Sunday, May 16, 2010

back to printmaking

the intaglio print studio at Pyramid Atlantic Studios. Press, glass covered tables, vents and various areas for etching and paper preparations... before the class begins.

Professor Muirhead inspects our plates and talks about the next steps we will take in preparing our prints.
1. etching the lines in acid bath.
2. cleaning off the hard ground.
3. preparation to print the newly etched plates, etc.

Professor Muirhead (Jake) observes two plates in the acid bath, says it looks good! There was a lot of excitement in the room, as everyone was waiting for a turn to put the acid on their metal plate and develop their first etchings.

the zinc plate goes into the acid bath after I drew the chair through the "hard ground" a brown blocking agent keeps the acid out except where we want it to bite a line. The feather is used to remove tiny bubbles created while the bite happens allowing fresh acid to bite the zinc. It stayed in for about 12 minutes then comes out to be rinsed in fresh water.

classmates Aimee, Joan , Dan and in the back our intern Micah all working on various stages of inking their etched zinc plates for the press to transfer ink to paper.

the huge intaglio printing press with clean white blankets to pad the plates and wet paper as they travel under the rollers.

we pulled two proof prints each, one brown and one black inked, then hung them up to dry flat with push pins.

here is my captain's chair print, the second proof printed in Jake's specially mixed magic brown ink. We had to leave them behind on the wall this week. Better images will be available soon as I get my print completed.

I studied fine art printmaking for a bachelors degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn NY in the 1970's. In addition to drawing, dancing and socializing, my life at Pratt was a wonderful experience when I discovered who I am and explored the world in many ways. As my primary print making professor I had Clare Romano, who is so well versed in printmaking she and her husband John Ross published the book. The Complete Printmaker the best book on printmaking around then and now. I learned intaglio from Romano. Intaglio print are created by numerous ways to bite, scratch and make marks on a metal plate and then apply inks and transfer an image to paper. Materials are simple but not easy to set up and use at home, mostly because of the big ticket item: an intaglio press which cost thousands of dollars and take up a lot of floor space. This meant the all that intaglio learning I did was left behind in the studios at Pratt when I left in 1979. I have done woodcuts and wood engravings which are hand printed they don't require toxic chemicals or big presses. Sadly relief block prints don't offer the same line and tonal qualities an intaglio print does. Since I left Pratt I have spent time drawing, especially the human figure, which is said to be the most challenging subject and the most rewarding for improving drawing skills. I know how to draw most things reasonably well now and that was a problem at Pratt. I learned a lot about color, drawing, printing, and other fine art skills but they all need time to be explored and developed and undergraduate schools are just the beginning.

Now thirty years later I am lucky enough to have access to Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center near by in Silver Spring Md. where studio to make intaglio prints and a press to print them on! I met Jake Muirhead printing one night and asked about printing and the print studio. I wondered if he used all water based inks and how this process has changed since the good old days of the 1970's when we practically bathed in "cleansoline" a mixture of turpentine, kerosene and goodness knows what else and worked in studios with no mechanical vents for the removal of toxic fumes. Black ink under your fingernails and cuticles were signs of a real printmaker we supposed in those days. Jake says intaglio printing has become more cautious but he still likes and uses the oil based inks only they are used much more sparingly. He told me he was planning to offer an intaglio workshop in etching soon at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center that I would be welcome to join. I delighted in the opportunity and I asked my friend Douglas Kingsbury, who I believe draws like a old master, to join the workshop. Etching is the perfect medium to reproduce fine line drawings in multiples and I have talked with him about etchings often so I am excited to share this learning experience with him. Once we finish we will be printmaking on our own but now we can lease the press and studio space when we want to make prints.

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