The last print run

Today I printed the pages that I’ll attach to book board for the covers of the artist book. Now all of my printing is complete! I celebrated by riding my bike to the Ribersborgs Kallbudhus for a sauna and a swim in the Baltic – naked!

I had intended to print both vertical and horizontal lines on the covers, but the offset litho press didn’t cooperate with that plan. There’s still something wrong that’s preventing the ink from distributing properly on the drum and the paper. So the covers have either a horizontal or a vertical line. There are two covers because the bound book will be a dos-a-dos – two books in one, each with its own front cover. They will share a back cover.

So which is the title of the book? Actually, neither. The cover text is part of the narrative, and, like the interior text, is an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” The title of the book will be excerpted from the interior text: “Before the Beginning and After the End”.

Tomorrow I’ll be giving an artist talk at KKV, and on Friday I’ll pack everything up for the trip to Copenhagen and then back to St. Paul. The final steps for this artist book are to letterpress print a colophon, cut the book board and bind the books. I’ll start that process next week and post images. Although it’s exciting to see the final printed pages, there’s still suspense over whether or not the final piece will work as I’ve envisioned. I won’t know for sure until I’ve bound the first book of the edition.

It’s been an amazing experience to use the equipment in the well-equipped KKV Grafik workspace, share fika with colleagues, learn new printmaking techniques, get inspired by the work and processes of my colleagues, try to speak Swedish, navigate Malmö on foot and two wheels, swim in the Baltic. I’m filled with gratitude for the generosity of everyone at KKV Grafik and for my new friends.

Those green cookies are witches fingers, baked by Maggie Puckett, my fellow artist-in-residence. Maggie has completed her project of creating seed packets. She used the Vandercook 4 letterpress to print photopolymer plates of text and images she created in Chicago, prior to the residency. Here’s Maggie at the press:

I broke the press

As I was coming to the end of the last (sixth) run of the page that has multiple layers, the press made a clunking sound on the return of the roller to the start position. And now it’s not printing correctly. It’s picking up just a bit of the ink from the plate and hardly any ink is being deposited onto the paper. I’m counting my lucky stars that this happened toward the end of my project, and not in the middle.

A repairman is coming on Monday to look at the press. However, I have just a few more days to print before I leave Malmö for a weekend in Copenhagen and then a flight back to St. Paul the following Monday. What this means is that my edition size will be a bit smaller and the book covers won’t look as I intended. I can live with that.

The good news is that the sixth run was exactly what was needed to put the finishing touches on the page I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

Since I hand-rolled a different color of ink on each shape, this print seems like a hybrid mono print and offset litho print. It was an interesting way to produce multiples. Here’s a detail view:

Originally I’d intended to use the offset litho press to print the text for this book. When the press broke, that was no longer an option. And it probably wasn’t truly an option because I’m pretty sure I would have experienced difficulty getting the ink to adhere to the plate. The ink likes to stick to just the darkest marks on the plate, and the outlined letters would likely have been too faint.

So what to do?

I decided to carve the text into plexiglass and print the plate using an intaglio process, where ink is pushed into the grooves and wiped off the surface before printing on an etching press. Today I printed the text that’s on the reverse side of the page that has the six layers.

With the text printed, this means the page went through a press seven times, for seven different impressions, and is finally completely finished! Whew.

I’m pleased with the organic, uneven qualities of the text. I used a stencil to guide the engraving tool, and it’s impossible to apply the same exact pressure when carving by hand, so some of the lines are deeper than others. The deeper lines hold more ink than the shallower lines. Here’s a detail view:

The text is from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” Tomorrow I will print another excerpt from that poem, this time on the second page that I’ve been working on. Then, the last thing to print is the text for the book covers. The two pages will be folded into a spiral accordion and attached to book covers. But that won’t happen until I’m back in St. Paul. The pages need time to dry completely. They will be dry enough to roll up and carry on the plane in a tube – I hope! My last day of printing will be Wednesday. Then on Friday I will pack up and take the train to Copenhagen.

When the going gets tough the tough go swimming

green inks on slab

Yesterday I printed the fifth layer on one of the pages in the artist book I’m printing at KKV, and the results made my spirit soar. Today I switched from lithography to intaglio, to create the holes-in-the-screen look I wanted for the second page in the book. After working hard all day to get the impression I was looking for and pretty much failing, I wanted to cry. Instead, I rode my bike to the Baltic and went swimming. Water temp was 62 degrees, air temp was 65 degrees. Cool enough to remind me of what truly matters. Even if my artist book completely fails, I’ve gained much from this residency.

The experience of one day going smoothly and the next full of frustration is all too familiar. Tomorrow could be even worse. Or maybe the printing gods will show up in full force and bless my project for the day. I never know what to expect.

For now, I’ll celebrate what went well yesterday. Finally, with the fifth layer, I’m seeing some magic in the colors and shapes.

With the additional layer of different shades of green, the melon color is more subdued. As with the other layers, I’ve added transparent base to the colored ink, so the previous layers are visible even with this fifth layer.

On this piece of paper I’ve documented the colors used for each of the five shapes, for layer four (top row) and layer five (bottom row). Although I had in mind to make the fifth layer shades of blue-green, after sitting with the print for awhile and looking at colors in my Pantone swatch book, I decided shades of green would play off the melon color better and establish a more thoughtful mood. The blue-green would have been too saccharin.

Tomorrow I’ll print the sixth and, I hope, final layer. I’m leaning toward using colors that are combinations of red, brown and grey with a bit of yellow added. Tomorrow my challenge will be to do two different lithographic print runs. Up until now, I’ve done just one per day. Each run has been taking about three hours, and I’m usually worn out by the end. However, the second run will be for book covers, and I’ll be using just one color of ink, so I might be able to complete the run in just over two hours. We’ll see if the printing gods show up tomorrow…

Open studio

detailed view of lithographic print

Yesterday KKV opened its doors to the public during a city-wide open studio event, and I had offered earlier in the week to participate for a few hours. Last year’s event attracted a large number of visitors to KKV. Anticipating this year’s event to be as popular, I was hesitant to print during the event, since visitors asking questions would interrupt my concentration, so I’d planned to simply show my work and talk about process.

The event began at noon. But no visitors came through our door. It was too boring to just sit, watching the other artists work, so I decided to go ahead and print the fourth layer.

Unlike the previous layers, the fourth layer would be printed using multiple colors. Hand-rolling the ink onto the plate offers this advantage. I mixed the ink, rolled it out with a small brayer (one devoted to each other), and labeled the inks so I would remember which area of the plate to ink with each color.

The colors ranged from a light cool grey to a light beige – subtle differences that would make the final print more interesting.

In the image above, you can see the 5 images on the plate that are inked plus the ink that’s been pulled from the plate as the blue roller passed over it. You can also see a shadow of ink that the roller has pulled from the images I printed on the page the day prior. I’m using an oil-based lithographic ink that hasn’t quite dried. When I push the green button to return the roller to its original position, it will lay the ink on top of the page.

Sadly for KKV, only three visitors showed up during Open Studio from 12 until 4 p.m. However, it worked out well for me, as I was able to complete my print run without disruption. The layers are beginning to sing together, but not yet in harmony. Still a bit off key. It’s a bit disheartening, given all of the effort so far. We’ll see what happens with the next two layers. I’m taking a break from printing today to let the ink dry, explore the coastline north of Malmö via bicycle, and stop at one of the beaches to swim in the Baltic.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Today I printed the second of 5 layers on one side of one of the two long sheets of paper in the artist book I’m creating. This print run was another experiment in seeing how true the original image would print.

For the drawing, I brushed onto the prepared strip of mylar the dense black ink created by mixing water with the round block of black something or other that Cecilia gave to me. Then I drew lines through the ink using a Q-tip. In the image below, the original drawing is on the right.

The plate that I made from the drawing is on the left. And the print, using a melon colored ink on the press, is in the middle.

Usually at this stage, where I’ve printed just one or two of the multiple layers, I experience a sinking feeling that the print won’t work out. Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong colors. Maybe the images are all wrong. Maybe the whole concept stinks. I’ve been at this long enough to know that this is the ugly stage, with the magic yet to happen. It’s entirely possible the end result will stink. And it’s just as likely that the final image will be better than I imagined.