Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Nitty Gritty (Ink)
Flowerpress posted recently about Marthe Armitage - if you haven't seen it yet, go and look now! Her work is beautiful, but even more interesting to me were the photos of her at work, printing. And as usual, my first thought was: "I wonder what kind of ink she uses?" And what kind of paper and how dense are the rollers and how soft is the lino and how does she get the image onto the block?
These are the geeky things that printmakers want to know, but it's not always easy to find out. To satisfy my own curiousity, I've started a new blog, PrintSpecs, listing materials and supply sources. If you're a printmaker and would like to join in, email me.
Much of printmaking is done by instinct and superstition* (otherwise known as experience). Ask 20 printers, and you'll most likely find that each one soaks their paper for a different length of time, "just long enough". Each one uses a slightly different amount of ink, enough to "feel right". Printmaking is a tactile process, and a print coming out right is an accumulation of lots of other things coming out right, things that are hard to measure or explain. The bite of the block hitting the press rollers, the sound of the ink being rolled out, the resistance of the ink as you scoop it out of the tin, the weight of the paper as you lift it to lay on the block or plate: all of these things add up, and tell you how the printing is going. Once you've found a system or routine that works, it's unlikely to change, unless your ink supplier goes out of business.
You need to know your own materials intimately. But that doesn't mean you might not want to play with someone else's, just to see. No-one's giving away secrets; anyone trying a new ink will still do their own experiments, make up their own minds. But it's useful, interesting information.
*I mean that in the nicest possible way.