A couple of weekends ago I took part in a photopolymer etching workshop at Intra, an art venue hosting a diversity of creative events and classes and in particular, it has a splendid collection of specialist arts equipment and facilities for fine art printmaking.
Intra is conveniently (for me) situated in Rochester and the workshop was taken by Liz Miller, a London-based artist I saw some of her work recently at an exhibition entitled Beyond Boundaries in Rochester Art Gallery. Beyond Boundaries included pieces also from two other Intra artists, Xtina Lamb and Adam Piper. Liz’s work on display (Debussy II) both is, and is inspired by, graphic notation (non-traditional music notation using visual symbols). Graphic notation is associated with experimental music such as that of John Cage, composer of 4’33”. Incidentally, Cage was also a printmaker and I’m a particular fan of his watercolours using stones and on smoked paper. And his preoccupation with chance.
I’d not heard of photopolymer etching until the Beyond Boundaries exhibition. Actually, I’ve done very little etching, or printmaking in general. During my fine art degree years, the facilities were there for etching and screen printing, but I didn’t take advantage of them. This was partly because my body didn’t at all like being exposed to the fumes from the etching solvents and acids – luckily for me – as I now know these are carcinogenic and poisonous.
A few years after finishing my degree course I did part of an etching course at a local college and even made my own printing press by adapting a victorian clothes mangle. I moved abroad shortly afterwards however and gave the press to an artist friend.
Photopolymer printmaking was originally developed by Dan Welden in the 1970s (check out his solarplate prints, they are stunning) and involves transferring a graphic image onto a metal plate using ultra-violet light. The plate is then inked-up in the usual way and prints are made by feeding the plate and a sheet of fine art paper through a printing press.
I took along a black and white printout of a photo of the ivy knitting I did recently (and blogged about here). My image was then scanned during the workshop onto acetate, exposed to uv light for a few seconds – both sides – which sort-of baked the image onto the plate.
After exposure, the light-sensitive emulsion on the plate is scrubbed vigorously and with speed (the emulsion hardens very quickly). This reveals the image bitten into the plate.
My knitted ivy has had quite a journey. I cut the ivy, knitted the ivy, photographed the ivy, optimised the photo in Photoshop, printed off the photo, printed the photo onto acetate, etched the acetate image onto a light-sensitive metal plate, exposed the plate to uv light, inked up the plate, pulled a print using a printing press.
I am pleased I’ve been able to add this technique to my repertoire and also to meet the other workshop attendees and facilitators.
I’m excited about the aspect of chance in this technique, which also preoccupied Cage and I’m going to revisit him as an influence. The same aspect of chance is intriguing in my exploration of botanical (eco) printing.
Of course, I don’t believe in chance. It makes life far more interesting.
Anybody tried this method of printing?