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A collagraph for real this time!

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

My last collagraph attempt never saw ink. I blogged about how I was completely unconfident about it surviving even being rolled, that I decided to turn it into a colourful frottage project, highlighted with dark graphite military map marking stencils.

Collagraphs by definition need to be inked templates pressed onto paper. The templates can be small and intricate, or they can be large and roughly marked.

Determined to actually try a real inked collagraph, but not at all confident I can pull it off in my rudimentary home studio, I go with large, roughly torn mountain shapes, similar to what I used for my monoprint. For my monoprint I had also made easy cut and paper stencils of the Australian War Memorial and also Afghans. I want to keep with my Afghan caves and mountains theme, so I decided to rummage through my recycling bin and tearing some rudimentary shapes.

I scratched some marks into the cardboard, but mostly let the organically occurring tears, fold and different types of papers make the textures of the piece. I lay out the shapes onto a piece of konzo as a registration paper.

I'm a little lazy as an artist. I used the fabric spray paints I'd purchased for my bunting project to spray stencil the shapes. The advantage was that I didn't have to spend a hour tracing each shape onto the registration sheet. A happy accident was that the registration sheet looked beautiful. It also meant that my cardboard collagraph templates also had a mix of cool fluro colours on them.

I will be the first to admit that this rough work would not work for a delicate, precise and intricate work. However, given I wasn't convinced the collagraph would actually work, and even if it did, my intended look was a messier, organic, and colourful piece, this technique really was best for me. I suspect also, if I was working in a studio, access to professional presses and equipment would not have made me so resourceful. It has actually been fun to re-fashion stencils and materials from one project to the next as I explore different types of printing at home.

Next I soaked a big piece of konzo paper in my bath whilst I got to work inking up the individual collagraph shapes. A Japanese bath for my Japanese paper, lol.

I enjoyed the challenge of making a broad range of colours with the four basic inks we received in our take home packs. With just white, red, blue and yellow, I could make a vast number of colours and shades. I enjoyed this painterly part of the process, using linseed oil to loosen the inks and palette knifes, cotton buds and old tooth brushes to create texture and definition upon application. I used an old plastic kitchen cutting board to my palette, which was ideal. Over the course of the three applications of stencils, I used the same palette, never cleaning it - and using the old mixed colours as a base and extra texture to the process.

I did realise that sadly this really cool stencil I made from a photograph on the internet, of a big Afghan checkpoint, was never going to be robust enough to survive being a collagraph plate. The plate was only made of paper and had too many intricate details. It tore, no matter how careful I was. The good think is though, I made a lovely stencil on my registration paper, of which I began thinking I needed to use for a second artwork.

Here you can see my re-using an old threadbare linen doona cover I sadly could not repair any more times. The doona has been repurposed as a drop sheet to protect the floor I am working on, and also as a stand-in for tarlatan (which I do not have). I am enjoying the way it smooths out some of my roughly applied inks for a more blended, painterly look.

I work quickly on each seperate collagraph plate, enjoying using the vast array of colours I mixed and experimenting with different applications of the ink onto each shape. I don't blot each plate too much, as I am concerned that the result will be too light.

Finally have all of the plates inked and laid out. I have had my big piece of konzo resting on a beach towel for some blotting, but not too much! Again, I am really concerned about the print coming out too light after Jazmina's demonstration online.

The plates have all been laid facing up, on the registration paper which was marked up using the fabric spray bottles. On top I have CAREFULLY laid the soaked and lightly blotted konzo paper over the top, and after this, I have another thin layer of paper I use to protect the piece as I barren the hell out of the back of the paper.

You can see also the clear plastic sheet I have to try protect the horizontal draw top that I am working off. I have no confidence in any of this, hahaha!

This is me, barening the hell out of the work.

And whoa - it actually worked! :D

I am shocked. I do a little dance in the tiny bit of room I have left in my little home studio.

I can't believe some of detail that has come out! Maybe I should have been more ambitious with the detailing after all! I like the burka woman, sort of falling through the sky about to collide into a mountain - a reference to all that suffered after September 11.

At the end of the day, I could have left the piece like this. It reminds me of one of my favourite Kip and Co fabric designs - of different warm coloured gemstones on a stark white background.

Even the lapis, which is a uniquely Afghan stone features on the fabric.

I do feel however, that my piece could have more complexity and layers. After all, the idea is that it is speaking to a place of layered memories and experiences, wins and losses.

After a week or so I try adding another later in the same manner as I did last time. I use more greens and yellows to build up the complexities of the Afghan colours. I like also that different flecks of the fluro paints comes through onto the the prints.

Second time round is messier again. The registration sheet is getting mixed up with different layers and it is harder to see where I placed the collagraph plates down in the first design.

There are some happy accidents when I do the next big reveal.

If I wasn't torn before about doing another layer, I definitely was this time! I felt I had just fluked this project twice in a row and I wasn't going to risk it a third time. I couldn't believe that I could have soaked the paper and reprinted it again without the first ink layer being a affected. What to do next?

After talking to one of my art student peers, Soile, I boldly I decided to go a third time. This time however, with a new collagraph plate option: some rubber matting I'd found at a cheap $2 shop on Smith St, Collingwood. I'd hoped to have found the lace doily look that I'd used for my monoprints, but I couldn't find any nor risk searching all of Melbourne again during COVID. I would use the plainer rubber matting and see how it worked. I intended on making a lot of the white background disappear and add a more subtle layer of texture to the piece.

The rubber matting was easy to cut up and I can use the leftovers for a safe cutting mat for some of my linocuts later. I wasn't sure on how much ink the rubber would retain, so I didn't blot it heavily before placing onto the print. I used the fluro sprays directly onto the rubber for more of an overt layering of colours. The advantage of this layer was that I placed the pieces directly onto the print so there were no surprises of where this layer landed. I realised I could also pick up and reapply the same plate onto different parts of picture to start filling up the white background more strategically.

And this is a detail of the final effect. I am so glad I persisted with the layering. It really softened and blended the piece into a far more harmonious look. I was really impressed too with the rubber matting and have enjoyed looking at closer details to see the interplay of the layers within small sections of the piece.

Check out my gallery page for the complete picture.

And stay tuned for what I decide to do with my messy fluro registration sheet!

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