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Printmaking 101: How to Make an Etching Plate Carrier

July 27, 2014
supplies to make a plate carrier

Welcome to Printmaking 101 with Smidgeon Press! This demo will walk you through how to make plate carriers using a few readily available materials. Safety tips are bolded because they’re important!

You have prepared and grounded your etching plate. You worked hard to get it ready, so how do you take it home or out into the field to draw without damaging the plate or the waxy ground? You could just wrap it in newsprint or drawing paper and toss it in a bag, but if anything rubs too hard against or pokes the paper, you may wind up with unintended texture on your plate known as foul-biting. Some printmakers prefer the rough randomness of this approach, but not me – I spent time getting that plate to a pretty polish, and I want to maintain control over my final image.

When I took advanced etching and lithography at PNCA, Yoshihiro Kitai showed us a simple way to keep our plates in great shape while carrying them around. Over the years, I’ve modified somewhat what he initially showed me. For every plate, I make a carrying case specifically cut to fit it, and I label each case with the working title of whatever it holds. This is helpful when I’m shuffling through carriers looking for a specific plate to work on (I’ve accumulated plenty of these by now, all in process or waiting to be editioned).

Supplies for this demo:

  • copper plate
  • 3 pieces of scrap mat board, larger than your plate
  • 3/4″ artist tape
  • ruler
  • cutting surface (I suggest investing in a proper cutting board)
  • utility or X-Acto knife - be careful when using
  • pencil
  • optional: burnisher or bone folder
    Step-by-step instructions:

    1. Measure your plate. You will want your mat board piecesto be larger. For small plates (6″ x 9″ or less), you can get away with ~1″ all around (so 8″ x 11″minimum for a 6″ x 9″ plate). For larger plates, I suggest at least 2″.

      Three mats, a ruler, utility knife, cutting surface, acid-free tape, and your plate.

      Supplies to make a plate carrier.

    2. Choose a mat to be your center piece and set the other two aside for now. Place your plate in the middle and trace around it with a pencil. Because plates aren’t always perfect, I will usually note “top” and “bottom”. Set your plate aside.

      Trace around your plate, marking where you will cut a hole.

      Trace around your plate, marking where you will cut a hole.

    3. Using the X-Acto knife and ruler, cut out the shape of the plate. Make sure you cut on a surface that is safe to cut into, and mind where your fingers are. I err on cutting to the outside of my pencil line. Cutting inside it can result in a hole that istoo snug. Pop out the center piece and set it aside.

      I cut to the outside edge of my pencil line.

      I cut to the outside edge of my pencil line.

    4. Grab one of the other pieces of mat. Line it up with the one you just cut to see how they will fit together. Trim edges to line up snugly if needed. Make sure you can still see your “top” and “bottom” marks.
    5. Cut a piece of artist tape is roughly 1/2″ longer than any one side of your mat’s outer edge. Lay it down on that edge, so that its lengthis centered to the mat, and a little more than half of its width hangs off the bottom. Carefully and snugly wrap the tape around the two mats, pressing all three sides carefully with your fingers (or burnisher, or bone folder). Repeat for all sides.

      Tape all four edges like so, trimming extra tape from the sides.

      Tape all four edges like so, trimming extra tape from the sides.

    6. Now you need to seal the inside of the frame too. Otherwise, your plate can slip between the two pieces of mat, which can cause unwanted scratching and gouging. Cut lengths of tape that are narrower than the inside lip of your frame mat, then apply them to each inside edge. I try to avoid letting the tape overlap.

      Taping the inside edge will keep the plate from slipping between the mats when stored vertically. You could also just apply an even layer of glue around the edge of the frame mat, but then you'd have to wait for the glue to dry.

      Taping the inside edge will keep the plate from slipping between the mats when stored vertically. You could also just apply an even layer of glue between the mats, but then you’d have to wait for the glue to dry.

    7. Now to attach the cover mat! Line up your cover mat with the backed frame you’ve just made. Wrap a piece of tape around the top edge, just like you did to seal the outside edges of the frame mats. Now it’s a functional carrier.

      Wrap tape around the top edge of your mats, as they will sit when closed. You can stop here, or make a super-duper-awesome mat by continuing on to the next steps.

      Wrap tape around the top edge of your mats, as they will sit when closed. You can stop here, or make a super-duper-awesome mat by continuing on to the next steps.

    8. Optional: Lay the carrier open, and apply a piece of tape over the hinge, to cover the sticky side of the tape that shows between the two mats. I like to do this for mats I know I’ll be opening and closing a lot.

      Applying tape to the sticky inside of the tape hinge will prolong the life of the carrier and make it easier to open.

      Applying tape to the sticky inside of the tape hinge will prolong the life of the carrier and make it easier to open.

    9. Optional but strongly recommended: Wrap pieces of tape around the three edges, right in the middle. The carrier can come open very easily if stored vertically (as in tossing it into a backpack). I will stick pieces of tape to the front side, to give the tape “straps” somewhere to stick that is still easy to peel open again.
      My finicky, effective method of using tape closures on my etching plate carriers.

      My finicky, effective method of using tape closures on my etching plate carriers.

      Ta-da! All ready to go.

      Ta-da! All ready to go.

Now you are ready to take your plate with you wherever you go–perhaps for some plein air drawing directly on your plate? If you’re new to etching, I highly recommend giving some plein air etching a try. It can be intimidating, but it seems to really encourage students to broaden their mark-making and think differently about composition. Heather McLaughlin and I took our CE etching students on a field trip to the Lan Su Chinese Garden for exactly that purpose. It’s one of my favorite places in Portland. It feels magically isolated from the city around it, and the tea house is a real treat. Enjoy!

 


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Updated Calls & Contests from Smidgeon Press

May 8, 2014

Updated Calls & Contests from Smidgeon Press

I just updated the Calls & Contests for Printmakers page with a host of opportunities. My apologies for double-posting today, but I didn’t want this announcement to get swallowed by my musings on an unrelated topic. Go forth and exhibit!

Art hoarder Gurlitt makes Swiss museum sole heir

May 8, 2014

Read the full story from the BBC

Matisse’s Femme Assise is the subject of an ownership claim

At least Gurlitt’s now-notorious collection will wind up in a museum, whether the Swiss accept it or the Germans declare the will invalid and keep it for themselves. The expense of restoring more than 1,200 poorly-stored works (estimates vary) – in the sense of archival restoration as well as returning an estimated 450 looted pieces – is not a minor consideration. 

I always advocate for the frequent and accessible public display of art, particularly when the works in question are generally held to be “great” works by highly lauded artists. (The politics of those designations notwithstanding.) One of the saddest realities of our generation is the sheer quantity of great works that are disappearing into private collections, because skyrocketing auction prices place them firmly beyond the reach of public institutions. So there is a sad edge, too, to returning looted artwork to family heirs. There is little point in wondering whether the original owners would have bequeathed the works to museums or institutions, and no one can contest the right of heirs to reclaim work that was extorted under duress or stolen outright – but I still hope that even those reclaimed pieces will someday grace the walls of public institutions, to be shared with the world at large.

But back to the Gurlitt collection and its extremely questionable provenance: Many museums will display works that are suspected of being ill-gotten until a rightful heir can be located (though their efforts in that area tend to be pretty minimal). I’m sure the Gurlitt collection would be an impressive, though tenebrous, thing to see.

Miscellaneous Adventures at SGCI’s First West Coast Convention

April 12, 2014

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure and expense of attending (for the first time) the Southern Graphics Council International conference. It was all rather quick and full, and I really didn’t take many photos. I was blissfully caught up the multitudinous moments, and thus the very best things are documented only in memory.

Rather than write a post about my experiences (though I may yet sit down to do my experience a proper service word-wise), here are the photos I took (with one exception) during my three-day, whirlwind tour of SGCI San Francisco.

Scholarships for Summer Workshops at ARAC

February 20, 2014

The Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado has scholarships available to help artists interested in attending their summer workshops in printmaking, painting and drawing to access these opportunities. ARAC has accommodations and meal options available to attending artists.

List of ARAC Workshops in Printmaking

List of ARAC Workshops in Painting and Drawing

ARAC Scholarship Opportunities

Workshops aren’t listed through my Calls & Contests page (unless there’s a special exhibition attached), so you won’t find this info there. After the jump I list the ARAC workshops I would attend if I could.
Read more…

What’s the alternative to formulaic artist statements?

February 18, 2014

Explicitly or implicitly, [various parties that assign and request artist statements] endorse the conventional wisdom, the codified model for fill-in-the-blank, forced prose meant to serve as the ultimate linguistic record of an artist’s work. It’s worth noting that according to many scholars in writing pedagogy these factors—checklist writing prompts, prescribed outcomes, external rather than internal motivation, and one-shot attempts—prohibit expressive and effective writing. Writing is better practiced as an ongoing process in which a series of self-discoveries unfold in organically organized form.

But what’s the alternative to our formulaic norm? Far from uncovering some definitive ur-statement, the selective history of artist statements offered here shows them to be as varied and complex as the conditions that brought them forth. Comprehensibility, tastefulness, and brevity were clearly not always the goals. These statements, rather, are generous, adventurous, defensive, incisive, vindictive, eccentric, experimental, bombastic, sly, sad, funny, personal, political, and poetic. It’s hard to tell when they even began. Indeed, the difficulty of locating a precise “birth of the artist statement” is both explanatory and potentially liberating, since many of the genre’s most depressing examples seem to be written as if the writer is trying—and failing—to emulate some kind of “correct” model, one which he or she has never actually set eyes on. Artists have become convinced they’re supposed to say “my work explores the notion of self-reflexivity” rather than “I paint about paintings,” but they aren’t sure why. It’s like sitting down to write a poem and throwing in a bunch of thees and thous because that’s how poetry is supposed to sound. The results are obviously less than artful.

Excerpt from “Toward A History (and Future) of the Artist Statement” by Jennifer Liese

This is an excellent look at the conundrum of artist statements. Liese’s proposal on how to undo the damage that seems inherent (and “depressing”) in the typical artist statement is like a breath of fresh air. This is well worth a careful, thoughtful read – not just for artists, but for all arts professionals who must request, read, edit and/or write artist statements.

Calls & Contests: Updated (Finally!)

December 27, 2013
THANK YOU FOR CLEANING UP AFTER YOURSELF

Photo by Matthew Miller for PNCA

 After neglecting the Smidgeon Press Calls & Contests announcement page for nearly six months, I have finally updated it with a host of opportunities that should keep intrepid printmakers busy up to and through the SGC International Conference at the end of March and into April 2014. As always, if you know of an opportunity that you think should be listed in that handy compendium, please bring it to my attention via the contact form at the bottom of the Calls & Contests page, and pretty please include a link where I can find the prospectus.

It takes a lot of time to snoop out all these opportunities, and help finding them is very sincerely appreciated.

May you all enjoy a productive, creative and happy new year.

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