Marja-Leena Rathje
Home ::: printing hands

printing hands

Last November I wrote about a work in progress, a print combining digital printing and a collagraph. Have a look at that image and compare it to what follows below. My photos are not good but serve to illustrate the process to anyone interested in it.


As you can see above, I developed the image further using a collagraph plate of each hand, added a light background texture of grass paper and tweaked some details and colours. I printed this trial proof and planned to edition it soon after.

For various reasons, I did not get back to doing so until last week. It had been such a while since I'd worked on it that I had to do a few tests again. To my dismay, this time the digital print stuck to the inked collagraph plates as they went through the printing press! Tearing paper, tearing my hair, I spent hours testing ink consistencies, wetness or dryness of the paper and the pressure. Nothing worked satisfactorily. Usually if a collagraph has cured a longer time, it's less likely to stick, so we in the shop could not understand what changed. I even tried a release spray from the sculpture department with no luck.

An etching printed well. So, we determined that it had to be the coating on this digital watercolour paper that does not agree with acrylic medium based collagraphs. Last year I used the same technique on a digital photorag paper with success. What to do next? I had already printed out the digital run of this print and did not want the expense of reprinting on another paper. A deep etched copperplate seemed the only way to match the textural quality I was after, but most of us in the shop don't like the toxicity of that process anymore.


With encouragement from Bonnie, our fantastic shop technician, I decided to try inking and printing my own hands! First applying barrier cream on my hands, I pressed them into the ink spread on the glass plate, then test printed first on newsprint.


I pressed them directly on the digital prints spread out on the table,
re-inking my hands in between each. Scary yet exciting!


Look at the details of this cave-woman's hand!


In the end, I think the direct handprints look even better than the collagraph ones.
'Twas meant to be, for what better way to convey the cave artists' hands?
Now for a title...


Many subtleties of shade and texture not evident here, of course. But at least from your photos I prefer the version with handprints. And love the whole work. I wonder if I'll ever get to see your work one day.

Isn't it fascinating how often out of adversity comes a sweeter solution? It is very interesting seeing the development of this new work.

You are a print-maker! ;-)

Wow -- that was wonderful to see. I always love to come by your site and be inspired by the art. What a lovely bonus to learn about this fascinating process!

Love the real hand prints!! They are REAL!! The artist's touch!! Good work!!

Jean, thanks, and yes, much is lost in these small compressed photos. It would be wonderful if you could come and see my work! and for us to meet!

Olga, absolutely, after walking through fire! Sometimes the work comes easily, sometimes it's a struggle and probably for a good reason.

MB, yes, that is quite true, even more now, heh. Really getting down to basics.

Kate, thanks for the expression of appreciation!

Joan, and thanks to you, too!

Cool! Now that's what I call a hands-on approach to printmaking.

Yup, Dave, that's the running joke here and in the studio right now!

Ill-advised - when the police come for you for those art thefts in Monte Carlo all they have to do is check your current work for prints.

Seriously, I like the direct handprints, they strongly connect the two elements as well as bearing their historic meaning.

Very cool! Some day I'd love to see some of your work in person.

Hehehe, Anna, don't give me any ideas now. I'm glad you like this and see the historic meaning though I suppose it seems quite obvious now.

Leslee, I'd be thrilled to be able to show you my work in person someday!

Marja-leena, it's wonderful to see a work of yours in progress and the result is great.
A word about stickiness:
Acrylic medium or paints nearly always cause this problem when used as a coating on collagraph plates. Since acrylics are adhesives, contact under pressure with damp paper makes it stick.The solution: if you use acrylics to texture a collagraph, make sure it's completely dry (especially if it was applied thickly) then give the plate a coat of fast-drying spray varnish (there is one sold for that purpose in art materials shops) which isolates the surface. When that's dry, you can ink the plate as normal and it won't stick to the damp paper.

Natalie, thank you for your input! I've worked with collagraphs, using acrylic media, for two decades and have not had this problem. These ones worked fine on regular printmaking paper and the digital proofing paper, but not on this watercolour digital paper. So, I believe the issue lies with the particular coating used on this paper. Certainly the spray varnish you suggest may have helped if I'd had some handy in the shop! Next time. And I'll be sure to test everything even more carefully before getting to the editioning stage.

We artists are always trying to use materials in ways the manufacturers don't plan on, right?

But, I'm excited by this direct form of printing and may just do a few more this way!

M-L, I've never printed over digital prints, hence I don't know how different digital papers take printing inks. Personally, I prefer oil-based inks for printing collagraphs and they make a plate surface impervious to sticking, even if it's been built with acrylic gesso etc.

I do love your hand-prints over those images - bravo!

Natalie, thanks, glad you like it!

I've always used oil-based inks, and that's what I used here as well. I played around with reducer in it to no avail. Our very knowledgeable technician said that digital paper manufacturers use different coatings on different papers, even within the same brand or company. That's what threw me, because their other papers accepted the collagraphs in the series I've done before. Grrr..

P.S. Later: Despite my trials, I don't think I will be giving up working with collagraphs on digital prints. You may want to try it sometime, Natalie!

I think I will, M-L, I would enjoy it. My printer will only take up to A4 size paper so they'd have to be small but that's okay. I wish we could meet up and exchange ideas and processes!

OH, do, Natalie! And yes, I really wish we could meet and share ideas. Let me know how it goes, or if you have any questions!