Eco Collograph – it seems I’ve invented the term, which is nice if it’s true since I rarely invent anything. I poke around – books, bookshops, art galleries, the Internet – find and adapt. Which is exactly how Eco Collographs came about, since the technique comes from Alice Fox’s fabulous book Natural Processes in Textile Art.
It’s subtitled From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects and in the book are described a good number of techniques. And this particular printmaking/markmaking technique is breathtakingly simple. It’s in a section of the book on embossing – marks made not from inked plates, but impressions of three-dimensional objects on the paper, fed through the rollers of the printing press.
Printing press? Don’t they cost a fortune? Yes. The cost of a printing press often runs into four figures. But don’t run off; the printing press used in this case is a pasta-making machine. And the one I bought was Top Home Solutions® 3 in 1 Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Professional Fresh Pasta Lasagne Spaghetti Tagliatelle Maker Machine Cutter. It comes with a clamp to attach the machine to a table or other surface; and it cost an unprincely £17.94 ($23.64) and the rollers have nine settings, which means you can adjust the spacing between the rollers nine times, to suit the thickness of whatever you’re feeding through them.
A proper collograph (an alternative spelling is collagraph) is a printing plate and therefore reusable; for example, an assemblage glued down onto a base, inked, then printed onto something, usually paper. My prints, in this case, are monoprints as well as collographs. I used as a first experiment, some sycamore seed heads – windmills – as I have a constant supply raining down into my garden from overhanging sycamore trees (whether I like it or not). I placed them, rather than glued them, meaning that they shifted as they went through the rollers of the pasta machine. So the results were unpredictable. I like unpredictable. And I noticed that as well as achieving an impression of the seed head in the paper, some colour transferred.
Alice Fox recommends printing onto watercolour paper over 200 gsm (120 lbs). The paper I am using here is 300 gsm (140 lbs). Why 140 lbs? Well, the papers in my local art shop (Frances Iles) are kept upstairs, first floor. The day I walked in seeking paper for this specific technique, my eyes fell at once upon this lovely, big, landscape-shaped, 300 gsm watercolour pad. There it was, all on its own on a stand just inside the door and on sale at half its normal price. Talk about meant-to-be.
You soak the paper for at least ten minutes, then blot it till it’s lost its glossy surface. I soaked mine in the bath while I raided my garden for plant material. I have lots of clematis that have flowered and the flowers have developed into spectacular frondy seed heads. The print above this paragraph is from some of these clematis seed heads. If you look closely, you will see how the stems have also been embossed into the paper and some of their greenness has transferred.
I placed the plant matter on one half of my moist watercolour paper, folded the other half over onto that, creating a sandwich. I sandwiched the sandwich with thin card (from a cereal box) to protect the paper and fed it through the rollers. It’s trial-and-error, getting the roller setting right. The top two images are battered, stained and torn first tries – before I remembered to wrap the paper in card. But I also like battered and torn – battered and torn mirrors life, thus an appropriate metaphor for my inkblotty mirror images.
You don’t have to make mirror images, of course.
Only small prints can be achieved using a pasta machine, since the rollers are only about six inches wide, but you can feed through quite long pieces of paper, as I did here.
This technique is, like sketching, a way of recording the treasures found on sorties into nature. Sketching is another way – the traditional way. Both techniques are about making marks that represent. This, in addition, is, I think, a kind of entrapment, entrapment of the energies of nature. And yes, unless the plant matter has dropped from tree or bush, there is an element of cruelty, even. And in that, isn’t really eco. Is it valid? Life is cruel.
Is it valid to be cruel – even to a seed head – in order to make the point that life is cruel? I think so. In the same way that even we vegetarians/vegans need to kill plants for our sustenance, we also need to kill for art’s sake, which is also sustenance. We cannot survive without either food or art. They are both fundamentals. Our responsibility must be however, to do as little damage as possible as we pass through this earthly plane. And to honour and give respect to that which we kill for our sustenance. How many of us give a thought to our food before we eat it? How many of us artists are conscious of the sacrifice of life that went into our art materials, papers, canvasses?
Food for thought and pardon the pun.
I am looking forward to experimenting further with my pasta machine printer. But recommend Alice Fox’s marvellous book for the complete embossing technique. And also, all the many other recipes she shares for markmaking and further, her tips on combining techniques to arrive at a finished piece.