Why Do You Need Archival Framing?

As an artist who works primarily on paper surfaces that need to be framed for protection from the elements, I have long been concerned about using archival materials for framing and handling: museum or rag mats, archival clear wrap for matted work that will be displayed in bins.

Sagami-wan, etching and aquatint, ©1978, Julianne B Ricksecker

Sagami-wan, etching and aquatint, ©1978, Julianne B Ricksecker

But as a young artist starting out, I relied on the expertise of the framers I took my work to for advise on framing decisions.  I recently learned from experience that at least one of those framers led me in the wrong direction.  In her defense, she might have been giving me industry standard counsel at the time, but I have a piece of art that clearly shows the error of the technique.  It is also interesting that there are two pieces, framed in the same way at the same time, and only one of them suffered acid damage. I have to guess that the different rag content of the two printmaking papers caused diverse outcomes.

I am no longer a young artist, and some of my work has been in frames for a long time.

Untitled (ring around the moon), etching and aquatint, ©1978

Untitled (ring around the moon), etching and aquatint, ©1978

The two particular pieces that I looked at this week were framed about 35 years ago. When I pulled them out of storage to check them out before sending them out on exhibit, I noticed that the glass looked smeared. However, cleaning the glass did not help.  I was puzzled about why the inside of the glass would look dirty, but I opened up the frame to clean it.

dirty glass

dirty glass  after polishing – Untitled (ring around the moon)

closeup of milky deposit

closeup of milky deposit

I found a milky deposit on the inside of the glass everywhere that the black rag mat touched the glass, and the black ink from the print was offset on the glass in the same milky deposit. I am not sure what this is and am not sure it would have been so apparent if the deposit hadn’t been whitish and the mat pure black.

deposit and offset image

milky deposit and offset image of ring around the moon

deposit wipes off

deposit wipes off

milky film on glass

milky film on glass – Sagami-wan

 

What I noticed next was the shocker.  I lifted the mat from the print, to see if the mat was causing an acid burn on the paper. I found that the mat had perfectly protected the paper, but where the mat window was open and the print exposed to the air behind the glass, the paper was burned yellow.

acid damage on image

acid damage on image – Sagami-wan, etching on Arches

No part of the print was touching any non-archival surface.  Behind the print was a 2-ply rag mat that was in perfect condition.  The black  mat, which was supposed to be acid free (I don’t remember if it was “rag”), was in perfect condition.  But the foam core that was used as a backing board behind the 2-ply rag mat “barrier mat” was not an archival material.  It was believed that the barrier mat would protect the print from the acidity of the foam core. I can only guess that the damage to the print, and possibly the scum on the glass, was the result of  out-gassing of some kind from that foam core backing. The out-gassing, remaining inside the frame package, was able to impact the paper of the print wherever the was air space between the glass and the print. It did not, however, seem to injure the rag mats.

I found it interesting that the second print, framed identically at the same time, did not experience this damage. The glass had the same off-set of the image and the same deposit where the black mat touched the glass.  The printmaking paper of the second print has a higher rag content, and apparently was less susceptible to environmental damage.

Needless to say, after cleaning the glass, I replaced the backing boards with newer acid free archival foam core backing boards.  And replaced the burned print with a different impression from the edition, which has been stored flat and unframed.

This is one example of what acid damage from non-archival  framing might look like. It’s highly unlikely that I will be around to check on them in another 35 years, but I am hoping that current “acid free” and “archival” materials are truly superior to the framing materials and understanding of

1981.  I have not yet destroyed the burned print.  I am thinking about  experimenting with it.

Technical notes: The paper that was “burned” was Arches printmaking paper and in the 70’s, I believe it was 40% rag.  The paper that did not “burn” with the same framing treatment was Rives BFK, which I believe has always been 100% rag.

 

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Monotypes with Akua Inks

I signed up to demonstrate printmaking at the San Diego County Fair.  Watching me draw a new plate for etching is a little like watching grass grow, and isn’t very engaging for Fair attendees, so this year I wanted to do a demo of monotype printmaking. It is a little more painterly and more important, it works up faster.

I decided to use the opportunity as an excuse to work with a set of inks (Akua) designed especially for monotype printmaking as a non-toxic watercolor ink.  I had purchased them a couple of years ago and really hated how they handled, compared to my usual process, but I had seen online that others were using them successfully.  So I determined to do some practice sessions in the studio and try to make friends with this material. (Art materials are expensive!)
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My first attempt was just doodling. Ok, I can see some possibilities here. It looks very grainy, which I am not fond of. With heavier ink and more pressure, it might work for me.

P1200628Second attempt, on the press this time, got some nice ink coverage but the pressure was very high to get this smooth look. It was hard work to pull the plate through the press, even on 25:1 gear ratio.

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Painted the same composition and used a little less pressure – far too pale and grainy! That is why it is called experimenting!

P1200633Tried another image – with tighter pressure. This image works well with the grainy quality of the ink.  After adding ink to darken select areas defining the rocks on the beach, and running through the press again, this was a passable result.

I feel encouraged that I might make friends with this ink yet!  I try one without the press.   In the demo situation, I will have to print by hand, using a spoon or a baren to apply pressure.
P1200630Although I re-inked and overprinted several times to get to this end, I felt good about the possibilities after printing this image. I turned to making sketches for the demo days.

P1200660Since I paint the image on clear plexiglass, it is possible to lay the plate directly on the sketch to guide color application. This sketch was used for the second demo.

On demo day, I had some materials for kids (and parents and teachP1200617ers!) to play with – so in the end, the first monotype at the Fair did not get completed.  I covered the partially painted plate with a second plate and clipped them together.  I had heard that these Akua inks stay wet for several days, so I thought, “Why not?  I’ll print it at home tomorrow.”

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It was a couple of days before I got back to it.  Even though I knew it wasn’t “finished”, I thought I better print just to see whether the ink would still work.

I was very pleased that the film of ink was still wet enough to transfer pretty well even after 48 hours.

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The composition needed more work, however, so I added a series of layers of additional colors, printing repeatedly until I felt happy with the result.

P1200634Alignment for the printing is pretty simple with the clear plexiglass, however it was still useful to tape the paper to the plate for ease and speed of repositioning the paper for subsequent printing.

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The final lotus  blossom monotype.

For my second demo day, I had another flower image. This time the demonstrator table (and the demonstrator!) were in sun a good part of the time.  The ink felt like it was drying very fast in the heat and sun, so  I printed at the end of two hours.P1200659

While the audience thought this looked pretty nice, I know that the “magic” of seeing the print pulled was a big influence on their impression!  I took it home and added more layers to enhance the composition over the next few days.

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By adding more color layers, the grainy quality that I don’t like gives way to a richness of color that I do like.

P1200663Note that, once I began darkening the background around the flower petals, I actually drew with marker on the back of the plate, tracing the precise placement of some elements as they were already printed.

P1200669The final cactus flower image.

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Working Out the Color Wipe: A La Poupee Printing

IMG_2792If you have been following this blog, you have watched the development of a zinc plate though polishing, beveling, line drawing etch, tonal or aquatint etch, spit bite aquatint, and using paint markers and grease pencils as acid resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have seen a number of proofs of the image along the way, called “Stage Proofs” – proving the plate at different stages of development.

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MacKerricher Beach, Second State Proof

MacKerricher Beach, Second State Proof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final stage of development is working out the color wipe.   The plate could be printed with black ink only, resulting in shades of grey, or inked in all one color, such as sienna, for a monochromatic image of shades of that color.

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I print in a technique called “a la poupee” – a French term literally translating as “by the dolly”. It means dabbing and wiping different colors on different parts of the plate.

applying first color Many of my etchings are done this way, where colors are applied to sections of the plate and wiped separately, then the all of the colors printed at once on the etching press.

Wiping first color

Wiping first color

It is possible to wipe a base color and then apply another color over the top of it for a blended effect, and to bring color from one area of the image into another area. I do a combination of these for most of my color wipes.

4 color print

 

 

On MacKerricher Beach, I started with two blues, one that was mostly Payne’s grey for the cloudy sky, and another for the waves coming through the gap.  The rocks and cliffs were all wiped with sienna, and the trees and bushes with Cascade Green.  The resulting print was nice but didn’t quite “pop” for me, so I remixed the colors a little, but more importantly, added a fifth color, a darker brown.

 

 

wiping second brownIn this version, the foreground rock is wiped with a dark brown after the cliffs and the haystack rock are wiped with sienna.  Some of the dark brown is wiped over the sienna at the base of the cliffs and blended into the sand.

 

 

applying fifth colorA new green mix was applied to the tree, and the dirty rag from wiping the tree was used to dab a little green onto the haystack rock, the top of the cliff, and the side of the foreground rock.  Then a clean rag wipe over all completes the color wipe.

 

Plate on press bedThis color combination is satisfying, and the placement of the layered green and brown is just what I was looking for.  Now the challenge will be to make the overwipe layer areas similar from one print to the next.  Great attention to detail will be necessary to match the bon a tirer with subsequent wipes.  While I don’t expect them to be identical, it will be possible to wipe too much – leaving the image t0o pale – or to dab the colors onto a larger or smaller area, creating a different look which may not be as satisfying.  These prints are usually destroyed, although if it is interesting in it’s own right, just different from the edition, it may survive as an “artists proof”.final print - 5 colors

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Subtle Effects in Etching: Spit Bite

In the last post, I talked about creating aquatint tones using hard ground and paint markers to cover the plate and protect it from the acid.  In another process, the acid can be painted directly on the plate to create subtle effects and soft edges.

Spit bite: painting acid directly onto the Aquatinted plate

Spit bite: painting acid directly onto the Aquatinted plate

The plate is covered in an aquatint ground (a ground of tiny speckles that will result in very small raised points of metal when etched.  See How Tones Are Created in Etching for more detail on this ground.)

Next, any parts of the plate that need to be protected from the acid are covered in a solid acid-resistant ground, such as liquid hard ground. This appears coffee-colored in the above photo.

Now the fun begins.  Using a weak solution of acid and an animal hair brush, the prepared plate is literally painted with acid. Acid can be stroked onto the plate, dripped onto it, or dripped into puddles of water that have been painted onto the plate.

Because the acid is weak and is depleted quickly in this process, areas that are to retain ink need to be painted over and over with the acid, until the etch is deep enough to hold the desired amount of ink.  It is not possible to tell just

Spit bite plate

The plate is stained from the acid

from looking at the plate exactly how deep the etch has become, so it is important to have a sense of how many times a given area has been painted with acid in order to gauge progress.  The application of acid to the plate in this manner results in the plate appearing stained, but the varying color of the stain does not relate closely to the eventual tone in the print.

When the artist determines that the spit bite is deep enough, the plate is flushed with water, and dried.  All of the grounds are removed, and the plate is inked, wiped, and printed to check on progress.

 

Using paint marker for highlights in the waves

Using paint marker for highlights in the waves

 

For this image, however, I chose to continue to develop tones for areas representing sand and surf.  I used paint marker to protect the highlights in the waves.

 

Another technique I like is to draw over the aquatint ground with a china marker (grease pencil).  This is another way to create subtle gradations of tone in the aquatint.

Using a china marker for subtle gradations in the sand

Using a china marker for subtle gradations in the sand

 

 

Again, development of tones proceeds by soaking the plate in acid,  then using paint marker and china marker to cover more of the plate and soaking in acid again.

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Here you see continued development of tones for sand and waves. Eventually the areas still exposed to acid are very small.

Eventually the area being etched is very small.

Eventually the area being etched is very small.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the grounds are cleaned from the plate.  The bare plate gives some idea of how the plate will print if you look at how light reflects from the surface.  The spit bite areas are somewhat deceptive because of the irregular acid staining.

The bare plate after grounds are removed.

The bare plate after grounds are removed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next step is to ink and wipe the plate, and print it on the etching press to check progress. Here is a view of the press, which has rollers above and below the traveling bed. Note the felt blankets folded up out of the way, waiting for the plate and paper to be set upon the bed.

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Here is a view of the etching press

 

The inked plate on the press bed.

The inked plate on the press bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plate is inked and the surface is wiped with rags.  Now you can see more clearly how the acid has affected the plate, especially in the spit bite areas.

IMG_2782

 

Damp paper is placed over the inked plate, and covered with soft felt blankets. The resulting sandwich is rolled through the press.

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Note the plate marks visible from the back side of the paper after the plate has gone through the press.IMG_2784

 

 

 

 

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Black and white proof of the plate

Here is the black and white proof (print) of the etched plate.  The spit bite has produced a brooding grey sky of indistinct clouds.

The next process in developing this image will be mixing colors and proofing the plate in color.

 

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How Tones Are Created in the Etching

Morning Mist, aquatint

Morning Mist, aquatint

If you have ever wondered how the fine tonal areas are created in an etching, here is an example of a modern method.

The idea is to create a speckled pattern of an acid resistant material on the plate so the acid can eat around the speckles, leaving tiny raised metal points. When ink is applied and then wiped with rags, the depth of the etch determines how much ink remains on the plate, and therefore, how dark the printed tones.  In the example at left, the palest tones  resulted from a 10 second dip in the acid, while the darkest areas soaked in the acid about 15  minutes.

 

So what is thus mysterious speckled resist?  In modern times, we can use spray enamel paint for a quick and reliable method to cover the plate in a fine and even mist.

Aquatint ground for tone

Aquatint ground on plate

In the image at the left, you can see that the coverage of enamel is at 40% or so. Coverage in the range of 40% – 60% will work well.

Krylon Spray Enamel

Krylon Spray Enamel for making aquatint ground

 

 

 

 

Next, the same liquid wax and asphaltum ground that was used to cover the plate for the line etch is now painted on the plate to protect areas that will have no etched tone.

Painting hard ground

Painting hard ground

 

 

Sometimes very fine brushes are used to work delicate details.

When the areas of the plate that need to remain “white” are protected with ground (which looks coffee-colored in the photo), the plate is ready for an acid soak.

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The plate will be bathed in the acid repeatedly to achieve a variety of tones.  When the plate is removed from the acid, it is rinsed with water and dried.  Then additional ground is placed on the plate to protect the tones just etched before it is returned to the acid to continue etching some areas to a deeper level. The longer the aquatint soaks in the acid, the darker the tone will print.

IMG_2692

 

I could use the regular liquid hard ground for this purpose, but for complex tone development, I find it easier to visualize the tones I have already etched if I use paint markers in different colors to protect the plate for subsequent etches in the series.IMG_2693

 

 

 

 

I start with a general plan of how many times I will return the plate to the acid, and for how many seconds or minutes each acid bath will be.  This plan comes from years of experience, a sense of how potent the acid bath is, and noting how warm the studio is.  I keep notes of how long the plate has been in the acid as I progress, so that I can keep track of how long the still exposed areas have been etched in total. Many of my plates have 6 – 10 separate acid baths during this phase of development, and it is easy to forget just how many times the plate has soaked, and for how much time.

Finally, all of the enamel, hard ground and paint marker is removed from the plate, and the plate is inked and printed to check progress.

MacKerricher Beach, Second State Proof

MacKerricher Beach, Second State Proof

 

The acid has etched between the speckles of enamel, leaving a high point at each place where enamel adhered to the plate.  When inked and wiped, the plate will hold ink between these high points.  The more difference between the high points and the depth of the etch, the more ink the plate will hold.  If you look closely at an aquatint print, you will see the fine pattern of white spots from these high points of metal.

I could  scrape or burnish some of the aquatint areas to give more subtle variations in the tone. Burnishing is like lightly erasing – is will make the aquatint print in a lighter tone.

Note that there are a few unintended marks in the “sky” area – this is where the hard ground was not thick enough and allowed the acid to seep through; this is known as “false bite”.  If it does not work with the image, it will be scraped and burnished to clean up the area.

The next step will be to create a brooding sky with a technique called “spit bite”, and some sand in the foreground with surf tumbling up between the rocks. That will be for my next blog!

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How the Line Drawing is Etched

Last time I wrote about preparing a zinc plate to begin the etching process – the work that needs to happen before image making even begins.

Grounded plate

Plate covered with ground

Today I’ll show how an image is etched into the plate. Since the etching literally occurs by soaking the metal plate in nitric acid (hence the term “etching’), the first order of business is to protect the plate from the acid. As my resist, I use a liquid ground made of asphaltum and wax, which dries hard and smooth.

 

Preliminary Sketch

Preliminary Sketch of MacKerricher Beach

 

I usually work out the composition in sketches first, and may make a full size drawing.  The basic outlines of the drawing can be transferred to the plate using a transfer paper, similar to a dressmaker’s carbon.

Transferred Sketch

Sketch transferred to grounded plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The line drawing is done with a needle, scraping through the ground with the fine point.  The idea is only to expose the metal plate to the acid, not to scratch the plate.

Drawing with the needle

Drawing with the needle

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Developing drawing with cross hatched lines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Needle drawing on plate

Needle drawing on plate

Whether using a transferred outline, or drawing freehand, the needle is used to draw lines and to create shaded areas using cross-hatched lines. The drawing is sensitive and delicate, using the transfer drawing as a general guide only.

 

 

 

 

 

Soaking in nitric acid

The first etch: soaking line drawing in nitric acid

 

 

When the drawing is satisfactory, the plate is soaked in nitric acid for 10 – 40 minutes, depending on the strength of the acid and how deep I desire the etched lines to be.

 

 

 

 

Etched plate, line drawing

Etched plate, line drawing

 

When the etching is complete, I clean the ground from the plate, and print a proof to check the etch so far.

 

 

 

I scrape ink over the plate, forcing the ink into the incised lines.  Then I use rags to wipe ink from the surface of the plate until all the un-etched surfaces are clean.

Next I place the inked plate on the bed of the etching press.  Damp paper is placed on the plate, and several layers of felt are laid down on top of the paper.  This sandwich is rolled through the press, which has rollers above and below the press bed, squeezing the fibers of the paper into the incised lines on the plate.

Printed image and inked plate on press bed

Printed image and inked plate on press bed

 

When the paper is lifted from the plate, the image has been transferred to the paper. Note that the printed image is the reverse of the drawing.  When designing an image of a well known landmark, I reverse the drawing so that the final image will be familiar to the viewer.

 

 

Next time, I will show how tones can be etched into the plate. I’ll add a cloudy sky, surf, and sand to the image.

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How Plates are Prepared for Etching

Tueeulala Falls

Tueeulala Falls, etching, ©2009, Julianne B Ricksecker

 

Last week I started preparing plates for a new series of etchings for the “7 Printmakers” exhibit in San Diego in October. I wondered as I worked how many non-etchers know what goes into preparing metal plates to create an original etching?

Milled plate surface

Milled plate surface

Etchings are original prints, printed on paper from a plate that was created by the artist, and inked and  printed by hand by the artist or a master printer.  See Intaglio Printmaking Technique for a little more information about etching the image and printing the plate.

Before the image-making work can even begin, there is work to prepare the plate for the process. I work on zinc, which is milled in such a way that the plate is smooth and flat, but it has a dull surface with a vague pattern from the milling. If inked and printed without any prep work, the plate would produce a uniform dirty grey tone.

Plate Preparation Supplies

Plate Preparation Supplies

In order to create a surface that will wipe clean for printing (remain white in the final print), it is necessary to polish the surface of the plate to nearly a mirror shine. I start by polishing the surface with a fine sandpaper, and then use progressively finer sanding films.  The last few polishes are done using very fine polishing compounds on a soft cloth.  #0000 steel wool is used to buff a nice shine.

Dull unpolished plate surface

Dull unpolished plate surface

 

 

 

The purpose of all this polishing is to create a very slick surface that will not hold ink when the plate is wiped for printing. It is important to create this surface before creating the image in the plate, as the act of polishing would alter the etched image. (Note the dull finish of the plate in the photo at left, and the mirror like shine in the photo at right.  The pencil is used here just to illustrate the reflectivity of the two plates.)

Reflective surface after polishing

Reflective surface after polishing

 

 

The second important step in plate preparation is beveling the plate to remove the sharp edges and corners so that the plate will go through the press without tearing the paper and the felt blankets.  Sometimes I (impatiently) skip this step until I am ready for proofing the plate, but it is safer to bevel the plate before the image is created!  A slip of the beveling tool could damage the image, I have learned to my dismay!

Unbeveled_edge

Unbeveled plate edge

 

 

I was taught to bevel etching plates using a metal file, but I get better results using an edging tool made for beveling plexiglass.  It allows me to shave the edges of the plate into a nice rounded bevel.  (Beveling tool is pictured at the bottom of the photo of supplies.)  The plate is clamped overhanging the edge of a table, and the tool is repeatedly scraped down the length of the plate until the desired bevel is achieved.

 

Beveled edge of etching plate

Beveled edge of etching plate

 

 

The scraping leaves scratch marks that can hold ink, so the bevel will need to be burnished and polished before edition printing. I usually wait until all of the etching of the plate is complete before finishing the beveled edge to a smooth shine.

 

Next time I will write more about how the design is etched into the plate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Miniature Monotypes

Debordieu Summer, Monotype

Debordieu Summer, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

I was recently accepted into an international miniature print exhibit to show a monotype image measuring 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ – a total of 4 square inches.  (That is smaller than a business card.)  The organizing group – The Center for Contemporary Printmaking – emailed me an invitation to send an additional 6 “variant or similar” monotypes to accompany the show.

Boardwalk, Monotype

Boardwalk, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

The juried piece will be included in the wall display, but they maintain binders of additional work by the selected artists for the duration of the exhibit to maximize sales opportunities.

Fence on the Dunes, Monotype

Fence on the Dunes, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

My usual approach to monotype doesn’t include making similar or variant prints – so I did not have work already available to send – in fact this was the first time I had attempted a miniature monotype! Most of my monotypes are 11″ x 14″ or larger.

I thought about what inspired me to create the first miniature  monotype and decided to pursue that inspiration further to come up with additional imagery and energy for new work.  “On a theme” seemed a reasonable criterion.

Sea Wall, Monotype,

Sea Wall, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

The first miniature, “Sea Wall” was inspired by memories of the South Carolina beach on Debordieu Island that I had visited many summers with my mother.  Since Mom passed away last September, she has been on my mind frequently, and I was drawn to those beach memories in rememberance of how much she loved it there. The sea wall on the sand was something she and I had talked about and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the man-made structure next to the sand and the water.

Storm on Debordieu, Monotype

Storm on Debordieu, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

When planning the new pieces, it was May, the month of Mother’s Day and also the month that Mom would have turned 89 years old. I looked through my photos taken on trips back to visit her to find other images of the beach and the dunes on Debordieu Island that incorporated that element of something man-made juxtaposed with the wild beauty of the dunes and the sea.

Many of the resulting images were views from the homes we stayed in over the years when the family gathered in South Carolina to enjoy the beach, walks in the sand,  catching up on family news, and long nights of games and laughter.

Bench on the Dunes, Monotype

Bench on the Dunes, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

 

It may be that South Carolinians would find these images of dunes and boardwalks rather mundane, but to this California girl, they seemed interesting and strangely beautiful, and imbued with memories of shared family time.

 

If you have the opportunity, visit the 9th International Mini Print Biennial at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Mathews Park, Norwalk, CT from June 2 – Sept. 1, 2013

Dune Grass, Monotype

Dune Grass, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

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It’s Spring Again!

It’s spring again and I am totally thrilled to see the abundant flowering plants and shrubs in my own yard.  I haven’t made the trek to the desert this year – in a lean season for rain, there wildflower reports never tempted me out that way – but enjoying the flowers right here at home has been delightful.

California Poppies

California Poppies

It’s been especially good for California poppies, and I have relished them daily!

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A number of years ago I decided that growing a lawn in Southern California was an absurd waste of time and water and having a “stone” landscape was not exciting in my view.  I changed to a native landscape that would thrive on low water and low maintenance.  yard flowersLittle did I know how much pleasure I would take in having these natives close by!  Here are a few recent snapshots of my little piece of paradise this spring.

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Perhaps one day I will paint it, but for now, it inspires joy in my heart and fuels me through other projects.  IMG_2400

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Why I Love Making Monotypes

I have a confession to make.  I have a love-hate relationship with monotype.

Plexiglass plate for monotype

Plexiglass plate for monotype

I create monotypes  (one-of-a-kind prints) by painting on a blank sheet of plexiglass and transferring the image to paper using an etching press.

Usually I  think about the image for days or weeks before I start the process.  I do composition sketches – small black and white thumbnail sketches – to get a feeling for the layout and movement of the composition

Developing the image, adding color

Developing the image, adding color

 

When I am satisfied with the general composition, I may take a sketchpad or a sheet of butcher paper and do a rough sketch of the composition in full size.  This can be laid on the table under the plexiglass as a rough guide for the development of the composition in oil paint.

Nevada Fall, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Nevada Fall, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

 

If I want a solid field of color as for a cloudless sky, I mix the color and apply it to the plate with a roller.

 

 

 

Monotype plate, drawing white lines with a clay shaper

Monotype plate, drawing white lines with a clay shaper

 

 

I use rags and rubber “color shaper” or “clay shaper” tools to remove  color and create the line between color areas, or pick out highlights or linear patterns.

 

Monotype plate, lifting paint with paper towel

Monotype plate, lifting paint with paper towel

 

I use damp rag or paper towel to lift some of the  color, making it more transparent or creating texture or pattern. When the plate is printed, any part of the plate that is not covered in paint will appear stark white, since the paper will be untouched by paint.

I try to mix the major colors before I begin, in sufficient quantity to complete the monotype.  I do some color mixing on the palette as I work but I want to have the main colors mixed in advance with the appropriate amounts of extenders and retarders because those need to be mixed more by measure than by sight. It can be very difficult to estimate the transparency of the paint or it’s drying time if mixing “on the fly”!

Big Sur, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Big Sur, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

The retarder is particularly important, I have learned to my chagrin. When I make a monotype, I need to complete the print in 4-6 hours – depending on the heat and humidity.  If I work too long, it is likely that the paper will stick to the plate, instead of the paint transferring to the paper.  Sometimes this occurs in just a small area, tearing a hole right through the image.  Quite a disappointment after working on the print all day! This is when I “hate” monotype!

“Big Sur”, pictured at right, was just such a disappointment on the first and second attempts.  Third time was the charm for this monotype!

Fishhook Cactus, monotype plate, ready to print

Fishhook Cactus, monotype plate, ready to print

I develop the image, using water to thin the color and even sometimes pool water on the surface of the plate and drop color into it.  Because the plate will be rolled through an etching press to transfer the image onto paper, it is necessary to let the pooled water dry before printing! The application of paint must be thin enough that it does not “squirt” or blot when rolling through the press.  It takes a little practice to get the right film of paint to achieve the color density desired, without causing the paint to run.

Fishhook Cactus, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Fishhook Cactus, printed monotype

When the monotype works well, it is a magical feeling. No matter how many monotypes I do, I cannot predict exactly what it will look like once it transfers to paper.  I can get an approximation of the final result by lifting the plexiglass plate, and turning it over to look through it to the white table, or at the skylight.  Neither of these views gives a perfect idea of the final print.  I don’t know the outcome until the paper and plate have been rolled through the press, the blankets are thrown back, and I peel the paper from the plate.  This is the magic moment! This is when I love montoype!

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