Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Robin Nest - printing a collagraph

One of the most common questions I get asked at shows is "How long does one of these take you?". The poor unsuspecting enquirer is probably expecting a simple two word answer starting with a number and ending with a unit of time, but I'm afraid instead they get an explanation of the many variables of printmaking. I try to stop talking before their eyes glaze over too much.

With some forms of printmaking, the time-consuming bit is carving and creating the plates from which the print is made, while the actual printing is a relatively quick whizz with an ink roller and a pass through a press. With others the plate might be fairly simple, but inking up for each individual print is a slow and painstaking job. The collagraph print I'm going to show you here is one of the latter. The plate was made from a piece of mountboard (or matboard if you're in the US); some parts were incised to remove the top layer while in other areas texture was created by sticking on elements including thread, paper shapes and lines of pva glue. Once finished the plate was sealed with several coats of shellac.

The first colour to be applied was a pale green blue for the twigs in the nest. This had to be pushed right down into the incised areas so I used a toothbrush to work it in. The ink was the thick and sticky consistency you would use for other intaglio methods (eg etching) so it would stay where it was put and not be easily wiped out again.

I didn't want much of this colour on the surface of the plate so I wiped the excess off with a piece of scrim and to make some of the marks even clearer I cleaned up around the edges with a cotton bud.

Then I added a green ink with a roller. Now I was working in a relief method so the ink just lay on the raised surfaces not in the indentations. The ink was loosened to a relief printing consistency for this using an extender. After inking, the outer area was softened and blurred by wiping with scrim, while the centre part was cleaned up with a rag to remove as much ink as possible

The middle of the plate was now inked up with a brown colour. This was another time that I needed the ink to be pushed right down into the nooks and crannies, so I used a poupée; meaning 'doll' in French, this is a thick soft stump made by screwing a piece of rag into a ball and then wrapping and taping or tying another piece round it.

Then I used another piece of clean rag to take the brown ink off the paper eggs in the centre and yet another to wipe some pale blue ink directly onto them. (Worn out shirts never get wasted here.)

Finally, after around half an hour of adding and wiping ink the plate was ready....

... to be passed through the etching press with a piece of dampened printmaking paper, and a print was pulled.

And then it was time to clean up the plate and do it all over again. After seven prints the fragile plate began to degrade and that was the end of the edition. Each print inevitably came out differently so the prints are numbered with the annotation 'VE' for 'variable edition'.


  1. What a lovely image and its lovely how you describe its making inking and realization.


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