Printmaking is brilliant!! Collagraph workshop at Ropewalk Gallery

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I spent yesterday on an ‘Introduction to Collagraphs’ workshop at Ropewalk Studios. This popular venue on the banks of the Humber comprises gallery spaces, artists’ studios and print workshops.

On previous visits to open days, we wandered into the studios to look at some lovely work in various media and chat with the artists. One of the print studios displayed some very interesting work, including ‘Collagraph’ prints – the word is derived from the Greek word koll or kolla, meaning glue and graph, to draw.

Knowing that they ran taster sessions in various print techniques, I ‘hinted’ that I would like one as a Christmas present which, luckily, I duly received.

The amazing thing about the technique is how anyone can produce interesting prints after just a little basic tuition (believe me, if I can, anyone can).

Making the printing plates

The eight of us used various techniques to add to or subtract from the surface of fine surfaced white mount board. This made the class a lot of fun as we experimented and learned from each other what was possible. Craft knives were used to cut into the the surface – when inked and printed, these would form the darkest lines or shadow areas, as the ink would build up in the grooves or hollows. In other areas of our designs, ordinary kitchen foil was crinkled to add texture to skies or to create water. Elsewhere, strips of textured wallpaper added dimension and pattern whilst dollops or swirls of PVA glue acted as a mask, producing white areas on the final prints. The printing plates are then sealed with shellac. After drying, more coats can be applied to specific areas of the plate, which will result in lighter areas of the print as they diminish the ability of the plate to hold the sticky printer’s inks.

The first two images above are the two printing plates I made.

As a graphic designer used to working with computer-based software, I am used to machines delivering instant responses to my commands. With Collagraphy, I loved the return to hand and eye coordination and skill, the need for patience and the slower pace to the work. Patience is key, because the shellac sealant must be dry and the edges of raised areas perfectly sealed before inking up, otherwise the ink will spread into unwanted areas like blotting paper. Sometimes, though, unintentional ‘happy accidents’ occur, resulting in beautiful effects in the print. That’s the beauty of this kind of printing – you don’t know exactly how the plate will perform until its printed.

Once the plate has been inked and placed on the press with the printing paper another delightful part of the process occurs. The plate and paper are covered in wool felt blankets to protect the press from the pressure of the heavy metal roller. This means that the actual moment of printing is hidden from view. The anticipation is really exciting, as you don’t know how it’s going to look.

At that moment, the plate instantly became ‘my child’. The thing that I had created by hand from scratch would be fed into a metal monster. Would it turn out ok?

During the ten seconds or so it took to wind the handle and send it through, I could feel the slight resistance of the plate and paper between the rollers. Then, the blankets are peeled back, the paper turned over and there is the print – fantastic .

After 25 years of working within the necessary constrictions demanded of client work, it was very liberating to be spontaneously creative. That’s not the end though, as I’ve already enquired about further classes and tuition-free studio sessions for when I have enough skills for independent working. The nice thing about the Collagraph process is that I can pre-prepare printing plates when I have time at home, take them along to the print room and get on with the exciting bit, revealing the magic. I can’t wait to get back to it.

Thanks to Angela Lindsley who ran the workshop and the venue, Ropewalk Studios for hosting.