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Archive for December, 2015

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And What You Can Do About It in Your Own Work

How many artists have come into my studio on the first day proclaming, “No, I’m not interested in solarplate. I’ve done it and I didn’t like the results.” Then I get out some solarplate work that I and other people have done in my studio and the negativism turn to questions. “How did you get those whites? How did you achieve those velvety blacks and the whole range of tones? These are beautiful prints!”

This happens regularly. Why? Because solarplate prints are (apparently) so quick and easy to make. You just scan or photograph an existing image (sketch, watercolor, photograph…), print it on a transparent acetate with a laser printer, sandwich it under glass with a photosensitive polymer plate, and expose it under sunshine or a UV lamp. Wash and dry it, pull a print of it on an etching press and, bingo, you’ve got a solarplate print. Well, almost. What you’ve actually got is a mediocre solarplate print. Given these results most artists never get beyond this point. It’s a shame as solarplates, when prepared with care and criteria, are capable of yielding beautiful work. With them you can either opt for positive intaglio prints using an aquatint screen, or negative relief prints without the screen.

What’s the big secret. There’s no big secret, but there a lot of little ones, and some of the most important have to do with the preparation of the acetate. It’s your all-important original. If you don’t start with a beautiful acetate you’ll never get a beautiful print. Most of the flaws in a typical solarplate print are introduced in the process of scanning. Even if you start out with an image with a proper range of tones–and no watercolor will ever clear this hurdle–the scanning processs will degrade that image. How do you recover it?

The best way is to skip the scanning/photography process altogether and create your image directly on the acetate using an opaque medium such as India ink or etching ink. You can also use lithographic ink and pencils or permanent black felt pens. This will guarantee you black blacks and brilliant whites. You’re already ahead in the game. Then you can add mid-tones to a positive plate by diluting the ink in various degrees. If you’re using Indian ink dilute with water, if it’s etching ink, with turps.

The aquatint screen, exposed first, before the image acetate, enables you to render tones in your solarplate print, similar to aquatint in an acid etching. Negative plates, similar to a woodcut or linocut, require pure blacks to highlight relief. You can use the same exposure time for the aquatint screen no matter what the light source. The area where  you put the black ink will be washed out down to the steel backing leaving the unpainted areas in relief.

If you need to work from a scanned image you will have to adjust contrast in PhotoShop or other image treatment program (or take it on a pen drive to a good photocopy shop and have them do it for you) and then later by hand, working on the acetate.  This means cleaning the whites with a cotton bud with a little alcohol and strengthening the black areas with opaque ink, felt pens or lithographic pencils. (NB: Be sure to use special laser acetates. If you use a normal acetate it will melt inside your printer.)

If you don’t have a vacuum exposure unit–and not many of us do–you may have trouble achieving perfect contact betweeen the plate and the acetate during exposure. This is especially important as the plates get bigger and more expensive, as you don’t want to waste many of them! To avoid this problem I add a layer of 15mm-thick foam rubber in what becomes a six-layer sandwich (from the bottom up: backing board, two felt blankets stuck to the board, a sheet of foam rubber, the plate, the acetate and the heavy-duty glass beveled on the edges). All of this I clamp firmly with six spring-loaded C-clamps.

Achieving proper exposure of a solarplate requires both art and science. People who come to printmaking from photography or science backgrounds usually emphasize the former, painters the latter. Both approaches require extensive testing. The photographers tend to do it more systematically, the painters more intuitively. Whatever your inclination, don’t be tempted to rush the exposure testing process. The success of all your solarplates from here on out will depend upon it. And don’t forget to incude the plate wash times in your tests. They are also a factor in getting quality results.(Note: The best light source for exposing solarplates is the midday sun, so you should probably move to Spain or Arizona.)

Pulling your first print from a properly prepared solarplate is a satisfying experience. If you’ve done everything right the improvement is notable. Your first proof print will not be your bon a tiré, however, and it’s still not too late to retouch your plate with a bit of drypoint. Now you enter into the thousand nuances of choosing and mixing inks and printing your plates, not to mention paper selection. I usually refer to this state as “creative printing.”

But that’s another chapter.

P.S. All of the steps in this process are easier to do than to explain. Come on over and we’ll do them together!

I almost forgot. I have made a video tutorial on this subject, available here.

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Here’s wishing a joyous Winter Solstice and a happy and prosperous New Year to all my people.

I want to make you a little gift. If you follow this link (http://youtu.be/4zNnkAbQ-1Y) it will take you to my Printmaking Tips video (one of my Master Printmaking Courses series) that is posted in a secret place on YouTube that can only be accessed with this link. I hope you find something there that might refine your work a little bit.

Two thousand fifteen has been an excellent year for us. Our good friend Rafa Sánchez, the surgeon whom Mike goes hiking with on most weekends, recommended a new doctor to treat my arthritis. Dr. Salvatierra changed my medication, which immediately reduced pain and swelling in my joints. It was like magic. I feel better than I have in years.

My other special joy for this year has been our grand daughter, Lucía, who has been staying with us for a couple of months during her first pregnancy. It’s a boy, due in February. This will be our third great grandchild, as Lucía’s little sister, Elisa, already has two wonderful children, Gabriel 4 and Julia 2.

I’m starting work on a new commission that proves to be challenging and fascinating. An old friend from California, a musician, composer, musicologist, documentary film maker and record producer, wants a portfolio of etchings based on a suite he composed when he lived in our village for a year back in the early 70s. I think I’m over the first hurdle. I’ve decided on an approach to the images. Wish me luck.

A group of 12 students from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) are coming back this year during their winter break for five days of printmaking in my studio. I love working with young people, and it’s surprising the quantity and quality of work they can turn out. I’ll ask Mike to make some pictures of the workshop and post them here.

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Dolly as a baby. Angelic, isn’t she…

 

Shall I tell you the Dolly saga? Dolly is one of Cuca’s two pups, the one we kept. She’s just over a year old now. The father was a little Jack Russell-type terrier. We should have been forewarned. From early on she constantly tried our patience: hyperactive, chewy, yappy, and if we made her nervous she would take revenge by peeing on our bed. We were always of two minds whether or not to find a good home for her.

Then last month a young woman from the village showed up at our door asking if we had any puppies. She had been promising her two girls (10 and 4) a puppy and had to deliver. As soon as she saw Dolly she was smitten. (As you know, the Devil takes many forms and Dolly is diabolically cute.) As María José walked proudly down the hill with her new puppy on a lead Mike and I exchanged meaningful glances. Had we done it? A week went by. Apparently we had.

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Family portrait lacking just a couple of cats.

Then Dolly started showing up at our house from time to time. I would phone María José and she would come up dutifully and retrieve her. She said her girls were wild about Dolly but she was concerned because they never left her alone. If they weren’t dragging her along on the lead they were hugging her on their laps. No peace for the wicked!

A week later María José showed up with Dolly in tow. Her mother had said that Dolly had to go. She had come into heat and, along with her other shennanigans, was making life at their house impossible.

Dolly’s back, but with a difference. She’s almost perfectly behaved. It’s a miracle. She’s so happy to be in a familiar place with old friends–especially her soul sister, Blacky the cat.

Dolly now comes when we call her, goes where we tell her, hesitates for permission before jumping up on the furniture, hasn’t eaten any shoes, socks or plastic kitchen utensils since she’s been back. She’s discreet and affecionate, a pleasure to have around. In short,  we have never had such an appreciative puppy.

I almost forgot to mention Mike’s latest project, a new site he started in August. It’s called Somos Pineros (We’re from Pinos) and it showcases the photographs he has made in our village since we arrived here, pictures from the end of the sixties till day before yesterday. The text is in Spanish but the images are universal. Here’s the link: http://somospineros.com.

Do take good care of yourselves next year and come and see us when you can. Printmaking is good for you!

 

 

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Unexpected treat for Lola  Sánchez and Teresa Gómez

After the poetry reading and presentation of Teresa and Lola’s artists’ book created and edited in my studio, Cinco Minutos Nada Menos (Five Minutes No Less) at the Library of Andalusia in Granada, the library’s director expressed an interest in acquiring a copy of the work for inclusion in their permanent collection. This was the frosting on the cake after selling out the rest of the edition on the night of the presentation, with all the proceeds going to Médicos sin Fronteras (Doctors without Borders).
Congratulations to everybody!
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P.S. While Teresa and Lola were in the meeting with Javier Álvarez, the director of the library, they mentioned my own artist’s book, Entredós, Between Two (scroll down towards the bottom) and he decided to add one of those to the permanent collection, as well. It was a good day for everyone.

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