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.
Leslie Parke, “Almond Tree – Biot”, oil on linen
Its decided, my first lithograph is going to be of “Almond Tree – Biot”. There is some method to this madness. Since this is my first attempt at lithography, I want to learn as much as I can from the process.
If I could do anything in lithography, I would like to do a print of the Almond Tree close to the size of the original painting. The painting is 60 inches by 70 inches. It seems to me that I could do this by putting together nine sheets of paper 22 inches by 30 inches, which is a standard size. It could be printed with the image running off the edge of the paper and then either hung together or in nine separate frames. But it might be a tad ambitious to start with that.
So, how do I get there from here. There are several questions I need to answer to go forward. One of the main ones has to do with the method I would use to create the colors. Should I use what printers call “process color”: cyan, magenta, yellow and black; or should I use “index colors” — colors selected from the painting itself, such as beige, pink, yellow, and black. The only way I can know for sure would be to do a print of the same image using these two approaches and see which one I prefer. Once I know that, I would know which version to use on the 9-part print.
Since this image is so complex I couldn’t draw out the different color layers just by looking at it. So I asked artist Chelsea Nye, who has lots of experience with photoshop to work with me to separate out the different layers for both color versions. Here is a sample of one of those layers:
In order to make the two versions of this print, I will be creating ten different plates that look something like the above. Each of these plates will be about 22 inches by 24 inches. I bought a magnifying glass with a light and look forward to drawing these plates. Could I have made this any more difficult? I hope that I will be able to show you the proofs sometime before the next millennium. I will be interested to find out which version you prefer. This piece is so complex I feel as though I am heading full speed toward black ice. I think that this project will either be great or it won’t work at all. Fingers crossed.
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.
Last week I went to France. I was hoping, among other things, to meet the artist Joseph Raffael and ask him about his print making efforts. Years ago, Tim Sheesley, the master printer at Corridor Press with whom I will be working, assisted with the production at Tamarind Institute of one of Raffael’s lily prints.
Raffael’s extensive use of color and his ability to achieve complex color combinations in print is what most interested me. In printmaking you have to think reductively, achieving many colors through the use of a few. Each plate that you make is a different color. So, when you make the yellow plate, you have to put yellow not only where there is yellow, but also where there is orange (red and yellow) and green (blue and yellow) and brown (degrees of all three colors). Sadly, but perhaps wisely, Raffael, who is in his eighties, was unable to see me, as he prefers to use all his time for his painting.
Surrounding Antibes, where Raffael lives, is a region rich in print history. How could it not be, when Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Leger and Bonnard all lived and worked there. As did Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein and Ben.
While there, I visited the Bonnard Museum in Le Cannet, which opened in 2011. The museum occupies a restored 895 square-foot Belle Epoque villa that organizers saved from demolition. Currently, it has a permanent collection of approximately 150 works, including posters, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and 15 oil paintings, the vast majority of which were completed at Le Bosquet, according to the Financial Times. The museum is run by the municipality, and the majority of its funds came from a €2m fund, long-term loans and donations from the Meyer Foundation and Bonnard’s great-grandniece Isabelle Terrasse. [Julia Halperin]
Pierre Bonnard, “Nu”, lithograph
There I found a very successful lithograph. Like the prints of Raffael, it had both the light and intense color of a Bonnard painting. I noticed that he had enhanced the print with gouache. This didn’t surprise me as Bonnard was famous for retouching his work. In fact, Picasso once remarked:
“Another thing I hold against Bonnard, is the way he fills up the whole picture surface, to form a continuous field, with a kind of imperceptible quivering, touch by touch, centimeter by centimeter, but with a total absence of contrast. There’s never a juxtaposition of black and white, of square and circle, sharp point and curve. It’s an extremely orchestrated surface developed like an organic whole, but you never once get the big clash of the cymbals which that kind of strong contrast provides.”
What Picasso hated about Bonnard, is, I believe, what the rest of us love about him. There was much here for me to carry away, as I think about how I will approach my own prints.
I am looking at lots of prints now, especially prints by painters, as I research ways that others have used the medium. Is there anyone you would recommend that I look at?
Joseph Raffael is represented by
520 West 27th Street, New York City, NY 10001 USA
Books of Interest:
[amazon_link asins=’1854372394′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’leslieparke20-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b4084918-94b6-11e7-ad01-fb2bf96a96f3′]
[amazon_link asins=’1851498052′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’leslieparke20-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5c25aed7-94be-11e7-ab7a-6d4a7f623300′]
[amazon_link asins=’0789202808′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’leslieparke20-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’66b4a0cc-94be-11e7-a600-29df089774d7′]
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org