An Approximation: A Study in Printmaking Variables

I’ve learned plenty from working with my “An Approximation” plate.  Oxidation is common across all colors of pigment when they come in contact with copper (really, I knew that already, but it’s worth repeating). Scratches that I think will show up will definitely show up when inking intaglio. Colored inks are harder to wipe when inking intaglio. Miracle gel is not particularly miraculous. A too-soft tarlatan always sucks (literally and metaphorically).  And, most surprising, surface rolls can be a lot of fun, as long as you remember to wipe all the dust off your roller before rolling it up in ink (I got a little excited and forgot that step).

Just for fun, here’s the chronological order of the least-embarrassing prints I pulled from the “An Approximation” plate in pursuit of the knowledge I mentioned above, including my experiments with orientation.

Pink Trinity (neusis construction trisecting an angle)
Pink Trinity, an etching on Flickr by H. L. Birdsong. First attempt.

See all of that plate tone? That is exactly what I did not want. Also, the red oxidized horribly, and I don’t really like pink all that much. I cleaned the plate off and polished it a good deal more after this print, though it did me little good.  This is, after all, the backside of someone else’s plate.  This vertical orientation also looks kind of like a teepee.  Someone else remarked that it had a human-like presence, with the “head” as the circle and the “limbs” as the angled lines. Eh, no thanks! Let’s try it another way.

An Approximation, With Noise
An Approximation, With Noise; an etching on Flickr by H. L. Birdsong.

I thought I might have more luck getting rid of the plate tone using black ink, but it turns out that all those scratches I thought I saw in the plate really are there, and all the extra polishing I did wasn’t enough to remove them. I decided to try a surface roll with the red, since that’s the only way I could think of to get that napthol on the plate without oxidizing, without steel facing. This is the orientation I like the best.  It lets all the shapes be their own. Flipped 180 degrees, with the rays shooting out of the circle, looked a little cliché to me. Of course, to someone who reads right to left, the opposite might be true.

Trinity on Gray (neusis construction trisecting an angle)
Trinity, an etching on Flickr by H. L. Birdsong (you should really click the image to see the larger version, because those lines are TINY)

I wanted to print this with gray. It looks fine, but the lines are so tiny that the gray didn’t “pop” enough. They needed more presence. So… white paper it is.  The plate, oriented this way, looks too much like a teepee with rays coming out of it, or like the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas.

An Approximation (neusis construction trisecting an angle)
An Approximation, an etching on Flickr by H. L. Birdsong (also look at the larger version of this because it’s awesome)

Ta-da! When I pulled this one off of the press, I experienced one of those “ah, yes, THIS is what it’s meant to be,” moments. I hope you know what I’m talking about, because that is an amazing feeling. Those moments are what fuel my dedication to this medium.

This is what printmaking offers that is so different from other media: play. I can change the color of the ink, the paper, the orientation of the image. I can layer things, cut things out, roll out colors and use stencils to shape that color. A plate is a done thing, an object, a matrix from which prints are pulled, but that is not the end of the process.


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