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.
Tim Sheesley in the print shop.
In early December I spent two days at Corridor Press in Otego, New York, working with Master Printer, Tim Sheesley. In two twelve hour sessions we were able to put together proofs for a suite of four prints that were inspired by my painting “Almond Tree – Biot”.
I was blessed with beginner’s hubris. Creating a print with just the right color, using four plates would have been project enough for one day. To get four of them completed in two days was an insane proposition. This is where the experience of a Master Printer made all the difference.
I had worked out all of my color combinations ahead of time. With the help of graphic designer Chelsea Nye, I made a virtual print in Photoshop. We generated computer swatches of color for each plate, which I then converted into color samples made in oil paint. I sent my color swatches, along with the names of the oil colors I used, to Tim and he made a sample print from these instructions.
What I did not know was that a printmaker’s palette of litho-inks is not the same as a painter’s palette of oil colors. Lithography inks must be transparent. Some of my oil color pigments are opaque and cannot be used in lithography ink. For example, none of his blues approximate ultramarine blue, a color I use extensively. He was able to mix a blue that looked very much like ultramarine blue, but it didn’t have the purity or brightness of my blue. The mixture of colors had dulled the effect.
Tim is not only a print master, he is a color master. He mixed any color I gave him perfectly. However, as with the blue, occasionally there was a limitation inherent in the pigments available.
Palette of Lithographic Inks
Tim is used to working with artists who have a concept in mind and the expectation that they will be able to produce that concept exactly. In Tim’s experience, watercolor artists are the most insistent in this regard. Tim was very concerned I would blow a gasket when I came up against the limitations of his palette. What he didn’t know, was that secretly I was hoping to use this project to expand my experience — to find new and unexpected ways to interpret my work. This road block was just the sign I was looking for to head off-road and see what adventures awaited me in the woods.
The first step was a tiny one — abandoning my concept of ultramarine blue for one in his palette that could give me the quality of light I was after. But changing one color has a domino effect — all the other colors had to be changed to work with that color. If it is the 3rd color you have added to the print, it can cause mayhem.
Tim Mixing Ink
In this process you start with one color, then try to make the next one work with it. The third color has to work with the first two and so forth. This is a tightrope walk, especially when everything about your print is an expression of color.
Tim folds the mixed wet ink into aluminum foil with my name, print version name, plates number, and color mixture listed on the outside. At the same time he makes a running list with the same information on a pad. This way, when he remixes the color he can compare wet color to wet color and not wet to dry, which would be different.
As a painter I noodle and adjust colors all the time, sometimes scraping up a color from a palette of a previous painting and using it in a new one. That can’t happen in print making, because you have to be able to replicate the color perfectly for each print. Each color you use must be recorded with a formula and connected with that specific print, as well as with a certain plate from that print. You have to record all of this information for each mixed color, whether or not that color is ultimately used. This is because you may make several versions and compare them before you settle on the perfect color combination.
We were not doing this for one print, we were doing this for four! But we did not do one print at a time. Since the prints shared colors on certain plates, we were doing all four versions at once. That we both didn’t get a migraine is a small miracle, although I noticed that at the end of the day, we were both unable to put a sentence together, as simple words escaped our memory.
The Print Project: Working with a Master Printer – Part 2 Click Here
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.