite like the imperfect look.
Think the ink is still a little thick and I moved the paper when placing it over the plate prior to printing.
Good consistency of ink and preparation.
Love the colours, blending and use of sequin waste to add dots, my favourite.
Cut a second board to try out some of the etching tools. The board – note – tried to clean the ink off with a baby wipe and spoilt the surface. USE WHITE SPIRIT to clean when finished not baby wipes!
Inked up the plate twice, using blue, then magenta, and printed the second at right angles to the first. Like the potential.
As above using yellow, then blue, no wiping to adjust tone as we were nearing the end of the second day – feeling tired and found it difficult to apply all the different things I’d learned.
Really exhausted by now! Had planned on designing a christmas card but didn’t get around to it, so cut out a simple holly leaf from masking tape to see the effect and added a few random lines with etching tools.
Inked with magenta/blue leftovers and printed again at right angle using yellow. Good tone achieved with masking tape on well inked plate. Careless with registration.
A rewarding weekend’s work resulting in improved skills which will be incorporated into my future practice.
Ochre Print Studio is a wonderful resource in Guildford, Surrey, check them out here: