I love Yosemite National Park for its amazing rock formations, astonishing waterfalls, and beauty at every turn of the trail. River Bend with Half Dome is a view of the famous Half Dome formation viewed from a bridge over the Merced River.
I was out early in the morning to start a hike to one of the waterfalls that feeds into the Merced, and was taken with the cool, soft colors of the morning light, especially the blues and purples of the glacial carved rock. I knew well that these colors would change dramatically as the sun rose higher and the day grew hot. I wanted to capture this cool morning feel in an etching.
There are a number of ways to make an etching in multiple colors. One approach is to use more than one plate, printing each plate on top of the previous print. This method has inherent challenges with registering the plate and the paper so that the images line up precisely. Add to that challenge the fact that the paper must be damp in order to pull the ink from the incised areas of the plate. When the paper runs through the press, felt blankets cushion the process, and moisture is pulled from the paper. The paper stretches as it runs through the press, and begins to shrink immediately as it dries. The paper shrinkage can cause the images to misalign. In sunny Southern California with our extremely low humidity most days, and this adds a significant extra challenge to the registration process.
Consequently, I usually prefer to use a different technique to pull my color prints, a process known as à la poupée, in which I ink discrete areas of the plate with different colors and run it through the press only one time. See a previous blog, Working Out the Color Wipe: A La Poupee Printing, for more on this technique.
I usually need large areas of color for the à la poupée process to be successful, and I could see that my planned image would have several areas that would be difficult to wipe à la poupée at the juncture of the greens and the purples. The solution was to combine these two processes to mitigate the challenge. I created two plates, each inked à la poupée in multiple colors.
The first plate, zinc etched in aquatint tones, will be wiped in blue for the sky, two shades of purple for Half Dome, and sienna for the shadows in the river.
The second plate, also zinc etched in aquatint tones, will be wiped in dark green, yellow green and brown.
The next few pictures illustrate the plates printed in black ink, showing how each prints alone and how they align when printed on one paper.
Note that the print is backwards from the plate. In order to have the final image appear as the original view, the plate must be a mirror image. In many cases, I don’t worry about this, but for some famous and well-known landmarks, I reverse the image on the plate. Notice also the plate mark, the indentation from the paper being pressed over the plate. This mark is characteristic of intaglio printmaking processes.
Plate #1, inked and wiped, is placed on alignment marks on the press bed, ready for printing. Note the 4 colors, and how the rest of the surface of the plate is wiped “clean” so that it will be white in the print.
When plate #1 has run through the press, the paper is captured under the roller to prevent it moving. The second plate is carefully placed on the press bed on the alignment marks, and the paper lowered onto it. Then the felt blankets are lowered and the second plate is run through the press.
Once the plates are completed, the color proofs are made. There are usually a series of proofs establishing the precise color mix desired for the final print. These early proofs are usually destroyed. The first proof that captures what I am going for is called “bon à tirer” (literally, good to pull). This print remains in my collection and is the print all others should match. After that, printing of the edition can begin.
The resulting print, River Bend with Half Dome.
As with most of my editions in the last 25 years, I only print a few images in the edition, and then I put the plate away. I keep very meticulous records of what has been printed. Should those early images find homes, then I will pull out the plate and print again. In the meantime, I am on to the next creative challenge!
River Bend with Half Dome is currently on display in “One Foot in the River” at the Lillian Davis Hogan Gallery at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, MN