Helen Donley was our tutor for the one-day course on drypoint methods of printing at Northern Print on Friday 15th August 2014.
I was a little apprehensive about it because I was unsure whether I’d be able to apply the pressure required but had decided I wouldn’t know if I could do it if I didn’t try. I had been thinking for a couple of weeks about what image to try but still hadn’t decided as I rushed out this morning, grabbing my ideas book I had from participating in the Ouseburn Community project.
I decided to try the image of the 1905 electric locomotive that was designed for the freight line that used to go through and under Ouseburn to the Quayside. Unfortunately, the only photo I had available didn’t show the bottom part of the locomotive clearly enough – especially when trying to see it through tracing paper – but this was about trying out the printing method rather than producing a perfect print and the image was otherwise a good one for the mark-making techniques possible.
Helen showed us examples of tools and of drypoint plates and prints made by various people (including her own work) so we could see and feel the variety of marks possible with different tools. We started off with card plates. I decided to transfer the outline of my image via tracing paper. When I looked up, almost everyone else was already at the first inking up stage and I hadn’t started on scratching lines into mine. I started to feel a little anxious that I would end up the class dunce and scratched into the card faster to catch up.
We were printing onto dampened paper. The first print showed me which areas needed to be darkened. I was surprised at how easy it is to work into the plate after it’s been printed. I expected it to be messier than it was. The shiny surface of the cardboard started to tear off when scratched into a lot and I found it was impossible to be precise in lifting out an area. This was good for me because I have an inclination to control things too much.
Around this point we had a lunch break and a couple of the others decided to try working on plastic plates. I realised that I wouldn’t have time to try those before we started work on the copper plates after lunch, and could try the plastic plate at home.
We learned how to file and burnish the edges of our copper plates (to avoid cutting ourselves and the press’s blankets), and how to prepare the surface using wet-and-dry paper, very fine steel wool, and then polish. I decided to re-use the traced image I’d done in the morning and to add a layer of carbon paper underneath to transfer the image to the copper.
It was quite difficult to see the lines on the copper as the light kept reflecting off it. Making lines in it was easier than I had expected, even though I have cut and shaped copper sometimes since I was 11 or 12 years old. I used mainly a diamond point tool and a roulette wheel to make the marks, and worked on it faster as I noticed that everyone else was getting to trial first stage before I had got halfway through my basic drawing. When I got to the point of being confused about where I had made marks, I decided to try a first print to see what needed to be done next.
The drawing wasn’t great (the lines were less clear second time round, after they had been smudged a lot by my hand) but I did enjoy the way the ink worked with the plate, and how I had more control over the ink than I had expected. I enjoyed the rubbing the ink into the lines and then gently buffing off the unwanted areas with scrim because I could choose to leave random inky marks on the plate or to wipe them away.
I rushed to get a last print done, and possibly left a little more ink on it than I should have, but I rather like the effect.
Helen was a great teacher and I enjoyed her enthusiasm for this method of printing. I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone who wants to get started in learning to print. By the end of the day, I was already looking forward to doing some more dry point. The simplicity of the basic materials and tools to create the plates make this an attractive option. It’s even possible to work on such plates outside. I have quite a lot of ideas already, but now I’m starting to get more (the idea of a series of signal boxes came to me this morning). I just need to find some more money for studio time and materials – and lots of time!