As an intaglio printmaker who works on a very large scale I reached a point earlier in my printmaking career where working with acids, copper aquatint boxes etc were just not practicable.
Before moving to San Francisco in 2000 I had been working from a home studio for a couple of years without much access to traditional printmaking facilities, I had small children in the house and did not want any harmful or dangerous toxic chemicals or acids around.
I began experimenting on a small scale with different substrates to make drypoint plates, as I was finding plexiglass rather brittle and unforgiving, copper is expensive and it seemed wasteful, especially as I tend towards very small, varied editions of between 4 and 6.
I had, for a time, been using paper plates I had found at Intaglio Printmakers in London, but I found that these didn't hold up for long and were not quite right for my own personal approach, as I employ mark making and line work combined with chiaroscuro effects to create mood and atmosphere, and was looking for a substrate where I could create that effect with a non toxic method I could use at home.
When I arrived in San Francisco I was lucky to get a studio at Hunters Point Shipyard, one of the United States oldest and largest (over 200 Studios) artists colony housed at the old naval docks in one of the less salubrious parts of the city. I initially got a share studio before moving into my own space and that added to the need for a non toxic, acid free approach to making my plates. Not only had I started working on much larger images, but I had also started teaching at various art institutes and art colleges in the Bay area and having been to college in the UK I was amazed to find how much students here had to pay, not only for their classes, but for most of the supplies. This spurred me on to find a way of making dry points on a cheap and non toxic substrate so that students could approach their Drypoints more as drawings and not have to worry about making their first marks on an expensive (if beautiful) copper plate.
View from the Beach, Drypoint, 33in x13in
After experimenting exhaustively with a wide range of different materials, I decided on illustration board sealed with acrylic gloss medium and used that for a couple of years. This worked well, but I found the surface a little too rubbery to make the lovely velvet line I was trying to emulate, especially if applied too thickly, a mistake students would make frequently which often led to frustration, but it was certainly a cheap and cheerful method that was generally a great success, cutting students printmaking supply costs down substantially.
I continued to experiment to find a more satisfactory surface and one evening, ready to prepare a plate I discovered that I was out of acrylic medium, I found some wood varnish in my studio so I used that instead and found it to be the perfect surface giving a crisp line and easier to wipe surface and I have used that ever since.
Around 2005 I discovered the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, a great facility for printmakers in the Bay Area. I applied to be an Artist in residence. The moment I arrived I set eyes on their 44in x 66in American Tool etching Press. Having access to the large press allowed me to move forward with my ideas and develop much larger plates that were more in tune with my imagery, which I felt demanded a much larger format than I was able to print on my own press . Composing my images using exaggerated perspective and squeezing the subject matter tightly into the picture plain I could recreate the impact and power of these industrial structures.
Drawing is a very important and integral part of my practice. I always carry a sketch book with me and when I see something that has an impact on me I do a quick drawing or watercolor sketch to capture the essence of the moment, that emotional connection with the subject matter. This direct engagement with my subject matter enables me to emphasize the sense of place both physically and intellectually. The act of sketching, then drawing my compositions back in the studio and once again redrawing on a large scale onto the cardboard plate, followed my the act of incising and creating the Drypoint takes me a step away each time from the literal object , and further towards my own reaction and resolution of my subject matter. When I eventually start printing my mono prints I will prop the sketchbook up next to my ink and plates and will use the sketch to remind myself of the initial, viseral reaction and the mood I want to capture in my finished work. Sketches, I find, like music, can take you back to experience the exact moment in time and remind you of what appealed to you about that particular imagery.
Dipper, Monoprint, 30in x 30in
I always make my Plates in advance in my studio before beginning a series of large prints. I usually only have access to large presses for a couple of months a year and I want to use my precious time printing on the press, as it can take me a full day to print just one Mono print. My large (60x40) plates can take me up to a week or two to make after preparing the substrate with varnish, I will then start working on the plate with a diamond tip drypoint needle, sandpaper, carborundum and other mark making tools. I do not consider these plates colagraphs and I treat the surface as I would if I was making a copper drypoint, drawing down into the substrate, not building it up.
When I start a print I begin with the underlying layers of monotype, working in thin layers from light to dark, layering up to 7 subsequent layers of translucent ink, one on top of the other, each drop revealing elements of the previous layer to create a depth of tone, texture and and saturated Colour. Once I am happy with the monotype underneath, I will finish the print with the Drypoint. To keep the registration accurate, I usually prepare all my plates in advance, and then trap the paper beneath the roller, replacing each printed plate with the next within its registration marks until all the plates are printed. I usually hang the prints out to dry for a week or so, before cleaning, re-dampening them and flattening them.
I have taught this method for many years in the United States and have found that the accessibility of the method has huge appeal for many experienced and novice Printmakers alike, encouraging a sense of freedom and risk taking ...if it doesn't work out, it has not cost a fortune, or taken weeks to make. From my own point of view, the ability to make Cardboard Drypoint plates of almost any size and for very little cost has opened up an almost limitless range of possibilities, that, and the fact that there is always something new to learn - for me that is the real beauty of printmaking.
Artist Website: http://www.jennyrobinson.com
ABOUT MY WORK
My subject matter revolves around urban environments that are in a constant cycle of decay and renewal. By exploring the dichotomy of these often abandoned structures, at once monumental and fragile, unsightly yet beautiful, I aim to bring attention to the drama of the overlooked and abandoned corners of the modern world.
Working on a large scale, I create compositions that exaggerate perspective and squeeze the subject matter tightly into the picture plane in order to create a sense of scale that is intended to create the same powerful impact as the structures they represent. Compositions that draw the viewer in to contemplate the ultimate fragility of our built environment.
Drawing is an important and integral part of my practice and I always carry a sketchbook, which I use to make quick pen and ink sketches or swift watercolour studies. This direct engagement with my subject matter enables me to emphasize the essence of the moment both physically and intellectually. I always return to my sketchbook, propping it open next to my plates and inks so that I can stay true to that initial response, the gut feeling I experienced when I made my initial drawings. Only in that way can I hope to stay true to the emotional reaction of that specific time and place.
As a passionate exponent of printmaking, my chosen medium, I feel it is important to do as much as I can to keep this important traditional art form alive whilst also exploring innovative, new non toxic approaches to making prints by sidestepping may of the harmful methods and working with renewable, sustainable and cheaper materials. By making prints that are huge by comparison to the accepted norm, I hope to bring printmaking more into the public realm and seek ways to increase prints' visibility and influence and educate the public on the artistic importance of keeping the traditional arts alive in this time of ubiquitous digital media.