Sunday, January 13, 2013

Collagraph , inking and printing

Collagraph , the 3 plates inked up and ready to go
Collagraph matrix
Collagraphs, are always lots of fun to do, and I use them, quite often, to kind of push start a new
round of work. Coming back from a lovely break over Christmas and New Year I thought it would be a great way of ushering in 2013!
So...what are collagraphs?:
the plate, that is later inked up and printed,  is built up by assembling and if you want gluing down
different surfaces, textures and shapes onto a piece of for example cardboard or pvc. A Collagraph is a collage prepared so that it can be inked up and printed like any other kind of printmaking, such as etchings, linocuts etc. All sorts of material can be used. The most usual are varying papers, cards and tissues but fascinating effects can be created with glues, and acrylic pastes, carborundum powder, plaster and sand. "Found objects" should be treated with some respect, when it comes to putting them through the press, but it is easy to use doilies, metal washers and embossed wallpapers, lots of things make terrific textural prints. The plates have to be sealed with varnish, for example an acrylic medium, even watered down wood glue, before they can be printed and this can make quite a tough surface into which engraved marks can also be made by scoring, cutting or using a stylus.
Because of the much greater depth of a collagraph compared with an etching for example, they carry much more ink and a wider (and sometimes unpredictable) range of purely printing effects can be achieved with collagraphs. In fact it is difficult to get exactly the same effects with each print and it is often better to regard multi-colour collagraphs as a series of monoprints rather than a uniform edition. Because the plate is usually made from softer materials than the copper and zinc of etching, collagraph plates wear much more rapidly and so the editions are very small, as a rule.

I decided to make my contribution to an upcoming group exhibition, with the theme, "Los Hombres",
or "Men" as a collagraph, I already had an idea for some sort of fish print, as I love the blues that can be had by layering plates on top of each other. I cut the human shape, little penis and all, from a simple piece of cardboard, applied a bit of putty filler for texture, left it to dry and then varnished it with acrylic medium. With a knife I then cut 2 shallow parallel lines where the head meets the shoulder and the legs meet and peeled off the cardboard top layer, knowing this will take a bit more ink and so print like a diffuse line.
Collagraph matrix and long piece of paper stuck under the press roller
I start by inking up the 3 plates I have prepared for the water, and the fish , which is prepared on a separate piece of cardboard, together with the eye, which is also a separate piece. The fish, and the first 2 plates are all cardboard, that has been textured in various ways, with puttyfiller, with masking tape and then varnished with acrylic medium. If I did not varnish, the cardboard would take so much ink, that the collagraph tends to get very undefined.... it can be used though, if that is what you are looking for.....
I ink them up with etching inks that have been heavily oiled down, so they are very easy to apply.
Don't worry about too much oil, you learn quickly doing it, if the ink is easy to use, and you feel you are in control of  the amount of ink left on the plate, then it's perfect. Extender can of course also be used, as with many things in printmaking, you use what you get used to, or what you always have at hand.
I use dabbers, made from rags, or from old tarlatan, and also brushes are used, to work the ink into all the crevices. For example on the fish, the scales had to be inked with the help of a brush. I then wipe the plates, with tarlatan,  just like I would an etching, until I have the amount of ink left that I want.
The 2 plate is a piece of thin pvc, that I of course could make marks on if I wanted to, scratch, cut etc... but in this case, all it does is carry the last oriental blue that brings the print together.
Collagraph , first plate printed,second plate placed on matrix
collagraph, use talcum to block unwanted ink on the matrix
I put the matrix, which is long enough to be put under the rollers, on the press, I have drawn up the position of the plates and the figure, I then put the piece of printmaking paper on top of the matrix and put printing pressure on the roller, so the matrix and the paper is "stuck" in place for the whole printing process, this makes printing multi plates very easy, as I only fold up the paper onto the roller, place the next plate, put the paper down again, knowing, that each time the plate and paper registers perfectly (well... in theory at least, make a fuss and it will :o)
The left over bit of paper, can, if you handles it gently, be used for a separate print, it does not need to go to waste.
I print the first plate, a light blue color and I print the figure. (on the matrix, you can see the figure in brown, from the proofing I did) After printing, with the help of a big bulb of cotton wool, apply talcum powder to the matrix, so no residual ink prints off on the next turn through the press, (watch you don't get talcum on the inked plates, it blocks the ink!) I line up the second plate on the matrix, a cardboard plate with "waves" of masking tape, the masking tape prints different in texture to the rest, so the waves are visible in the final print.
Collagraph , Last plate placed on matrix
I have printed the 2 first plates, and have the last plate to go, the piece of pvc which has been inked and wiped. Look at the previous photos, you can see the white lines round the scales for example. Much of the reason I use several plates, is that I don't have to worry about height differences in the first plate or 2, as later plates "inks" those white areas, that I, personally, don't like to see.
Collagraph, final print
Here the print is done, "El peligro de ser Macho" , "The danger of being Male" , all the little variations in the plates show up, giving the print a depth that is hard to get from other printmaking methods. Collagraphs can be very subtle and very detailed, all depending on time spent on them. I like to make multi plates, as I think the richness I get from that, is why I do collagraphs..... and not as many as I should, I might add...... the short editions, tend to make them more fun and play for me, than serious work, but as play and fun, some of my best ideas, have come from a totally messy studio, cutting and pasting and drilling, and messing about....... and I have learnt lots from it, that I then apply to my etchings and to my linocuts..... so from that perspective, these are my printmaking courses for myself!
Mariann Johansen-Ellis, runs Cascada Studio, in Andalucia in Spain, where she gives printmaking courses on a regular basis. Visit for more information.


  1. Lovely! I have had some real fun with collograph, though I never tried multi-plates. I like how your final plate brought all the elements together.
    It's a fun piece - I think it'll raise a few smiles at the exhibition. Great fish, by the way!

  2. Très cool, Mariann! I haven't done a collograph in years...hmmmm...I'll have to start thinking about that. It's lovely the way you use the technique to usher in a new phase! What a great idea to have some kind of more unusual form of printmaking to re-inspire the more habitual techniques. It's really great you have so many exhibits that you participate in.

  3. I'm taking a collagraph course right now, and discovered that I HATE inking cardboard plates. I'd been doing intaglio using copper plates, and LOVE inking those. So this is a beautiful demonstration of the possibilities of this medium--thanks!