Learning about printing intaglio plates in colours

I love other people’s colour prints, such as the subtlety of etchings with aquatint, the boldness or subtlety achievable with layering colours in screen or lino printing. Drypoint plates tend to be printed in monochrome, which can be perfect – but I want to add colour to mine. I’ve tried viscosity printing with variable results so far (plastic plate doesn’t work well, card plate works better but is more fragile and you can’t clean the plate thoroughly if you change your mind about which colours to use).  I have added colour to some prints by brushing the ink onto the plate after inking it up as an intaglio plate.

But I had realised that there must be other ways of successfully creating multiple colour prints using drypoint (or other intaglio type plate) and so I was delighted to see a Northern Print course on this very topic: ‘Intaglio printing in colour using multiple plates.’

There was a lot of measuring. Sharp pencils were required. The pencil sharpener was required at regular intervals. Accuracy is key to working with multiple plates to create a print. There were some swear words muttered.

After making a registration sheet, we first learned how to make a stencilled plate and found that the thickness of the acetate could make a difference to how much ink reached the plate.

Carousel horse with orange stencil

Carousel horse with orange stencil.

Then we made another drypoint plate (I decided to try to make a plate that was the same shape as the foreground horse and scratched the decorative patterns and the bridle of the horse into it. I did it rather roughly and rapidly to get it done in time. This was all about seeing how the technique worked rather than producing a beautiful print.

Carousel horse printed with 2 drypoint plates, the green one is a horse-shaped one.

Carousel horse printed with 2 drypoint plates, the green one is a horse-shaped one.

This print was the result of printing first the stencilled one (just the three orange shape), the 2nd, horse-shaped plate (in green); and then the main plate which I inked up à la poupée (a tool made in this case from tightly rolled old etching blanket), making sure I kept the areas clean where this plate would print over the area printed by the 1st 2 plates. Inking à la poupée enabled me to ink up in different colours at one time on the plate, blending one colour into another where they overlapped.

Carousel horse printed with 3 drypoint plates, the green one is a horse-shaped one, and main plate is inked up à la poupées.

Carousel horse printed with 3 drypoint plates, the green one is a horse-shaped one, and main plate is inked up à la poupées.

I’m hoping I’ll remember how to do the registration properly when I try it by myself in the studio. This was such a useful course (taught really well by Helen Donnelly). By the end of it, I was starting to see how I could use these techniques with different subjects. I may even finally be ready to do some landscapes in print. I’m looking forward to trying it out. Now I just need to decide what image to try first.

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