Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Century Plates- Senior Research Project

(This post is going to focus heavily on technical aspects of lithography. You've been warned.)

The plate on the press after roll-up
In addition to the near constant visiting artists and editioning in my spare time I’ve been working on my senior research project. Each Tamarind master printer candidate chooses a subject that they will study and write a report on during their training period to be completed in addition to working with artists. Around the time I started Dwight Pogue from Smith College in Massachusetts had mailed us a few Century Plates to try out. Century Plates are a relatively new product Pogue has been developing for some time that are thicker than aluminum plates, available in a variety of sizes, and are supposed to be re-grainable hundreds of times and hold all the detail of a regular ball-grained aluminum plate. Needless to say, this would greatly reduce on the cost (especially to students) while doing multiple run lithographs and at the cost of nearly one aluminum plate they practically pay for themselves. Pogue and his students have been testing the plates for some time now using Pogue’s other products to process the plates (namely, BioSolut as a replacement for lithotine and acetone, and BioLac for a shellac/lacquer base). I wanted to make sure that traditional materials like lithotine and traditional shellac worked just as well. 

What is also pretty awesome about these plates are the three different ways they can be resurfaced to hold images. The plate can be “renewed” by removing the old image with lithotine, rubbing with Bar Keeper’s Friend for a few minutes, rinsed, and rubbed with an abrasive sponge with a little pile of each kind of grit (80 through 220), and abrading the surface to make the plate like new. It can be “restored” by removing the old image with lithotine, and rubbing with Bar Keeper’s Friend, rinsed, and rubbing with just the abrasive sponge (80 to 220 grit depending on what kind of image is desired). It can also be “refreshed” by removing the old image with lithotine, and rubbing with Bar Keeper’s Friend.

Material tests on the plate before etching and first roll-up

My plan is to try each type of resurfacing with a variety of drawing material: Korn’s pencil 1-5, Stone’s pencil 1-5, Korn’s crayons 0-5, autographic ink, Stone’s tusche concentrate with a dark, medium and light wash, Korn’s rubbing crayon in hard, medium and soft, spray paint, sharpie marker, and industrial sharpie marker. The same materials will be used on each resurfacing, starting with a “renewed” surface, with a small edition (20 sheets) being pulled in black with a leather roller, and again in red using a composition roller. 

So far I’ve tried the “renew” method, since the plate that I received was new without an image on it, I cleaned and grained it according to Pogue’s method just to ensure it was at a proper “renew” state. My first concern was how incredibly smooth the surface was, despite ‘graining’ it. I knew immediately that water retention was going to be a challenge, especially at Tamarind, which not only is in a desert, but also has a ventilation system that keeps fresh air circulating.  My first etch was straight tannic acid, moved around for a few minutes before being buffed in. After an hour the ink was removed with lithotine and put into a butyl based shellac that we’ve been using at Tamarind with success for a few years.

When I rolled up the image I was very pleased with how the pencil and crayon bands looked. The spray paint and rubbing crayon all went darker, but I wasn’t too concerned, as that’s pretty typical for those materials. I had, during mixing, ruined the tusche washes, so I wasn’t too concerned with those, except for the concentrate flat area. Overall, I was pretty impressed. I etched it a second time using more traditional method, since those few areas did go a little dark- gum Arabic over the lights, 50/50 over most of it, and Tapem over the darks. The areas that had gone dark I etched with Tapem mixed with a few drops of phosphoric acid. 

The true test, however, came in printing the edition. I wanted to make sure the edition held up during printing, didn’t gain or go dark in areas, and didn’t scum in the non-image areas. The first few impressions I pulled looked good except for the darkest areas, which appeared salty. I upped my pressure a little, added a little more ink, a few more passes in the dark area and eventually got it to print full. As I suspected I was also having a lot of problems with the plate drying out extremely quickly. I ended up having to use a good amount of glycerine in the water to relax it and reduce the dry out time on the plate. I did notice, too, that the more impressions I pulled, the more the light areas of my plate were gaining. A quick rub of the area with my fingertip cleaned it up, but it was a pretty continuous battle, even with a little 50/50 in my water bowl. About half way through the edition, and after talking with Pogue, I massaged the plate with some tannic acid to try and clean up the light areas. It seemed to help a little in the lightest areas, but the mid-to-light areas were still a little bolder than the original drawing and the first few impressions I pulled. 
The images to the side illustrate three sheets pulled from the edition- number 2 (top or left), number 10 (middle), and number 18 (bottom or right). Number 2 indicates most closely what the original plate looked like after the initial roll up, number 10 illustrates the light areas gaining the most before the massage with tannic acid, and 18 illustrates how the tannic acid had improved the lightest areas. 

After pulling the twenty sheets in black ink, I changed out my slab for a Hanco Master Palette Dark Red. Overall, the results were pretty similar to the end of the black edition after the tannic acid massage. I still had some areas where it tended to gain (click for a larger view), but nothing too serious. 

The ghost image on the "refreshed" plate
After the edition was pulled in the red ink I decided to go to a “refreshed” state by removing the ink with lithotine, acetone and denatured alcohol to remove the butyl shellac base, and rubbed the plate with Bar Keeper’s Friend. The previous image was still a little bit visible, but I wouldn't say it was enough to perfectly trace over. I transfered my previous grid and laid down the same materials as the first test.

I etched all the materials with tannic acid right before leaving Albuquerque. I'm really curious to see how this "refreshed" plate prints, and if the previous shellac base interferes with the new material. 

At the moment I'm sitting in Chicago in a Starbucks, only a day away from the SGCI conference in Milwaukee. If you're interested in these plates, Pogue's students will be doing a demo at the conference on them. If you can't make it up to Milwaukee, you can also check out his website for more information, and even catch a video on YouTube of one of the plates being printed.

I'll keep you all updated on my progress! Despite a few little hiccups, I still think these plates have a lot of potential, and I'm excited to use them in my own work soon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Wow. What a(n almost) year it's been.

Let me start from the beginning. After graduation in May, I had a month to re-coop, relax and prepare for what would prove to be an amazing and busy couple of months. I had a day in June to move everything in, clean and organize my press station, and get settled before we had two artists in. The previous year Tamarind had attained funding for a large project that would span a month and a half. Usually it's typical to have just one artist in at a time for one or two weeks. In June and the first two weeks of August, we had two artists in at a time for two weeks each to participate in "Afro: Black Identity in Brazil and America." Three artists of African descent from Brazil, and three from North America were paired up to create work that addressed their heritage and identity as black individuals. Needless to say, it was a huge undertaking, and thankfully Asa Wentzel-Fisher, one of the senior printers from the previous year stayed on for an extra month to help with the first four artists. A group of filmmakers came in to document the collaborations and put out this video about the experience:

Alison and Rosana working on a collaborative piece.
The first pair was Alison Saar (USA) and Rosana Paulino (Brazil). I ended up working exclusively with Alison on a large diptych piece where two prints were created, sewn together, and a second layer was printed on a thin Japanese paper, hand cut, painted, then adhered to connect the two. The project was extremely exciting and rewarding, and certainly more challenging than most of what I had done during last year.
Alison was an absolute joy to work with, full of ideas, and an extremely hard working artist. Although I didn't get to work with Rosana, I did get to have some nice sit downs and chats with her, and concluded that she was a fantastic, warm-hearted woman, also with great talent.

After two weeks Willie Cole (USA) and Tiago Gualberto (Brazil) arrived. Tiago was an absolute joy to work with- energetic, bursting with creativity, and willing to work extremely hard. Willie was very kind, thoughtful, and deliberate about the work he created. Willie's work focused more on self identity, where Tiago's emphasized black identity as a larger overarching theme.

Tiago ended up with two prints of paper dolls (or "Pay per dolls" as he titled them), one male and one female that offered a main iconic black figure from classic paintings with different modern clothing that could be cut out and overlayed over the figure. For example, the female one had a central figure and then an outfit to make her look like Oprah Winfrey. He also did two prints of money, one Brazilian note, and one five dollar North American note. For fun he also created a sculpture and several drawings as well. Willie ended up with two personal crests using items that he identifies with, and that have been used numerous times in his work before such as irons, ironing boards, women and fancy shoes. Both finished prints ended up very vibrant and colorful. Or "zippy" as Rodney might call them.

The third and final pair of Sidney Amaral (Brazil) and Toyin Odutola (USA) came a month later during the first two weeks in August.  These two were also an absolute joy (notice a theme?) to work with. Toyin was lively, friendly, exuberant and extremely talented. Her work is a twist on classic portraiture. Toyin takes images of herself, family and friends, lays down a vibrant pattern of colors, then goes over the top with black, creating a finely-detailed, muscle-like structure that blocks out most of the color, except where it shines through, creating a woven like texture over small strips of vibrant color. The results are phenomenal, creating an intricate, beautiful pattern that speaks of a depth and beauty rarely seen in most portraits.

Bill and I pulling the last run on Sidney's proof
Sidney was absolutely amazing as well- kind to a fault, warm-hearted, easy to laugh, and a terrific draftsman. Sidney and I worked on two prints together, both using small areas of color with beautiful drawings on top. Sidney's work utilized elements of Yoruba tradition and mythology, as well as objects associated with Brazilian culture. Some of the best times, though, were the last day these two were here, when we got to take the day off and travel up to Santa Fe to look around and do some touristy things like trying on silly hats, and window shopping. Toyin has a great tumblr account, and back in August documented her time at Tamarind. Overall, the project was a great experience. It was a lot of work, but it was great collaborating with such fantastic people, and creating some really amazing prints. The video above shows interview with all of these artists, statements about their work, and a rare glimpse at all the prints that were created during their time here. Not all the prints are up for sale yet, but will be soon on Tamarind's website if you're interest in any of them.

Steve, Jean, Marge, me, and Lily with Jean's prints
The month of July was especially exciting. Bill went up to Washington to print with Jim Dine for the month, which meant I got to work exclusively with any artist that came in, hang out with the summer workshop group, and catch up on printing some editions. For a few days we had Jean Baptiste Apuatimi, her manager Steve Anderson, and Steve's daughter Lily in the studio. Jean was from the Tiwi Islands, off the north coast of Australia, and was one of the eldest indigenous artists working in the area.  She and Steve and Lily traveled to New Mexico because Jean had several of her paintings in a show in Santa Fe. Since they were relatively near Tamarind, Jean was invited in to create a few prints despite only being there for a few days. This meant we had to work quickly, which was no problem for Jean! In the short amount of time she was here we worked on five prints, proofed on a few different papers. The four prints we ended up editioning also had to be finished before Jean left the country, which left me with my work cut out. I was happy to do it, though, and Jean, Steve and Lily were wonderful company, and it was great to learn about Jean's community. Around the end of their visit I took a trip up to Santa Fe to see the opening of the show at Chiaroscuro where Jean's paintings were being shown. It was tradition for an elder of the community to "dance in" a welcome for the paintings, and Jean performed this dance.
Jean "dancing in" the paintings at Santa Fe's Chiaroscuro
Another fantastic part of July was getting to meet the aluminum plate summer workshop class. Like the printer training program, this class is open to eight students (though this year only had seven) and they come from all over the world to take a month long class from Rodney. I never got to participate in this class, so it was interesting to see the difference between the summer class, and the printer training program. I think the biggest difference was the sheer amount of demo's the summer class had! Every day it seemed like a new demo. With no deadlines or projects there was a much more relaxed atmosphere to the whole thing. The group was more international than our PTP class as well, with two girls from Australia, one from Ireland, one from Canada, and three from the USA. Everyone was enthusiastic, excited to be there, and willing to work hard every day. It was a lot of fun getting to know all of them.

Summer class 2012

 One of the funniest things was seeing this!:

Look familiar? One of my very first blog posts covered steam roller printing at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. Dave Machacek, a member of ArtOrg in Northfield, MN participated in the summer class and brought in this little beauty. In the pictures from my early blog post Dave is the one driving the steam roller. What a small world, right?

The end of July was spent working with Alex Cerveny, a lovely Brazilian artist who made some beautiful, delicate drawings with me and Bill. Here he is with his awesome magnifying headpiece working on Nasografias. Here's a link to show the finished project, as well as the print Alex and I worked on entitled Human Nature.

The following month or so after Toyin and Sidney left was dedicated to catching up on printing editions, including the work from the Brazilian project, and a few gigantic prints Nicola Lopez had created earlier with senior printers from last year Alex and Asa. Did I mention they were huge? Because they're huge. And amazing.

Printing the last run on a 12 color print for Nicola Lopez.

When we had mostly caught up on pulling editions Bill and I decided to tackle one of our biggest obstacles, a 48 page book (12 sheets, printed front and back, and folded in half= 48). Thankfully the planning, layout and most of the plates were already finished, which just left pulling the editions. One of the challenges, though, was making the book cohesive despite two printers (me and Bill) printing it. This meant that Bill had to match my ink film, and I had to match his. It was a huge undertaking that took about two months of each of us printing every day to complete. The end results were stunning. The book is still in the process of being bound and finished, so I don't want to post too much about it. I will, however, show you how happy Bill was when the last page was completed.

Sooo happy!

One of my favorite encounters (in an long list of favorite encounters) was meeting Gendron Jensen, a contract artist who has been coming to Tamarind for many years. His work is jaw-dropping gorgeous, detailed and intricate. Gendron draws bones, exclusively, often collecting his own specimens in the field, and arranging them into new shapes. The three prints on the table in this picture is the triptych he created during his most recent visit, depicting a representation of King Arthur (middle) and two of his most trusted men (on either side) using wolf bones. Gendron is one of the kindest people I have ever encountered in my lifetime. We had many conversations about the importance of love, creativity, and appreciating the little things in life. I know many of the students were also impressed and touched by his warmth and good-naturedness during his visit.

Gendron was the last artist of 2012 that I worked with. 2013 has already brought with it three new artists- Chris Ballantyne, Matt Magee, and Allison Miller. Along with the ocassional monoprint artist, a large research project and a side project with Garo Antresean, I've definitely been keeping busy.

Chris was only able to stay for one week, instead of the usual two, but in that time still managed to create a large five color print, and four two color smaller prints. A good amount of work for just a week!  I was really drawn to Chris's work. It had a kind of quiet surrealism to it, and was fairly minimalistic while still being representational.

Shortly after Matt Magee visited and brought with him a whirlwind of printing. Matt knew exactly what he wanted to do, and was willing to work hard with Bill and I to get it all finished. In the two weeks he was here we created -EIGHT- prints with Matt! Here's an image with three of them completed on the wall, which Bill, Matt and I look at the outline for another 12 color image. Matt had a great sense of humor, was extremely kind, and was another one of those artists just bursting with creativity, making not only a ton of prints, but filling his time by making other drawings, paintings, and even some small sculptures in his free time.

Color mixing for Matt Magee
The latest artist I got to work with was Allison Miller, an abstract painter out of LA, who often incorporates pattern or almost decorative elements and combines them with a large overlaying object (often black or dark) that covers up a portion of the image. Like this one for example. Allison doesn't plan out her paintings, and works very intuitively, which was very interesting to watch. She was a lot of fun to work with, and had a great, easy to get along with personality, which makes any collaboration a joy. Allison and I ended up working on a large 12 color print during her visit, while she worked with Bill to create several monoprints utilizing acrylic paintings and printed elements. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from her time here. She was a little camera shy, and I respect that.

Well, that's about it for collaboration update! Like I said, the next few months should be just as busy and exciting. Check back in a few days for an update on my research project (re-grainable Century plates from Dwight Pogue) and in a few weeks for a recap of the Southern Graphics conference in Milwaukee, WI. It's my first time attending an SGC conference, and I'm really looking forward to it!

*please note, most of these images were used with permission from Tamarind Institute's Facebook page, please do not re-use them without permission