From Powder to Print – Art on Paper by Joanna Webster

Joanna Webster – Botanical Photogravure Proof

“From Powder to Print” –  | PDF: Joanne Webster – ASBA March article

Combining the “carbon dust on paper” technique with traditional intaglio printing processes

THE TECHNIQUE OF USING CARBON DUST ON PAPER to create realistic and detailed renditions was developed by renowned medical illustrator Max Brödel in the early 1900s. I was first introduced to this technique by artist Randy Raak at the Denver Botanic Gardens’ School of Botanical Art and Illustration, and I quickly came to love it for its ability to create very subtle changes in a wide range of tonal values, from deep black shadows to vivid highlights, as well as intricate, highly refined details.

Put simply, this technique involves the application of finely-ground carbon dust to paper using dry brushes. Semi-smooth paper with a slightly toothed surface catches the dust better than a smooth plate surface, but still allows for fine detail that won’t be achieved with a more textured paper typically used for charcoal and pastels.

Carbon dust is not the same type of carbon as graphite or charcoal. Graphite particles are slippery, plate-like particles that are highly reflective. Carbon dust is made from the soot of burnt oil, also known as “lampblack.” The particles are non-reflective, and are much smaller and more uniform in shape and size than charcoal, which is made from burnt wood.

I create my own carbon dust by gently grinding down a carbon pencil with a metal or glass file, or an ultra-fine plastic-backed sandpaper (typically used in jewelry making). There is no difference in tone between carbon pen- cils of different hardness, so using a soft (6B) pencil will make this process faster and easier. I use inexpensive synthetic watercolor brushes in a range of styles and sizes to apply the dust to paper. You can play around with other types of applicators but you need to be really careful not to tear or burnish the paper fibers. Carbon dust does not erase easily like graphite does, so a very light touch is needed when first applying with a brush. I keep a soft, lint-free cloth at hand to remove excess dust from the brush before applying to paper, especially when I am working on very thin layers for lighter tones.

I use a variety of additional tools to work, lift, and erase the carbon dust, such as kneaded erasers, plastic erasers, and chamois cloth. To achieve clear, bright highlights, I use a thin, mechanical eraser pencil with the tip cut into a sharp wedge or point.

To achieve deep, rich, saturated blacks, I apply multiple layers of carbon with a spritz of isopropyl alcohol as a fixative between layers. Using this over the entire work as a final fixative prevents smudging. To achieve very fine lines and details, I use a hard (B or 2B) carbon pencil sharpened to a very fine point.

To protect the paper while I work, I use a layer of tracing paper, leaving only the area I am working on exposed. If carbon dust drops where it’s not wanted, it’s best to lift the paper upright and tap the carbon dust off, then pick up any remaining particles gently with a kneaded eraser.

With the series of botanical carbon dust “dry paintings” featured here, I engaged the help of photographic printmaking expert, Jon Lybrook (intaglioeditions.com), to transfer the carbon dust images to photopolymer direct gravure plates. I then worked with fine artist and master printmaker Sue Oehme (oehmegraphics.com) to ink and print the plates on paper by hand, using a traditional printing press. The photopolymer plates allowed for very accurate transfer of the fine detail and tone created with the carbon dust technique.

The delicate and subtle nature of the carbon dust, with its wide range of tonal values combined with the soft and velvety background created by the inked plate embossing into the paper, lend the finished artworks a rich and luminous quality that, to me, is reminiscent of old gelatin silver photographs.

You can view and purchase Joanna’s prints here.

Excerpted from the full article in the March 2022 issue of the Journal of the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Long interview with Tony Levin on photographing King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and More!


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Tony Levin King Crimson Photography Interview
Conducted by Anthony Garone of Make Weird Music – September 2021

Interviewer [00:00]: We are here with Tony Levin in his workshop/studio. And Tony is the basis from King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and about a thousand other bands he’s played with everyone, just everyone. If you have 10 CDs, you have a CD with Tony Levin on it. So, we are here to talk about Tony’s new collection of photographic prints. It’s a King Crimson box set. What is this set of prints?

Tony Levin [00:32]: Well I’ve been playing bass a long, long time, pretty much since the earth cooled. And most of that time I’ve been taking photographs and I wouldn’t call myself a professional photographer, but that’s because I’m busy playing my music, but I got pretty seriously into it as early as the eighties. And I tried to focus on taking pictures of the bands that I was touring with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and others, and in this studio also. And sometime in this last couple of years, I put out a few books of those photos, by the way. And sometime in the last few years, I felt the need to take the best, what I felt feel are the best of those and present them to the public in a really high-quality way and get the best prints possible made from them. It’s been an interesting adventure choosing them and then collating them and having Jon Lybrook do the excellent, super-quality print of them.

Interviewer [01:27]: Can you talk a little about your sort of interest in photography? Like, was it a hardware thing first or was it, did you see an artist that inspired you as a photographer that made you want to do it?

Tony Levin [01:40]: Interesting question. Always interested in photography as a lot of people are. And I kind of muddled around with it a lot of different cameras. I was very lucky that I went to Japan at an early age and this would be in the seventies and was able to get a high-quality Nikon back then when it was a very expensive item here in the states at a reasonable price in Japan, it was a very different economics situation in those days. And shooting film for those of us old enough to remember is a very different experience than shooting digitally on the road. And it was pretty problematic and tricky to shoot regular pictures on the road with bands and get them developed and see how they look, and then make the adjustments at other shows in other cities, in other countries. So, I got used to that, and experimented with it and tried different things. And occasionally I got lucky and got the pictures I wanted.

Interviewer [02:40]: Are you a full-frame shooter, you know, medium format? Like, what do you get in that level of Specifics?

Tony Levin [02:46]: I had a Mamiya RB 67 medium format, and I loved that camera. And I even lugged it around to take pictures. And I’m not talking about with the tripod I mean talking about while I’m playing the bass, picking up this big thing, and trying to shoot. Mostly, I did that with Peter Gabriel. I got some very good pictures which are in some of the books, but in the weeding down process for the pictures I’ve used for the collection those pictures didn’t make it for various reasons when you have, tens of thousands of pictures, and you’re going to get the best eight of them a lot has to go by the wayside.

Interviewer [03:23]: Can you talk about perhaps film versus digital, you know, as a photographer, do you feel like you know, some people say, oh, I only record music on tape, you know, and then there’s the pro tools crowd. They’re like, it doesn’t make a difference. Are you in that sort of a camp? Do you prefer one or the other?

Tony Levin [03:41]: I loved film and I love digital now. I made one of the biggest mistakes in my photographic career, the biggest mistake, switching to digital too early. So, there’s about five, six years of stuff that I’ve got, good photos but they’re not usable. They’re just too low quality because I switched to digital when it was very small. Yeah. So, I don’t have a preference, it was a wonderful process. I loved the smell of the darkroom and I loved that process. And even that smell brings me back to those years that I spent a lot of nights in my darkroom in New York City, my studio apartment, it wasn’t completely dark except at night. So, I would regularly nightly, I would spend the night developing pictures, and then sooner or later one would come out not looking right. And I would look out and realize the sun had come up and it was going through the studio apartment and just barely seeping into the kitchen, which I had curtained off with dark curtains. But it wasn’t enough. So, that was a great process, but so is Photoshop. And so is the digital world.

Interviewer [04:54]: And I imagine you’ve digitized your old film prints. But how many of them, like, were you select things, specific shots, or did you get everything digitized?

Tony Levin [05:06]: I did not get everything digitized, I have too many photos and I never cataloged them well, they are in one place actually here in the building we’re in. But for this, I went through a great number of them and I had already separated the ones that are better than others. And I digitized them as high quality as I could and got them ready for the job.

Interviewer [05:30]: What do you look for aesthetically, or perhaps there’s some other way that you look for a shot that you like, and are there photographers that have inspired you and your aesthetic sense?

Tony Levin [05:44]: There are photographers who have inspired me. I’m not going to name them. I’d have to go through my books to see, but I have a lot of books on photography. And I try to, as with any art, as with music you try to up your artistic sensibility by looking at the best stuff. And somehow having it seep into your sense, especially with format with photos. In my case, because most of the pictures I take, almost all of them are on the road with the same band night after night, you’re doing the same show, maybe different songs, but you’re in the same situation, different dressing rooms. Yes. But dressing rooms night after night, month after month, year after year, even the same dressing rooms. Oh, yes. Four different times I’ve taken pictures of that same guy in that same dressing room through the years. So, one looks for different things than the first time. I can’t really put into words, all the things I look for but I think after all these years, it’s safe to say that I have an eye on the light on everybody and what they’re doing and whether they’re laughing or whether they’re very serious. And if I just see a look, that’s right, I want to have my camera nearby so that I can capture it.

Interviewer [06:55]: Does king Crimson photograph the box set, tell us about it. And you know, what is in it?

Tony Levin [07:03]: Well, its eight photos, eight prints, very high quality. I can’t tell you all the details about the technical bit about the printing, but we can find that from John and very high quality, which I insisted for this, it’s really part of the work of a lifetime of photos on the road and tens of thousands of pictures of King Crimson on the road. And these are my favorites and for reasons, and to me, they tell a story and they each represent that I was lucky to be in that place at that time with a vantage point that other people don’t have from one stage or from backstage being in the band.

Interviewer [07:44]: You’ve been playing for 50 years, right?

Tony Levin [07:49]: Yes.

Interviewer [07:49]: And you know, there’s probably not…

Tony Levin [07:52]: And I’ve been playing well for five years.

Interviewer [07:56]: Yeah. There’s probably not another 50 years, you know, left to go. So, are you looking at this as like a way of, you know, producing some legacy type artwork, you know, something to pass on to the fans or, you know, how are you thinking about it?

Tony Levin [08:11]: Interesting question I don’t think like most guys and women, I know that I play with most musicians. I don’t really think about this in relation to the future. So, this is not the summing up of my career to me or however, I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do for the next book either. I just don’t think about that. When I look through the photos, I recently did a photo book of 250 of my pictures of all bands through the years, I was struck that I really have the chance to present to the public, a very high-quality collection of the images that I like the best. And so, I felt as you sometimes do with music, I felt like this needs to be shared. This needs to get out there. And if I don’t do it in, if this was in the lockdown year, I felt if I don’t do it this year, I’ll get busy touring and doing things that I really love to do and take less immersion and it won’t happen. So, I spent that year trying to get all of these boats together.

Interviewer [09:16]: For me when I’m writing music I’ll have a collection of songs that I’ve produced over the years and some stick around more than others. Is that kind of what happened with this collection? Did you have these photos in mind and at some point I’m going to release it or did you make a decision and just start going through the whole catalog and, oh yeah. There’s that one?

Tony Levin [09:36]: The ladder going through the whole catalog. I never was organized enough with my music or my photography to keep a record of, okay, these are the best. These are, these, and these and these I did have, I had them on, I think the negatives organized by tour and by year. So, it wasn’t that huge a job, but no, it involved going through them all and finding which ones resonated with me in that way, some of them, which were very good images to me and meaningful didn’t warrant, being among the prints, just didn’t warrant. Some of them were color and didn’t want to be in black and white. There were a whole lot of parameters and the ones that were there were plenty that was good. I could limit myself to eighty. It could have been 80 and we’d have a stack of photos to talk about. But I limited myself and, I feel good about the ones we chose.

Interviewer [10:29]: Did you go from 20 to 15 to 10, or did you go from 1 to 3 to, you know, 8 you know, when you were selecting these?

Tony Levin [10:37]: I think it was about 12 to 15 and the decisions on what’s practical for a collection, what I want the box set to look like, and this special custom box for the box set and things like that of course, I think many people will want the individual photo that they like the best and that’s fine. And that’s the way it should be. Yeah. So, the weeding down wasn’t that bad after the point where I headed down to 12 or so.

Interviewer [11:04]: Have you ever done an art show or a gallery of your photography?

Tony Levin [11:07]: I’ve had a few exhibitions through the years and I used to keep a box of the two exhibition sets of photos and I lost them. I lost both boxes. I have the feeling I sent them to be an exhibit somewhere and I forgot about it. And I never asked for them back. I think that’s what happened. I had one from the Woodstock festival, the second one, not the original one, just a wonderful set of prints from the audience in the mud and things like that. And that’s gone.

Interviewer [11:42]: Oh man, that’s tough. So, in your exhibitions, obviously, people know you for the bass and the stick, your music work. But how are people responding? Who doesn’t know anything about, you know, what you play?

Tony Levin [12:00]: I don’t know. I have not been to exhibitions of my photos.

Interviewer [12:04]: Okay.

Tony Levin [12:04]: What I hear a lot from is, are bands of the bands and the, of course, I put the photos on my website and on my web diary, right? My road diary and I have for many years. And I hear a lot of feedback that people love the photos, of course. And I’m probably happiest that I can finally offer it to them. Oh, you, maybe you wanted that photo on your wall. It’s nice to finally have that option. But I don’t really have too much experience of people seeing the photos, who don’t know the band or know me and what it is. I do musically.

Interviewer [12:36]: And for me, I don’t know, perhaps you’re like this, you’re an early adopter of technology, you know, you’re using digital cameras. I see you using a 360-degree camera?

Tony Levin [12:46]: Abusing it.

Interviewer [12:47]: Abusing it. And I’m curious, is this kind of like, maybe you get sick of looking at a screen and you just want to see these things on paper?

Tony Levin [13:00]: Oh, yes. I had mentioned before the tactile joy of having something that you can say, this is it, but also my life, my home, and my life are enriched by the very high-quality paintings and photos that I have on the wall. And so I have, I think, like most people, I have a high, I place a high value on the one picture that’s very special to you. And if it has a double meaning, because it, it, it involves a band that you’re a fan of, or a concert that you are at or something like that, then all the better.

EPIC King Crimson Photogravure Box Collection by Tony Levin


by Anthony Garone  

Bass legend Tony Levin performed with King Crimson for more than 40 years and took countless photographs on and off stage. He spent the last few years selecting his eight favorites, and is now releasing them as a high end commemorative set of archived quality handmade prints. They’re being produced by printmaker and publisher Jon Lybrook of Intaglio Editions located near Boulder, Colorado. And for the past several months, I’ve been working with Jon and Tony on getting the word out about this special collection. The eight selected prints are:  King Crimson Asbury Park 1982, Bill Bruford, Bristol 1981, Adrian Belew, Backstage 1981, King Crimson, Faro, Portugal 1982, Robert Fripp, Krakow, 2019, King Crimson at the Royal Albert Hall, 2019 Perkins Palace, marquis 1981, and on the Shinkansen 1981. I interviewed Tony in November 2021, about his history with photography and his work with King Crimson. Check that video out if you haven’t seen it because he gives a great background on this print collection. And on his own photographic approaches, which involve foot pedals, squeeze boxes, his early foray into digital photography and more.

The King Crimson photogravure prints are beautiful. And I’ve actually had various proofs of them here in my studio for several months. Jon Lybrook sent them to me in these big black ribbon tied portfolios. But I recently received the special edition print collection box with all eight prints, white gloves and the works. It is absolutely gorgeous and one of the nicest material objects I’ve ever had in my own home. Now, I’m not much of an art collector, but I can tell that people who really care about owning art and archival photographs are going to love this set. I originally got involved with Jon because, Paul Richards from the California Guitar Trio had a couple of collections of his own photographic prints by Intaglio Editions, and they’re wonderful. Most interesting is his broad chalk collection of prints from his time living with Robert Fripp, in the 16th century reddish house in England. There’s a whole Wikipedia page about that house if you want to read about it, and maybe someday I’ll release the footage of Paul talking through his photos.

 So once I saw Paul’s prints, I wanted to learn more about the guy making them and how his crazy brain works. It turns out that Jon Lybrook is a big music fan, especially of King Crimson, and he makes prints for several artists, including Jerry LoFaro, who painted the modernized Tarkus cover of the Keith Emerson tribute concert DVD. Pretty cool. 

I spent a day in the summer of 2021 with Jon in his studio learning about the entire printmaking process, and it’s pretty astounding. Intaglio printmaking is a very time consuming work of manual labor and is almost entirely analog. He starts out with a digital photo and does all his mixing and mastering and then etches the image onto a steel backed photopolymer plate. It’s a photographic process with an insanely bright light bulb and some complex computations and Old World machinery to get the tones just right. And once the plate is ready, the manual labor begins. Jon takes an inked up roller and smothers the plate to prepare it for the print. He then wipes the plate smooth with cheesecloth, so the ink sticks to the dark parts of the image. He then takes a large sheet of paper which has been soaking in water for an hour. He blocks it so it’s just the right dampness and runs it through his printing press a bunch of times to flatten it perfectly smooth. Then finally he takes the inked up printing plate on the press bed where it’s now ready to be printed. And what I’ve just summarized in a few sentences takes at least 20 to 30 minutes of work to prepare. 

Once the paper is placed carefully on the plate. Wool blankets are put on top of the paper and the plate and then turning what looks like this giant captain’s wheel from a large boat. The entire press bed glides under the big metal cylinder applying thousands of pounds of pressure on the paper and the plate. And this process transfers the image onto the paper. And voila, there is a beautiful archival print at the end made only of low-acid, traditional etching paper and oil-based ink. Now each of Tony Levin’s eight prints will be made 500 times which will take Jon several months to complete. Each comes numbered hand titled and individually signed by Tony along with a signed and numbered certificate of authenticity, which is also signed and stamped by Tony and printmaker Jon as I mentioned, I’ve seen these prints in various states from pre-production to final editions. And these final editions are gorgeous. They’re 500 bucks a piece, or you can buy the whole set of eight with the collector’s box for 3700 bucks. When I started this project with Jon and Tony, I knew next to nothing about the printing process. But now I can say I’ve seen the work from start to finish, including the final product. And it’s seriously impressive. If you’re a fan of King Crimson, and you want some really nice collectibles on your wall. This is the set you need. So check it out at tonylevinprints.com. 

Now let’s take a look inside the box. Maybe that’s what you’re waiting for. So I’m just going to open it up carefully, because this box is like it’s really beautiful. And I just, it’s not mine. I don’t want to do something to it. So it’s pretty heavy. Actually, before I open it, let me tell you picking this thing up, I’m going to guess it’s five to seven pounds. You can see it’s pretty thick. I mean, it’s got to be. Yeah, like I said five to seven pounds. And it opens really beautifully. It’s really a solid construction, I’m going to guess this is wood. And there’s wood lining the whole thing, including this back panel and the top. And then it folds open like this, but I don’t want it to fold all the way back and crease. So you can see the white gloves here that come with the box. I’m just going to close this before I do something stupid. So the gloves are, you know these nice fabric gloves. And then inside this folder here, is a letter from Jon about the prints and the collection. And then here are the certificates of authenticity. So you can see here. I think you can this is the certificate on the lower left is a signature from Tony, on the lower right is Jon’s signature with the stamp. It’s like an embossed stamp. 

I’m not going to take all eight out there pretty heavy stock paper pretty thick, which is great. Then let’s take a look at the prints themselves, which you’ve already seen in this video. But I’ll just show you live. Now this one is my favorite. This is the Royal Albert Hall print. I love this one because it’s. I love the aspect ratio. I know that sounds funny or silly or trivial. But just like with Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, you know, he uses just certain dimensions. And I just love the aspect ratio on this image. I love how the light is cast on the whole crowd and the venue. I don’t know how Tony did this, but the light in the center of the crowd. And the whole band is right up front. It just feels like you’re part of a scene. Like a lot of the other prints are, they’re great. And you do feel like you’re there in a one on one scenario. But I feel like this print in particular, is just immersive. It’s like you are at the venue you’re on the stage, you see everything that’s going on. And anyone who knows King Crimson knows that. If there’s a photograph being taken by the band, it’s at the end of the show. And you can see Robert holding his camera out taking a photo. So this is Tony taking a photo of the whole band. Although Tony’s not in this one. He is in other photos. But yeah.

I love this print. And then inside the box, all of the prints just have wax paper between them. So there’s the print, there’s a sheet of wax paper behind it. And then there’s the next print. I don’t want to screw anything up here. So I’m just going to close the box. Just so precious, I just and they’re not mine, so I want to take good care of them. Anyway, so that’s the box. That’s the collection. It’s gorgeous. I think of it is like 3700 bucks is like a really high end instrument. And this is like a really high end set of pieces of art and you get eight of them. So I think it’s well worth the price. But yeah, check them out at tonylevinprints.com. And if you pick one up, let us know leave a comment and let us know what you think of it. Cool. Hope you enjoy it!

King Crimson Print Collection by Tony Levin Available For Pre-Orders

For Immediate Release (11/17/21)

King Crimson Print Collection by Tony Levin Available For Pre-Orders, Shipping Early 2022

Bass Legend and Photographer Tony Levin’s King Crimson Print Collection Available for Pre-Orders, Shipping Early 2022

• Eight stunning, limited-edition prints spanning Tony Levin’s work with King Crimson since the early 1980s
• Every print is signed, numbered, and certified by Intaglio Editions LLC
• Prints are made by contemporary photogravure printmaker, Jon Lybrook
• Available as individual prints or in a limited-edition, custom-crafted clamshell print collection box
• The first public orders are assigned print numbers 11-50 out of 500 prints total in each edition
Pre-orders are now being accepted at TonyLevinPrints.com

Tony Levin is not a bassist. He just happens to play the bass.” – Robert Fripp

Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) has been photographing his touring experiences since the early 1980s. Tens of thousands of photos later, he’s compiled eight of his favorite photographic moments from forty years of touring with King Crimson. These prints include:

1. Adrian Belew, Backstage 1981
2. Bill Bruford, Bristol 1981
3. King Crimson, Faro, Portugal 1982
4. King Crimson, Royal Albert Hall 2019
5. King Crimson, Asbury Park 1982
6. On the Shinkansen 1981
7. Perkins Palace Marquee 1981
8. Robert Fripp, Krakow 2018

This collection is a must-have for any serious King Crimson collector and can be purchased as a set or individually. Tony’s photography offers a unique perspective from the stage that cannot be replicated.

All photos are hand-titled and signed by Tony Levin. They are a limited print run of 500 photogravure prints. The first public orders of the Special Edition Box are assigned print numbers 11-50.

Each print is handmade on a traditional intaglio press using materials that will last for generations. They are printed with low or acid-free ink on 22.25 x 15.5” Hahnemuhle Copperplate Brite White, 300 g/sm alpha cellulose paper with torn, deckled edges. These same ink and paper formulas used in Tony Levin’s print collection have been used by printmakers in Europe for hundreds of years.

Signed and stamped certificates of authenticity are issued with every print.

The traditional, fabric-lined, limited-edition, clamshell-style, 24” x 17” print collection box for Tony Levin’s King Crimson Print Collection is custom-crafted using archive-grade materials for storing and preserving prints cleanly and elegantly. Cotton gloves are included for clean handling of the prints.

Jon Lybrook is a true master. His prints exude an expertise, that only very few fine art printers in the world control on the same level.” – Professor Henrik Bøegh – Grafisk Eksperimentarium – Copenhagen, Denmark

Jon Lybrook is a Fine Art Printmaker based in Colorado. Jon has worked with photographers and artists for nearly two decades through his company, Intaglio Editions LLC (https://intaglioeditions.com/). He has studied the craft with traditional printmakers from around the world including Henrik Boegh, Dan Welden, Mark Lunning, Ron Pokrasso, David Hoptman, and has worked as both a printmaker and consultant.

Watch the Make Weird Music interview with Tony about his history with photography and art:

To pre-order: https://TonyLevinPrints.com

New Polymer Photogravure Book

Photogravure Manual by Henrik Boegh

Artist Henrik Boegh of Denmark, author of  Handbook of Non-toxic Intaglio: Acrylic Resists, Photopolymer Film & Solar Plates Etching has just released a must-have handbook that covers many of the basics of his first book for creating supurb plates and prints using the classic Double-exposure method and an aquatint screen. This book is for beginners and slightly more advanced for students with an interest in more advanced Duotone techniques, as well as Direct-to-Plate, or DTP.

Henrik is a veteran author and University professor who has taught printmaking for decades after leaving his post as Chair of the Economomics department at a prestigious university in Copenhagen to pursue his craft of printmaking.

This book cuts to the chase and provides essential guidance for the begining student and excellent set of guidelines and new approaches that may surprise even the most photographically critical printmakers.

 Look inside the book and buy it here: https://www.grafiskeksperimentarium.dk/butik/photogravure-instruction-manual/photogravure-instruction-manual/?lang=en

Henrik Boegh – Photogravure Manual

Superb troubleshooting tips throughout the book keep the student informed of all the common pitfalls of his process and provides inventive approaches to creative mark-making not previoulsy published by this veteran author and artist.

Buy the Photogravure Handbook by Henrik Boegh here: https://www.grafiskeksperimentarium.dk/product-category/photogravure-instruction-manual/?lang=en

Fine Art Paper Tests and Luminance Calibrations

We recently made a major change to our plate making workflow at Intaglio Editions, and added new quality-control steps for monitoring any changes in plate sensitivity among plate batches.  We also confirmed changes in plate sensitivity occur in Toyobo KM73 plates over time — even when stored in ideal, light-safe conditions.  Thanks for Clay Harmon for bringing this important variable to my attention in his artful book on making Double-Exposure polymer photogravure plates: Polymer Photogravure: A Step by Step Manual Highlighting Artists and their Creative Practices

This change in workflow includes employing a new method of deriving our process compensation adjustments using the Easy Digital Negatives system by Peter Mrhar.  His method for deriving adjustments is effective, comprehensive and includes calibration workflows for scanners, spectrophotometer readings, as well as eyeballing it for those interested in doing it the hard way! The ability to calibrate a process compensation adjustment for any colored ink and paper has given us a much greater degree of control, no matter the ink color or medium.

Although his color blocking system looked promising for creating deep, rich blacks, foregoing it worked better for our workflow as it was introducing posterization we couldn’t address.

With such highly calibrated plates, I wanted to verify our assumptions about the go-to papers I’ve used for over a decade, and introduce some newer papers, and those we’ve had trouble with before, including 100% cotton papers, which introduced a white haze in our solid, rich blacks consistently.  We’ve generally had much better luck using Hahnemuhle Copperplate papers.  Wood fibers in the alpha cellulose seem to provide more solid fields of black with our workflow and custom 1245 dpi aquatint screen.

The Torinoko 92gsm gampi from Japan had the best fidelity of the three gampi papers we tested this round.  The solid blacks, shadow detail, and crisp transfer from the plate make up for the fragile surface, which can easily be abraded in handling.  The paper has an antique, suede feeling and texture and prints as well as the most expensive gampi papers.

Fine art printmaking papers used in our testing include:

Japan

Germany

UK

France

Italy

* = Waterleaf paper that contains no starch or sizing.

We purchase all of our editioning papers through Takach Paper for their quality service and experience.

Photos and proofing stills courtesy of the photographer, Tony Levin.

NOTE: We have intentionally photographed the images below under a raking light to best illustrate the benefits and shortcomings of the different papers proofed under identical conditions.  All the papers were pre-calendared and had the same approximate drying time.  Click to enlarge details on any of the images below.

Hahnemuhle Copperplate Bright White 100% Alpha Cellulose

Hahnemuhle Copperplate Bright White 100% Alpha Cellulose (detail)

Consistent in continuous tone and image integrity, Hahnemuhle Copperplate remains our go-to paper for proofing and editioning.

Hahnemuhle Durher 100% Cotton Rag

Hahnemuhle Durher 100% Cotton Rag (detail)

Unlike the Copperplate, this radiant white Cotton Rag paper by Hahnemuhle did not hold up as we had hoped. It tested out as the worst paper for photogravure with our plates.  We were consistent in steps for calendaring the paper, as well as printing without to give each paper every opportunity to show its unique qualities.

Arches 88 Proof - 100% Cotton Rag

Arches 88 – 100% Cotton Rag (detail)

This classic waterleaf paper is designed for silkscreen and monotype.  It’s 100% Cotton fiber makeup and zero sizing did not provide adequate structure to absorb the ink from our plates as cleanly as other papers.

Magnani Incisioni

Magnani Incisioni 50% Alpha Cellulose / 50% Cotton Rag – Radiant White (detail)

We likewise had high hopes for Incisioni as it was the brightest white paper we tested.  Although the contrast and quality of blacks created the most photographic-looking prints, it was too much of a good thing.  With work, calendaring and careful assessment of paper moisture before printing we were able to get acceptable results.

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Hahnemuhle Copperplate Bright White 100% Alpha Cellulose

Hahnemuhle Copperplate Bright White 100% Alpha Cellulose (detail)

Hahnemuhle Durher 100% Cotton Rag

Hahnemuhle Durher 100% Cotton Rag (detail)

Arches 88 Detail - 100% Cotton Rag

Arches 88 Detail – 100% Cotton Rag (detail)

Magnani Incisioni Radiant White Detail

Magnani Incisioni 50% Alpha Cellulose / 50% Cotton Rag – Radiant White (detail)

Conclusion: While 100% Cotton paper can be problematic in getting optimal continuous tone with Intaglio Editions plates, the cotton papers Lanaquarelle and Somerset Velvet printed relatively well, with the clear champions remaining Hahnemuhle Copperplate “Bright” White and Warm White, and the 92gsm Torinoko gampi for the best looking Asian paper for the price for simple, one-drop photogravure prints and editions.

Photogravure Proofing with Colored Etching Inks

Colored ink renders a photographic image much differently than black ink-only, as any printmaker knows. At Intaglio Editions we offer two generic ink profiles for our plate customers: Graphical and Continuous Tone. Continuous Tone plates are designed to work best with the blackest inks to create richness and tones similar to platinium/plalladium prints, but with greater relief details in the shadows, not found with other approaches.

When colored inks are desired, the process is to measure and mix the ink to get to an initial color or set of colors. The ink combination is then wiped into a baseline step test plate which is then printed, dried for a week or so, and scanned. The data is then measured and transferred into a spreadsheet or computer program.

Measuring Colored Inks
Measuring Colored Inks

Areas of the step test that appear blocked up together, or too light or too dark can then be manipulated in a process compensation curve or using 3rd-party RIP software like Quad Tone RIP. This data is then used to craft a customized plate of the artwork in the desired ink color.

Because ink color is hard to reproduce from batch to batch, traditional printmakers will keep careful track of their formulae as well as the B.A.T., or master print, in order to match the color again, should it be necessary to replace a print or if the artist has another image they want to edition and have it match. Every color ink may have its own unique physical properties which must be taken into account when formulating the proper consistency.

Custom sepia ink combinations ranging from cold to warm.

Body, Length and Tack are a few of the main qualities that affect the ink and how it is received by the plate’s matrix. In some cases, the amount of plate tone and contrast can vary a bit, until the plate has been properly seasoned and the ink’s step test is properly dried and analyzed. The ink is then modified to suit the needs of the piece.

The video below demonstrates a step test ink comparison we did while providing photogravure consulting for the great-grandson of the legendary American photographer Edward Curtis. The image we made the plate from in this video was taken from a scan of a vintage, glass plate copy negative. Alas, most of the original films that remained in tact were donated to The Smithsonian and unavailable for their project at the time.

From this video you can see how even relatively graphical images contain nuances of continuous tone and relief in the shadow details that make the difference between a more traditional-quality photogravure print, and one that looks like a flat, slightly depressed and grainy inkjet print. We of course aim to produce the former using traditional approaches and 15 years of experience exclusively specializing in polymer photogravure.

For more information about Intaglio Editions projects, and contracting with us on your own printmaking project, please visit our website at https://shop.intaglioeditions.com.

Fifteen Year Challenge for Finer Polymer Photogravure Prints

When I first put my procedure for making and printing polymer photogravure plates online in 2006, it was after a few years of my own frustrations in the process. I posted it in response to a lack of comprehensive information about the subject as it pertained to creating continuous tone images for photography. The traditional printmakers weren’t concerned with it, and the computer nerds (of which I am one) didn’t have any meaningful elbow grease or track record when it came to making traditional intaglio prints.

Jon Lybrook, Master Printmaker, Intaglio Editions
Jon Lybrook, Owner and Master Printmaker, Intaglio Editions

Picking up where others’ work had left off, I created a custom workflow and process compensation curve to accommodate a finer, higher-resolution aquatint screen than anyone else was using at the time. Our screen is 2-3 times as fine as traditional rosin dust used for aquatinting copper photogravure plates. At 1200 dpi, our fine, third-generation, heavy-duty aquatint screens with custom stochastic pattern are a double-edged sword. We don’t sell them to the public because they are less forgiving than coarser screening processes, but yield superior, fine continuous tones for photogravure when handled and used under a controlled environment using the tried-and-true KM73/83 plates by Toyobo, for which our screens and system for making continuous tone plates was designed.

While excellent technical books on polymer platemaking and creating digital negatives for contact printing are now available, there were but a few good ones in 2004. The only one most of us referenced was written by digital negative pioneer and process wizard Dan Burkholder. Today, faster methods to getting inkjet-quality photogravure prints from polymer, such as Direct-to-Plate (as taught by printmaking instructor Don Messic) and reliable, open-source software for calibrating your printer drivers for making custom digital negatives now exist.

While direct-to-plate (DTP) is easier and faster to teach polymer plate making certainly, it does not employ a critical, secondary aquatint layer to create the proper plate texture and variable depths. This is what gives photogravure its unique 3D qualities, otherwise you’re just printing a flat inkjet print that’s been transferred flatly to a plate. This critical aspect of plate depth and ink relief is among the most apparent qualities in traditional photogravure prints – when made on on finer, Asian, gampi papers, in particular. While hard to demonstrate in a digital image, the look of a traditional copper plate photogravure, when executed properly, is unmistakable.

Cross-section of photogravure plate
Illustration by Peter Miller

While DYI is all the rage, some artists need an experienced, dedicated technical collaborator who understands their goals. Finding someone who has an intimate knowledge of the photo mechanical process as well as intaglio printing itself, is still the same today as it was 150 years ago. Finding such an experienced artisan is certainly harder than it was way back then.

Intaglio Editions 20 x 30" large plate
Intaglio Editions 20 x 30″ large plate

As far as process and workflow, not much has changed at Intaglio Editions in our 15 years working with artists, clients, and their collaborators. We still create custom plates to meet client specifications including plates crafted for a specific ink color. In proofing the work with the client to refine the nuances and going back to the digital file and reshooting plates as needed, we have been able to provide the optimal prints our clients demand for their fine art projects. What has changed since the early 2000s is our ability to branch out into new territory, following the traditional processes, bringing the use of polymer even closer to the look (and literal feel) of traditional copper photogravure, without the added toxicity and expense.

Isabel Eaton - Polymer Photogravre printed ca. 2009 by Jon Lybrook
Isabel Eaton – Polymer Photogravre printed 2006 by Jon Lybrook

What makes Intaglio Editions Premium Photogravure Plates different is our custom, high-resolution aquatinting process, and our ability to offer extra large pre-made plates up to 23″ × 39″ (among the largest commercially available). While other methods are limited in size and often leave tell-tale “salt-and-pepper” grain in their photogravures, our traditional double-exposure method creates a more authentically etched plate and print, but at a price. It is more time-consuming and requires more steps and attention to detail than other methods.

So why do we do it? This extra work our process requires follows closer to traditional platemaking methods and gives our custom plates the edge, literally. Unlike newer plate processes, the surface of our plates have detail and textures can be felt by the fingertips. This demonstrates how we provide the smoothest continuous tones possible with this process more in keeping with traditional photogravure plates. Our plates and prints have been praised by artists, photographers and printmaking experts worldwide for their fine nuances, smooth tones, and shadow detail.

Intaglio Editions continues to offer the photogravure-quality plates we use in our printmaking to professional artists and printmakers who love making rich, photographic prints, but who may not be interested in becoming expert platemakers as well. This helps our friends and customers get faster results, and helps them achieve that last stride of excellence that so often eludes newer plate makers, or those new to photogravure printmaking.

New and experienced printmakers alike may want to take advantage of our long-standing $99 Trial Plate offer. We’ll create an 8″ × 11″ plate of your custom image using our custom, double-screened, high-rez platemaking method for just $99, to see if our plates don’t provide the smoothest, richest continuous tones you’ve ever seen from this process. Shipping, handling and customs, duties, or other fees will apply. Our Premium Photogravure Plates and other customer services are available at the Intaglio Editions Shop.

Wiping and Printing a Polymer Photogravure Plate in 60 Seconds

Recent work with photographer Larry D. Hayden kept us hopping for a few days in August head.  Here’s a little video excerpt showing off Larry’s evocative work and how we printed it.