Printmaking workshop – weeks 1-5

17 Sept 15 – 20 Oct 15 Printmaking workshop

Beginners printmaking courses are run regularly by the charity Gainsborough’s House Society, at their printmaking workshop in Sudbury, Suffolk.

I enrolled on this course primarily to supplement and strengthen my knowledge of screen printing before embarking on Part 2 of the “Exploring Ideas” module. Weeks 5-10 cover screen printing, weeks 1-5 cover other printing methods. This blog post covers the first 5 weeks of the course. 

Week 1 – drypoint etching

I inscribed into acrylic sheet (perspex) using needle-like etching tools, then used oil-based etch-printing ink to ink the plate. The printing paper had been pre-soaked in water, and was carefully blotted before use. I learned how to spread and apply the ink, how to use the workshop intaglio press, and how to clean the plate after use. My print is shown below. It is a sketch of a dragon puppet.

For my first attempt, I was delighted with the results. I seem to gave inked the plate correctly (not too much not too little), and avoided unwanted ink on the background or edges. I love the quality of mark obtained from this type of printing and the “loose and scribbly” style which suits this sketch. I have been told that it is also possible to print onto fabric using this method.


Weeks 2 and 3 – Aluminium plate etching

Tutor Geoff Winckles took this part of the course. We covered preparing the plate, (including using wax ground and varnish to protect areas from etching fluid), mark making, etching and printing. We used copper sulphate as the etching acid. Geoff explained that whilst the plate is in the acid bath, loose (etched) aluminium can clog up in the wells created, preventing the process from continuing to work properly. Therefore it needs to be removed by brushing, creating a fresh metal surface for the acid to continually attack. Unfortunately, I was a bit too overenthusiastic, and brushed off some of the wax ground! Deep brush-marks (streaks) appeared over the whole plate obscuring the marks I wanted to etch (below)

Although these mistakes can often be corrected with fine steel wool, mine were so deep that I had to start again with a new plate! Luckily my second attempt was more successful.

The image above shows my completed plate ready for inking. My chosen subject was a farmhouse in a French village called “Tagne” that I visited last year on holiday.

The photo above shows my finished print. I am delighted with the number of different tones which I was able to achieve, which gave the foreground depth and interest. These were created with “stop-out varnish”, which is more acid resistant than wax ground. I should have been more careful to clean the edges of the plate after inking and before taking the print – a black line can be seen around the inside of the embossed area, which should not be present.


Week 4 – Lino-cut

The demonstration started with “un-cut” lino printing. Inking a new, un-cut piece of lino, it is possible to use found objects as masks, and by taking successive prints and moving these shapes around, beautiful impressions can be made. Residual (different coloured) ink from the previous user just improves the effect!

This first impression of some plastic net and a physalis fruit husk imparts ink the found objects. It actually also makes a great print in it’s own right, mainly because of the blue and orange residual ink from the previous user.

For the second print, I very carefully moved and replaced the found objects (which had picked up brown ink from the lino surface during the first print). I did not re-ink between taking these two impressions.

One reason that these are so effective is extremely high quality paper. By mistake I took some paper which had been got ready for one of the other students to make a special print (I should have been using cheap cartridge paper)! The amount of detail picked up by the paper is amazing. It really makes these prints special. I love these prints, and although it was highly embarrassing at the time, I am really please I had the opportunity to try out this paper.

For future reference it is worth noting that because this method can only produce “one offs” it would not be possible to make a proof first before deciding which paper to use.

Next I made a lino-cut. As it was a student exercise, I was only given a tiny piece of lino (7.5 x 7.5cm), so I had to be very selective about my print. I chose a sketch of a head off garlic, and simplified it to include just three bulbs. I used a roller to apply a water-based ink, and made the print using the workshop’s relief press.


My tutor Sue Molineux  was kind enough to let me use a tiny piece of Fabriano paper. The quality of the impression is wonderful. Compared with cheap cartridge paper, the print is much better defined (darker and crisper). I am really pleased with this print, although I would have preferred to make a larger linocut with more detail and definition.


Week 5 – Lino-cut continued

I brought a bigger piece of lino from home and my own cutting tools which were finer and sharper than those in the workshop. Unfortunately I ran out of time to complete the lino block. To make matters worse, I realised that I had forgotten to reverse the image! I took a print at the end of the lesson, but I was less than pleased with the result.

I like the rough quality of the shell, but ideally I would have liked to use caustic soda etching to introduce tonal variation. This print was made on cheap cartridge paper and it compares poorly with the impression make by the garlic lino block. 



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