Intaglio Printmaking: Copper Plates & Sugarlift

With my current teaching schedule, it’s rare that I actually have a full day in the studio. You work to make sure to be able to get studio time, and then once you’re there, the work never quite happens the way you want it to. Or I end up agonizing about how I don’t feel productive enough and yet there are the hours of the studio sitting there right in front of me.

The most challenging part is learning to pick up from where I left off. In today’s case, I had just started painting images on a copper plate to do a sugarlift a few weeks ago and I had to continue on from there. I ended up having to erase the work that I completed a few weeks ago and just completely starting anew. The marks I made today wouldn’t match with the marks made a few weeks ago.

What has been most exciting about these sugarlifts is the actual painting of the ink onto the copper plate. Initially, I was degreasing the copper plate before painting on the ink, as that is the traditional way to prepare a plate to do a sugarlift. However, I started noticing as I was working on these plates that I actually liked the greasier surfaces of the plate better; the ink would clump and move in unpredictable ways and would resist covering the surface of the plate entirely. This simulated a similar look and texture in the paint strokes that I was getting in the ink drawings. In the ink drawings, it was the extreme roughness of the paper that was allowing the paint strokes to be less complete and textured. In recognizing this feature of the copper plates, I began making my plates greasy on purpose to achieve this effect. It doesn’t work all the time; sometimes I have a plate which is too degreased and I have to make it greasy to get the effect. Other times the plate is too greasy and the ink just won’t catch on the surface at all.

I managed to complete one copper plate today- I painted the image with the sugarlift ink, brushed on the hard ground, and lifted the sugarlift ink off in a water basin. The plate was also spray painted to create the aquatint effect that will later be etched in the printshop. I’ve gotten very good at achieving an even layer of spray paint thanks to teaching Intaglio I so many times. The other plate I worked on had a major technical problem later on in the process. I think I didn’t allow the hard ground to dry thoroughly enough before immersing it into the water basin, and as a result, the hard ground started to lift in areas I didn’t want it to. I spent a few minutes very carefully painting hard ground back into those areas. It seems to be working fine, but its frustrating that I spent as long as I did carefully painting the sugarlift lines only to have to re-paint them in later with the hard ground. I need to stop trying to rush the technical process; sometimes it has such a dramatic effect if something goes wrong.

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