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On how to make extremely inexpensive drypoints & collagraphs

Definition of a drypoint: intaglio printmaking method where you scratch lines directly into the surface of a metal/plexiglass plate. So no need to cover the plate with an acid-resistant ground, draw into the ground, then etch the plate in acid. You just scratch, ink, wipe away excess ink, then print. 

Definition of a collagraph: materials glued to a surface (metal, plexiglass, matboard), sealed with acrylic medium, then inked and printed. 

In teaching a printmaking class at the end of last year in rural Illinois, I had to get creative in finding inexpensive materials. I stumbled upon aluminum (=aluminium where I come from) flashing tiles at Home Depot. They are 5” x 7”, and you can get a hundred of them for around $20. There are several advantages to this:

1. The aluminum tiles are a lot cheaper than copper, zinc, and steel, which are the traditional metals used for drypoint. For example: a 5” x 7” economy copper plate goes for around $5 per plate (so $500 for a hundred of those).

2. It’s even cheaper than plexiglass, which would be about $1 per 5” x 7” plate, or $100 for 100 plates.

3. Because the aluminum flashing tiles are so thin, you don’t have to file the edges down before you run them through the printing press. 

    The disadvantage is that because they are so thin, you can’t get many impressions from them. I’ve got maybe four out of a single plate, as opposed to twenty or more from a steel plate. 

    But if you’re looking for a very cheap way to produce a couple of decent-looking drypoint prints – and especially if you want to teach the technique to beginners – then aluminum flashing tiles are an excellent alternative to the traditional materials. 

    I also used the tiles to make carborundum collagraphs: 

    Here are some quick instructions (you need access to a printing press for this): 

    1. Handle the edges carefully: they are sharp!

    2. Take some steel wool and rub it in a circular motion over the entire surface of the plate. This removes the pre-coating from the plate, and provides a nice ‘tooth’ for the carborundum mixture.

    3. In a jar, make up a mixture of 40% acrylic gloss medium, and 60% carborundum grit (or silicone carbide). This is like a very hard sand, and when dry the particles hold a lot of ink.

    4. Use a small brush to paint an image on the plate with the carborundum mixture.

    5. When the image is dry (about 2 hours), seal the image with a layer of acrylic gloss medium.

    6. Ink, wipe, and print.

    Here is an image I created by combining three aluminum flashing tiles, using drypoint and carborundum collagraph, each one inked with a different color (=colour where I come from):

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