What Is An Original Collagraph?

A Collagraph is an original hand made print pulled from a plate that was constructed by gluing textured materials to a hard board surface.  The materials create various lines, textures and tones when hand inked and hand wiped. The plate is inked by forcing the ink into the textured recesses in the plate and hand wiping the raised areas.  The print is made by passing the inked plate and rag paper through an etching press.  Pressure from the press forces the rag paper into the recessed areas of the plate and when the paper is removed the ink is transferred to the paper. Each Collagraph is an original print because it is totally hand made by the artist. 

Step #1 Building The Plate 
Basically a Collagraphic plate is constructed in this fashion. A variety of thin textured materials are assembled and glued to a hard board surface like masonite or matt board. The materials are arranged by the artist to form a composition that may be inked and printed to yield an image on paper. The technique I use is this principle plus a few little refinements that I have discovered over the years. The first step to constructing my plates is to prepare the surface. I apply several coats of gesso to the smooth side of a piece of 1/4" masonite. Then I glue a piece of silk organza to this surface. Next I draw the image in pencil on the plate surface. After the composition has been established I plan which areas of the print I want to be various tones. I then proceed to mask out the darkest areas in the image with masking tape. A great deal of care is taken to apply the masking to only the areas that I want to be very dark. When this is complete I apply a thin coat of waterbase varnish to the entire surface of the plate. When this is dry I apply another. Then the next darkest area of the image is established and I repeat the preceding process. Eventually I work my way through all the tones in the image, building layers for each. When I am satisfied that I have covered all the shades, the layers of masking tape are removed very carefully so as not to disturb the bottom layer of silk. The resulting plate consists of many areas of varying smoothness and roughness. The areas of the plate that have more layers of varnish are much shinier than the areas with less

Step #2 Inking The Plate  
Once the plate has been constructed ink is applied to the surface and recesses. A very dense oil based etching ink is used in this process. I use small felt dabbers to force the ink into all the recesses in the plate formed by the building up of varnish layers. The areas of the plate that received less varnish are lower and more textured from the silk organza and will retain the ink much better than the built up heavily varnished areas. I usually start with my darkest color first and then I apply my next darkest color and so on. Once I have covered the entire surface of the plate with all of the different colors the wiping process begins. Using my fingers, Newsprint blocks and soft cloth the entire surface is reworked to bring out highlights and shadings in the image. At this stage the image is visible much as it will look when printed because of the transparent qualities of the inks on the white surface of the plate. 



Step #3 Printing The Collagraphic Plate  
The printing of the plate is a very hands on process like the stages leading up to it. The inked plate is placed on an etching press bed face up. A piece of heavy weight etching paper, that has been prepared for printing by soaking in water and blotting dry, iscarefully positioned on the Inked plate. Next a thin sheet of newsprint is laid on the paper followed by two layers of thick felt. Once the plate paper & felt stack has been formed it is time to print. This stack is moved slowly between the two steel rollers of an etching press. The top roller applies a great deal of pressure to the top surface of the inked plate forcing the paper into all of the recessed areas of the plate. Once through the rollers the felts are removed and the rag paper is peeled from the plate revealing the transferred image. 


Step #4 Drying The Print 
The final step involved in this process is to dry the print. Because the paper was soaked in water first to make it soft it will need to be taped to a plywood panel with paper tape. When the paper dries it shrinks and because it is taped on all four sides it becomes as flat as a drum. After twenty four hours of drying the print is removed from the panel the edges trimmed and it is hand signed and numbered. Steps 2,3 & 4 are repeated for each print in the edition and this is why a collagraph is called AN ORIGINAL PRINT not a reproduction. 

Step #5 Signing & Numbering The Print 
After the artist has repeated steps 2,3&4 as many times as there are prints in the edition it is time to sign and number them. Each piece is numbered 1/50 , 2/50 etc. where 1 & 2 are the print numbers and 50 is the number of prints in the edition. Then a title is written followed by the artists signature. This is all done in pencil to indicate that it is hand signed.