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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Print Making Workshop

As part of the MA Fine Art digital Low Residency at Central Saint Martin’s, we had the choice of three workshops on Monday 11th March. Two of the workshops involved tech and creating digital content, the third was a print-making workshops. I opted for the latter for a couple reasons; firstly, I spend way too much time staring at my computer screen as it is and I relish the opportunity to do something tactile, with my hands; secondly, having recently read the History of Propaganda Prints by Colin Moore, I was interested to learn more about different print-making techniques. In hindsight this was a bad choice, as I didn’t realise that we would be learning etching – which involves the use of Nitric acid, along with a bunch of other horrendously-smelling chemicals which didn’t go down well with my asthmatic lungs.


The first half of the workshop was great; we were shown different examples of printing techniques and then showed how to prepare a Zinc plate for etching. There were a lot of steps to the process which were difficult to remember, and honestly, I think I would find it quite frustrating to do printing all the time because of the time it takes to do – it made me realise I like immediacy in my creative work: My sketches are usually produced in under 1 hour and my abstract paintings created with the spontaneous process of throwing paint at a canvas. I can see the attraction of being able to produce multiples of an image, especially given that when people have purchased prints of my original sketches, I have always had them digitally printed which doesn’t have the same hand-made quality and tactility. But then again, part of me thinks there is something nice about the unique value of a singular image – printing multiples somehow feels like it devalues the worth of the original.


Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the stage of carving into the relief on the zinc plate. The second years had advised us not to spend too long creating an elaborate design, in order to maximise time experimenting with different processes and effects. So, I decided to copy from a sketch I had previously made and chose a very wiry design of an outdoor lift in Lisbon which I had created in a hurry as the sun was setting. It was odd how retracing the linework took me back to the place in my mind, I could remember the chill of the strong, evening winds and the bustle of the passers-by, as I sat on a rickety plastic table outside a small café in the lanes – the uneven surface of the shiny, white paving tiles causing the table to rock back and forth as I drew. The tool used for etching into the relief seemed to have a mind of its own, causing the lines to jolt off in unexpected directions – but this worked for the style of the image I was creating. I was glad I hadn’t chosen a design which required more precision and uniformity.


Then we were shown the etching process, which involved a bath of Nitric acid and brushing/wiping various other obnoxious substances onto the Zinc plate. This was the point when I started to cough. We were shown how to ink our plates and role them through the presser to create prints on cartridge paper. I think my favourite part of this process was spinning the wheel to make the rollers turn.


After the first print came out, I realised that I had made the mistake of writing on my plate – forgetting that the lettering would come out in mirror-writing. However, the writing was the correct way on the plate and given that I preferred this metal object to the prints, in the end, I wasn’t that bothered. I had removed a lot of the ink from the plate before printing the first time and the print came out quite light. I decided I wanted to make the print more “atmospheric” and “moody”, so, I added extra ink around the edges and wiped it to form swirling clouds around the central structure. These prints came out with much more power and atmosphere.


After lunch, I decided to add a second later of etching with the “hard ground” relief – with the intention of this layer giving texture and shading to the print. I left the zinc plate in the ink bath for around half the time as I didn’t want the lines to appear as prominently as the main line work. However, after this second round of chemical processes it felt like my lungs were on fire. I had to sit outside the workshop for a while, and seriously wondered whether I would be able to make any more prints.


I struggled through what must have been an irritating amount of coughing for everyone else in the workshop and made another three prints, again adding different amounts of ink to the zinc plate to create contrasting intensity in the resulting prints. Once these were finished, I left them on the drying wrack and spent the rest of the workshop sitting outside reading my book whilst the others were experimenting with different techniques, such as using soft grounds or adding textures to the background.


Overall, I was happy with the resulting prints (even though I still prefer the plate as an "art object") and I am planning on adding watercolour to the prints which were lighter and less dramatic / impactful. It was interesting to learn a new technique (I have only done mono-printing, screen-printing and lino-cut before) but I doubt I will be trying this print-making technique again, unless my Asthma improves considerably!

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