First Impressions

When I last posted, my new Whelan press had just arrived. I’ve been spending the past week testing it out, learning how much pressure to apply to what kind of print matrix, and learning how much I need to reconfigure my studio to accommodate a new way of working. It’s all so exciting!

But all of a sudden I was done with testing and being careful and scientific. Time to really print! Being the nerd that I am, I often found myself working on the print process with one hand and my camera in the other, to document what I was doing. Lucky readers, you get to follow along as I print my first actual prints — and learn a bit about how an etching is printed, as well.

Assume I’ve torn my paper to size. (I have.) My first step is to put the ready paper into a bath to soak for a few minutes. This will remove some of the sizing and allow the ink to more easily be absorbed into the paper fibers. The tub is one of the things I realized I had to buy in order to do this kind of print. (OK, I could do a wet pack, but I prefer the tub soaking method.) I was going to buy a photo developing tray, but found I could get a tray of the right size at the hardware store for a fraction of the price. Plus it’s such a pretty blue!
Soaking the paper before printing

I’ve decided to print some copies of “Figure,” which I etched in my first semester of my etching and intaglio class at Cabrillo College. It’s a good etching to start with — the lines are simple and clear, and the image doesn’t extend to the edges of the copper plate, which will make it easier to ink. The plate has been in storage for a while, so it’s a bit oxidated.
The copper plate for Figure

A quick dip in a bath of vinegar and salt will clear that oxidation right up! And I feel very clever for extending my work space by putting a bit of plywood over the stovetop.
The plate in a vinegar bath to de-oxidize

I’ve already worked with some etching plates on this press, making dry impressions (no ink, and using dry paper) to test how much pressure I need. I set the press accordingly.
Adjusting the pressure on the press

OK! Time to get inky! Here’s a nice new can of ink, and the plate ready for working on top of an old phone book. Old phone books are a printmaker’s best friend: an instant stack of newsprint, each page a clean work surface, ready to be thrown away when dirty, handy for tearing little bits off for wiping extra ink off detailed areas on the plate.
Can of ink

After working the ink to get it smooth and even, I apply the ink using a bit of Bondo. I’ll wipe the ink in several directions, to make sure it’s well embedded in the etched lines.
Spreading the ink onto the plate

I wipe off the excess, first with a piece of tarlatan, then fine-tuning with a piece of newsprint.
Wiping off excess ink with a tarlatan

Here’s the plate, ready for printing. (Actually, I gave it a bit more of a wipe after this, but we’re pretty close here.) Notice how the lines now hold ink.
The plate is ready for its closeup

The plate has been centered on the press bed, the soaked paper blotted between two towels and placed on top of the inked plate, and now I’m lowering the felt blankets over the whole kit and kaboodle.
Placing the felt blankets over the plate and paper

And we’re ready to spin the wheel, wheee! I feel like the captain of the Titanic. Or, actually, the captain of some luckier ship. In any case, it’s fun to spin the wheel. The large size makes it easier to rotate, given the pressure on the plate.
Spinning the wheel

The moment of truth. Success!
Lifting the paper off the plate

And here are a couple of prints drying. I made six prints today, not a bad start. And I learned a lot about how to set up my new workspace.
Prints on the dry stack

Archy isn’t too sure about the whole thing. It impinges on the food bowls and cramps his style.
Archy and the press

Author: Melissa

1 thought on “First Impressions

  1. Congrats on turning out your 1st print image on the new press! It actually looks rather like a spinning mummy…but maybe that means you’ll be spinning prints out in record numbers – and that’s a good thing. And all the while humming “Someday my prints will come…”
    And did you notice? I am once again able to read your blog! Hoorah for technology. Sometimes.

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