Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's About Time

My hiatus from printing and printmaking seems to be at end and I’ve recently entered an intaglio exchange in order to insure that I have a specific goal in mind to bring me fully back into the swing of things. I work full-time and, being single, must take care of the many household and other tasks myself. I found the need to focus my limited spare time on my health, specifically with regard to physical exercise. Not being interested in sports, I turned to bicycle riding knowing that this would eventually tie in with printmaking as I could ride where I could not walk or drive to get subjects for the copper plate. I now have a restored bicycle and have started regular riding. At this time of the year my riding has been greatly curtailed but the way has been paved and the journey begun so now it’s back to the stone and the press.

I have two small projects in process that will keep me focused for the foreseeable future. One of these is the result of a recent purchase, a very nice copper cut of a clock face. I need to mount it but if everything works out I may end up selling these in different colors and on different kinds of paper. The face is just the right size for popular-sized movements for all the clockmakers and horologically inclined out there. Hurry, time is short!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two Blogs Are Better Than One

My experimentation and consequent interest in etching and printmaking has continued to grow and is currently occupying much of my spare time. I'm still moving forward with my letterpress work but until I attain greater knowledge and skill as an etcher there will be a natural imbalance in the direction of my posts even though I do have several letterpress projects in the works.

The two mediums that occupy my interests have their own distinctive elements and for the most part their own adherents. I do appreciate my Followers here as well as others who find some things of interest in my posts. Because I want to share with others my experiences, trials and tribulations with both mediums I've decided to start a second blog for my etching and printmaking. This blog will continue to focus on the letterpress aspect of my work and the other on etching and printmaking. Hopefully my posts there will also prove to be of interest and value.

My new blog is called The Bitten Line and can be found here:

Please feel free to visit both!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Haunting


Blood of bat and bone of cat,

Tongue of frog and tooth of rat,

Hog’s hair, claw of bear,

Three times three, now follow me…

Ghosts sometimes appear when least expected and at the most inopportune times. This can present problems for those of us who steadfastly deny their existence. But there are times, especially when practicing the ancient craft of printing, that we must at least partially confess the truth that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

I made my second etched plate last weekend, soft ground on a 3” x 4” copper plate. This was done the same as with the pine branch, laying some twine on the grounded plate and running it through the press. As it turned out, I made a mistake when doing this that I’ll detail below. I let it bite for about 25 minutes, a time that was based mostly on my experience with the pine branch and also on the line etching I did as my first experiment. I think I judged it better this time, though I’m happy with the pine branch as well.

To pull the proof I again used Graphic Chemical's Bone Black ink. And except for the final, and I think the best proof, their 150 lb. cotton rag house paper. For that proof I used my trusty unknown 20 lb. laid paper.

The first two proofs are shown above. Note that the one on the left was final wiped with newspaper and the one on the right was hand-wiped. After the first proof I noticed the ghost image circled above and thought it was something I had done during the wipe. But it appeared again on the second proof so I moved the plate slightly on the bed and got the result on the third proof seen above on the right: the same ghost in a different place. Those pesky spirits! I thought about this for a while and before organizing a séance I examined my felts carefully and found a matching depression in the catcher and cushion and then also in the woven pusher on the cylinder. This ghost hadn’t appeared in any other proofs I had pulled previously and it pretty much matches the size of the coil in the noose. And I did in fact run the plate through the press at right angles to the direction I pulled the proofs, which explains the orientation. So my conclusion is that I should have used more padding and less pressure when running the grounded plate through the press. Another lesson learned.

Here is the last proof I pulled which also received a final hand wipe. I’m rather pleased with it and call it Too Much Rope.

P.S. My thanks to Barbee Oliver Carleton for the poem from her children’s story The Wonderful Cat of Cobbie Bean that I first read as a boy in the book, The Arrow Book Of Ghost Stories, that I bought for 15 cents through the Scholastic Book Services at school in the 1960’s. Do they even still have books in school?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Well Grounded

Intaglio fun continues. Last weekend I experimented with soft ground. This is like hard ground except it has a greasy substance added such as tallow, Vaseline, or even grease. While it does dry, it stays soft and a bit sticky. Hard ground is usually removed with an etching needle and creates well defined and clean lines. If on the other hand you press something into the soft ground (paper, leaf, fabric, etc.) by running it through the press the soft ground will stick to it. When the article is removed it will have pressed through the soft ground to the plate in varying degrees depending on the texture of the article and that texture will expose parts of the plate in its likeness.

Soft ground was perhaps most common in the latter half of the 18th century and first half of the 19th. Traditionally it was used with paper and pencil. A piece of paper is laid over the soft-grounded plate and the drawing made directly onto the paper. The lines produced after etching are soft-edged, like charcoal or crayon. I was really intrigued by the idea of making a plate of an object such as a leaf or feather. I've seen work like this and it reminds me of fossils. It's somewhat haunting, somewhat surreal, impressionistic and moody. I like it.

I went outside and picked a few end branches off the Evergreen tree next to the house. I then had to experiment for quite a while to get the combination of pressure, wax and blotting paper, and blankets to work. I also had to trim the needles off to get a basically two-dimensional flat object that would lay flat and not overwhelm the image by being too dense. This required certain artistic decisions as to how much was too much and where exactly to remove and where to leave alone. Even so, the first several trials on brass key tags produced squashed pine needles, torn waxed paper, pine-juice scented blotting paper, and no need for air freshener. But finally I got it and ran a prepared 16 gauge 2" x 4" copper plate through the press. This was another piece of the old letterpress half-tone I was given. I had to fleck off a few errant pieces of pine needles but it looked pretty good.

I laid the plate in the mordant and a new guessing game ensued: how long to leave it in. This was even more difficult to judge than the line drawing I did on the hard grounded plate the week before. In that case at least all the lines were going to be etched to the same depth. Here they would vary because of the nature of the texture to be reproduced. In the end I left it there for about 20 minutes, checking twice during that time. For the most part I think I got it right. At least I was personally happy with it for my first time.

It was then on to pulling a few proofs and as you can see from the photos I tried it with two kinds of paper. The first type of paper was my old standby unknown brand, approx. 20 lb. laid paper. Since it's the only etching ink I have I used Graphic Chemical Bone Black. I did the final wipe with my hand. I apologize for the poor scans which show strange horizontal lines and make it look like the plate mark is smashed, etc. Once I get a decent digital camera I'll take nice photos instead.

The second proof was done on Graphic Chemical's 150 lb. cotton rag house paper, a few sheets of which I purchased to try out. Again, I used the Bone Black ink. I did the final wipe with old newspaper to get a cleaner background. That rotten scan again! There are no horizontal lines on the actual proof.

I'm not sure whether I like the hand wipe or the paper wipe better; each has its merits I suppose. I'm certain to do a lot of experimenting and of course I'm hoping my technique will improve which will have its own affect. I admit to being very pleased with the way the plate turned out, also somewhat astonished. At some point I will print an "edition" but for now I'm still learning and experimenting.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Etch-A-Sketch Redux

Hibernation continues as does my experimentation with intaglio printing. There are several intaglio processes, one of which is etching. I got some etching supplies last week and made my first etched plate today. The image is of an actual grave stone in a very secluded, wooded area in Rockland County, NY. I did grave stone rubbings a number of years ago when I was living in that area and found this grave in a graveyard in the middle of nowhere.

The plate is 1/16" x 3" x 4" cut from an old letterpress half-tone plate. The former front of that plate is now the back, of course. I'll be buying proper plates in the future but a friend of mine generously gave me some of these that his father had kept for years as scrap metal. They were long since useless for their intended purpose but work great for practice here. They do have some issues and I cleaned and flattened what is now the face but without going to Herculean efforts. For the moment they're more than satisfactory.

I brushed shellac on the back since I wanted to save money and not buy asphaltum or use the hard ground that is used on the front of the plate for this purpose and because I had plenty of shellac. I then brushed hard ground on the face and let it dry overnight.

I drew the image on paper with a No. 2 pencil and I laid this upside down on the plate, wrapped it around the back and taped it. I then put it through the Kelton press and removed the paper. Even though the ground was quite dark the graphite adhered and the image showed up very clear and sharp. Using a medium-sized needle I made, I needled the image on the plate.

I laid the plate face down at an angle in a glass baking dish. I was using ferric chloride instead of acid so while I didn't need a feather to brush away the bubbles I had to allow for the dissolving copper to drop off the plate and not hinder the etching process by filling the etched lines. I had read different things about how much time to allow for the etching. After 15 minutes I pulled the plate out and checked it but couldn't really tell what was happening. I placed it back in the dish and found the old enlarger lens that I often use for a loop. I pulled it out again and then could see that it was working. I put it back in and after a total of about a half hour took it out and rinsed it off in water. I was surprised how nice, at least to my eyes, it looked.

I couldn't wait to print a couple proofs with it and the results are below.

The first proof was on the unknown, approx. 20 lb. cotton laid paper I've been using up until now since I have a bunch of it I got for free. Note the dark vertical lines where the ferric chloride bit slightly through the hard ground. Next time I will have to pay more careful attention. The brushing left light and dark streaks, thicker and thinner, even though the coverage was complete.

For this next I wiped the plate cleaner and the vertical lines did not show up as much. Unfortunately I've found that scanning these prints instead of photographing them shows unsightly things that are not visible when looking at them directly. Not to mention that my scanner leaves strange horizontal lines in the image. But until I can get a decent camera this will have to do.

This last was with another more cleanly wiped plate but this time I used a heavier paper, 150 lb cotton rag. This is Graphic Chemical's "house paper" and aside from the fact that it is pretty inexpensive, seems to do a pretty nice job. Of course, I have little experience with which to really evaluate it against other papers. I didn't allow it to soak long enough and it did not press into the plate as well as it should have. Next time I'll remember...that and many other things I didn't take into account. Like the blobs of ink I missed on the edge of the plate on the last proof!

I'm teaching myself how to do all this and so far I'm rather pleased with the result.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Step Aside, Boys!

Part of a long tradition.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cleaned And Pressed

I finished the restoration of the etching press last weekend but couldn’t get my camera, the Sony dinosaur with 3 ½” floppy disks, to work until today. I’ve actually been doing some letterpress printing in between but more on that later. I’ve got a few Before And After photos below as well as some detail shots. The Before is on the left and the After on the right. The quality as usual is poor and in some cases doesn’t do the cleanup job justice. For example, the face of the large cylinder on the bottom was completely covered with paint, which it should not be for use. It is now completely clean. The same is true for the bed and the cylinder, in addition to which they were both covered with rust under the paint. They are now down to bare metal again. In fact, all of the bare metal and bronze bearings that you see were once covered with paint, dirt, and grease.

Speaking of grease, I found on this press what one often finds on old machinery: grease in the oil bearings. If any of you have old machinery that requires regular lubrication remember that the engineers who design machinery design bearings for a certain type of lubrication and that you can’t just decide on your own to change it without consequences. Bearings designed for oil have channels and reservoirs and oil holes and are sized to work with oil. Bearings designed for grease are specially designed to do so and have appropriate grease caps attached, etc. Some people put grease in bearings designed for oil thinking that the grease will last a long time and they won’t have to oil it. This is completely wrong, especially the idea that greased bearings require no attention. Except for the first day or so, the grease will not keep the bearing surfaces coated with lubricant and the bearings will wear. That was the case with this press. Remember that bearings designed for grease will have cups with screw caps or grease nipples like the universal joint bearings on your car. The cup type will have grease in them and periodically the caps must be screwed down a bit pushing more grease into the bearings. In the case of nipples, a grease gun is used to pump more grease into the bearing. Bearings design for oil will either have open holes or caps with hinged lids. More rarely, there are oil cups with glass reservoirs that can provide a constant drip of oil and there are a few other types of automatic oilers. But the average printer will not likely encounter these. The thing to remember is to identify whether or not the bearing should get grease or oil and then use the correct lubricant; don’t substitute one for the other. If someone else has done so clean out the bearing completely and then use the right lubricant.

NOTE: In the above After photo of the press, that brown thing hanging down that almost looks like an extension of the cylinder blanket is actually the window curtain that just happens to be lined up with and the same shade as the blanket.

Two of the bed’s guide/support rollers were broken and have been replaced with new, machined copies. Most of these rollers were rusted or otherwise frozen but everything was disassembled and cleaned and now turns smoothly. Etching presses use felt blankets, usually three long ones of different thicknesses on top of one another. They perform several functions including soaking up sizing from the wet paper, pressing the paper into the incised lines of the plate, and helping the cylinder push the bed and plate through the two rollers. This particular kind of press has a D-shaped (half) cylinder and the top blanket is attached directly to it as the photo above shows. The other two felt blankets are held in place at the rear of the bed by the bars and thumbscrews shown in another photo below and pass under the cylinder. I removed those two for the photos. The blanket on the cylinder gets a lot of wear from pushing the other felts through the rollers and is therefore usually woven felt in contrast to the pressed felt from which the others are made. I was fortunate to have a piece of used woven felt that was once the cylinder blanket of an old galley proof press. It was filthy and is still stained as the photo shows. But I cleaned it by hand with Woolite and it is now clean and perfectly serviceable, if dark in color.

The above photo shows the air piston that helps slow the bed down on its automatic return to the forward position. I described in a previous post how that aspect of the press works. I had to make a new leather cup washer as the old one was almost completely destroyed. It was surprisingly easy to do and is basically the same kind of mechanism found on old hand-operated water pumps. There is also a rubber bumper directly above where the piston goes into its tube. The rear of the tube has an adjustable cap with a hole so that the amount of air exhausting out and thus the speed of the bed’s return can be controlled. Pretty clever, eh?

In the above photo if you look carefully towards the bottom center you can see the counterweight that pulls the bed back to the forward position. It is suspended from a leather belt that runs over a pulley on the rear support roller shaft. You can see the brown belt in the photo of the air piston. I made the counterweight from a large slug/cylinder of brass I had laying around. It’s about 3” in diameter and 8” long and weights about 25 pounds. I wrapped it in leather with a large wooden dowel so I could easily attach a screw hook for a D-ring on the leather belt.

In one of my previous posts on this press I described the mechanism by which the felts are automatically held up and out of the way. I did hook things up so it would work but the felts I have, scraps I had laying around, are not quite long enough for this to work too well, though it did work. When I’m able to replace the felts I’ll hook it up properly.

A few other things I did: I made a new arm for the wheel. One had gone missing sometime in the distant pass and a wooden replacement had been fabricated for use while it was a display piece. Fortunately I had a length of 1-inch bar stock and the correct screw-cutting die on hand so after some grunting and groaning and plenty of smelly cutting fluid the job was done. Cutting a 1-inch diameter thread by hand is not that easy. I also made wooden runners for it. I also decided to place pieces of leather between the upper cylinder’s bearings and the iron pressure pads. I’ve seen this and read about it in a number of places and it seemed a good idea. Supposedly it provides a slight amount of give and avoids undue strain on the press. Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m very happy with the press and am making some more test prints. I can’t wait to incorporate what I can do with it with my letterpress work. And I’ve got so much printing to do now, both letterpress and intaglio, that I will be quite busy. No more restorations for a while!