24hr printmaking at Limerick Printmakers
I am delighted to have been invited to participate in this, my first ever 24hr printmaking event! These 24hr events are something that the printmakers have run quite a few over over the years but this is the first since I have been a member.
In theory you arrive with nothing but your favorite tools, no pre-made or started work allowed. My plan is to make a print from one of the ghost stories from the Park Kiosk residency using aquatint as I have just finished setting up this area it will be the first ever aquatint made in the building!
I did not intend to go home to bed during the 24hrs so I stopped at the supermarket on my way in and got some provisions – especially thinking of that point in the morning when you get really hungry and want something delicious and savory. Plus a giant bag of coffee grounds… I had thrown a futon mattress and duvet into the back of the van just in case but didn’t end up using it.
There were 16 or so other artists there for the night –
Limerick Printmakers – Des MacMahon, Dan Kenny, Suzannah O’Reilly, Brian Fitzgerald, Pamela Dunne, Gemma Dardis, Fiona Quill, Clodagh Twomey, Brian O’Shea, me
GMIT – Andrew Boyle,
Galway Print Studio – Niamh Fahy
Damn Fine Print – Kim & Liam
Print van Paris – Simon & Oschon
We started at 11am. I prepared a couple of copper plates – sanding them back and degreasing. I prepared one with hard ground and planned to begin with a line etch. I based the drawing on one of the images I had made for the ghost stories project as we are planning to make an edition of books from it.
We are using nitric acid now in the studio at an approximate ratio of 1:8. The only problem we have recurring is that since the temperature of the building is cold so is the acid. As a result it can be very slow to bite. It can be speed up by pouring a kettle of boiling water into an outer bath but this is also a lot of work. I hoped to get away with not doing this so I popped the plate in and left it for 45 minutes or so.
In the meantime I took a smaller plate to use as a tester for the aquatint. I coated the plate in the aquatint box and using the new heat gun and rack method melted the rosin. I also coated a second plate the same size as the hard ground plate. It worked a treat. I coated the back in tape and one strip on the front to keep one bar clear and dropped it in the acid for 5 minutes – took it out, dried it, taped a bar, dropped it in the acid and so on. After about 5 of these I realized I would be there all night doing just that so i put it to one side.
I took out the line plate after about an hour and or so and took a test print. The lines were quite light but I figured a nice strong aquatint would fill it in nicely and I could deal with the rest after. In college we were taught to do the tone on a separate plate so I transferred the line image onto the aquatinted plate by
1. inking the line plate and positioning it so that there would be a good bit of room on the bottom of the page so as to catch it in the press
2. roll it most of the way through – past the plate but keeping the paper gripped under the roller so that it cannot move.
3. swap out the line plate with the aquatint plate and roll back through the press. the line image is now faintly on the second plate.
4. dip the plate into the acid for a minute.
What I failed to recall is that in college we were etching zinc. Zinc goes black where it has been bitten, meaning that when you use this process you end up with the line remaining lighter on the plate. Copper does not do this. the bitten colour is much the same as the unbitten – a little bit duller but not that you’d really notice too much. Suzannah advised putting aquatint onto the line plate instead so that is what I did.
Somewhere around this time we went for a lovely indian meal that was paid for by the Limerick Printmakers. (yum!)
I blocked out areas with bitumen and left the plate to bite for periods between 5 and 30 minutes.
Gemma had brought her box brownie and my medium format pinhole to play with so we collaborated on shooting a roll on the pinhole. This was very enjoyable. most people didn’t know what we were up to going around the studio and giggling. Only one or two spotted the camera. We loaded up the tank, processed the films and left them to dry hanging in a corridor.
In between moments I would pop out and do the next layer of bitumen on the plate.
We loaded up the film in the toilet as it is the furthest away from any light source and processed the film. Gemma made a series of prints from the negatives. Because the enlarger has only the 50mm lens and the foam piece for 35mm in it the image from the 6×7 negatives came out as circular on 12×20 paper. also parts of the under-carriage on the enlarger were getting in the way but with the warped perspective of the pinhole images it actually works really well. They look somewhat like peering through peepholes.
Suzannah very cleverly printed an edition of window like layered backgrounds and gave one out to everyone to get an edition where each person had collaborated with her. I added a mono-print mountain range to mine by putting a dark blue sky background in behind. This could do with more work, layering in a couple more mono plates.
Aquatint and drypoint
Eventually at about 7 or 8 in the morning I cleaned the bitumen off the plate and had a proper look at what I had. the sheer length of time that the plate had been biting meant that the line was well eaten out of it. I washed off the rosin with meths. In some areas even the aquatint had been consumed. I printed it up.
The effect was something like a solarised photograph – a strange mix of positive and negative. Parts of the image were really atmospheric and I liked them a lot. Parts were terrible. I printed a total of 3, inking each slightly differently in the hopes that I could pull one I was happy with. The answer was no. Even after going back into the plate with a drypoint scribe it still was not great.
By this time I was starting to feel slightly ill, very tired and really very close to being at the end of my tether. Gemma made the sandwiches from the things I bought at the supermarket the previous day and shared them out. They were perfect, exactly what was needed. I felt so much better!
In order to rescue the print I made a drypoint on acetate, being careful to make sure that the plates were going to print the right way around. I traced the image off the plate below with a scribe, just the areas I wanted black – really just the figure and a couple of lines. I finished up by printing this plate into the 3 prints of the tonal plate and chose the best one to hang as part of the final exhibition.