Tim testing the tack of the ink drying on the paper.
Tim takes out the large roller . It is about 8 inches in diameter. He brings a piece of paper that has already been solidly printed in one color over to the table next to the press. Usually he leaves it to dry over night, but we don’t have time. It has been drying about three hours. He touches the paper with his forearm and the heel of his hand. Then he leans over and touches it with his cheek.
Tim testing the paper with his cheek.
“I think its OK,” he says. The dampness registers on his cheek, not too wet, just dry enough. A myriad of calculations run through his mind. The plate we will be printing on top of this will be double inked to bring out the darkness in one area. Too much ink and the paper may reject the ink. But if the paper is too dry, it won’t hold the ink either. Its all a matter of tack. And that is what Tim is feeling for with his cheek.
Tim uses the large roller to fill in the spidery lines of my drawing. In areas where I thought I had covered the plate in rich black, the ink fooled me and the area appears too mottled. Tim is trying to fill in the areas that I object to. But then he points out that modulation of the line and color is a desirable thing in printmaking. It is evidence of the artist’s hand and prevents the process from appearing mechanical.
He runs a burnisher around the deckle edge of the paper, pressing it into the ink.
Tim squeezes his sponge onto the plate. It deposits just enough water for him to wipe the whole surface — up and down, back and forth. He runs his fingers around the perimeter of the printed area and picks up any errant ink. He inks the plate one more time and wipes it down again. Then he picks up a sheet of paper with another sheet of newsprint on the back and he snaps the holes he has punched at one end of the paper into the grommets that are imbedded in the plate, and lets the newsprint drop over the join.
A plastic sheet with slight slicks of grease on it, is laid over the paper. Tim pushes a button and the plexiglass, newsprint, inked paper, metal plate and supporting litho-stone, slide through the press; the small amount of grease easing the way. He presses the button again and the pressure on the scrapper bar releases; the print and supporting surfaces slide out from under its pressure. Tim lifts the plexi-glass and pulls the print off of the registration pins and peals it back from the plate. He flips the print over so that the newsprint is on the bottom and walks it to the wire drying rack, where it will remain until another plate in another color is printed over it.
I had drawn four different plates, each was intended to be printed in a different color. But today, I selected two that we will print in black. Each has areas of half-tone, some of these overlap with the other plate. This creates a sense of depth. The solid background color now appears to have many different values. The areas with no black are popping forward.
Tomorrow we will print another plate, this time in white, to further bring out the highlights in the print. While I don’t want or expect the prints to be just like the original painting, I do want it to have the same feel. In an effort to get that quality, I have already redrawn the plates once. I ran through two completely different approaches to the prints and the way the colors were used. Once I saw all of them hanging together, I felt that I hadn’t quite achieved the quality I was after. Each print was interesting in its own right, but there was a quality in the original painting that I felt could still be teased out of the prints. What I want, as with the painting, is for the image, which came originally from an almond tree, to appear both realistic and completely abstract. I don’t want them to look like the painting, but I do want them to have a similar feel.
In my effort to make the image look realistic, the most important thing was to bring light into the print. Prints, like watercolors, achieve light through completely different means than painting. Today was my chance to learn that.
Below is a continuation of my experience of working with Master Printer Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press in Otego, New York. You can read Part I by clicking here.
Tim in his spot.
I believe that one of the reasons we were able to accomplish so much in a short period of time was due, in part, to my planning, but in a larger part due to Tim’s organization and economy of movement. His studio is set up, just as with a short order cook, with everything at hand. Tim stands in one spot in the studio with two glass slabs in front of him, his inks to his right next to an old Uline catalog that serves as paper on which to clean his palette knives, rags below him, solvent to his right, the press behind him, and printing paper to his far left. He didn’t move more than three feet all day.
Old Uline catalog used as scrap paper.
I, on the other hand, walked miles, as I found a spot across from him to watch as he mixed colors and then moved to the other side of the room to watch the print being rolled with ink.
Tim Inking Plate
Tim and I worked through all the color permutations. There were several points where we would have loved to have stopped, because the results were so beautiful. It was time to add the black that depicts the branches. This was the final step, the last layer of color. He pulled the first print and THUD! Disaster! Worst print of the day.
Tom looked worried and disappointed. I think he was afraid that I’d be devastated. Instead, I felt that the print confirmed what I had felt ever since seeing the first tentative proofs weeks earlier — the black just didn’t work. In paint and even in the computer generated image, the black acted like a gestalt – stunning and integrated into the overall image. In the print, the black sat on top of the page both dwarfing and destroying the colors beneath. It might as well have been a black and white print. Tim and I both thought that switching to a middle gray would accomplish what I was after. Even within the gray you can have a range of color, and I wanted the gray skewed toward lavender.
Pantone book, oil paint sample and computer generated image.
This is when Tim finally pulled out the Pantone book. This is the printer’s Bible. It contains every color he can mix with his inks, and gives him the formula to do so. I flipped through the color samples and pointed to the color I wanted. The improvement was immediate and dramatic. It quickly became apparent that the other color versions of the print could also use gray, but the value of the gray would have to be adjusted to work with the other color versions.
Getting exactly the right shade of gray (don’t even go there) was as much work as determining the other color combinations.
As we printed each layer we were both delighting in the detail. But here is the truly confounding result: it seemed that the print would have to be viewed from about 18 inches for them to be appreciated. That is exactly the opposite effect of my paintings, which look best when viewed from across the room. The paintings look painterly close up (down right messy, in fact), but at a certain distance they snap into focus and look almost photo realistic.
When we added the gray to the print Tim and I found ourselves backing up across the studio. The prints were still reading well from twenty five feet away. We managed to produce the same effect in the print as in my paintings.
Once we saw these qualities in one print, it was a matter of bringing that effect to all the prints. Sometimes remarkably small adjustments made the difference between reading the print as color and reading it as light. This is where the skill and integrity of a Master Printer makes all the difference. The work is demanding and exhausting. At the eleventh hour, Tim was still willing to mix one more color and make one more adjustment so that I could see if we could perfect the print.
A great Master Printer hangs in there with you to the end. When your energy flags, he shores you up, so that you can produce the best work possible. Tim told me over and over that it was about my vision, and he did everything in his power to make that happen.
Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press
After spending the night at the home of artist Ashley Cooper and her family in the surprisingly beautiful Cooperstown, New York, I headed over to the rolling hills of Otego to meet with Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press.
Tim showed me samples of other artist’s work to give me some ideas of how I might use the medium in my own work. I was thinking a lot about this myself. The research I have been doing over the last weeks not only into lithography, but also other forms of print making, made me think how I might best use the medium to expand what I was doing in paint. But until I get my hands dirty, I am not really going to know what will work best for me.
Sondra Freckelton copyright © Sondra Freckelton, 2009, “Braid and Tea Pot “, original lithograph from stone and plates paper size: 11.25″x13” printed in an edition of 42, paper Rives BFK white
I am especially interested in the ways I can use print making to explore the use of color in my work. There are two ways of going about this (I am sure there are more, but these are the ways that most interest me at the moment). One is to use what printers call “process” color. That is to break down the image into CMYK – cyan, yellow, magenta and black. This is also the way the color is broken down to make a straight forward reproduction of a piece. When an artist uses this method of separation, its a little like math for artists, as they have to think about the layering of colors to achieve a full color variation.
The other way to approach the print is to pull particular colors from the original and lay them down distinctly, one next to the other. There can be some mixing, of course. But since you may not have the elements of a color wheel — red, yellow, blue — but colors like umber, lavender and ocher, it is far more likely that you would lay them down next to each other and not over each other.
I love seeing how artists use lithographs and all the variations involved: the type of plate, the quality of ink, color of paper, and the drawing medium.
Here is a video of Tim showing me how Sondra Freckelton produced the print pictured above. I took the video without looking through the camera, so that Tim wouldn’t think about it while talking to me. Please forgive the occasional missing head. Video of Tim Sheesley.
You can check out the prints of the artists featured here at Tim’s website: Corridor Press.
Books of interest:
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
In April I will be working with Tim Sheesley, the owner and master printer of Corridor Press, a collaborative professional lithography studio in Otego, New York, where I will be creating a set of color lithographs.
Richard Haas, “Flatiron Building”
I haven’t made prints since I studied with artist Richard Haas and master printer Catherine Mosley at Bennington College. Cathy made many of Robert Motherwell’s prints.
At that time I was an utter failure as a printer. Once I pulled one copy of the print, I didn’t see the point in making another. The very essence of printmaking escaped me. In those days, I took abandoned etching plates with someone else’s images on them, to the sculpture shop, where I cut them into shapes and defaced them with an oxyacetylene torch. With little regard to the damage such a plate might do to a press I made a print, and before making another I would alter the plate again. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be sharing this information before I work with Tim.)
Leslie Parke, etching made with used plate, band saw, oxyacetylene torch and grinder.
Moving to a new medium is never really about replicating what you do in another medium. While there is imagery in my painting that I’d like to explore in lithography, I am not interested in replication, but in a conversation between these two mediums.
Is there a painting of mine you would like to see re-imagined in print? I was thinking of working with the tree paintings, but I would be interested in what you think. Drop me a line, if you have a suggestion.