Saturday Studio: Colorful Collagraph

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Today in the Studio, we’re doing some more printmaking! Although many printmaking processes require the kinds of equipment and chemicals only found in a specialized studio, there are just as many possibilities for creating prints at home with simple supplies. We’ve done a home version of lithography, and even the Dancing Veggies are a simple form of printmaking. Today’s process is simple and flexible with lots of room for experimentation: we’re making collagraphs!

A collagraph is a type of print created from a plate that is essentially a collage (hence the name collagraph). While they can be made from collages of flat materials like cardstock or masking tape, they also provide an excellent avenue to experiment with texture by using more raised materials, creating a printing plate more akin to a low-relief sculpture rather than an ordinary collage.

Many artists combine collagraphy with other types of printmaking, as in this print from the FWMoA permanent collection where the background is a collagraph–can you find the lightly printed and embossed bird feathers?

A white background washed with yellow that looks like feathers sits behind black line drawings of birds, including an owl. Each bird has it's own tree limb to sit on, though no full tree is present. Instead, the birds perched on the limbs float on the composition.
Meghan O’Connor, American, b. 1981. Hometown Hierarchy. Lithograph and collagraph, 2014. Museum Purchase, 2016.143.21. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

This printmaker has used all kinds of textured materials to play with pattern in an abstract print. Can you tell what materials were used?

An abstract print with a white background and brown shapes and squiggles.
Carole Nelson Stoddard, American, b. 1935. Beta. Collagraph, 2009. Gift of the Area Artists Association, Michigan City, Indiana, 2008.09.22. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Collagraphs can be printed as a relief print, like a woodcut or linocut, where ink is simply applied to the raised areas of the plate. They can also be printed intaglio, like an etching, where ink is rubbed into the recessed areas of the plate. The intaglio method requires more pressure to print (they’re usually run through a press) so we are going to treat ours as relief prints today.

We’ve done some stamping with found objects in the Studio before, and the principle here is similar (Shapiro and his friend Steven Sorman also used collagraphy in their work!). We’ll be creating a printing plate that can be used over and over to create (roughly) identical multiples. Here’s how!

SUPPLIES:

  • Cardboard or mat board to use as a base for your plate
  • Collage materials of various textures: this can be as simple as building up layers of scrap paper or cardstock, but you can really have fun scavenging your house and backyard for textures. Some of my favorites: corrugated cardboard with the top layer peeled off, leaves, and yarn or string (especially if it has a pronounced, rope-like twist!). You’ll want all of your materials to be roughly the same thickness—objects that stick up far above your printing plate will make it more difficult to print.
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Paint for printing (tempera works!)
  • A spray bottle filled with water
  • Paint brushes or sponges to apply paint to the plate
  • A wooden spoon or a baren
  • Paper for printing: something a bit thicker is best, I used a mid-weight drawing paper
  • Optional: acrylic medium or varnish, a printmaking brayer

HOW TO

Decide on your subject! You can sketch it on your cardboard “plate” first if you like, and I would recommend doing so if you want to create a representational (non-abstract) image. For my first print, I cut out various shapes from my materials and arranged them until I was happy with the composition.

Consider layering different textures! I really wanted to just see how the different materials would print at first, so I tried to include as many as possible while still making a cohesive design.

Once you’re happy with the arrangement, glue everything down. You can also draw with glue as anything raised will print! I added a few dots around my plate to see how this would work.

Let it dry…you could even make another plate while you wait!

I made this second plate using only yarn to “draw” while I waited on my first to dry.

Now for an optional step: if you think you may want to create a larger edition (that is, more prints using the same plate) you may want to seal your plate to make it a bit sturdier. This can also be important if you think you may want to switch colors so that you can clean the plate more easily in between. It will change the way your materials hold the ink (or paint) and you’ll want to be sure to use a thin layer so it doesn’t fill in any of the finer textures. Use an acrylic medium or varnish brushed over the surface if you like.

Is your glue (and optional sealer) dry? Great, let’s print!

After applying ink with a brush.
This print was made by applying the paint withe the brayer–not a very clear impression!

Apply the paint to your plate using a brush or brayer. If your collage is not an even height from the plate, a brush or sponge will work better. The brayer worked just fine for my yarn-only print, but a brush worked much better for the more varied plate. Apply a thin, even coat, brushing in different directions or even using a circular motion to make sure everything is coated. You can even use multiple colors for different parts of your plate. Your paint will probably start to dry–don’t worry!

Once you’ve applied an even layer to the entire plate, wash your hands, have your paper nearby and lightly mist the plate with water. This will re-moisten the tempera paint enough to transfer to your paper.

Lay the paper on top of the plate and gently press down with your hands to stick it in place, then use the wooden spoon or the baren to rub more firmly against the back of the paper, always holding the paper down with the other hand so it doesn’t shift. Be careful not to rip the paper, especially if your plate is very heavily textured! It really doesn’t take much pressure to transfer the image. I even printed a couple just by rubbing with my fingers!

Peel back a corner to check your progress, still holding the paper down with your other hand. If you’re happy with it, pull off the rest of the paper, if not, continue rubbing the back.

The finished print after applying paint with a brush!

My string-only print! I love how the texture of the string shows!

Print it again! If the first one was very dark, you could try simply spraying the plate with a bit more water and printing again to make a lighter image.

I made one more plate because I wanted to try using a leaf, inspired by this etching currently on display in the Print & Drawing Study Center.

A portrait of a girl with her eyes closed, face turned downward. Her hair is a dark black, and she wears a scarf knotted at her throat. Instead of a coat, we can see the lines of her organs. Resting in her hair, like ears, are two large leaves.
David Warren, American, b. 1971. Moth Girl. Etching and aquatint. Museum Purchase, 2016.143.31. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

I layered everything on top of some gridded mesh that I found. Since the leaf is thin, the grid pattern came through in the final print!

As always, share your creations with us here on the blog or on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter! Can you make a collagraph more colorful than Alyssa’s?

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