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!

My images for Made Here are up!

It actually happened! My work for the Made Here MN installation is up! If you are near 10th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis, check out the old National Camera building (930 Hennepin Ave). My images are on the 10th Ave side of the building! There will be more installations going up very soon by some other amazing artists, so keep checking back.

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My images were printed by a local company called Color Space. They were so great to work with! I never print my images this large, and I almost always print everything myself. But I am so happy with how these prints turned out! I’m planning on having Color Space print more for me in the future. Maybe nothing quite this big though…I don’t find myself with four windows to fill up very often!

This truly has been an amazing spring with the opportunities I have been given.

The reception for Made Here is on June 3rd, from 6-9pm.

In between now and then is Art-a-Whirl! I hope a few of you will have a chance to find me there! I will have prints of all four of the images I have up in my Made Here exhibit, including this brand new one titled Escapes! This is truly the most site-specific piece I have made, and I am pretty happy with how it turned out.

Escapes

I will have my new Mississippi book at Art-a-Whirl as well, though I may not have enough copies completed to actually have it for sale. I will be doing a little demo of how I’m binding it throughout the weekend though, so stop by!

Hopefully, now that I am actually getting caught up on deadlines, I will get back into blogging a bit more as well!

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

Today

The last of the mind-numbing editing is done for my Made Here work. Next step is more test printing, and sending the images on their way to the printer. I’m excited to see how the prints turn out. This will be the largest I have ever had anything printed!

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5 new boxes of pottery were priced, and packaged, ready for Craftstravaganza in a couple of weeks.

And I have already packed my breakfast and lunch for tomorrow’s early work day. I am celebrating every minor accomplishment this morning!

John has been amazing at getting the house ready for weekend guests. I don’t know what I would do without him! I managed to get just a little more laundry done. Somehow, everything around here that needs to happen, does.

I will make it to yoga today as well. Possibly, one of the kindest things I will do for myself today.

I hope you find something kind to do for yourself as well.

 

Things I have learned

I had a chance to take a workshop with Wing Young Huie a few years back. To any fellow photographers that might be reading this, if you have a chance to do the same, take it. Do it. You won’t regret it. I could gush about him for awhile. One piece of wisdom he told us is to give yourself time when photographing a place. Stay longer than 1/2 and hour. Stay longer than an hour. Stay two hours. Or three. But be there, be present, and give yourself time. You will like the images you get more, the longer you are there, because you are seeing past the surface of the place, and into the details. When life gets busy, and I feel like I am just “squeezing” in time for my artwork, it is hard to feel I have the luxury of time. But I often think back to that workshop, and somehow make time. I did that on Sunday when I was photographing. I stayed out there, walking around, taking photos. I stayed out for over 2 hours, I think…really, I lost track of time. But I stayed. And I got images I really like. And I will make something cool out of them.

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I currently work at a community college, as most of you probably already know. I am often surprised at what I learn at work, not just from the department faculty, but from the students as well. One student, whom happens to be wise beyond his years, said to me to not think about more time than you can handle. He said there was a time in his life that he was working on just making things work in 5 minute increments. He then proudly stated that currently, he is up to about a week at a time. And he is right. Currently, I think I am at 10 minute increments. Maybe tomorrow will be longer, maybe shorter. But I can handle 10 minutes, and that’s pretty good right now.