Thanks for joining us for another free online art lesson from Golden Road Arts. In the last lesson, Barbara Mason completed the second part of the process – Solarplate Printmaking Preparation and Exposure Part 2.
Today’s video is the third and final part of the series. Barbara demonstrates the inking process and reveals the final prints.
Final Stages of the Solarplate Printmaking Process Video
Discover how the inking and printing stages bring solarplate prints to life. Barbara explains the final touches required to print the plates and complete the process in under an hour.
Materials Required for Solarplate Inking and Printing
- Printmaking paper
- Intaglio ink
- Plastic squeegee
- Wiping fabric
Scroll down to see images of the solarplate printmaking process.
Watch the Solarplate Printmaking Inking Process
Read along with the video transcript as Barara Mason completes the solarplate printmaking process and showcases the finished designs.
OK I’m going to print my eight plates on one single sheet of paper. Printmaking paper is 22 x 30” generally speaking. You can get it 44” x 30” but pretty much 22” x 30” is the standard sheet that it comes in. When you order paper you almost always order that size. Some papers are different but most are that size.
This is a piece of Somerset satin. It is 100% cotton rag paper and a very nice paper. The satin finish is very smooth. It’s just a real nice heavy paper and it works really well and you can read the watermark on the right-hand side. If I hold it up to the light I can see it says Somerset and it says it on this side of the paper.
I’m going to tear this paper in half and I’m going to do it on the back. What I want to do is fold it in exactly in half. I’m going to show you a printmaking trick on how to get this paper to tear without too much effort. I like to print a damp paper. I’m going to print with Akua ink and you can print with solar plates. You can use Akua ink and can print on dry paper but damp paper will always give you a better print. This is a little trick to get paper to tear; you just fold it exactly in half, and then you go right along the edge here with water. I want to make sure it’s good and wet.
So now when I open this up you should be able to see that right in the center – where you can see the shine on that right in the center – it’s wet. I don’t want to spend all day trying to do this so I’m going to just get it ruler and tear it on the ruler. For some reason – I’m not quite sure what the reason is – but printmakers are kind of obsessed with tearing paper rather than cutting it. I truly can’t see much difference but you learn to do it that way when you’re in school so you just do it.
I need to get both of these pieces of paper real wet and how I am going to do that is I’ve got a little tub over here that’s full of water and I’m just going to dip them in there and I’m going to leave them there till I get the plates all wiped. It takes at least five minutes for the paper to soak and we want it to be good and wet. I always put it face down so I always know that when I take it out of the water that this side is in the back.
This is a piece of magnet that I’m going to tape down here. You can see the side of this is just white and not too clean. This is a piece of magnet that you can get at a sign shop. And if you tell them you’re an artist and you just need a square foot of this stuff – and you would just be happy to take scraps it doesn’t even matter if they’re only an inch wide – because you can just tape them together and they’ll work. The reason we’re using this magnet is the plates themselves are steel on one side and they have the polymer surface on the other side that’s photosensitive, so you don’t have to chase them around as they stick right to it. I have taped my piece of magnet down to my press bed.
I normally wouldn’t be doing this on my press bed as I have a nice piece of glass over here that I use. I’m now going to take a piece of my phone book page and I’m going to lay it down here. You can see when I lay them down that they don’t move, they stick to that press bed, which is good. I’m going to put on gloves because I don’t like ink on my hands. Eventually, I’m going to have to get that piece of paper out of the water and believe me I do not want to have ink on my hands when I do that.
I have my Akua ink here. This is intaglio ink and it’s called blue hue. I write on the top of the lid what it is so that I can get the lid back on the right jar and it just makes everything easier all the way around. I’m going to take some of my ink out and put it here. It’s a really bright blue color. I have a squeegee; this is just a plastic squeegee. I’m going to take the ink and I’m going to squeeze you across the plate. We want to get it all the little crevices. Pick up the ink that I don’t need. Now, at this point I’m going to pick this plate up.
If I pick the paper up in the corner every time it’s going to tear so you want to pick it up in the middle. I’m going to lay another piece of phone book page down and I’m going to do the same on this side because what happens if I don’t do that is I’m going to be picking up that extra ink that’s out there on the edges and I’m going to be dragging that back across my plate and I’m going to have a big mess.
Now this stuff that I’m using here is called a Akua wiping fabric and it’s like tarlatan except it’s very fine and very soft. These plates only take a very short time to wipe. If this was a metal plate or a copper plate it would probably take half an hour to wipe but with this wiping fabric and with this ink you can see it’s wiping very fast; just a few minutes is all it needs. The plate is sticking to the magnet so I’m not having to chase it all around which is very nice.
At this point I want to clean my edges since I’m going to be printing all of these plates on the very same piece of paper. I want to make sure that my edges are clean. I have a piece of fabric here that I’m going to be using to do the edges with because if you use a paper towel it’s easy to cut yourself; these plates are just viciously sharp. I’m going to just squeeze it, get the edges clean and then I’m going to lay it back down on the paper. Then I’m going to take the phone book page and using the flat in my hand I’m going to clean the surface of this plate.
All the little pits in the plate are full of ink now but I really want the surface to be clean. You can see how much ink came off, quite a bit. I want to push really hard and I want to get the surface really clean. You want to use the flat of your hand. You don’t want to push with your fingers because if you do that what’s going to happen is you’re going to make a spot on your plate. We don’t want that. That one is wiped and we’re going to go to the second one and clean the edges. That looks pretty good. We’ll do the next two. When you take the ink out of the jar you need to mix it up quite a bit.
I want to pick up all the ink that I’m not going to need on here. It is important to have a clean surface to work on. You want to pick up your plate and get a clean piece of phone book page. You can see that I’ve got a really blue spot right here (on the tarlatan). I think I’ll move it around so that I’ve got a clean area to wipe with. I’ll make it into a little ball and I wipe from the center to the edge in little circles.
Now I want to clean my edges. The reason for doing the edges it’s because it’s not that the printmaking police are going to come and get you but what happens is ink will stick on that edge and it won’t be even so you’ll have some places on your print where you’ll have a real dark spot and then other places where it’ll be real light so it just doesn’t look like you planned it. And you know we want our work to look like we planned it, not like it was an accident. So there we go.
The thing about being a printmaker is you want to be able to do 10 or something that are exactly the same. That’s one of the most amazing things about printmaking is that we can work in multiples so if we sell a print, great, we have more.
We squeegee it on, push down hard to get it in all the little grooves and make sure it’s in there good. The wonderful thing about phone book pages is that the ink that’s on the plate is attracted to the ink on the phone book page. I want to do my edges. It’s really important to use a piece of cloth for this; having an old piece of a T-shirt here. If you end up using a paper towel you can look down and see a lot of red spots on your plate and you will just realize you’ve given blood for your art so you don’t want to do that.
There are a lot of variables in any kind of printmaking and this printmaking specifically because it is a solar plate. It does sometimes expose a little differently. Sometimes they just wipe thoroughly clean and other times they don’t. Will it be easy to wipe or hard to wipe and that’s just experience; you can’t get it without doing it. So you just have to do it.
Alright, one to go and then we’ll have all eight of them ready. I want to talk a little bit about this I have been using. I first got introduced to the ink when I went to a printmaking conference in Miami in 1991. At that conference, Susan Rostow – she and her husband pioneered this ink – and at that conference, they were showing it for the first time.
The ink comes in two forms. It comes in a liquid form that is a monotype ink. The liquid monotype ink has ten times the amount of pigment of the intaglio ink. So in theory you could take the intaglio ink base and you can get a transparent base with this. You could take that base and put some on the monotype ink in it and you could make your own color in theory. I think it’s easier just to buy it already the color you want because then it’s pretty consistent from one to the next.
There’s still ink in all the little crevices but the actual surface is going to be shiny; well, as shiny as I can get it. You can see I’m not taking it off too much but I am certainly taking off ink. So every place I had a black mark on my drawing, the area underneath is pitted and it didn’t harden. The white area is hard and the black areas didn’t.
So now I’m going to clean this press bed then we’ll lay these up to print. And if I were going to print more of these I would write on the back of each one of these plates 12345678 and I would number them so I would know exactly what order they were in and I would make a mylar template that I would lay on the press bed so that I could just very quickly put all the plates in the right spot so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to where they needed to go.
I just lifted my paper out of the water and I laid it on this towel here. I just use old bath towels and the older they are the better. You don’t want new ones because they have fuzz on them and we certainly don’t fuzz want fuzz on our paper. I’m going to blot this paper really well and as you remember I put it in face down so I know that it’s face down when I take it out of the water. But now I’m going to turn it over and look at the front of it because I want to make sure that there’s nothing on the front of it that I don’t want to see. I want the paper to look uniformly dull. I do not want to see any marks on this paper that shouldn’t be there.
Now I know my paper is 22 inches and I know my plates are 10 inches. You can see the top of my press is gridded. Going this way it’s 11” because eleven is half of 22”. So I’m going to set my paper at 8” and 11”. Sounds easy but it takes a little practice. After you’ve done it for 30 years it gets easier. I have these nice wool blankets that I don’t want to get water on. The blankets not so much that I don’t want to get water on them but the paper itself will have the sizing in it and if you get sizing on your blankets eventually you must clean them. Cleaning them is awful if you wash them and expensive if you send them to the dry cleaner. Plus they eventually get stiff so we don’t want that. So what I’m going to do is put a piece of paper between the wet paper and my blanket to keep my paper clean and my blanket clean. This is newsprint. Sometimes you can get it at a packaging company. Certainly, cheaper than buying it from a store. That’s very expensive newsprint. Of course, we’re using it and throwing it away, so you know it’s one step up from a phone book.
Now my paper is down, and my plates are down. They were all lined up on the press bed and I’m going to hit the button and we’re going to print this. Because this is an electric press, I just have to push the button and it goes through. So I’m going to send it all the way through and then I’m going to send it back so that we can pull the blankets off on this side. You want to make sure you do it far enough that you’re off your paper. It’s a very beginner mistake to pull the blankets back and realize that you still have an inch of your plate that you didn’t print. Everybody does it; even people that have been printing for a long time. And when they do it they can’t believe they did it because, you know, it is such a beginner’s mistake.
Now you can see how wet my newsprint is. So all the moisture and sizing that’s in that newsprint would have been in my blankets. I can see I’ve got a pretty good embossing all the way around here, so I think this is going to be a pretty good print. This is going to be the moment of truth.
When you take the paper off of your plates you want to take it by the corner and you want to lift it kitty-corner across your plate. You want to keep one hand here just in case for any reason you might have to lay it back down. If you didn’t have enough pressure you want to make sure to be able to do that.
I think these are looking pretty good. The color is beautiful; this deep blue is just a really pretty color. This is Prussian blue hue and that’s all that’s on the plate; just this one color. Because they’re all printed in the same color it’s very cohesive even though the imagery is very different. But say for some reason I needed to print 25 of these – say this is part of an edition and I needed to send them out to 24 other people – then I would make myself a template out of mylar. I would measure it exactly and I would lay it down on the press bed with the lines behind the mylar.
I would number the plate so I knew where they were, and I would line them up on the mylar exactly so that each print was the same. I would know where my paper was. I might even make a little mark down here or I might write it on my mylar or I might actually put a piece of tape here and write it on the press so I knew that my paper was going to be at the right place depending on where I was going to drop it. This way I would know that it was going to be exactly at the same place each time.
I would put a line down the center of my paper and I would put a line crosswise and little tick marks on the corners. Get the top lined up with the lines on my mylar so that if some reason I had to put it back in the same spot I could do that. Because when you’re printing you don’t want to have to be stopping and thinking about that each time you pull the print. Printmaking is tedious but print makers are very process oriented and if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be doing it.
Well thanks for visiting me at the Golden Road Art studios today. I hope you enjoyed our little solar plate lesson. Solar plate is miraculous with the things you can do with it. I etched these plates in just a few seconds as you saw and washed them out and hardened them. And then we printed them. In your studio you could go from taking your image, exposing your plate, washing it out, hardening it, and printing your image in probably 45 minutes or so. Solar plate is miraculous. There you go – 35 years of printmaking experience in one print right there.
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