The idea of trying a three-plate relief solar plate print in cyan, magenta and yellow had been floating around in my head for a while.
I had liked the little postcard-sized print I had made for the international print exchange in the summer of 2016. That had been a two-plate relief solar plate print, combining the yellow and magenta layers into one plate, and cyan and black layers into a second plate, and printed in translucent orange and ultramarine blue.
The little tapas jug had caught my eye in a sale. Its suggestion of Mediterranean holidays and the strong colours made me think of some of the flowers in my garden which grow wild in places such as South and Central America. The flowers and the little jug were like a colourful souvenir of the holidays in exotic places that I never had and never will have. I’ve been away on very few holidays in my adult life, and haven’t been abroad since my 20s.
What seemed like a simple still life composition took more work than I expected to simplify it to the point it would work as a print. I was going to work from the photograph originally but ended up creating a drawing and then smoothing that out on the computer.
Once I had an image that worked, I split the colour channels on the computer, discarding the black layer, and then turned each layer (cyan, magenta and yellow), into a half-tone image. I wanted to push the image by having big dots, arranging them in different directions, to the point where some colours might not read easily. The 3 colour layers, now black and white, were inverted and printed onto an acetate-type film to create negatives.
I put these negatives against solar plates and exposed them in the light box. Once exposed to the light, I washed each one in water for a few minutes and then dried it. The light areas of the negatives were hardened by the light and the dark areas were washed away by the water.
Inking up proved harder than I’d expected. I kept getting ink on the parts where it wasn’t supposed to be. I really needed 2 runners of unexposed plate the same length as the longest size to put either side of the plate to support the roller.
I printed each layer separately first to check the plates.
I tried putting the magenta and yellow together, and then all three plates. I found that I hadn’t allowed enough paper to keep the paper trapped under the roller while I swapped plates, and managed to get one plate the wrong way round on one print (despite writing ‘top’ on the paper underneath and on the back of the plate).
I experimented a bit with deliberately off-setting the plates a little as well as trying to get them lined up as closely as possible. I find it quite fascinating how the slightest shift, just a millimetre or two, can change the colours.
It was the end of the day, arthritis was flaring up in my hands, and we had to be out of the studio within minutes so I rather anxiously decided on which print to submit for Northern Print’s Northern Footprints show (not shown here – I didn’t have time or sufficient light to photograph it properly). I was concerned that it wasn’t good enough.
Weeks later, I was so surprised to hear my name read out as the winner of the Reid Framing Purchase Prize at the Northern Footprints preview that I started to look round for the other Janet Davis who must have won it. I was delighted, of course, once it sank in that it really was my print that had been selected.
From this I learned that I’m not the best judge of my own work, especially when I’m exhausted. I will do some more solar plate prints. They’re not the cheapest type of plates but I do like the process.