I have been experimenting with the art of collagraphy, or prints made with hand-made textured plates, for many years. The thing that draws me to this type of printmaking process is the simple construction of the plate. I use foam core board as my base and attach pieces of nature, recycled odds and ends, and small metal objects to my plate with acrylic matte medium.
I select an assortment of materials with different textures and arrange them loosely on my foam core plate. I look for interesting compositions but I try to not overthink this stage. Usually a more random arrangement ends up giving me a much better result. But getting a feel for these materials is really important. As I move things around, I begin to see which ones are more easily manipulated. Things like wax paper and packaging materials are really great because when they are coated in wet acrylic matte medium, they can be easily twisted and embedded with other materials. Leaves, twigs, bark, and flower petals work well, especially if they are fresh and malleable. I usually have a few small metal objects on hand to throw into the mix because I like the way their shapes stay fixed and they print quite clearly.
When I am ready to glue things into place, I brush a fairly heavy coat of acrylic matte medium onto the foam core in the areas where I want to place the objects. I work fairly fast, moving things around, pushing things into each other, looking for interesting connections between the forms. Since the printmaking process is a reverse one, meaning that the finished print will appear opposite of the way in which the plate was arranged, I focus more on the relationships between things than the overall composition. I have always enjoyed the surprise factor of printmaking and not knowing what will be revealed until the print is finally pulled off the inked plate.
After gluing everything in place, I brush the entire surface of the plate with a coat of the acrylic matte medium. It is important not to use too heavy of a coat since it may fill in and dull some of the textures of the materials. I occasionally check on the plate as it is drying to see if any of the added bits need to be pushed down so that the overall profile of the plate stays fairly flat. Depending on the weather, humidity, and/or season, the drying time may take an hour or it may take a day. My rule of thumb is to wait twenty-four hours before printing.
When the plate is completely dry, I use a brush to apply block printing ink to the surface. This part of the printing process requires a bit of experimentation. I usually pull at least six test prints to find out the right amount of ink to apply, which papers work best, and whether or not to spray mist the paper. I love this part of the process because it demonstrates the many possible directions and outcomes available through collagraphy.
I work with a variety of rice papers, handmade papers, and other previously made monoprints. After placing a sheet of paper over the inked plate, I gently push my fingers across the back of it to pick up as much ink as possible. I love feeling the topography of the textured plate through the paper. If I'm using the same color ink, I don't wash the plate between each print I pull. If I'm switching ink colors, I carefully rinse the front side of the plate under cool water and try not to get the back or sides of the foam core wet since they are not protected with acrylic matte medium. I blot the plate dry with a paper towel before adding a new ink color.
After pulling a bunch of prints, I lay them flat to dry and take stock of them after a few days. Some of them are kept as is while others are put aside to be worked on with other materials. I particularly like drawing on them with pen and ink. Because I use water soluble printing inks, I will sometimes use a wet brush to open up the dry prints to create ink washes. Needless to say, the beauty of the collagraph process is its openness to many types of approaches and iterative possibilities. My most recent series of collograph prints is titled Flowers for Morris Graves and can be viewed on my www.kayebuchman.com website.