Something a little different

Not having access to my studio has been pretty depressing during the past nine weeks. Without access to my cameras, chemistry and darkroom I have limited photographic creative means at home. I had some b&w photo paper to make some Lumen prints and that was about it.

I had brought home some dry point stuff for Steph to use and I had a go at that a week or so ago printing by applying pressure to the paper and plate with the back or my hand and a spoon. This took a bit of effort and I always prefer the easier option if available. I’d seen online that some people had made small home made etching presses from rolling pins and pasta making machines, but also some were using an embossing/die cutting machines.

The Xcut Express machine

These can be picked up fairly cheaply on ebay etc but with everyone under lockdown they were proving very popular and hard to find. I ended up buying a new one online.

It looks like a large toasty machine but when opened up really does resemble an etching press with adjustable roller pressure and bed.

I then found some old wood or lino cutting tools in a box that I must have bought years ago. Now, I’ve never in my life made a relief print but was really interested in how it would work. I’ve always been a fan of lino and woodcut prints. What could go wrong?

100x150mm “lino” plates? My first initial cuts with the old tools were a little clumsy. I decided it might help if I sharpened them up and took the rust off the edges. This helped but still my results were very clumsy and awkward.

There are quite a few social media accounts and websites covering these processes but this one I found very helpful with making my first initial marks in the lino. Theres a Facebook group dedicated to various relief printing and one especially for users of these craft presses. All very useful and encouraging.

At first I tried some relief inks that were waterbased. These didn’t spread very well at all and seemed to soak into the “lino”. So I added more and more ink but then it just gathered in the cuts and looked a mess. So I switched to my intaglio inks which worked so much better, with just one or two rolls with the ink roller.

Water-based and Oil-based inks

I was quite pleased with my line exercises so I jumped straight in with probably a difficult subject matter…. a self portrait.

Some of you are aware that I maintain I’m a photographer due to my lack of any other artistic skill or craft, especially drawing. I especially have difficulty in “seeing” these scenes as a print block and shapes. So here is my first attempt.

Close enough…

It took me probably a day or so to draw and simplify myself from some selfies. Lots of paper, rubbing out and tracing paper for transfer to the lino, which didn’t go so well.

That nose took a few attempts…

The actual cutting of the lino was very stressful, a few choice words were uttered but I found myself totally engrossed in the cutting for a good few hours. After which I was very surprised to find I was very tense from the acute concentration. My arms and legs were actually aching?

Here we go…

The Xcut Express is a great little press, I think I could print up to A4 with it, with relief and intaglio dry point. I wonder how it would be with some photogravure? It was straight forward to print. Hard white bed that came with it, newsprint, then lino, then a watercolour paper, newsprint and finally a sheet of cardboard.

Nearly there… I think I prefer the plate to the print!

All seemed to go very well, I was just so disappointed with the end result. What on earth happened to the shape of my head? I’m not sure what I was expecting, it was my first attempt after all.

I will persevere, as I found the actual making process very rewarding if not the end printed result. More to come I’m sure.