Sooner or later, anyone who is seriously drawn to printmaking will want to own a press. I began by cutting a design on a small square of lino and burnishing the back of the paper on the block with a wooden spoon. I remember results were patchy and my fingers ached. I quickly realised that using this method, I was never going to be able to produce larger images in larger numbers.
I have to have the use of a press so I attended a workshop in Hebden Bridge. There I did drypoints and printed them on a press that was a converted mangle with a rolling flatbed and with rollers encased in steel. I had been smitten by the bug but still I had to travel several miles, once a week, just to have use of it. I dreamed of owning a press of my own. Yet printing presses can cost from a few hundred to several thousand pounds but if an old mangle worked well enough, then why not use one?
I placed an advert in the local Post Office and I managed to buy one from a lady for £5. It was in a poor state: it had been standing outside in her garden and it’s rollers were rotten and parts were rusty and dirty. It didn’t seem a good prospect, even for £5.
The first thing I did was to dismantle it completely and chisel off the rotten wood. I discovered that the mangle wasn’t too bad. The dirt was hiding a good covering of grease and the bit of rust was superficial and came off easily. A joiner made me two new rollers for £25 and before I reassembled the mangle I gave it two coats of metal primer paint and four coats of black enamel. It was almost as good as new.
I have not encased the rollers in steel and nor have I attached a flatbed and so far the mangle has served me well. By trial and error I have found the following printing methods to produce the best. I made a “sandwich” consisting of:
A piece of thin plywood for a loose flatbed, measuring 50 x 65 cms. To this I glued a cardboard “frame” to hold the lino block in place and prevent any slipping as the rollers turned. I have stuck vertical and horizontal strips to this frame as registration markers for the paper. Down each side of the plywood bed I have glued several layers of cardboard strips to act as support for the rollers if need be.
1. Place the lino block into the frame. I make sure my blocks are tight up into the right-hand corner and then wedged so that the block cannot move. It doesn’t matter if you use the top-left corner but which ever you use, stick to it, especially if you are doing multi-coloured prints where correct registration is vitally important.
2. Place the paper over the block and up against the registration strips on the frame. I have experimented quite a bit with different paper and techniques. Personally, I have obtained the best results for lino printing on 140lb (300gsm) paper, dampened. I do not sprinkle the paper with water but soke it in a bath for at least an hour and then put it between sheets of blotting paper, to press out the excess water by hand. I have found that relief printing on dry paper has produced poor results.
3. Lay 4 pieces of felt over the block.
4. The process completed, you are now ready to run the block through the press. Place the top of the block between the rollers, with your left hand keeping it horizontal at the bottom and your right hand turning the mangle handle. When the block has reached the half way stage through the rollers, move your position so that your left hand turns the handle and your right hand holds the top edge of the block. Turn the handle slowly throughout the process. When the block is nearly through and the rollers have cleared the block, give the handle a quick spin and take hold of the bottom edge and pull it clear.
As there is no gauge on the mangle, selecting the correct pressure can almost be a matter of instinct. Too much pressure and turning the rollers becomes very difficult, the mangle creaks and groans and there is a real danger of damage. It is not necessary to screw down too tightly. The top roller is very heavy and only a small amount of extra pressure is required. However you arrive at the correct pressure, make sure you turn the screws evenly.
This is a method I have developed in making collagraphs and also lino prints. I began by making lino prints some years ago and I was able to create prints using these methods. Unfortunately, lino prints tended to be black and this was very noticeable when a few were hanging together in a display.
I decided to begin creating collagraphs on a hardboard base plate. I glued pieces of 140lb paper to the plate, then coated the final design with gesso and later with a coat of varnish. I use a variety of oil-based colours each rolled over the design. I then remove any ink that has left the edges of the gesso with a cloth and a bit of turpentine. I place damp paper and a couple of lengths of felt over that and it is ready for printing.
The same process is used when printing collagraphs and a similar method in creating them. I mark each edition EV – Edition Variable – as each print will not be quite the same.