In the following demonstration, I’ll be printing a drypoint from a copper plate onto Washi (Japanese) paper with Daniel Smith Oil based etching ink and using a Richeson 11” baby press. Other material and tools needed include thinner, cotton rags/cloths, tarlatan wipe, blank newspaper, gloves, spatula and a piece of glass.
First off, setting up the press bed. To protect the press bed from stains, some people cover it with paper, but I prefer to use a plastic sheet or acetate because it is easy to clean and it doesn’t need to be replaced as often as paper.
To help centre the plate, the register marks are traced on the other side of the acetate – this is again, to facilitate cleaning and for practical purpose – the marks then won’t erase when wiping-off ink stains with a cloth and a little bit of thinner. The catcher and cushion blankets are in place, ready to be flipped on top of the paper just before printing.
Even though I used a water soluble ink pen to draw on the copper plate before etching over with the drypoint needle, it is always a good idea to clean the copper plate with a cloth and a little bit of solvent to remove greasy finger prints and other dirt from the plate.
Then, make a dolly – it will be used to apply the ink on the plate – The dolly consist of a clean, cotton rag that you roll-up in a cigar shape. Use a piece of string or a strip of cotton rag to tie it up.
Before proceeding to the inking, remember to wet the paper – Wet paper is more flexible and will easily squeeze into the tiny creases to fetch the ink – If I was printing on printmaking paper such as Arches or BFK Rives paper, I’d be submerging the paper in water for a few seconds and then let it rest flat while I’m inking the plate – However, using Washi (Japanese) paper calls for a different method – I’m placing a sheet of washi in between two sheets of wet blank news paper.
Using a spatula, I place some ink on a piece of glass. Spreading/playing with the ink warms it up and makes it more malleable. Then cover the whole plate with ink using the dolly. Remove the excess ink with tarlatan wipe; a kind of stiff cheesecloth.
Wiping the ink off the plate less thoroughly leaves what’s called a plate-tone on the print, which is interesting, but for this first print I have carefully wiped the copper plate leaving ink only inside the scratches left by the drypoint needle and see how that’ll come-off – That’s the fun part about drypoint, where each print can have a little something unique.
Make sure to wipe the sides of the copper plate before placing it on the press bed. Then make sure to wash your hands before handling the paper – I use gloves during the inking and wiping of the ink process – but I still make sure my hands are clean before touching the paper. You never know when a little ink might sneak-up on your hands! Better be careful than sorry.
When placing the paper on top of the inked plate, make sure to place it in one stroke – Do not try to adjust it afterward or it will smudge the print – It is better to have a print that isn’t perfectly centred on the paper, than to have a smudged print – You can always re-cut the paper afterward. Also, it is not a bad idea to make your printing paper a little larger than you need.
Next, the catcher and cushion blankets to be placed on top, also in one stroke. (Some printing techniques require a third blanket called the pusher, but drypoint printmaking doesn’t require this third blanket) The catcher is a blanket made of felt (about 1/16 inch). Hence its name, it “catches” the wetness from the paper and starches that the paper may contain. The cushion is a thicker blanket (1/4 inch) also made of felt. Its use is to provide even pressure and also serve as a cushion for the press rolls rather than directly against metal.
On the Richeson baby, the pressure needs to be set on both sides of the press individually. Printing on Washi needs less pressure, but you don’t want your print to come-out too light either. Results may vary according to the paper and the press used, so a bit of trial and error might be in order.
I’ve printed on Washi before, and judging from the depth of the plate embossed in the washi afterwards, I was okay but I could have applied less pressure. Yet, my first print came-out too light for my taste. I was able to achieve better prints by wiping the plate less thoroughly, resulting in a plate tone. Unfortunately I have yet to figure out how to scan or make photograph that do justice to my prints Here’s one photo that’s not too bad.
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