Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

#4: “Tree”, Sri Aurobindo (the Hindu poem)

The imagery for this one was fairly straightforward- hands, trees, the conflict between heavenly and earthly desires- a tree in the shape of two hands with one branching, growing and reaching up, and the other, firmly rooted, reaching down. I chose lovely Environment birch paper for this print, and green and greenish-yellow for the colors, which seemed appropriately symbolic according to Hindu color symbolism (or so I was told by ye olde internet).

The first challenge: INK. INK IS TRICKY. I chose a color from a booklet and prepared it according to the directions using the base colors in the specified proportions. The green text was easy. The greenish-yellow…not so much. You mix ink on a glass plate, but then you have to test it on a piece of scrap paper because your puddle of ink looks completely different from the color it will print. So you get a tiny amount of ink on the paper, smear it around vigorously with another piece of paper, and that gives you a better idea of the actual color you’ll be printing. However, if you look at the color on the paper, you should imagine it lighter and less saturated, and that will be even closer to how it’ll print. Once you put your ink on the press, you have to clean the whole press if you decide it’s a tad too light/bright/dark/purple/whatever. Also, as a general rule of thumb: less is more when you’re adding dark ink to light. If you’re making a color that calls for 12 parts yellow , 14 parts white and 1/4-part blue, you’d better make sure you don’t add 1/2-part blue. You’ll quickly end up with a pint of ink if you try to lighten a color that’s too dark (you usually need less than a tablespoon to print 100 copies of something). It’s better to take, say, half or even a quarter of the color that you accidentally mixed too dark, and then add white/yellow/whatever to that. It’s easy to add more dark ink.

So anyway, I should’ve added more green to my greenish-yellow, because what I got was nearly neon yellow. I told myself, “it’ll probably darken as it dries”. I have also told myself, “I think the ink gets lighter as it dries” as well as, “I think the ink gets more opaque as it dries” (more on that later, actually). In reality, I still don’t know which, if any, of those are true, but the change is minute. The way the ink prints is basically the way it will look when it’s dry. If you have any doubts (more on this later, too), just clean the press and fix the color. You’ll be glad you did.

Well, I went ahead with the neon yellow. And then I encountered…

The second challenge. Something was odd about the way the image was printing. The ink coverage was good, but…what is that? Thinking the block still had some black ink on it from when I’d printed a test in black a few days earlier, I got out the cleaner and cleaned the block, being careful to get into the little crevices where black ink might be hiding. Using such a light color, I knew that any leftover ink on the block or on the press rollers would be noticeable.
Well, the problem didn’t go away, but now I could tell what it was: the ink from the sharpie I’d used to draw the tree shape before carving it was somehow printing. I have never seen or heard of this happening before- and had used it on the illustrations for the three previous poems. I scrubbed the block again with very, very nasty chemicals, but couldn’t get the permanent ink off (darn them and their accurate advertising!). After a third scrubbing, I gave up and printed the rest of the broadsides. At this point there was only a faint outline on part of the image, but it still screamed “SHARPIE INK RESIDUE!” to me. But if no one else knows how it got there, they probably won’t think “sharpie residue”. I hope they don’t. But after that I haven’t used a sharpie, which has been a bit of a pain because graphite smears so easily on linoleum. And you still have to be sure to clean it off before printing. Ah well. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading through these posts is so interesting. Man, what a lot of work. I like the linoleum block that you make. Looks cool. But the poems are beautiful. I hope you get to keep a copy of all of them for your own. You should be very proud of this work.
Mom O.