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Eco-Friendly Printmaking - Reusing Prints and Plates

Printmaking is one of those disciplines that inevitably leads to a certain amount of rejects. Everyone has had that moment when you peel back the paper to reveal a splodge of ink in the wrong place, or a slight double where the paper moved on the plate, or a couple of edges that don't line up, or an area where the inking wasn't quite right... I could go on! Sometimes these mistakes are small and the print can be discounted and sold as a 'second'. Sometimes the mistake is too great and the print would usually end up in a sketchbook as an example of what not to do, or on the rejects pile.

Every printmaker must have a rejects pile, and if they're anything like me they find it hard to throw these misprints away, but don't quite know what to do with them. Lots of people turn to collage, and I know I'm not alone in tearing them up, stamping my website address on the back and handing them out as business-card-/-bookmarks at craft fairs.

Following the 'Reworking Prints and Plates' course at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation I now have rather a lot of other new ways of using these prints up.

I'd like to share some of what I learned and some of the new ideas it generated.

The first thing we did was probably the most obvious... get out some pastels and enhance a rather dull print! The above was rather a dreary, lifeless grey print until it was given some colour.

Crumpling and screwing prints up completely changes the surface texture. This print was an unfinished reduction linocut which had lots of layers of ink and extender giving it an almost plastic-like surface on one side. It was surprisingly hard work to screw up and the resulting textures were lovely. I rearranged the pieces repeatedly before stitching it back together by hand using a couple of slightly different threads.

This print was created from three separate plates. The cloud and tree were taken from the same reduction linocut, the background trees were from an entirely different print. Since the silver birch has cut out areas a mask was needed to prevent the background from overprinting the tree. This was created out of acetate and a registration system devised with the help of tracing paper so I could line the blocks up as accurately as possible and place the mask. I printed the cloud first, then darkened the ink and printed the background, then darkened the ink again and added the tree. Although I rather like the monochrome effect I used on the course, I also thought it would be relatively easy to create one new block to add colour to the trees, or two and add a sky as well.

The two images above were created using a mixture of tissue transfer and chine collé. The aim was to use parts of plates without having to cut up or damage the plates in any way. The greeny-grey colour was transferred using chine collé. This is where an element is added by sticking it to the paper and running it through a press. The black and yellow ochre colours were added using tissue transfer. This is where the plate is inked up (slightly more heavily than usual), printed onto tissue and then the tissue is immediately placed ink side down onto wet paper and run through the press to take the transfer. The tissue effectively becomes the plate but by you can cut and tear the tissue meaning you can transfer just some of the plate but without having to damage the actual plate at all. By using the transfer process I was able to layer the image as I could print on top of the chine collé so the opaque tissue paper didn't interfere with the image I was creating; had I simply used chine collé for both layers the top layer of tissue would have obscured the bottom layer.

These prints were created by combining two (or more) prints. I had two octopus prints, neither of which was much to look at individually, but by carefully cutting the darker image out and sticking it to the background quite a nice effect was created. Equally, I enjoyed creating a checker board effect with positive and negative tree shapes which had been monoprinted using two different methods.

Finally, if all else fails, rip it up and make a treasure of it by bundling and wrapping it!

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