Media of the Week: Printmaking 2

Printing plates and stamps

A printing plate is different from the ink plate you roll out ink on for monoprints because the plate is your design and unlike monoprint this method enables you to make many copies of the same design. How many depends on what you use to make the plate from. Even in the print industry plates used for millions of impressions eventually deteriorate.

In the art world this is often what is behind limited editions but also because as artists we often just want to move onto a new piece.

Printing plates enable us to really go to town using colour too but I’ll get to that a bit later on. For now all you need to know is how to make a plate. There are hundreds of ways you can make your own unique printing plate from all manner of materials, but for this post I’ll be concentrating on just one way of making them from things you have at home making it as cheap as possible but you will need:

  • Some scissors or a craft knife
  • some thick card, a board or some wood to act as a backing
  • some strong glue
  • rubbish
  • Some imagination and a sense of fun

If you have ever done any collage work you know what’s coming. The difference is you need to ensure that the end product has a raised surface which picks up the ink leaving the rest of the surface to remain ink free. You can roll the ink straight onto the plate but it tends to result in gumming up the whole thing so your carefully planned masterpiece looses all its detail. Much better to roll out the ink and the using the roller once it is loaded up with ink to apply ink to your printing plate.

What’s the difference between a stamp and a printing plate? Not a lot really. Think of stamps made from cutting a potato in half and then carving a design into the flat side, inking it up and you’ll get the idea. A stamp you press onto the paper. With a plate you do the reverse although you can use some plates as stamping blocks too. You apply the paper to the plate and by using a clean roller on the back of the paper or by gently rubbing the back of it you get you print.

So first select your materials that you want to use for your design from normal household rubbish that is flat and clean. You can choose and I recommend a mix of materials especially from packaging, with some being more suitable than others. Shiny surfaces like foil resist ink but you might want that to happen in some areas but it can be difficult to stick to anything. The same is true of most thing plastic… What are you left with paper, card, netting, labels, strings, threads, dried organic matter, scraps of fabric which all come with a range of textures and absorbancy just perfect to make a very interesting printing plate.

You lay out your design and stick it down piece by piece. If some of the glue oozes out from underneath from a piece you are sticking down, wipe off the excess but try not to leave it on the surface of your printing plate although some are happy to leave it. I use a strong PVA glue but some materials need heavy duty stuff and you then need to be aware of how some of them react. Some cause a chemical reaction, some will melt plastic and polystyrene so check the label and test a tiny drop of it out side, wear heat resistant gloves if in doubt and armoured plating it your that unsure, though frankly if you’re that scared… perhaps you should simply avoid those glues. Large blogs of glue take ages to dry so wipe them of. Let your masterpiece dry and then you are ready to print.

As you’ll be applying the ink with a roller onto your plate it gives you the opportunity and choose where to apply the ink. If you want to save an area for a different colour, cut to the shape required before applying any ink, place over the area you want to keep ink free, ink up your plate, pop your paper on top and rub the back of the paper or use a clean dry roller on it. You can also mix up colour using your roller. You’re done and so on for adding more colours.

The only snag is that you have to line up your print exactly each time it you want your print to have another colour added. Aligning your print to a plate is what is called registration. And with these types of plates you have to wait for the ink to dry as washing off ink from a plate made of cardboard will result in the cardboard getting soggy and disintegrating. If you’re using oil based ink this can take days in some cases.

More on registration and why the thickness of your plate matters tomorrow. Don’t fret though save all your plates as different methods can be used for different thicknesses which I’ll be explaining as I go along this week. But I end this post with other ways of adding colour that don’t require registration.

One of my favourite print artists is Edward Bawden. And he often used a block of colour in the background in many of his pieces. Before using a second third, fourth etc plate to build his images up. This is why the convention is to start with you lightest colours and end with your darkest. You simply cut out the shape you want from a piece of paper and use the hole to print your block of colour, not the shape you cut out. Bawden then used registration in most of his works but many artists don’t.

The the other way to add colour is to use stamps and yes you can buy them but tomorrow’s post will enable you to make more of your own. So don’t rush out to buy them for basic shapes like circles, triangles and rectangles. Ink up bottles, boxes, and others shaped items you’re about to throw out. Save our pennies for stamps with more detail. Bear in mind though the general rule of the greater the detail you want the less ink you apply. This is why a lot of stamps come with an ink pad to dab the ink onto to the stamp before use it on your artwork. Otherwise use oil based ink rolled very thinly. Once dry you can apply colour with any media you like but be aware many inks can smudge to muddy the work because they are either not dry or are waterbased.

Published by SketchSocial

Amateur artist trying to complete my challenge of an artwork for each day of this year. Along the way I'm sharing techniques, favourite artists for anyone interested.

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