From the very beginning, this project was going to be a struggle when it came to the pressing. By it’s very nature there is no press big enough to take this scale of work, save for that charming old idea of driving a car or a steamroller over it. But the delicate carvings I’ve made just wouldn’t survive that kind of treatment…My solution has been to fill a garden roller with sand and water to around 80kg and sew a belt of felt around it, to give a ‘soft’ pressing. This technique has been giving me surprisingly good results in the tests. If I was able to get hold of wide enough Japanese paper that would also help to ensure a good even take up of ink, but so far I haven’t been able to source wider than 1.1m width rolls even in Japan, and even that coming in at over £200 a roll! So it is back to the cartridge paper.
The next issue that was always going to be a bugbear, and potentially threaten any level of success for this project, is the idea of accurate registration. I have managed to get this down to just 1 colour layer (of multiple colours) and a black detail layer. As I’ve said on previous blog entries, 1mm out at the top of a 3m piece of paper can mean 3cm misalignment at the bottom, rendering the print unusable. And until recently the only suggestions involved 20 helpers delicately laying a 3metre sheet of expensive paper down on wet ink blocks to an accuracy of less than 1mm….hmmm…
Then I remembered seeing t-shirt printers using these screen printing frames that each held a colour layer in a carousel that all lined up perfectly due to the way the frame held them in place. I realised that I could overcome all of the registration issues if the paper could be moved away and then back onto the blocks in one simple movement- on a hinged frame!.
This barn door sized printing frame would need to be almost 4metres long, have near perfect square sides, and allow a 32cm roller underneath the support struts when lying flat. It would also need to suspend the paper 6.5mm away from a perfectly dust-free base, and register with a set of guides to ensure each time it was lowered it was identically placed.
I would also need to create guide-sheets in acetate to ensure correct placement of up to 150 blocks per print…
Then last week my mother, also a printmaker, came in to help and the results I’ll post over the next few days.
Free of all that carving malarkey, I am currently testing out inks and fluidity (many thanks to Mark Carr for his pointers on this). I’d previously been sealing the wood with waterproof PVA, and many of my peers apparently use varnish – all so the wood doesn’t absorb three times the amount of ink before touching paper! On fine lines and texture I was also hoping that the PVA would create a stronger block to handle the super high pressures they are going to go under. But I am told that sealing the wood will change the texture of the wood itself, something I’m really keen to hang onto, especially in wider areas of colour.
So having sealed areas of tester block using light washes of PVA at different strengths it appears that there is a noticeable difference in the final prints I’d be getting. In the next image (although using a very dry ink that doesn’t give complete coverage) you can see the texture difference as a deeper hue on the right (raw grain), and a more ‘pixelated’ lighter texture on the left (1 layer of PVA wash) and this ‘noise’ gets worse with subsequent layers of PVA.
So, although I have one less job to do because I don’t need to seal the entire collection of blocks, I do now run the risk of fragile areas crumbling, and having to buy at least twice as much ink as I originally estimated for!