View Full Version : Your Long-Awaited Collagraph Demo

11-23-2003, 03:29 PM
All that stuff I was messing around with after I finished my last collagraph (the butterflies) is finally done, and I now have the opportunity to print another series. This one, I'm going to be over-ambitious and try to . . . sell! *gasp* There's quite a demand for artwork depicting eagles in my parents' business/circle of friends, so I'm gonna see if those people will buy this. If not, well, I'll either con my parents into letting me E-bay a couple or I'll just add it to my portfolio; there's no harm done in trying.

And so, we'll start the demo. If y'all think it comes out good enough, I'll make it an article. ;)

Everything You'll Ever Need:

Rectangular scrap of mat board, no bigger than 6x9" to keep things simple
Paper: printmaking, watercolor, or heavy drawing; big enough to maintain at least a two-inch border around your plate (the board)
Stuff to build your plate with: posterboard/tag board, textured paper & fabric, string - practically anything less than about 1/8" thick
White glue (Elmer's in the U.S.)
Exacto knife (or similiar)
Old paintbrush
Charcoal/pastel/graphite dust/carbon paper (transferring materials)
Pencils & colored pencils (sketching & transferring)
Water-based silkscreen ink
Etching press & all its supplies

You'll need to start with a sketch. On newsprint or some other cheap paper, trace your mat board (this is your plate!) to give yourself a nice idea of the size you're working with. Anything outside this box won't end up on your plate, which means it won't print, which means it's worthless, so don't bother.

Collagraphs love texture, and texture loves collagraphs. This is NOT the technique to use to experiment with solid shapes or lines - that's just about every other kind of printmaking I know of. When selecting your subject, pick something with texture you can duplicate. I've had good success with flowers (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=108890) and butterflies (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=143431). In general, animals work great, and for those of you (like me) who can't draw or paint fur to save your life, this is a great way to include those pesky animals in your portfolios.

With this in mind, I've selected several photographs from the Reference Image Library of eagles to serve as references (thanks Trimoon and echidna). Here's my initial sketch (I think my plate's 7x8.5", but don't quote me on that.) It does NOT need to be incredibly detailed; a lot of detail will be added because of the textures you choose, so why bother drawing it?


Now to transfer it onto the plate. You're probably familiar with ways to transfer sketches onto plates, but I'll include this anyway. Do NOT simply draw your sketch directly onto the plate; you'll need to be able to transfer the sketch several different times, and if it's on the plate, you'll have problems.

One way is to use carbon paper, that's the cleanest and simplest. Unfortunately, we don't have any carbon paper, so here's the next best thing. Rub the back of your sketch with charcoal, pastel, or graphite dust - preferably a dark color; your plate's going to be ugly as sin anyway so you might as well be able to see what you're doing. (To use this transfer technique with a painting, you'd probably want to use a lighter color pastel so it didn't show up as much.) Put your sketch charcoal (or whatever) side down on top of your plate, and trace with a colored pencil, pressing moderately hard. If you use a different color than what you sketched with, then you'll be able to see quite easily what's been transferred and what hasn't been. (I learned that the hard way.)

Once you have it on the plate, go ahead and pick a place to start gluing stuff on. I chose the beak, since tagboard is the easiest to work with and the beak required tagboard's smooth texture. Transfer the part of the sketch you're working with onto your material. (See what I mean about drawing directly onto the plate? If you did, TROUBLE! ;) ) Here's my beak and eye.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/23-Nov-2003/16668-transfer.JPG http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/23-Nov-2003/16668-transfer-a.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/23-Nov-2003/16668-transferred.jpg

11-23-2003, 03:44 PM
While assembling, remember this: This is not a rocket science. Your plate will NOT end up being exactly like your sketch, so don't be afraid to change it a bit. If it doesn't line up, who cares? Your prints will each be slightly different anyway, so no one's gonna know if your plate's not exactly like your sketch.

Cut your pieces out with your exacto knife. Rule of thumb when building your plate: the ink will stay in the crevices and be wiped off the high parts. This means the lines AROUND your pieces will be printed, not necessairly the piece itself. Make sense? No? Well, you'll see. ;)

Gluing: thin down your white glue with some water (maybe about 1 part water to 1-2 parts glue). Make the consistency somewhat like this:

Grab an old paintbrush and brush the glue on the area your piece will be (isn't it handy to have the sketch on the plate?) and place your piece down, then brush glue on top of the piece as well. Not too thick, unless you want the glue texture to show, but thick enough to put it firmly in place. Brush it around good and spread it out. (You could probably do this without a picture, but I took one so you're getting it! :p )


When you glue your pieces down, make sure there's some kind of line/crevice there. There needs to be enough of a change in elevation on your plate for the ink to settle into. On the above photograph, see the line between the two pieces of the beak? Absolutely necessary. In real life, that's about 1/8" of an inch; you don't necessairly need that much, but you need to be able to see the difference between the two pieces.

Repeat the above as necessary. More assembly on my plate:


A note on fabrics: first of all, I have no idea whether this will print the way I want it to or not, so play with it. And I know I'm breaking my own rule of being able to see the plate between two pieces, but there's enough of a change between pieces elevation-wise that I think the distinction will print. Rule of thumb: if it can cast a shadow onto the lower layer under moderately strong directional light, it changed enough. Regular printer paper won't do that, it's too thin.

My English paper is calling my name ( :mad: ), so this will have to wait. More progress later . . .

Alan Cross
11-23-2003, 09:53 PM
Looks good so far....
Alan :)

11-24-2003, 06:45 PM
Here's the finished plate. When I snapped the picture, the glue and acrylic medium on the background were not dry, that accounts for the shine. (By the way, I have no idea how/if the slight texture from the medium will print; that's my little experiment for this time around.)


Let it dry overnight.

Next step: sealing the plate. I didn't take pictures of this step, because I did it at school and didn't want to bring the digital camera to school to photograph something so mundane. 'Sides, you're smart, you can figure it out for yourself.

You'll need clear polyurethane to seal the plate (I forgot to mention that in the list, sorry). Start with the back of your plate; you'll need to seal both sides (ink gets everywhere, trust me). Brush two light coats on.

Once the back's dry, flip it over and coat the front, letting it dry between each coat. If you can see brush strokes in the polyurethane once a coat dries, you're using too much. Make sure the polyurethane doesn't fill the crevices in your plate! When brushing the sealer on, get your brush into all the little nooks and crannies on your plate and make sure the poly doesn't collect around the edges, because that WILL print and you don't want that.

Do 2-3 coats on the front.

Next time: printing!

Alan Cross
11-24-2003, 08:21 PM
I am ready! Do you need a press to print from this?
Alan :)

11-25-2003, 01:32 AM
looks cool so far! thanks for sending me a link to this!

12-01-2003, 03:22 PM
Sorry about the wait, Thanksgiving break and all . . .

Yes, Alan, you need a press, and here's our ghetto public school etching press many years older than me (a typical pattern in our school). The mess around it is typical and I have to work around that - sometimes there's even someone sitting in that chair you see in the foreground. It's sad, really. Note the missing spoke, that makes it quite difficult to turn, especially when dealing with those plexiglass intaglio plates I was playing with a week or two ago. But the press gets the job done, and that's all that matters.


Before you print, you need to wet your paper. It doesn't really matter exactly how you get it wet, as long as both sides are wet and the paper can soak in that water. For printing, the paper should be . . . flexible, for lack of a better word. If it does this, it's good:


When you print, however, make sure there's no shiny spots of wetness on the paper. The paper must be damp, not drowning in water.

With collagraphs, you'll get a nice etching/embossing in addition to whatever ink you put on. If you're interested in getting a few of these prints, do that before you mess with ink. Also, there's no use in doing the inking process only to find that the pressure on your press is way wrong.

Simply lay a sheet of newsprint (not newspaper - anything printed on the surface your paper touches will become part of your final print, so unless you want an advertisement for a used 1993 VW Bug on the puppy prints you've worked so hard on, I suggest you stay far away from newspaper) on your wool blanket, then lay down your damp paper and the plate face down on that paper, then another sheet of newsprint and the other blanket. Turn the handles and run it through the press.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/01-Dec-2003/16668-onpress1.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/01-Dec-2003/16668-onpress2.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/01-Dec-2003/16668-onpress3.jpg

When it comes out, you should get something like this (except with your plate image, of course):


Note that while photography isn't kind to a lot of media, it absolutely hates embossings, and I have yet to get a flattering digital image of one.

This is where you need to check the pressure on your press. The only real way to tell if the pressure's appropriate is if the embossing comes out. Rule of thumb: if you're satisfied with the clear, distinct impression you get, there's enough pressure; if the paper's excessively wrinkled, the pressure's too great.

Next: inking!

Alan Cross
12-01-2003, 03:39 PM
Cool....lots of good info....I know a school art teacher maybe they would let me use there press....waiting for more!!
Alan :)

12-01-2003, 09:26 PM
Wow. I take it that a press is pretty much the only way of printnig this? Maybe it's time to try and figure out a good way of making one :)

kitten the learning kitten

Alan Cross
12-02-2003, 12:45 AM
Hey if you work that out put it here :D
Alan :)

12-02-2003, 05:17 PM
I wonder if you could devise a Press using c-clamps plywood and some heavy bricks? Hey, if you might even be able to use yourself as the weight (and therefore do a "performance piece"-- now that would be fun!

Just a thought...

Also, I have seen the "dried flower" presses-- perhaps something like that would work as well (for a small print, that is?)

Sure wish I could afford a press... I had one school experience with lithography and really liked it... :)


12-02-2003, 08:57 PM
Indeed, I have been pondering the c-clamp press idea myself, and have viewed a home-made press made out of an automoblie jack.

I think, in the case of the collegrah, I would be worried about damaging the original piece, so I'm not so sure the hard type press (as opposed to say, a wood-block) would work? Thoughts?

kitten the pondering kitten
(whoo-hoo! Post #300!!)

12-02-2003, 09:21 PM
I'll post the next part tomorrow guys; my ink prints didn't come out quite like I wanted them to, so I'm gonna try some more tomorrow. Regardless I'll post the next part tomorrow. ;)

I don't know how to make your own press. I barely know how the etching press I'm using works, let alone how to jury-rig my own. Gimme some time to think about that . . . :angel:

12-03-2003, 09:40 AM
Caroline, I've heard of people that have successfully put a heavy board over it and drove their car on top of the board to create a "press". Bikes aren't gonna cut it though no matter how many Big Macs you eat. ;)

Diane Cutter
12-03-2003, 12:30 PM
Yeah, I had a printing instructor who used her car when she was a poor unaffliated-with-a-printmaking-studio artist. I never asked her about the finished result... and I would think setting up would be a pain.

I have done monoprints and relief standing on them, rocking gently back and forth (with blankets, of course). The next time I pull an emboss I'll try the "standing" method and give a report.


P.S.--I'm starting a diet so if it works now it may not work long.

12-03-2003, 03:37 PM
Sounds like a car would work. I'm going to try that sometime.

Okay, here's the last step: ink prints. There's probably a fancier name, but I don't know it, so we're just calling them ink prints. ;)

Silkscreen ink is the right consistency for these prints, and that's what I used. If you try to use block printing ink, you will get very frustrated very fast - because of its consistency, it's harder to get on and off right. Silkscreen ink is the consistency of . . . of . . . ah, silkscreen ink. If you're making do with something else, you figure it out. :p

To ink your plate, put ink on your plate. It's really that simple. Rub it on and cover the ENTIRE thing - get it into every nook and cranny you can see as well as the ones you can't. Once again, the cracks and lines are what print, not the large shapes. So if there's no ink in those cracks, you'll have a mighty sorry-looking ink print.

The easiest way to ink these is to wear gloves and just get a little bit of ink at a time directly from your jar of ink using your hands. Then, rub it on.


Do as I say, not as I do. If you don't wear gloves, there will be ink still remaining on your hands for a good three to four days, especially around and under your fingernails. I know these things. I have experience! But I don't particularly care about the ink all over me, it's not like I have anyone to impress, and the waterbased acrylic ink seems harmless enough. I've fingerpainted with acrylics before and people yelled at me because they thought I was using real cadmiums when I mentioned cad yellow. .(Of course I'm not using real cadmiums. I don't have the money for real cadmiums. That's why I'm selling my prints!) No cads in these, so I should be fine.

Do this QUICKLY; you don't have time to rant about cadmiums and fingerpainting while you're inking. Go go go! As soon as you get the ink on there, rub it off. Yes, rub it off. A paper towel works fine.


Your goal is to get ink off the large shapes and leave ink in the cracks and the lines between those shapes, forming something that will remotely resemble an ink drawing when you're done. Here's my plate once I rubbed it off:


Now run over to your press, put the paper down and the plate down on the paper just like the embossing, and run it through. Hold your breath and pull the plate away from the print:


Tada! Print! On this first one, which you'll label your artist's proof just like in any other kind of printmaking, take note of the areas you need to pay special attention to when you print. I noted that overall I wanted just a little more ink, and I needed to watch the eye area and that main line separating eagle from background.

So I tried it again:


And the result:


Ah, much better! I decided to leave more ink on the background in future prints to provide contrast between the eagle's white head and the background, which would be pretty much devoid of texture to balance out the heavy texture of the eagle itself.

Print a few more, and congratulations - your collagraph series is done! If you're like me after the intense frustration caused by this plate and that pesky eye area which did NOT print well at all, you can find the most convienent way of destroying your plate ( :evil: :angel: ) and trying again from the beginning.

The best thing about collagraphs is that every print will be different. I have never gotten two to look exactly alike; I think it's impossible because of the nature of the process. I could be wrong about the impossibility of making them exactly alike, but rather than trying, I think it's better to exploit how much different your prints will be. Try new things. Play with different papers. I've had great success printing on Fabriano Uno 140# CP paper and hand-coloring the prints with watercolors; I'm going to try printing on Arches HP paper and see how that comes out. (The prints you see, btw, were printed on Bristol Vellum 300 series, which I had left over once I decided I didn't like using it for drawing. Worked like a charm. These aren't too picky about paper as long as its mostly smooth.)

You can also try using colored inks and mixing them as you please; there's plenty of them out there. Here's my favorite that I did today:


Again, I should've left more in the background, and I did another color print I really liked that I'll show you if you're interested - I couldn't bring it home today because it was one of the last ones I printed and wasn't dry.

But that's it for collagraphs. Hope you enjoyed this! :D

Alan Cross
12-03-2003, 03:42 PM
Thanks for taking the time to show us all the steps and detail every step along the way now I want to try this....did I ask what kind of press you have?
Alan :)

12-03-2003, 09:12 PM
It's an etching press. That's about all I know. :)

Do you think this could be article worthy?

Alan Cross
12-03-2003, 09:28 PM
For sure....its only to bad you have to have a press to try it....
Alan :)

12-04-2003, 02:57 PM
As soon as it dries out here, I'm gonna try using the car as a press; I'll wait until I try that to do an article, and if it works, I'll include it in the article. That way more people could try it since plenty of people have cars - who knows, we might get a lot more people into printmaking! :angel:

Alan Cross
12-04-2003, 03:12 PM
I have a nice heavy one lol.....waiting
Alan :)

12-04-2003, 04:54 PM
?Very nice stuff!!!! :) :) :) Thanks for that.

A couple of tips from my own experience with collographs (not much, I find them frustrating). Hope you don't mind me tacking them on.
-- leaving some ink on the 'blank' areas and planning the wiping patterns can give you nice texture there too

--yes, you CAN print collographs in a relief press! (book press, or pressing down by hand) It's more difficult and the reverse areas will print. With an intaglio press used here the press squeezes out the ink from the gaps and cracks. A relief press works the opposite way, printing what is on the highest areas of the plate. So ink up appropriately. :) For example if you put glue on an entire plate and then carved in lines with a sharp tool, then inked the plate. On intaglio press you'd wipe the ink off and get an ouline image on white. On a relief press you'd leave more ink on and get a white outline within a black printed page. Make sense? With collograph I find that experimenting is the best way - I can never visualise quite how they will print.

And I sympathise with photographing embossed images! There's an artist in our studio group with collographs that are *just* embossed. No ink. We had to try and include them in a catalog and website. aaaaaargh. ;)


P.S. Going to try to find a couple of my old collographs - done mainly with pieces of cardboard collaged on and bits of wire and sandpaper which gives nice dark areas because it holds a lot of ink. I also used both black and white ink, to mix greys. Here we go:
All from the same plate:

12-06-2003, 12:52 PM
Thanks, timelady. I'll be including your tips in my article if that's okay with you. ;)

Well, I tried using my car, a 1995 Ford Mustang convertible, as a press with my old flower plate ( this one (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=108890) ), and it didn't work. I was surprised - I found I actually needed more pressure, and a lot more of it. I didn't do ink, just an embossing (if the embossing doesn't work, the ink won't work and/or won't look anything like it's supposed to), and I found that the only areas that printed were the highest ones.

So here's my official verdict: if you build your plate high (at least 1/4" probably) and use lots of newspaper and/or wood to add pressure, your car will work as a press. But you'll have to play around with it. Put your stack of plate/paper/pressure materials right under the wheel and roll over it slowly with both wheels on that side (easier and probably works better). See what you get.

Off to figure out the article publisher . . . :D

12-06-2003, 06:31 PM
I enjoyed your demo very much. Even though I am quite a few years older than you, I haven't done nearly as much as you. It is nice you have a school where you can do some of the work. I look forward to seeing more of it.

By the by, I remember a printmaker that made a 4x8 foot woodcut and used a steamroller to make the final impressions. Talk about creative solutions


12-06-2003, 07:16 PM
Originally posted by doug_h

By the by, I remember a printmaker that made a 4x8 foot woodcut and used a steamroller to make the final impressions. Talk about creative solutions

Do you have anymore information reguarding this fellow? This sounds terribly interesting, and highly innovative.

lilkitten, possesor of a commercial driver's licence and former long-haul truck driver.

12-06-2003, 07:23 PM
Oh I wanna try the steamroller thing. If only I had connections . . . :evil:

12-07-2003, 08:39 AM
I wish I could remember where I had seen that, but check out Maria Arango's equally impressive car print --


She is quite original

12-07-2003, 11:08 AM
Yeah, I've seen that - but I got to thinking, maybe just an 18 wheeler would work. Helluva lot easier to get ahold of one of those than a steamroller...

lilkitten the pondering kitten