I recently completed Printmaking, a continuing education course at Southern Methodist University, with artist and instructor Peter Ligon. My goal was to broaden my printmaking repertoire to include the use of an actual fine art etch press. Along the way I also learned drypoint, monotype and chine colle.
Some of you may already know that I make linoleum block prints. I have created an eclectic array of subjects including Starry Night, Troy Aikman, my wife’s 106-year-old grandmother and fifteen dead people from 1994. I also print my own Christmas card each year.
My block print works have all been printed by hand without any mechanical assistance other than my wife’s rolling pin (shhhh, don’t tell her). They are really good, but I want to make my prints even better by learning how to use an etch press.
In actuality, I have had my eye on an etch press for some time, but I did not have any experience using one. Printmaking at SMU was a perfect opportunity to learn and use a real press before I make any large, regrettable purchase.
It’s true. You can’t make any art without getting your hands dirty. If you cringe at the thought of printing ink under your finger nails or washing your hands with kerosene, then maybe this class isn’t for you. I however, felt right at home.
I won’t go into detail about the drypoint process because I am sure you would be bored to death. Instead I will give you the nickle tour of printmaking with an etch press.
After drawing on a copper plate with a diamond point etch needle, the drypoint printing process includes the following:
- Ink the copper plate on a heated surface
- Remove most of the ink from the copper plate with a tarlatan
- Lightly hand wipe the copper plate for an even appearance
- Remove paper from water bath
- Place copper plate on etch press
- Place damp paper over copper plate
- Place felts over damp paper
- Run felts, paper and copper plate through etch press
It sounds simple, but this process takes about twenty minutes for one print and the variables are numerous. Keep this in mind the next time you purchase a signed, limited edition fine art print. A lot of effort goes into creating each work of art.
Printmaking with Mr. Ligon was great course. Mr. Ligon is a knowledgeable printer and talented artist. His instruction was very thorough and his criticism was actually encouraging. I thoroughly enjoyed the course.
I intend to continue my printmaking next semester. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Below is a pinhole photograph of the printmaking class room at SMU taken by Mr. Holga. This photograph was a 30 second exposure on Polaroid ISO 100, 4×5 inch peel-a-part film.
The class room has about six people in it. You can’t see them in the photograph because they moved during the long exposure time. The foreground includes the work table for drawing on copper plates. Beyond the table can be seen two etch presses with their large wheels. At the far end of the room is where copper plates are heated, inked and wiped, and paper is soaked.