COLLAGRAPH (colla…French meaning to glue; graph…from “graphic” meaning print)
BRIEF HISTORY OF COLLAGRAPH:
Collagraphs are relatively new as a printmaking process. Other forms of printmaking (woodcut, engraving, etching and silk screen) are ancient. These methods are closely related to the invention of the printing press and book making. Illustrations were necessary prior to the invention of photography.
Picasso began experimenting with collaged materials for printmaking, but it was not until the 1950s and the invention of many acrylic glues and mediums released far more creativity. This process encourages recycling. I select my collage materials based on this singular question: how much ink will be lodged in the texture of this surface? I look for materials which are related to real textures. My preliminary drawing will suggest which textures I choose (I.e. for clothing, use woven textures; for bark, use rough textures which look like wood, etc.) I cannot build materials up any thicker than 1/8 to ¼ inch. I have started making my plates out of Masonite, rather than mat board, because it is more durable. I also enjoy shaping the plates. I begin by drawing the image I want to print. I use contour line. I then add textural materials into the contour shapes, much like a woodworker uses inlay. It may take me many full days of labor to complete the full image. I average seventy-two hours for a 12 x 18 image.
CHARACTERISTICS OF COLLAGRAPH:
This printmaking process is not one which most artists choose. Many find it tedious, time consuming, and less predictable than other print processes. After many hours of work, I am taking a risk by inking the plate. If mistakes become evident on the inked plate, they cannot be corrected. Each copy of the plate may vary widely when printed. Each print is more a monoprint than a uniform series or edition. I like the tactile nature of creating the plate. I also enjoy the challenges of the medium. It allows me a great deal of liberty in finding my own solutions to “problems.” It also complements my images. I like the “Impressionistic” quality of the finished prints. In other print processes edges appear hard or sharp. In my collagraphs edges of shapes soften and blend when printed. I like that relationship to a “painterly” quality.
Usually a run of ten to fifteen prints is considered a large run of a collagraph plate. The smaller number of prints produced directly related to the materials I use to create the image. When collagraphs are printed in a press, the pressure will “wear and tear” the scrap materials from which the plate is made. It is also difficult to ink and wipe the plate with 100% consistency. These factors mean the run produced from my plate will be very small. Since my collagraph is more “one of a kind” the sale price will be considerably higher per print. In contrast, an engraver who works on a copper plate may have more consistency and be able to produce hundreds of copies of the same image. The price for one print may be lower than for one collagraph, but in my opinion they are less “one of a kind.”
Collagraphs are the only type of print plate which can be printed in two ways:
When ink is rolled on the surface, paper is placed on top, and hand pressure is rubbed over the surface, this is a RELIEF process. These images are simpler and less detailed. This is a common way of working with collagraphs with children.
If the printing press is used, ink is rubbed by hand onto the plate catching all surfaces. The surface is wiped clean and values are enhanced. Then damp paper is placed over the plate which lies on the bed of the printing press. The paper stretches and conforms to the plate as pressure is applied by the press. The paper pulls the ink from the textural crevices up and onto the paper to reveal the image which is seen in reverse from the original drawing. This type of printing is called INTAGLIO. This is the process I prefer. It takes me an average of two hours to apply ink, wipe the plate, and run the print with paper through the printing press.
STEP BY STEP, CREATION PROCESS :
I use this process for images that are narrative. Collagraphs “tell my stories” well. Texture has always been a favored design element in my work. Collagraphs satisfy that, and I like the manipulation of materials in the detailing of “inlay” work. I draw in contour line; my drawing is my pattern for the collage work.
I prepare a Masonite plate by filing edges and applying gesso. I trace my drawing onto the Masonite. I then cut and inlay each shape with collage materials into the drawing. As I do so, I consider which material selected will add the right texture to the shape, and how much ink it will hold in the final print. I carefully consider a range of values, light to darks, which the materials will achieve. This may take me nearly a week’s-worth of effort depending on size and complexity in the drawing. I like this part of the process very much. It is tedious, but very tactile. It is time consuming. A large plate may take seventy to ninety hours to collage.
When done with the collage, I apply polymer or gesso to make my plates water-resistant.
I have experimented with inking my plates. My collagraphs used to be printed in sepia tones. I frequently printed them in all brown tones. Now I enjoy the challenge of printing in multiple colors. If I do this, I print on the same paper in multiple steps. I will ink some areas with selected shapes with different colors. Then damp print paper is placed over the inked plate on the printing press bed. Pressure is applied and the roller conforms the paper to the plate. The paper pulls the ink from the lower surfaces up and onto its surface. I dry the paper under pressure to flatten it. For the second layer of color, I apply new colors to the plate and wipe it. I re-soak the paper with the first colors again. It is then critical to register the plate and re-used papers so that the images match. It is difficult to register the image perfectly because the paper has had two soakings. Finally, as the plate receives pressure in the printing press a second time, the colors and textures blend to form secondary colors and patterns. The paper will show a deep embossment and a slight 3-D relief is seen enhancing the images and echoing the textures. Each multiple print copy consumes about five hours of printing time to ink and pull. Final print papers are weighted during drying and must be signed in pencil, have an archival mat, glass, and frame for presentation.