The successful print

Thursday I went in to the studio before my work shift started, intent on making one large plate. Maybe a print too, but for sure a plate.

I cleaned the plate maker, clean glass, new transparency.

Deep breath.

Light coating of baby powder on the plate and giving the vacuum table time to run and settle before flipping it over for exposure.

62 light units for the aquatint screen.

3.7 light units for the image.

One of the students followed me into the darkroom to watch the plate develop.

15 seconds of just water swishing. 40 seconds of brush washing. Blotted dry with smooth newsprint.

“I’m so excited!!”, the student watching said.

Yeah, me too.

I dried the plate. Time for post exposure. This time I taped it to the outside of the glass so nothing could stick to it.

“Are you going to print it!?”, I’m asked. Looking at the clock, I have just enough time.

I ink it, and pull one print before I am scheduled to work.

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It is the best print I have gotten since starting this project with this medium and this plate burner. No, it isn’t perfect, there are areas I want to tweak, and make a new transparency and a new plate and try again. But this is the first that doesn’t have the spots, the splotchy-ness, the fuzzy edges, the uneven exposure. I know the steps, I know what I have to do. Now I just need to work on the images.

Stay tuned! Those are coming!

Progress! Sweet progress!

There was a lot of testing done. And over the last two weeks I have spent a lot of time with this little machine.


After spending many hours one Sunday making test strips out of polymer plates, I knew I was close with the exposure times.


Results like this kept me going. Not perfect, but better. I started testing plates that were just a little larger. I know that this series will have layered images. But I was uncertain how that would translate to this medium. I realized there were two approaches I could use. 1. To make the layered image in Photoshop and print a transparency with them layered like I want, and make a plate from that. Though I figured that would be challenging due to the fact that layering images in Photoshop can make some areas very dense, making a difficult image to make a plate from. Option 2. would be to split up the two images, make a separate transparency and separate plate of each and do the image layering on the press. I knew this would be a challenge to get the images to blend together smoothly, and registration of plates so they lined up during printing could be a night mare.

I started playing with images, and trying both ideas. It also gave me a chance to play with ink tones and colors a bit. Everything was helping, and getting me closer to what I wanted. I could see that. But nothing was “it”. ┬áThe exposures were decent, but the images were fuzzy, and spotty. I started doing more research through blogs to troubleshoot what was happening.

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Once I had learned more about what could be going wrong, and after a pretty rough week, I decided to try one more plate. I was somewhat confident that I knew what was happening, that my aquatint screen and my image transparency were not making good enough contact, due in part to the fact that I was using a smaller plate to test, but not necessarily using a smaller screen or image. I was trying to save money in plate material to test, but it wasn’t necessarily giving me proper tests.

So I took a deep breath, and jumped in. Stay tuned for how that turned out!

So what the heck is photo polymer photogravure?

Good question!

I tend to explain it as being a modern version of a very old process.

It comes from old intaglio printing methods. Gravure prints were used in the high-end magazines back before digital printing. Alfred Stieglitz was a strong supporter of gravure prints, their quality, and their feel. I could go on into more of the history, but my knowledge still has a lot of holes and areas I still need to research. So I will stop before I confuse anyone or say something wrong.

Photo polymer photogravure, the modern version I am working with today, uses a light-sensitive plastic polymer coated plate, that is exposed with an image. The image (in my case) comes from a film image, scanned in to my computer, tweaked and altered in Photoshop, and then printed on a transparency medium to create a positive to expose the plate with.

The plates are exposed with a UV exposure unit. I often refer to them as plate-burners, though I can’t remember where I first heard that term. The parts of the plate exposed by the UV light get harder than the parts that aren’t exposed. The plates are then washed out in a water bath with a special brush that removes the unexposed polymer. This creates a plate that when inked by hand and placed on the bed of an etching press, creates an image with very subtle tones.

These are a few images I made in the workshops where I began learning and working with this technique.

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My inking technique was much better in the top image than in the bottom two, but I wanted to include a few examples so you would have a better idea of the outcome.

Hopefully soon I’ll have a few new images to show you!

A new project start

It has been a bit quiet around here lately.

For good reason this time. In May my artwork was on display at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts along with photography by Eileen Cohen. I am really happy with how the work for that show turned out. We had a blast at the reception, and I am thrilled that I was part of that!

Right away after that show opened, I started focusing on the next project. This one is a doozy!

I have been accepted to have a solo show at the Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames, Iowa next summer!

This series will be a departure from my recent work. Instead of ink jet prints, the final print version of these images will be made using a technique called ‘photo polymer photogravure’. It is a modern version of a very old printmaking technique, being much like copperplate photo etching, but using polymer plates that are developed in water instead of acid.

I am very lucky that between local artists I admire that let me ask hundreds of questions, and many blog posts by many other practitioners of this medium, I have been able to make a lot of progress. I have used this printmaking medium before, but it has been awhile. But when I used it before, it was not my primary medium to work in. So of course there are many people who know more than me.

I am also very lucky that I work at a community college in the art department, and my coworkers have given me permission to use the equipment at school to work on this project. Of course this means that I have to become very proficient with using the NuArc exposure unit that no one else has had time to become proficient with. This has involved a lot of testing, note taking, and trial and error.

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Thanks to one blog post, I learned about making a test strip on a polymer plate. This is a technique I had suspected might be possible, but wasn’t 100% certain if I was on the right track. After a long session of going in to test on my day off, I am much closer to a good baseline exposure. Next is test printing.

Those test prints will be done on one of these beautiful presses. You can see two of the three (!!!) amazing etching presses we have in our art department. I’m almost giddy!

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More soon!

Oh what a weekend

The first weekend after long weeks of at least one person being sick always seem to feel so good. And with all the art events going on this weekend, it definitely did not disappoint!

Friday, on my way home from work I stopped at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts to meet their new education coordinator, Jennifer Kennedy-Logan, and see their latest art exhibit. Jennifer seems like a great person, and I am glad to see her joining the BLCA community!

The exhibit that is on display is a show of paintings by Linda Deg Lee and Mary Lingen. It is beautiful! Their work pairs so well together, from the use of color and geometric shapes, even down to the beautiful OCD satisfying way one gallery is filled with work by one artist working in angular geometric shapes, and the other is all circular flowing lines and shapes. It is quite appealing just to go look at bright colors in the middle of our grey winter.

Saturday started off as a busy day at work for me, and concluded with a wonderful evening out. We started with dinner at a local wood-fire pizza place, continued with a pretty LNL* at a sort-of hidden gem of a store/coffee shop that is I think relatively new to the neighborhood, and then continued on to art and cocktails. Who doesn’t love that??

First stop: Traffic Zone for the one of two displays of one show. This particular exhibit is a juried show if many alumni from the College of Visual Arts that recently closed. I have many friends that graduated from there, so I definitely wanted to see the show. Aki Shibata (she and I met at MCBA) was doing a collaborative performance piece with another artist. They each had a writing desk, one at each gallery displaying work for this exhibit, and wrote love letters to each other, having gallery visitors that were moving on to the next gallery, deliver and read them to the other person. I delivered a letter from Aki to her collaborator, John Colburn over at Form+Content gallery, and read it to him. It was a simple friendly, love letter, not steamy, or overly mushy. Just beautiful. It was a lovely experience! It also made me think about how I don’t write letters often enough, especially sweet ones to the people I care about. I’d like to change that.

Just around the corner from Form+Content is Cave Paper, run by two women I have also gotten to know through MCBA. They were open for visitors, so we stopped to look at the new things they had hanging up on their walls, and so I could buy some cloud paper seconds! I am in love with that paper, and have collected a couple of sheets each time I go there. Now, to start planning projects to actually use it!

We ended the night with cocktails at a friend’s place (I think Manhattans might be one of my new favorites!) and then walked over to the 801 Gallery to see an amazing show of three photographers and a painter. It was the perfect show to end the night with. So, the 801 Gallery is actually inside a building of lofts in Minneapolis. Many artists live there and have their studio work space there as well. So, along with the artwork hanging in the large, open hall ways of the building, there are many other little shows of artwork going on in people’s individual spaces. We saw so many great pieces! My very favorite, is the work by Sara Belleau. Her staged photography is just amazing and beautiful. She was selling books of the series that night as well, and thankfully I had enough cash with me to buy one. She even signed it for me. I can’t write about her work without sounding like a gushing fan girl…but I’ll just leave it at this. As an artist, once in a while you go out and see an exhibit of someone’s work, and it in many little ways renews your sense of being a creative person, and reminds you once again that there are amazing people out there, and amazing art, and kicks you in to not-giving-up.

Sunday was full of family, and some shopping and many books, as well as more photographs. But I will leave that for another post.

*LNL = Late Night Latte (I am testing my caffeine time limits. Evening coffee doesn’t seem to cause me to not be able to sleep later, so this may become a thing!)

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