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.