Relief Collagraph Printing

Term: 2 Year: 2012

RELIEF COLLAGRAPH PRINTING – is another quite simple printmaking process that can be used at the Primary and lower Secondary level, but again can be used very successfully in a more sophisticated manner by senior Secondary students.

Students might design a simple image and draw it onto a piece of 32oz. strawboard or heavy card.  They can also begin with no preconceived idea and lay down some collage materials onto the surface, producing a random or flowing design.  Materials such as fine string, onion netting, corrugated card, lace, egg shells (with the brown side facing upwards), cut pieces of thin card and sand can be applied to the strawboard.  All materials need to be adhered to the strawboard with PVA glue, checking that the edges and ends of string are well stuck.  Leaves often resist sticking to the board, but may be covered with cling wrap and then a book.  The PVA glue can also be dripped or dribbled to form shapes and this looks great to create the effect or running water, clouds and more definite shapes like a sun shape.  All materials need to lay as flat and as low on the surface of the cardboard as possible.  Any sharp or very raised shapes may cut the printing paper.

The glue needs time to totally dry (about 24 hours), before coating the board with shellac.  Coat the back of the board once and the front 2 or 3 times, depending on the thickness of the shellac.  Shellac flakes can be placed in a lidded glass jar, up to the top of the jar or near the top.  Fill the jar with methylated spirits and after the meths has sunk a little fill it again.  Repeat this until the meths stays just above the shellac flakes.  Prepare the shellac at least an hour before use, so that the shellac flakes can melt properly.  It is a good idea to place the glass jar in an ice-cream container, put the lid back on the jar, although you may not be able to screw the lid down, but just press it on and then store it in a locked cupboard.

The shellac needs to be either mixed in a fumigation cupboard or outdoors or next to an open window.  The same applies to when the shellac is painted onto the board and collage materials.
Printing the collagraph plate cannot be done the same day as when the board is covered with shellac, as it needs about 24 hours to dry.  It is during these waiting periods, when the glue or shellac are drying, that students can do something like frottage.

The collagraph plate is then printed, either with water based or oil based printing inks.  The ink should be worked well into every part of the collage with a 'plastic wipe' and most of the ink then removed with tarlatan gauze.  Students should be encouraged to use one coloured ink or a limited related range of colours, as the colours are very difficult to keep separate.  However, the collagraph plate could be reprinted several times without re-inking, placing the plate on the press with damp paper on top (preferably 200 gsm cartridge paper), covering the damp paper with several layers of Butcher’s paper and running it through the printing press.  When the collagraph plate has almost no ink remaining, it can be coated with a different colour or colours to what was printed first.  When prints are dry, parts of some prints can be cut out and collaged to another, which can achieve the desired combination of colours.

The collagraph plate does not have to be printed with a printing press.  Ink could be rolled onto the surface, then dry paper laid on top and a clean roller used to roll over the upper side of the paper.  This method will not pick up the richness of colour and ink as the press would, but will still produce a print, that will probably be very delicate.

Students should be well covered with smocks, old shirts etc…, wear rubber gloves and take care when printing not to get ink or paint on their clothes and skin.
Oil based inks can be cleaned off the glass plate they were mixed on or plastic sheeting, with baby oil or vegetable oil.  Rubber gloves, plastic wipes and the table (which should be well covered with layers of newspaper), can also be cleaned with oil.  However, the collagraph plate should not be cleaned with oil, but rather printed a number of times until very little ink remains.

Relief collagraph printing is an inexpensive and wonderful method of printmaking.  Simple images can achieve fantastic prints and often students are amazed by the end result.  Senior students can extend the process by producing a series of related images, developing more sophisticated ideas and also carrying them out on much larger pieces of strawboard.  The inked collagraph plate can also be printed on fabric and even canvas, which would work better with a printing press.

Joan Vida
Visual Art Specialist
Camberwell Girls Grammar