Chine Collé: Ouais!

A few weeks ago, I led a chine collé demonstration for the students in Tom’s beginning print class.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, chine collé is a French phrase that refers to a technique used in printmaking, where a fine piece of paper (often rice paper) is glued onto a heavier printmaking paper, either before or at the same time as pulling a print from an inked plate.  All the prints I did for Stories From the Stone House used chine collé – that’s why the color of the paper behind the image (the rice paper) is a different color than the border (the heavier printmaking paper).  I’ll refrain from getting more technical about it here, but if you want more information, don’t hesitate to ask.

Chine collé can be a frustrating process.  All kinds of things can go wrong – too much glue, not enough moisture, the paper can stretch, the collé paper and the support paper can dry at different rates and wrinkle – the list goes on.  I showed a fairly simple, straightforward method using a powdered glue, and also helped some students use a pre-cooked glue paste.  Most of the prints came out nicely.  There seems to be a tendency toward beginner’s luck with printing, as if we’re all naturally good printmakers until we start to pay too much attention to the process.  Most of the students were using Somerset paper, and it’s so absorbent that I think it helped make the powdered glue method successful (by retaining lots of moisture with which to activate the glue).

I brought in some kitakata paper, which is what I used for Stories From the Stone House, for the students to play with.  One student took a particular fancy to some pink unryu paper I’ve had sitting in a folder for a few years.  I used it to print a pretty chine collé on an etching of an anatomical heart.  I made it to give out as a Valentine, and I haven’t touched that pink paper since.  Really, I didn’t expect anyone to use it when I set it out, but that one student found it exciting.  The way she used it was so much better than anything I ever did with that paper.

Two student chine collés on the drying rack, with kitakata(birds) and pink unryu (man eating ambiguous blob).

That was my first time leading the class by myself.  I’ve done printmaking demos before (like the relief demo I did earlier this year), but never with a captive class of people I see in an academic environment every week.  I was a bit nervous and probably would have over-prepared, except that my otherwise busy work schedule prevented most of the nitpicking.  Actually, I did very little preparation, other than to discuss it with Daniel long enough for him to say, “Yeah, just keep it simple.”  It was for the best, I think; it forced me to trust myself, and everything went off swimmingly.

They’re an impressive bunch, these students; I know I’ve said it before, but I continue to be in awe of the group’s fearlessness.  By this, of course, I mean the group as a gestalt; individual results vary from time to time.  I’ve found myself jumping at people who are in the midst of butchering an aquatinted plate, but I try to leave the “oh my GOD what are you doing?!” at the door, and take a more Tom-like approach: “You know, you might get better results of you did it this way instead.”

I’m very lucky to be able to learn from Tom.  His teaching method is almost like magic: you always learn more than you thought possible, without feeling pressured.  I hope that I will always be able to bring a little bit of that to every class I (might someday) teach.

The class is now doing stone lithography.  My guilty confession: I haven’t done a litho on stone since I myself was in Tom’s beginning print class.  I’ve been doing all my lithos on aluminum plates (as if I’ve done more than a few!).  The stone is more beautiful to draw on, but the aluminum requires so little preparation.  I remember enjoying levigating the stone because it was meditative, but I just never had time for all that prep work.  Perhaps now is when I should dedicate time to old practices: I could use some meditation in my all-too-busy life.  This is also very likely my last opportunity, for a while at least, to work on a stone.

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