Printmaking Inspiration and Tips: Q&A with Dorit Elisha

My only formal training in printmaking came many, many, years ago in a high school art class. We made intaglio prints, silkscreen prints, and woodcuts. I absolutely loved the class and still have some of my prints (they're all of houses, a favorite theme of mine to this day).

printmaking and mixed media red bird collage dorit elisha
Printmaking with mixed media by Dorit Elisha.

Sadly, decades went by before I made prints again. It wasn't until recently, when I discovered printmaking techniques that don't involve a press, such as gelatin monoprinting, Thermofax screen printing, and collagraphy. These methods are so satisfying to me because, in addition to not needing a press, you don't need a lot of space or prep time.

That's probably why one of my favorite how-to art books is Printmaking & Mixed Media: Simple Techniques for Paper and Fabric by Dorit Elisha. In the book, Dorit explores a host of printmaking processes that don't require a press and shows how to incorporate them in mixed-media art. I could go on about her techniques and tips, but why not let her do it via this Q&A?

CPS: What is printmaking? What do you think makes it so appealing to mixed-media artists?
DE:
Printmaking is an easy and quick way to create multiples of the same image. It is a very versatile technique, and the prints can be used in book making, collage, altered books, scrap booking 3-D art or just as an art by itself. There are many techniques within printmaking where each requires different materials and tools, and has a different look to the finished print. For example: Screen printing and sun printing allow a precise photographic image to be printed while monoprinting has a very painterly look, and block printing is very graphic and bold.

CPS: What is unique about the techniques you teach in your book Printmaking + Mixed Media: Simple Techniques and Projects for Paper and Fabric?
DE: In my book I demonstrate the "no press – no stress" side of printmaking. I describe step by step how everyone can create prints using different methods without the use of a printing press or expensive printing paper. Whether you are an experienced artist or not, all you need is a bit of space to work in and some basic tools. In addition to the printmaking techniques, the book gives you ideas how to combine the prints with other art techniques into mixed-media art.

CPS: Could you share some time and money-saving techniques you've learned over the years?
DE:
Most of the techniques described in the book can be done with inexpensive supply substitutes: Instead of printing paper I print on "found paper"–anything from old atlases to painted papers or cheap copy paper and wallpaper samples. The ink can be substituted with paint in many cases. My favorite way of saving time and money is to reuse some of the less successful prints and incorporate them in my collage or other mixed media art by tearing and re-treating them with paint, ink, or stitching.

CPS: What inspires you?
DE: I am mostly inspired by seeing textures and colors in my daily surroundings. I live in an area that is rich with different ethnic cultures, and just walking the street or the market really makes me want to run to my studio and start a project. My home and studio are packed with colorful papers, fibers and decorative items that I have collected and those also trigger my creative juices. Collaborating with other artists is a huge inspiration as well.

mixed media collage with printmaking by dorit elisha
Mixed-media collage with printmaking
by Dorit Elisha.

CPS: Do you have a favorite project or printmaking technique?
DE:
I don't have one specific favorite. I like to change the media or form I am working on every once in a while. Recently I worked in a book form, creating mixed-media artist books that included printmaking on fabric and stitching. Before that I worked in a box form, creating three-dimensional assemblages. There is one aspect that is common in all my projects: recycling and re-purposing. I rarely buy art supplies in the art store and most of my art ingredients come from flea markets, thrift stores and other recycling resources.

Here are some of Dorit's printmaking tips, adapted from her book:

6 Printmaking Tips

1. Set up your workspace with a protected working area and a protected drying area. You don't want to happily start printing only to realize you have no place to set down your wet prints. Not that this has ever happened to me.

2. Safety first. Many printing processes use rather benign paints and inks, but even those can be hazardous if they come in contact with food storage and prep areas. Always protect your surfaces, don't reuse containers for food after they have been used for art (in fact, don't eat and drink in your printmaking area), protect eyes and skin from chemicals or solvents, and always wash your hands well after your printing session. (Note: these are minimum safety requirements. Be sure to read all labels and follow safety instructions for your printing method.)

3. Go in reverse. Remember that with many printing methods, the printed image will be the reverse of what is on the screen or block. To avoid ending up with backwards words and images (again, not that this has ever happened to me…), Dorit suggests you go through the motions of the whole process first, without using ink.

4. Steady and even. Those are your watchwords for laying the substrate on the plate, burnishing the image, and removing the substrate from the plate. Anything else can blur the image. Unless you want a slightly blurred image. In which case, go for it!

5. Have a fine-tip brush handy. Imperfections happen. That can be a wonderful thing, or not. When it's not, use a brush with a bit of ink on it to touch up small, imperfect spots. Colored pencils work well, too.

6. Always print extras. It's all set up–why not print more? This way, you'll be sure to have exactly what you need when you start your mixed-media artwork or to use for another project later on.

If lack of a press or wondering how you would use prints is holding you back from printmaking, or if you just want a new source of printmaking and mixed-media, you can't go wrong with Dorit and Printmaking & Mixed Media: Simple Techniques for Paper and Fabric. You can download it right now!

P.S. Do you print with or without a press? Which do you prefer and why? Leave a comment below.

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