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I discovered the art of collagraph printing in a three day workshop with artist Sarah Amos

From the lack of posts over the past I’ve-lost-track-of-how-long, you can probably gather I’ve been pretty busy. We’ve moved into a gorgeous new house (more on that when I’ve cleaned up enough to take some pics – don’t hold your breath) and I’ve been juggling full time work, my thesis and a few other projects. There’s been a lot of late nights and not a whole lot of down time, which left me with all the creativity of a photocopier.

Lucky for me, Alex’s mum is an amazing artist always looking to learn new techniques and she booked the two of us in for a three-day printmaking workshop with Sarah Amos at Melbourne’s Firestation Print Studio.

The Firestation Print Studio, Melbourne

The first day we did a whole lot of listening and watching Sarah work her magic on the press, which was good for me because the last time I did any printmaking was back in high school where I was more concerned with not gouging a giant chunk out of my hand with a lino cutting tool than making high art.

We were focusing on Sarah’s specialty, collagraph printing, which involves making plates covered in different textures in various shapes and patterns which are then printed on top of each other in different colours to make a whole image. After the image is completely dry, ie: been left under heavy MDF boards for a week (or in my case under my upturned desk) they can be drawn/painted over or collaged. This is tricky both because it opens up endless, overwhelming possibilities and because before you start printing, or even plate-making, you have to have an idea of the finished image in your head and how to get there through all the different colours shapes and layers.

Sarah Amos shows teaches us about the art of inking plates.

 

Sarah demonstrates how to layer ‘ghost’ prints.

It’s a messy process full of experimentation, where you can expect to go through a bazzillion drafts before nailing the final image… so my three day break from writing wasn’t such a break at all.

Our first night Alex’s mum raided a local paper shop, art supply store and Lyncraft for ‘textures,’ spread out our bags of goodies on the dining room table and got down to some serious plate making, and boy were we prolific. It was after midnight when i finally collapsed into bed and the living room floor was completely covered in gleaming glossed plates laid out to dry.

Girls’ night in making plates.

 

A sample of our finished plates.

Day two we got stuck straight into the printing process. We inked our plates in dark colours and printed each one twice to see the initial impression each made and their ‘ghost’. Initial prints can often be too bold and overwhelming, but their ghosts are whimsical and easier to layer. Once we had an idea of how things would look, we had a go at making our first image using different colours and layers. The results were… mixed. This is where it really became clear just how difficult it is to marry the different plates and get the colours right. If that wasn’t enough, Sarah encouraged us to go home and pre-paint our printing paper with acrylics and makes stencils that could be thrown down to cover part of the plates to bring white space into play. My head very nearly exploded.

Our plates on the press ready for testing!

 

Excuse the lighting, here’s my first collagraph on the drying rack.

On the final day Sarah spent time with each of us talking through our ideas to help us see how we might work through the myriad possibilities towards a final image. She reiterated the importance of having a balance in the plates we so that we had a mix of thick and thin lines, small details and bold shapes, how to devise a working colour scheme so that the finished image didn’t come out a smudgy blob and how to build the image from a key plate.

Sarah was an amazing teacher and it was a ginormous privilege to be introduced to the world of printmaking by someone with a CV longer than my arm and a huge amount of talent. Best of all, her big thing is non-toxic printmaking. We worked with oils and etching inks, but replaced turps with veggie oil, which worked really well.

The work some of the ladies in the course produced was absolutely stunning and I was amazed by the diversity of the plates and images we came up with after being given the same brief. My final image is still a work in progress – I’m keen to add some drawing or collage when it eventually emerges from beneath the table. Now that I have an idea of what to do, I’m also going to sign up with the Firestation to use their printers because my brain is absolutely overflowing with ideas and we have a whole house to fill with artwork. Friends with birthdays approaching – you have been warned.

My final pic about to go under the table for drying.

Most importantly though, I had a wonderful weekend clearing out the creative cobwebs and catching up with Alex’s gorgeous mum, who I just adore to pieces. It was the perfect girls’ weekend.

Who knows what masterpieces will emerge from beneath the tabletop!

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