The sound of a freight train

offset press controls

Shortly after I began my first print run this morning, a man named Sebastian came into the studio and spoke to me rapidly in Swedish. He works in a recording studio across the hall. When he switched to English, I learned that he’d been recording with highly sensitive microphones, and every time I ran the motorized press, the microphones picked up what sounded like a freight train. 

The press I’m using is indeed quite loud. To make matters worse, the press bed is long. Since all I do is push a button, there’s no way to work more quietly. 

The person he was recording was already in the recording studio. I was just partway through a printing run. It takes some time to build up the ink on the plate, and I really didn’t want to start over again. Eva, who serves as my main contact here at KKV, explained to Sebastian that I’m one of the resident artists. It seemed we were at an impasse. Then Sebastian said he and the client would go out for lunch while I finished my run. Since I was aiming for a print run of 30 pages, I figured I had just enough time to print all 30 pages before 1 pm. 

On Friday, I’d experienced quite a few issues. I began to worry that the printing technique I’d chosen was too difficult and that I wouldn’t be able to complete my project during the residency. Today I was encouraged by the ease of printing the 30 pages, as well as the results.

offset printing press with a plate and paper on the bed

The press I’m using is actually an offset press, not a litho press. The plate sits at the end of the second press bed, the paper at the end of the first bed. After the plate is fully inked, I press a green button, and the motor carries the blue roller to the end of press bed, where it picks up ink from the plate. I press another green button and the motor carries the roller back and lowers the roller against the paper on the first bed.

Unlike with traditional lithographic printing, where the image that is printed is opposite of the image on the litho stone or plate, with offset printing, I’m working with a positive image. This means that the marks I make on the mylar look the same on the plate and on the printed page, not backwards. 

lithographic plate on the press bed
The inked plate on the press bed

To ink the plate, I wet it first with a combination of water and gum arabic. The marks on the plate resist the water, so when I roll ink onto the plate, the ink sticks only to the marks. If the plate is not wet enough, ink sticks to the negative areas of the plate, and if the plate is too wet, the ink won’t stick to the marks. As with any printmaking technique, it’s imperative to pay attention. I need to keep track of the number of times I’ve rolled the ink on each section of the plate, look closely to see if any areas need more ink, and avoid adding too much ink. My goal, since I’m printing an edition, is for all pages in the run to have the same ink coverage.

printed page on the press bed
The printed page

I’ve mixed a good amount of transparent base into the ink because I’ll be printing several layers. With transparent layers, the colors interact to create additional colors and the layers are more obvious than if I used opaque ink. I’ll be printing 4 layers on top of this one, all different colors and shapes.

printed pages drying in a rack

I worked quickly and completed my print run of 30 pages by 1 pm. It’s deeply satisfying at the end of a run to see the pages stacked in a drying rack. 

Later this afternoon Sebastian came to my workspace to tell me that his client is available only from 10 to 3 on Wednesday and Friday for the recording, and he asked if I could adjust my schedule. If I were a different person, I could insist on printing during the day since I’m here as an Artist in Residence. However, the recording is scheduled only for this week, and I can use that time to make more drawings and plates, so I readily agreed. I have 20 days (not including weekends) to print 11 more runs. If all continues to go well, I may have time to not only finish this project, but also work on individual prints, experimenting with techniques I’ve learned from the other printmakers at KKV. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience here.

I hope I haven’t jinxed myself by expressing such optimism. We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

Printmaking mecca

I’ve waited three years to experience the wonders at Konstnärernas Kollektiva Grafikverkstad (KKV) in Malmö, Sweden. Although I was awarded an artist residency via Women’s Studio Workshop in 2019, the coronavirus interfered with me traveling to Malmö until, finally, this year. Now. For an entire month I’ll be printing an artist book at KKV.

Yesterday a KKV member named Sofie picked up my fellow resident artist Maggie Puckett and me at the train station and delivered us to this amazing facility that has printmaking equipment I’d never dared to dream of. We met several members, all kind, generous, knowledgeable and friendly. They all speak impeccable English. I know 8 Swedish words.

Maggie and I each have personal workspaces and full access to all of the printmaking equipment and supplies. Here’s my workspace on day 1. Note how clean and uncluttered it is.

Today – day 2 – a KKV member named Cecilia kindly introduced me to the lithographic equipment, supplies and printing process. We prepared a piece of mylar (clear plastic film) for drawing and painting images that will be exposed onto an aluminum plate. To prepare the mylar, we applied water and carborundum, a steel-colored grit. 

When I learned lithographic printing decades ago at Minneapolis College of Art & Design, I drew and painted directly on the aluminum plate. This process that Cecilia demonstrated has some unexpected advantages, and I discovered I am lacking some needed supplies. Tomorrow I will use a bike provided by KKV to ride to an art supply store for brushes, gouache and perhaps India ink. Cecilia returns to KKV on Thursday to see my progress, which means I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Today I worked on sketches, searching for the right images to print. I’m not satisfied yet, but getting closer. 

Here is Cecilia, talking with another KKV member. Note! (OBS! in Swedish) the tray with a coffee pot and sugar in the middle of the large table. Yesterday we experienced “fika,” a delightful coffee break with a small group of artists. Strong coffee, tasty biscuits, sweet new friends.