Saturday, September 26, 2009

What’s The Buzz?

I’ll tell you what’s happening: printing. Yes, after a period of high stress at work that hasn’t actually ended I’ve gotten myself in the swing of things again, cleaned up the shop, and got the press running. A number of projects are now back on track including the upcoming first issue of my journal, otherwise known as a ‘zine for you non-hipsters. And that bit of news leads me to the events of today.

Friend-of-mine and very creative and talented artist Rachael Faillace expresses herself in many ways and I highly recommend you check out her website to see for yourself: I want to include original artwork in my journal and I asked Rachael if she would contribute a linoleum block print. The idea was that she would provide the cut image and I would mount it type high and print it. That way I could incorporate the cut in one of the two-page forms. She very graciously agreed and the result appeared in my mailbox a few weeks later. She had been working in her garden one afternoon and the bees flying from flower to flower inspired her. As planned, I made a cherry base for it at work and mounted the cut.

Today I printed the cut for the first time and the result can be seen above and I really love it. This is the first time I’ve printed a linoleum block since elementary school. I know it’s a common practice to print them with a platen press but I had several concerns. One was over the ink. Block printing ink sold for this kind of printing is different from the rubber and oil base ink used for letterpress and I don’t have any and didn’t really want to buy any. I also wasn’t sure how the linoleum would handle the strength of the impression and thought I might find myself in limbo, printing too lightly but not being able to increase the impression for fear of damaging the linoleum.

Of course, as is so often the case with premeditated fears, they were unfounded in the event. In fact, the block printed surprisingly well, at least to my eyes. The image itself is about 2” x 2 1/2”. I decided on a yellow colored cover stock and it so happened I had some pre-cut scraps from a print shop I help clean out. I believe it’s about 80 pound stock. So the final sheet is 3 7/8” x 4 ½”. Remember: never turn down free paper.

I’ll describe my basic procedure in case that might be helpful to anyone. If I had a decent camera I’d have taken a few photos. Oh, well. First I got the dirty work out of the way and oiled and wiped down the press. Then I redressed the platen with a new top sheet. Except in very rare instances I always replace the top sheet for each job. That way I’m always sure it’s clean and flat. My tympan paper at .012” is thicker than what is most often sold today which is .006” thick. When I got my first press and most of the contents of an old print shop there was a partial roll and one new, unwrapped roll. I haven’t seen the need to get something thinner and it actually works very well as it holds any kind of gauge pin very firmly and lays flat and tight.

After that I went to the stone and locked up the cut using a spider chase to save a bit of time by using less furniture. I prefer using the chaser method of lockup as I think it’s more secure, especially with type. I snugged the quoins, planed the form, tightened the quoins the rest of the way. I checked to make sure they weren’t overly tight and had sprung the chase by trying to rock the chase from corner to corner. Finally, while not as critical as it would be with type, I checked for lift.

I put the rollers on the press, taking a chance by only using two for no other reason other than it would be one less to clean. I wiped a dab of ink, in this case Van Son rubber base black, across the ink disc with an ink spatula and then ran the press to distribute the ink. Then in went the chase and I pulled an impression on the top sheet. I always pull an impression on the top sheet for setting the gauge pins. I wipe the wet ink off with a rag and mineral spirits and then a bit of talcum powder (actually baby powder from the grocery store). It’s then very easy to measure out the margins directly on the top sheet and draw lines to place the gauge pins. I find this method to be fast and accurate. I laid out my margins by measuring the height and width of the image and the height and width of the paper. I subtracted the one from the other for each dimension and then divided by two. That gave me my top/bottom and side margins. I drew a line directly along the lower edge of the image on the top sheet and then did the same thing along the top edge of the image using a drafting square. Then I measured off the margins I had worked out and drew lines parallel to the first two the width of the margins apart. Those were the lines I would use to set my gauge pins.

I generally use McGill’s double-grip pins so after placing a sacrificial piece of pressboard under the top sheet I used a makeready knife (basically an X-Acto knife) to cut an approx. 1” slit. Then I inserted the pins, lined them up with the layout lines, and tightened them in place. I removed the sacrificial pressboard and placed a sheet of the stock I was going to print in the gauge pins. I use the sacrificial pressboard so I can easily press through the top sheet with the knife without damaging the pressboard in my packing which I reuse as many times as possible. Waste not; want not.

I set the grippers; in this case one would be able to hold down the right side but the left gripper had to stay to the outside of the far left gauge pin. So to help strip the sheet off the form I ran a rubber band between the grippers so it would lie across the top portion of the sheet in the margin area. Turning the flywheel by hand I cycled the press through slowly and pulled an impression on the test sheet. This also made sure that the packing was not too thick and showed me on the test print that I wouldn’t need to make any further adjustments. I adjusted the left gauge pin slightly and pulled another proof.

Thus did the printing commence.