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Solarplate Printmaking Tools and Techniques Part 1

Solarplate Printmaking Tools and Techniques Part 1

Thanks for joining us once again for another free art lesson from Golden Road Arts. Last time we were here we finished up our three-part series on Printmaking in the Classroom Using Homemade Plates Part 3.

Today we’re starting a new series on solar printmaking. Watch as Barbara demonstrates this fun and innovative style of printmaking.

Creating Compositions for Solarplate Printmaking Video

Learn how to design compositions using strong black lines and shapes that create a balance between light and dark colors.

Materials Required for Solarplate Printmaking

  • Acetate or mylar sheets
  • Latex gloves
  • China marker
  • India ink
  • Oil pastels
  • Oil bars
  • Etching ink
  • Palette knife
  • Marking pens
  • Baby powder
  • Paper towels
  • Solarplates
  • Random dot aquatint screen
  • Washout tub
  • Paintbrush
  • Catalog pages
  • Polyester cloth
  • Salad oil
  • Towels
  • Printing press

Watch Easy Solarplate Printmaking Techniques for Kids

Read the video transcript and follow along as Barbara demonstrates how to design patterns and shapes that are ready for the solarplate printmaking process.

Hi I’m Barbara Mason and I’m a printmaker. I’ve been a printmaker for pretty close to 40 years. You know printmaking is like magic; there’s so many things that you can do, and solar plate is an amazing plate. It’s water-soluble, it exposes in the sun, so everything about it is safe. It doesn’t need acid so it’s a heady thing for a printmaker not to have evil chemicals in their studio.

My work is a lot about composition, it’s a lot about the balance between line and shapes and light and dark. So I do a lot of sketches in my sketchbook and my sketchbook looks like this – just a lot of squiggles in little boxes. But these little squiggles give me a direction on where to start and they really are just compositions.

So, I’m going to pick one I’m just going to start. I’m drawing on a piece of plastic; this is a piece of acetate. And I’m going to start with a tool called a china marker. It draws on almost anything; this is a great tool for this process. So what makes this process work is the opacity of your image, so that’s why I like to use this china marker because it’s really dark and it’s gonna give me a real black line. So I’m gonna just start here, make some lines. So some of them can be really dark and some of them can be not so dark.

So I had this dream last night; I could see myself making a lot of little plates and printing them all together on a piece of paper. So I think that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna make a whole series of small plates and print them on all on one piece of paper, maybe all different colors, I’m not sure yet exactly how I’m gonna do it. You can see I’m just kind of making a structure here – a little balance between the line and the edge of the plate and where it’s going to go and what it’s gonna translate into. Now I’m going to want to have a little more stuff that’s a little darker so for that I’m going to use oil-based printing ink and so I’m going to get my glove out because I don’t want oil-based ink on me.

So right here I have some bone black etching ink. It’s really stiff. When I do these images, usually what happens is the first ones don’t turn out very well. I have to do four or five of them and then finally number 6, maybe I like it. And I think that’s pretty common that artists do five or six to get one; that’s just the way it is when you when you’re an artist. You think you like it and then you say oh maybe I don’t like that and so you do it again.

So now I have some really thick lines and I’ve got the thin lines that I drew. So now I’m gonna take a paper towel and I’m gonna kind of smoosh it around. Everybody works differently with printmaking, but I pick some up and I lay some down and I lift things off. When I work with line I kind of see line as the strength of our spirit. You know we are so resilient as human beings. Well I just want to balance these shapes.

So you can see there’s a line around this but it’s really underneath because if I didn’t have that line there I would never be able to keep it square. You just kind of move it around a little bit more. Now this is wet, and so in order to keep it from being all over me, I’m going to dry it a little bit. And the way I’m going to do that is just put a little baby powder on it. I figure in order to do this grid that I want to do, I’m gonna need maybe six or maybe nine of these plates. OK, so now what I’m gonna do is just move my line over here, so now I’m just gonna pick another drawing here.

Art is an interesting thing. Artists spend their whole lives trying to define their life, their space, with images. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but they keep making work. I normally work a lot bigger than this so working small has its own challenges. I kind of like them. So I said sometimes I have to do quite a few to get some I like. I don’t have to cut the mylar because I can move it around on the plate.

So you can use water-based ink for this. I have used Akua ink. If you mix it with a magnesium mix you can get it stiff enough that you can do this with it. The problem with it is being water-based it doesn’t want to stick to the plastic, so you have to have enough magnesium mix in it to make it do that.

So I want this to be good and black. I can get gray and the gray is okay but it won’t be as strong as a black. I can also get a white line, I can draw through this. So what happens when I make all these little drawings and they’re all made like this with the black on a piece of plastic and then I think, gosh do I really like them. You know it’s really easy to make a whole bunch of drawings and not really like them. So what I do is I actually tape them up on the wall and I just live with them for a day or two. And then once I decide that, you know, I don’t hate them, then I make them into plates. The plates are expensive so you don’t want to just be making plates for the fun of it. You want to be making plates that you like.

So I’ve been working with solar plates since about 19; oh gosh, 2001 I think is when I first started doing solar plates. I didn’t have any mistakes or any problems with solar plates for probably a year. No problems at all; everything I did turned out was just amazing. And then I started to teach it, and so as soon as I started to teach other people how to do it, I started having all kinds of problems.

People were using different original material than what I was using and they were working differently and so we had to work through all of those problems with solar plate. And I think I pretty much went through most of the problems that you could possibly have in doing this, but I definitely know that using a really, really strong black marker and really strong black ink is gonna give you the very best result.

I had a friend when I first started learning to do printmaking. I went to a class at Portland State and there was a man in the class named John Waddingham and for many many years he was the head artist for The Oregonian, which used to be our big paper here in Portland. He said you know, about once a year I do something better than I know how to do.

So all artists – it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for a year or if you’ve been doing it for 50 years – everybody still has days when they just can’t make anything that they like, and then they have other days when everything just seems to work perfectly, and you just don’t know why. But they say that word that artwork is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration and it’s really true. If you go to your studio every day and you make work, eventually you’re going to make things you like. It’s just going to happen.

You see how the baby powder on this looks real cloudy and you think “I don’t know, is that gonna show on the plate” and it doesn’t seem to. On this one, I’m gonna do a circle. I don’t do circles very much in my work and I don’t really know why. Mostly I do lines but I’m gonna do a circle in this one. I just think that circles are such a symbol of eternity and of continuity and moving forward and going on and not giving up. I don’t know if you notice how I’m holding this marker. You know artists don’t normally hold a tool that they work with, they don’t normally hold it like a pencil, they normally hold it like I’m holding it because you have a little more control of what you’re doing if you hold it like this.

Again, I work with my lines here. I’m very fond of the lines. I just feel like lines are really really important. Most of the artwork begins with lines. Just about every kind of work line matters. There’s a balance between light and dark, and the line and the solid spaces. And when artists are working I don’t know if they’re thinking about that really, but they’ve done a lot of this, you know. They’ve worked a lot with different shapes and different marks and I think they just do it intuitively. But art is a learned skill. Anybody that wants to learn to do it, can. Nobody was born knowing how to write and it’s the same with art; you must learn how to do it. And after you’ve done it for a few years you get pretty darn good at it.

Alright, I wonder what this was. You know sometimes I remember what I was drawing – the image that I was drawing – I remember, sometimes I think what the heck was that. Doesn’t really matter what it was because the whole idea is just to balance between the line, light and dark, and the solid pieces. So I’m looking for balance, I’m looking for the harmony in this piece. Ok, so I’ve got one more little square.

Here’s another one with circles, maybe I’ll do that too. It’s kind of good to get out of your comfort zone. I’m not very comfortable with circles for some reason. Powder on that one, dry it up. So I’m going to turn this over because I wanted to get more dark marks through here. I lost those when I wiped them away. I was just so energetic in the wiping that I lost my marks. So these are my four plates. So each one will be an individual plate.

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