Skip to main content

Some Non-Toxic Printmaking Results

I've been experimenting with non-toxic printmaking for a few years, and have even started teaching printmaking classes in the summer using these principles. What does "non-toxic" mean? It means that you try to replace all the chemicals used in the traditional printmaking processes -- many of which are now known to damage your health, as well as causing damage to the environment -- with agents that are safe to the user and can disperse harmlessly in the local water supply.

As I've converted my own processes, I've discovered that nothing is really completely non-toxic. There always seems to be a residual pollution, but compared to the acids and tars that were formerly used, the difference is huge. In terms of what the new materials can give you in terms of mark-making, I have also found that certain things are easier to replace than others. The Akua range of soy-based printmaking inks, for example: I found it a little difficult at first to judge the correct amount of ink to use for relief blocks and etching plates, but I soon got used to them. I still use oil-based inks for the paper-litho transfer technique, but I always use vegetable oil to clean up now, instead of the solvents and spirits I used in the past.

"Coal", paper-litho transfers, accordion binding

But for several years, I have tried to follow the non-toxic path to reproduce the etching techniques that are still my favourite form of printmaking -- such as hard ground etching, soft ground etching, and aquatint. The old grounds were produced with a lung-choking chemical mixture of tar-based resist, and rosin dust that is a known carcinogen. In an attempt to reduce the use of chemicals even further, I have been experimenting with ways of using carborundum and acrylic resist to make collagraphs that reproduce the appearance of an aquatint and hard-ground etching. I have had very little success, but last week I finally made a few prints that come close:

The lighter areas are in fact a dried layer of Lascaux acrylic resist, poured onto 5" x 7" aluminium plates (the thin, cheap variety that you can get from hardware stores for about $20 per 100). I then drew lines into the surface, which when I inked them up caught the ink like a hard-ground drawing. The thicker, darker areas are produced by pouring a mixture of resist and carborundum onto the plate. When that dries, the combination of grit particles and the tiny spaces in between each particle holds a lot of ink. You can vary the tones in those dark areas by adding more of the resist and making it more liquid.

For good measure, I added some chine colle when I printed these plates, though the contrast between the two kinds of paper wasn't strong enough to show. Another test that worked, though, was to clean one of the plates (using vegetable oil), then inking it up and printing it again, to see if it produced more than one print. I'm glad to say that it did. The ink, by the way, is Charbonell Etching Ink, Madder plus a little Black.

These were only test plates, but I had the imagery of coal, circles of coal, and mountains of coal in my mind that I have been playing with and returning to for the last few years, so I am of a mind to keep these and add them to the developing work.


  1. Phillip

    if you have questions on this kind of thing do feel free to email me. Its quite likely that I will have done something that is relevant. Good outcome I think. best wishes



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…