Thursday, August 28, 2014

technique and message

I still haven't broken out the inks for creating my monotype plates, but instead have explored using larger plates than before (16"x20", left, and 10"x14", below) while still enjoying the Gamblin oil paints with which I am familiar. In part, I just wanted to play, though I also seem to be limited to trying one new aspect of printmaking at a time. Baby steps. Producing these slightly larger prints presented no procedural problems: the paper dampened evenly, the plates went onto the press easily, the printing process was uneventful, and the prints turned out quite well. I was focused on these technical aspects rather than artistic questions, so I am content.

In fact, I even borrowed ideas for these pieces, deriving my compositions from paintings I've seen and admired in magazines and books. They allowed me to try new techniques, using stencils, stamps, simple marks (both additive and subtractive), oil sticks, and spritzing, at left, and trying to draw a bit on the slippery plexiglass, below right. These are works that I will not sell; they shall become part of my private archive.  They will be useful as future reference, and they were fun to make.They are not copies, but they are derivative, and indeed do not carry any message that is meaningful to me beyond being attractive and engaging.

This does raise, once again, the artistic question of what it is that I want to paint. I fully acknowledge that simply changing materials and processes is not the answer to the question of why I am painting. But this time, in contrast to the self-inspection as I began to work with oil and cold wax medium a few years ago, I am willing simply to work with the materials and to see what comes from them. At least, that is what I am telling myself. I am on the one hand rather tired of my Colorado Plateau layering paradigm, though on the other hand, it is also familiar and comfortable and still interesting. But my attraction to monotype is in part a desire to try something new, to find a new way to express my affinity for the natural world and the beauty and peace that I find in it. I still want to produce pieces that invoke calm and pleasure in the viewer, and it makes far more sense to paint from the country that I know and love rather than from my imagination. But maybe through printmaking I will get away from my geometric, dense approach and find a different and fresh way to express what I want to say.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gamblin inks

The inks I ordered from Gamblin and Akua have arrived, but I am not enthusiastic about trying them. I am enjoying my oil paints so much that I am reluctant to leave them, and I am not sure why I need to. But all the literature talks about using inks, and I remember David Dornan all those years ago in Helper having us use inks for multiple-pass monotypes.

Of the two brands, I am more interested in the Gamblin, at least initially, because the oil-based inks are closer to what I know, and according to the company's website, they can be used together with Gamblin oil paints. Still, I don't really understand why I should use ink. Always helpful, the folks at Gamblin provide a nice introduction to Monotype: the painterly print on their website, in which they recommend the use of their "relief inks" and "burnt plate oil" for monotypes rather than oil paints and linseed oil. But Gamblin also makes "etching inks" and I am not sure what the difference is. Also, the relief inks arrived in cans, but are shown in jars on the website; there, etching inks are shown in cans.

I was confused enough that I wrote to Gamblin asking about all this, and received a lovely reply from Joy Mallari, Gamblin's Printmaking Product Manager. In addition to reassuring me that the relief inks had only recently been changed from jars to cans, she explained,
For monotypes ink works better than oil paint because of the physical properties in the different oils used to make ink and paint. Paint is made from linseed oil. Ink is made from burnt plate oil, basically cooked linseed oil. During this “cooking process” fatty acids are eliminated from the oil vehicle. These acids which are still present in oil paint eat through paper and turn it yellow within a year.
A second inquiry of mine about the viability of paints (did I need to throw out those prints I had made?) brought the following:
I would definitely suggest not throwing those out, as the acidity content can be taken down with the addition of burnt plate oil #000. Unfortunately, there will still be some acidic properties that will yellow the paper over time. However the benefit is that you can still work with some of the vibrant oil colors offered in our oil paint line that aren’t available as inks. Sacrifice vs compromise, for sure.
So I am feeling reassured and a bit more knowledgeable, and willing to dip into the relief inks to see what happens.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

a lot about paper

The collection of sample printmaking papers from Daniel Smith contains some 32 sheets in a variety of weights and colors, ranging from 175 gm to 360 gm in weight, and whites through beiges to blacks. This particular selection of papers was based on what was available at Daniel Smith at the time of my order. The variety of paper appropriate for printmaking is clearly much greater than I thought. I won't know what I like until I try at least these samples, if not others as well. But I would like to understand the important variables so that eventually I can make knowledgeable choices. I have a sense, for example, that the 175 gm and 360 gm weights are too thin and too thick, respectively.

One of the best non-technical overviews I have found on the Internet is Papers for printmaking at the ARTTalk website. On a somewhat more detailed level, the Wikipedia article on paper, as well as articles on cotton paper and sizing, provided most of the following, though I've paraphrased and summarized.

Paper is produced by pressing together moist fibers, usually cellulose pulp from wood, grasses, or rags, and then drying them into sheet form. The process is thought to have developed in China during the early 2d century AD, though archaeological fragments of paper have been found in that region that date back to the 2d century BCE. China and the U.S. are the leading producers of paper today. Most of the printmaking paper I've seen is called "cotton rag", or "rag paper". Cotton paper is stronger and more durable than paper made from wood pulp, which can also be acidic. From the Dick Blick website:
The distinguishing feature of a good printmaking paper is its ability to take a soaking, to absorb a lot of ink, often with multiple runs through a press, without disintegrating or deforming. Fine printmaking papers are made with an archival fiber source, which in the European printmaking tradition is usually cotton. Japanese papers are often made with kozo (mulberry bark), another durable and archival fiber.
To express thickness, paper is gauged by weight. The U.S. uses a system expressed in pounds, derived from the weight of a ream (500 sheets) of a particular paper cut to a particular, undefined size. Photocopy paper, for example, is somewhere around 24 lbs in weight (obviously not the weight of a single sheet, nor even of a ream of 8-1/2"x11"!). But in the printmaking world, paper is weighed according to the International Standard for paper sizing (ISO 216) used most everywhere else in the world. This weight is in "grams per square meter", expressed as g/m2, gm, or just g, and thus ties a specific weight to a specific size. That 24-lb photocopy paper is 90 g/m2. Paper for normal printing is generally between 60 gm and 120 gm. As indicated above, printmaking paper is much thicker.

In order to regulate how absorbent a paper is, sizing chemicals are usually added during the papermaking process to protect or glaze the fibers and force ink or paint to coat their surface rather than penetrate. Starch and gelatin are two examples of sizing substances. (Paper sizing has nothing to do with the physical dimensions of the paper; the term comes from Old Italian sisa, a glue used by painters to prime canvas or paper.) Paper that contains no sizing is called "water-leaf". Blotting paper is water-leaf, which is why it is so absorbent. Almost all other paper in sized internally during the manufacture process, and high-grade bond and writing papers may also be sized with a surface film that makes them very smooth and somewhat water-resistant. The amount and type of sizing used affect the archival quality of the paper.

Printmaking paper needs to have some absorbency, so it can't be  highly sized. The convention, in fact, is to soak the paper for some period of time (I've seen recommended anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours), to loosen up the sizing and allow the paper to absorb more detail from the plate.

For now, this seems to satisfy my curiosity.