Old Ideas Breathing New Life into Creativity

Cleaning up the intaglio editions website I came across an old file – not sure why it was on the website, but it reminded me of some techniques in intaglio I have yet to experiment with on the press. Granted these kinds of techniques could and probably should be simulated on the computer before going into the studio to save time, however there are occasions where what happens in the studio is a complete surprise and a gift that would never have occurred had one not ventured forward IRL (in real life) with curiosity and confidence.

So re-visit those old notebooks from time to time, as you might old friends.

Here’s what the old page of notes said:

My next plan is to try and do multiple plates – one for each of the tonal ranges
(shadow, midtones, highlights) and use complimentary colors for each of them.

– 02/22/04 – Create 3 plates:

  1. Get good black and white print first. Overall image must have rich blacks and nice, balanced tone.
  2. Last plate: Blacks only. Extract blacks from image and put it into it’s own plate. This will prevent ‘fuzzy’ look and will keep lines sharp.
  3. Middle and First plates – Midtone and Lighttone plates for use via a la poupee! Create two plates, on that contains the mid to preblack tones and another that ranges from highlights to midtones. — Try overlapping the mid areas on these two plates to prevent posterization, rather, color blending will occur in these areas…
  4. Inks of different viscosities will repel one another.
    1. Use a combination of translucent and concentrated inks, dob onto plate, then wipe by putting plate face down on stack of newsprint and firmly drag the plate in a particular direction. Do consistently for multiple wipings. Wipe in opposite direction in the same manner. Try rotating side to side too.
    2. Use magnesium carbonate to inks to make it stiffer and more viscous
    3. Use plate oil to make a ‘lean’, low-viscosity ink
  5. First plate – Lightest color

Only problem will be devising a process for coming up with somewhat accurate registration.

Instead of Q-tips or brushes or felt for a la poupee, use stiff brushes to deliver ink to plate.

Deriving Curve and Exposure Times from Scratch (Part II)

I’ve been talking with copper gravurist Barbara Sanders over Email some more about the challenges with first establishing exposure and washout times when processing a polymer plate.  Also when is the right time to begin tweaking the curve applied to the transparencies.  I’m hoping that documenting her journey helps provide insight to others.

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Barbara said:

Spent most of the day making test plates and trying to get the work flow correct. Not a bad day and feel I am close to proper exposure times. I am starting to collude that my transparency needs adjustment (the dreaded curves question!).

small-step-wedgeI included the following step wedge with my test image to evaluate where things weren’t getting enough information.

0, 10, and 20% are pure white; there is no difference in black 90, 100; my 70 reads like the 80.

I am thinking if I lose density in the blacks and lower the output of the whites that they might darken (grey). Correct?…Hard to figure which variables to tweak first.

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Hi Barbara,

Thanks for the info.  You’ve basically got 20 steps which is an ambitious undertaking flying solo, but more information is better than less.  You should be able to get 20 unique tones with this process using Mark Nelson’s screen and the KM73 plates.  The last 10% of perfection is always the hardest won.

My sense is if you’re losing the top 20% of your highlights 10% of the shadows (with 70 and 80 looking the same), you need to pull down your exposure times a little and get paper white at 0% and some tone in the 5% area to start with, before tackling the curve (which is how you can address at least some of the midtone/shadow detail issues later).  Whether you pull back time on the aquatint screen or the film positive, or both is the question.  If you lack enough exposure, the black areas of the plate will go mushy, so that will be your cue if you’ve gone too far and don’t have enough exposure time.  Varying even 5 seconds of washout will also make a difference from my experience, so if you’re getting too mushy, you might back off washout time as it is the third physical variable you want to get a grip on (in addition to your two exposure times) before tweaking curves.  If the plate gets too sticky and sticks to the newsprint when blotting, you may need to increase washout time (or exposures).  How the plate feels is the first step to getting this first part right.

You really want to get as close as you can to even distribution of tones using exposure and washout times before fine tuning with the process compensation curve.  It’s a dance between increasing and decreasing these three times until you’re safe to mess with the curve.  Changing too much at once out of frustration is tempting, but don’t do it.  That way lies madness.  😉

You may also find once you start tweaking the curve, you have to tweak exposure and washout times yet again.  Don’t be discouraged, as this is the way you need to juggle the variables until things start coming together.  It’s time consuming, but the only way I know how to go about it with any accuracy given the multitude of variables.

For my current workflow using my custom screen I use the following exposure times:

Screen Exposure Time:  10.5 units
Image Exposure Time:  14.5 units

I’m giving this as an example: This ratio of screen to image time is not critical as there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme nor reason to it with any printmakers I’ve spoken with to date.  It just depends on your other variables (film density, exposure unit, screen quality).  I’ve seen people have screen and image times equal or vary as much as 100%.

Another tip:  Make sure you always warm up your exposure unit by blasting it for 60 seconds before exposing plates for the day.  It will normalize the exposure to some degree I’ve been told.

Best of luck.  Send me a scan of your printed exposure test if you’re able.

Jon

Deriving Curve and Exposure Times from Scratch

Met with seasoned copper gravure printmaker Barbara Sanders this week and had a lively exchange of information with her and her ceramicist husband Bill regarding the craft and business side of art.  Barbara is migrating from copper to polymer with great success as she works toward “close enough to perfect” to feel good about the process.  This is the quandary with most printmakers as our thirst for perfection is hard to quench.

The main geek topic of our conversation was how to best start to derive a compensation curve and exposure times.  Barbara had taken a sample of my company’s custom aquatint screen back home with her after our meeting and came back with some absolute numbers.  Here is the email exchange and some of my thoughts about starting to derive a curve, screen exposure time and image exposure time:

—–Original Message—–
From: Bill and Barbara Sanders
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 9:48 AM
To: Jon Lybrook
Subject: thanks

Such a fun afternoon!
Thank you for taking the time to see me and my work. I sure love your prints!
I measured the density of your screen  :  about 53/54 whatever units the densitometer is in
my new screen   : about 168/170
my old screen     : about 80/83
hence the different exposure times aside from our different exposure units wattage. Complicated but still fun!
Off to Mac class!
Many thanks again.
Barb

———————————-

Thanks Barbara,

Thanks for the screen measurement.  Like I said I don’t know a lot about measuring density. I guess because I pretty much worked out my process backwards from the resulting print back to the curve and exposure times.  The absolute density of a screen and film positive meant nothing to me in the beginning since I had no point of reference, unlike photogravurist John Goodman and those who have had a historical knowledge of their materials and the process.  I could only hope my screens were consistent, and so far they have seemed to be.  But I am curious about it and appreciate your encouragement in that direction.  It would help to verify consistency among my limited stock of custom screens.

Since these screens are made up of dots, as black as we can get the imagesetter to produce them, I’m assuming it’s taking an average of the dots-to-clear-film ratio and coming up with a number.  In other words, it’s not measuring a continuous-tone density as traditional film provides, but rather a combination of these factors.

I’m presuming your screens read darker because the dots are bigger, allowing less light to come through.  Not because the dots on your screens are more opaque than mine, though if your exposure time of the screen/image is too high, the density of the dots on the screen would certainly be a factor as well.

To get a good curve and exposure time relationship, I test first by getting the screen to produce the richest black in my exposure and still provide tone up the scale.  This is where

Gradient circle test Grid by Jon Lybrook

Gradient circle test Grid by Intaglio Editions

those gradient circle tests in my procedure occurred – to get a ball-park sense of where I am.  I would then tweak the curve in conjunction with exposure times until I was able to maintain a rich black and get some added continuous tone in the highlights.  Trying to keep the black where it was, I’d tweak the process compensation curve and exposure times as needed to bring out more and more of the greys in both shadows and highlights.  Kind of like chasing your own tail in a way at first, but these factors start to even out if the testing is paced and consistent.

Subtle, but possibly relevant point pertaining to the quality of the outcome and the reason why I went with an extremely fine screen:  Bigger the dots, the more contrast, the more contrast, the less possible grey tones.  I like lots of grey-tone potential because you can always add contrast in the film transparency and make it more graphic if you want to, but you can’t add broad continuous tone until you’ve been able to achieve it already through a balanced combination of the process compensation curve along with proper exposure times of the screen and film positive.

Best of luck with your curve training.  Let me know if  there are any questions I can answer in your journey!

Best regards,

Jon

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Monoprints vs Monotypes

Monoprints are prints made using an etched plate, but inked in different ways.  Not to be confused with monotypes, which do not generally use a plate or matrix, monoprints can be made in variable editions – meaning made the same but with some differences among each print in the edition – or one-of-a-kind, like monotypes.  Monotypes differ from Monoprints in that there is no matrix, and is more freeform where ink is applied directly to a piece of unetched plexiglass or other material and printed.  Some monotype techniques include using mylar or other material to mask off and even pick up ink from certain areas of the plate for subsequent monotype printings.  Monotypes are truly one-of-a-kind pieces since there is no “permanent” plate matrix, and none of the forms and color blending can really be repeated the same way again.  They are, in effect, paintings done on a press.

Snapdragon 2 - monotype by Jon Lybrook

Snapdragon II – monotype by Jon Lybrook courtesy of the Will Witman collection.

Recently I met printmaker Julia Lucey from California who works exclusively with monoprints using traditionally etched copper plates.  Her etchings alone are wonderfully rich and detailed, but she doesn’t stop there.  She layers her prints with multiple plate impressions creating a cubist-like ensemble of pieces that make up the whole.

Julia Lucey Monoprint

Julia Lucey Monoprint

Julia gives a succinct explanation of traditional copperplate etching on her website.

Anti-Devil

Anti-Devil Monoprint by Jon Lybrook

Photogravure Polymer plates can likewise be used for monoprints in this same manner.  This piece was done all on one plate, which I first wiped clean with blank ink, then effectively painted over using colored inks.  Unlike traditional etching, photoshop can be used to superimpose or manipulate the artwork before the plate is made. This is also considered one of the disadvantages of polymer in that it is difficult to do much to rework the plate with much precision once it has been created because it is made of plastic. Still, there are things one can do with polymer for creative effects, such as scratching it with sandpaper, mottling it with water, or “drawing” into it with a soldering iron.

When it comes to monoprints vs monotypes, the bottom line is they are both beautiful printmaking techniques.  It’s just a matter of whether or not the printmaker wishes to use or reuse an etched, drypoint, or polymer photogravure plate.

Photopolymer Gravure Process Q&A

I get several emails a year asking questions and for clarifications about photogravure done with polymer plates and my company’s intaglio workflow procedure for doing it.  Good questions are usually asked more than once, so I like to publish them when they are to help prevent the need for answering the same question multiple times.  I also use the information to refine my procedure.

Return-Path: <sandtrad@cmn.net>
From: Bill and Barbara Sanders <sandtrad@cmn.net>
Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=Apple-Mail-23–66191753
Subject: polymer gravure artists
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2012 15:31:00 -0600

Dear Jon,

Found your website and information from Boxcar Press and would like to discuss a few art things with you. I talked with my friend Patricia Brandstead this morning and she said you are a good resource for someone learning polymer photogravure.

A little bit of background: I have been a printmaker for 30+ years starting in Honolulu and have been making copperplate photogravures for 25+ years both in Hawaii and Colorado. This spring, returning to Hawaii and meeting up with printmakers there, I was kindly shown how to make polymer photogravures as an alternative to copper. I returned with 5 lovely etched plates! My studio is in Steamboat Springs (where Oehme Graphics is) and I have a small Brand press and a NuArc NL22-8C exposure unit. I am able (usually) to make transparencies in my Epson printer with PictoricoOHP film and I have a great screen from Mark Nelson. More “equipment” is ordered.

I have a feel for the basic “flow” of the process but have a few sticky challenges:

1. my exposure unit is a glass-topped vacuum frame which I think needs to be modified, with Kreen film?, to work with the polymer KM73 plates. Don’t have a clue how to do that

2. cutting the plates seems to be a challenge so I’m going up to Oehme Graphics to attempt to use their plate cutter

3. I have no idea of exposure units except for the times I use for copper and figuring out the curves etc are way beyond me. I have the transparencies made (by a friend) to compare to the ones I use for copper

Do you give workshops?
Does anyone?

I’ve downloaded your instructions from your site — they’re great. Would appreciate feedback as I’m feeling the polymer plates are even better than the copper!

Sincerely,
Barbara Sanders

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Hi Barbara,

Thanks for your message.  Ironically I “pocket called” Patricia this morning by accident!  Polymer has some challenges, but what doesn’t?  It is a rewarding medium, but it did take some time to get happy with it, or it with me.  🙂

I removed the glass from my vacuum frame years ago to prevent newton rings which Harold Kyle at Boxcar advised me on, and I never looked back.   If you don’t have issues with newton rings, no need to even do it.  My online procedure outlines what has worked for me and my process. Yours may be different. Since that time Pictorico has released a textured OHP media which may prevent newton rings.  It also supposedly eliminates the need for baby powder which I used to prevent contact problems between the plate and the OHP, which tends to be a little tacky.  I’ve never used it, but you might try it before going through the pain of dismantling your vacuum frame and removing the glass.

I’m using a custom aquatint screen that is considerably finer than those commercially available, among which, Mark Nelson’s are probably the best for polymer photogravure using the Toyobo KM73 plates.  He also gives workshops a few times a year that are quite popular and well received.  He has a special process for creating digital negatives and curves using colored inks on Epson printers that is rather involved but yields good results.  I was never able to get it to work for me, but it could be because my aquatint screen is finer, which is a double-edged sword.  Greater tonal range, but more pressure and contact is required in both the printing and creation of the plates.

I use a large, Kutrimmer, floor model paper cutter to cut and trim out plates.  You want something sturdy, sharp, and tightly assembled.  Wobbly ones ruin plates and patience!

Exposure times will be custom to your exposure unit and media used.  My exposure times will likely be different from yours.  Same with curves.  Your inkjet printer will differ from mine such that, even if we have the exact same models, the output will differ.  Determining the right curve to use is an iterative process — lots of trial and error as with most things printmaking and you’ll want some basic training in Photoshop to become familiar with using curves as an Adjustment Layer.  Lynda.com has some great Photoshop tutorials.

If you’re consistent in your test process, you will get where you want to be with it eventually.  I don’t give workshops, but I do make plates for printmakers, and give private consultations through my company Intaglio Editions: http://intaglioeditions.com  I’m also happy to share whatever information might be helpful to you in your pursuit of the process.  If you’d like to do a private consultation on the process either over the phone or in person, at your studio or mine.  It seems pricey I know, until you compare it to the thousands of dollars in time, plates and paper I’ve blown over the years!  Call me if you want to discuss it or have any other questions.

Also, would it be OK with you if I were to reprint your questions and my answer on my website?  I’ve found it helps people get answers they need more easily sometimes.

Kind regards,
Jon Lybrook