What a Relief: Printmaking without a Printing Press

tree collograph printmaking
Collagraph print made from bubble wrap,
felt, and hemp.

cate pratoRecently someone asked me: what's a collagraph? A collagraph (also spelled collograph) combines two of my favorite forms of art: collage and printmaking. They're also easy to make with tools you most certainly have around the house.

Collagraph prints can be made with or without a printing press, which is great for the artist who only prints occasionally or doesn't have access to a printing studio.

Collagraphs are usually done as a one-off monoprint, but I highly recommend making additional ghost monoprints, or even re-inking the plate with different colors to see what happens.

A piece of acrylic or thin board will give you a more durable plate. But since you're probably not making too many prints, stiff cardboard or foam core will work just fine. You might want to put a thin coat of acrylic paint or gesso down and let it dry first, to make it stand up to use better. You'll also need glue, printing inks or acrylic paints, a brayer or two, and papers, sturdy found objects and recyclable materials.

Decide on the size of your final image and find a suitable plate or cut one to size. Gather an assortment of found objects or recyclables. They should all be about the same thickness, but you can vary the materials. Milk bottle caps, foam shapes (purchased or cut from washed grocery trays), yarn or string, craft flowers, and abandoned swatches of knitting or crochet all make interesting collograph materials. But you can also just use cardstock, textured paper, wallpaper, or fabric. I'm sure you can think of others.

When designing your collograph plate, keep in mind that you will be printing a mirror image. So any words or directional imagery should be glued down in reverse. Once you have your design, lift and glue each piece to the plate. Or, take a digital photo, remove all the materials, and use the photo as a guide.

collograph printmaking
Collagraph plate, left, and the print at right.

When the glue has dried, it's time to print. Working on a protected surface, spread some waterbased ink or acrylic paint on a palette and roll your brayer through it. Apply the paint/ink to the tops of the objects on the plate or the whole plate, depending on your choice. I applied the paint with a brayer on the abstract shapes plate. For the tree, I decided to apply the paint with a foam brush which I thought gave me more control.

Turn the plate over onto your printing substrate: paper, fabric, canvas, etc. It can be interesting to print onto found papers such as old maps or even a collage of old receipts, letters, sheet music, etc. Experiment.

Impress the ink or paint onto the substrate by evenly pressing your hands over the back of the plate or rolling a clean brayer over it. Then lift your plate up and see what you've got. It's a very good idea to have another printing surface or several waiting in the wings so you can make a ghost print with the any ink left over on the plate. I find sometimes I like my ghost prints better than the originals.

In these collagraphs, I experimented with bubble wrap, lace and fabric trims, shapes cut from a foam vegetable tray and stiff craft felt, and hemp twine. I used corrugated cardboard as a plate for the tree and foam core for the abstract. In both cases I printed on scrapbook papers with acrylic paint.

Collagraphs can be used to make a printed picture or a background for collage or a focal point. You can cut out the printed shapes for mixed-media art and the plate itself can often become the artwork.

One of my very favorite resources for printmaking techniques without a press (inlcuding collagraphs, relief printing, monogelatin plate prints, cyanotype process, and more) is Dorit Elisha's Printmaking and Mixed Media. This book just became available as an eBook, so you can download it now and start creating mixed-media prints today.

P.S. Have you tried collagraph printmaking? Please share your tips and discoveries in the comments below.


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