Experimental Printmaking

Our final course before portfolio was on printmaking! The teachers for this course were the artists and printmakers Maria Pihl (Carborundum and Woodcut) and Rita Vargas (Etching, Aquatint, Soft Ground), who introduced us to a plethora of printmaking techniques.

Our first technique was Carborundum Collagraph. In the technique you mix carborundum sand and acrylic gesso in various proportions and apply that on a metal plate – aluminum in our case. Depending on the mixture the section of the plate will then absorb different amounts of ink while inking, creating lighter and darker areas on the final print. It is an intaglio method, so combining it with drypoint – in which lines are scored to the plate with a sharp metal tool – was possible.

I am quite happy with the bicycle wrecks – I was able to take multiple prints of that one, and learn how much the amount of ink and rubbing affects the outcome. The cliffside abode was also rather successful. The less that can be said about the final, left-untitled landscape the better: A lot of the detail in it is unfortunately obscured by the dark tone of the ink.

Next it was time to play with acid! Well, not play – you actually ought to be careful around that stuff. Etching and aquatint work by applying some forms of resinous resist – “hard ground” – into copper plates and then selectively removing parts of it. The plate can then be submerged in acid for a time, and the acid dissolves the surface of the plate. The plates are then used for intaglio printing.

The etching alone got somewhat boring results, at least for me; I saw other students get much better and livelier ones. The process was also tedious for what amounted to something rather similar to drypoint printmaking. The aquatint, however, was much more fruitful! I am particularly proud of the broken and fairly painterly background I managed to create through progressive applications of stop-out and short acid baths for the plate. The very bottom is a bit too rough, but that was before I got the hang of the technique. I would like to experiment with aquatint techniques more in the future, as the results seem varied and expressive. The process is still a bit of a pain though.

Soft Ground, using various objects (piece of canvas, dried plants, a hairtie with some hair)

After we had the hang of the acid-etching process we moved on to Soft Ground technique, which also utilizes it. The difference is that the resist applied is soft, rather than hard. The softness of the resist can then be utilized by pressing various thin and soft objects to it with the printing press, creating holes in the resist through which the acid can then act. The printing process itself is the same as for etching and aquatint.

The textures this technique creates are phenomenal: even though this was a rather quick experiment for us, I think the result is quite pleasing due to the variety created by the process. I have to admit that using various found objects in an abstract configuration like this makes me feel like I had limited creative input, and I don’t feel like I fully “own” the piece. Still, it was a great learning experience, and I would like to create something more intricate with the technique – perhaps trying to create something representative and only utilizing different objects for the textures. A portrait or a landscape, perhaps – I tend towards more representative work in general.

Vetten Valtias (“Ruler of the Waters”), oil print woodcut, 2022

Last but definitely not least we did woodcut oil printing. Unlike the other intaglio processes, woodcut is a form of relief printmaking – the raised surfaces left are going to hold the ink, instead of the recesses. I had previous experience in the technique due to attending a course by Maria Pihl before. Having previous experience allowed me to go for a multicolour plate reduction method – but I still went overtime in the class.

I love the results though. All that chiseling away at wood and applying ink on the plate really paid off. I love the colours created – they’re especially luminous in real life, as it’s printed with somewhat transparent ink on thin rice paper: the photo really doesn’t do it justice. The various textures created by woodcut printmaking are also really exquisite, and the directions of the cuts you make show up in the final product, emphasizing movement and form. Woodcut printmaking is definitely something I’ll keep on doing in the future, and not only because I’m attending one of Maria’s classes until the next summer. It is simply an enjoyable process that gets very beautiful results.

The course was overall pleasant but very busy: Time was definitely a limited resource. We only got introduced to these techniques and once we were done with one, it was time for another. A hectic experience, but very educational one. The classes were held at Ratamo – an old trainyard turned into a gallery and a printmaking/photography center – where it’s possible for artists and advanced hobbyists to use the printmaking facilities for a modest fee. If we want to continue exploring the techniques further, the resources to do so are available there.

Collection of metal prints from the course. In intaglio printmaking, the thoroughness and care taken when applying the ink on the plate and rubbing really makes a tremendous difference.

Plastic Arrangement (And Sculpting)

Our next course was an escape from the realm of 2-dimensional surfaces. In plastic arrangement our teacher was the artist – and a delightfully friendly person – Kirsi Tapper. She was a great instructor, and we got to experiment with many different techniques.

Due to the nature of the course and the medium used, this was both the piece I began working the first and the one I finished last. We had to wait for our ceramics to be heated in the oven for them to harden so we could finish the surface: mine was still hot on the final day when I got to finishing. The theme we were given was a queen taking a bath, from the neck up, and the medium is ceramic with an optional surface finish. I chose a rather fairytale-like subject, the old venerable queen bee that has left the hive, on her final swim. The hexagonal shapes that make up the crown are a nod to the geometric creations of bees, and the elf-like ears to the fairytale-like subject matter. The colouring and weathering have been created using liquid charcoal, in washes of various consistencies – it creates a striking effect that I really like, and that fits both the themes of water and age. I am really proud of this work.

Our second work was making a poppy seed pod out of papier-mache, but mine still remains unfinished due to time constraints (the stem isn’t attached). Regardless, I’m more proud of The Morning Mist, above. It’s likewise made out of papier-mache, on a wooden base. I love how effective the simple arrangement is, and the shadows it casts double the number of ships in a beautiful manner. It creates a wonderful mood. The material took a while to get used to, but it creates a pleasant, rough, and unhewn surface texture once dry.

Speaking of shadows, our next exercise was to create one. Well, to create a wooden sculpture that would cast a shadow, with the shadow itself being the important part in the artwork / exercise. The rather simple, and frankly voodoo-doll-looking sculpture is what I came up with: I do like how it’s gestural, and as such the shapes read rather well. I just feel like there’s something.. Traffic-sign-esque about it that I’m not a huge fan of. Overall the exercise was a success, though I’m not sure how I’m supposed to display this in my home, as it requires a rather specific lighting to look presentable.

Ah, gypsum – the material of my nightmares. Not only is it dusty, it also likes to crack, and is generally unpleasant to work with. The resulting work isn’t particularly durable either – I’m constantly paranoid I’m going to drop this one while handling it. I was not very happy with it at any point during the creation process – the sculpting job itself isn’t particularly impressive – but after I decided to go experimental and paint it I was very happy with the results! I was afraid the watercolours I used to paint the sculpture would melt the gypsum, as it is slightly water-soluble, but my fears turned out to be (mostly) unwarranted: the water absorbed into the dry sculpture too fast to be able to dissolve anything, and the resulting surface is bright and pleasant to look at. The texture of the sculpt is accentuated and elevated by the paint. It almost makes me want to create another work in gypsum.

A delightful course, even if slightly short, but I am honestly quite happy with all the works I managed to finish. Working with different materials also felt much more tangible than merely painting on a canvas, and getting to work with your hands is always a pleasure. The ceramic sculpture remains my favourite – clay feels great in your hands as you work it – but I have to admit that painting the gypsum plaster relief was very enjoyable.