20 June 2010

Book Moths and Other Prints

I've been making an effort, the last couple of weeks, to list or re-list something on each of my two Etsy and one ArtFire shops. Hypothetically, it should make my shops more visible by always having something come up when someone searches on a relevant term, instead of having everything buried by a long-ago list date. I'm not sure it's a direct result, but I've had several things in Etsy treasuries recently, and made two sales in a span of a few days when I haven't previously sold anything in months. So that's encouraging.

But in the process, I have managed to neglect blogging entirely. So. One of my Etsy shops is focused more on my art (the other is more craft, with blank cards and blank books and book jewellery), and in there I've started adding more of my prints. I'm still not entirely happy with the display images. It's really difficult to show the tactility of a hand-pulled print in a photograph. I'm wondering, too, if scanning in sections and piecing together images in Photoshop might not result in better colours. But anyway. Listing more prints, so I thought I'd blog a bit about one print in particular that I really like but which I think is difficult to illustrate in an Etsy listing. That print is a little (7.5 by 10 inches) intaglio print with the very long title "Figure 1. Book Mimicry in Moths found in the Laputa Pansophic University Library" (on Etsy here).

Book Moths, as I call it for short (because who wants to type, or even pronounce, that title over and over) is part of what will eventually become the Frisland Archaeology Project (once I am no longer broke and can invest in another domain and the web hosting to go with it), an ongoing multi-media project that I may very literally be working on for the rest of my life. This is vague, I realize, but you'll just have to wait and see. I'm very excited, and I hope there will be more to tell soon. (Many of my other prints, stories and even comics are parts of this larger project, so feel free to amuse yourself trying to figure out how it'll work).

The print was made from a copper and polymer composite plate. In intaglio printmaking, photopolymer is used to create a resist for the acid etch. Because it starts out photosensitive, you can use it to transfer drawings from a transparency to a plate, then etch the plate. You then generally remove the polymer before printing. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

To make this image, I did a bunch of pen and ink drawings of various moths, then scanned them and made a Photoshop file with the moths arranged as they might be in a plate from an old book. I also scanned some pages of actual old books (I chose only ones printed in black on white). In Photoshop, I layered the old book pages with the moths to create moths with wings patterned by the pages. Then I added the "fig. 1" text.

The concept, as you've probably figured out, was to create something that looked like it had been taken out of an old natural history book. This is the plate illustrating how moths in the library of the LPU have evolved camouflage so they can hide within the pages of books. Each moth, however, is adapted to one specific page of one specific book.

Anyway. Once I had the image, I printed it on a trasparency (or, rather, I got a friend with a better inkjet printer at the time to print it for me). Then, in the printmaking studio, I adhered some photopolymer to a copper plate (a process done in low light and not, I am happy to say, in total darkness). Then I used the platemaker, which has a super-bright light in it, to expose the polymer and the transparency. Because of the way intaglio printing works (that is, the printing lines are sunk into the plate rather than raised), you use a positive of the image rather than a negative as you would in letterpress. You still have to have the text backwards, though, in order to have it print right-reading. Once the polymer is exposed, it's processed to remove any unexposed polymer (the parts blocked by the blacks in the transparency). Then it's left to sit in the sun to cure.

Once cured, the plate is etched as one would normally etch a copper plate. Usually, the polymer is removed after etching, but it doesn't have to be. In an image with a lot of fine detail, the very finest parts may not have penetrated right through the polymer, and would not then have etched. In that case, removing the polymer means losing detail. And anyway, polymer is pretty tough stuff, and can take a fair amount of abuse. It will eventually break down under the pressure of printing, but if you're only doing a small edition, it's not a problem (for the record, it holds up better than the burr on a drypoint line). I only planned an edition of around 10, and there was a lot of fine detail in the moths, so I left the polymer on.

When I was finished the print run, I had an edition of 10 plus a BAT (essentially it's the first "good" print, generally kept by the artist, and used as a model against which to print the rest; not everyone bothers with a BAT, and while I usually like to have one, many of my early intaglio and lino prints don't have them). I also had a number of not-so-perfect prints which I excluded from the edition. I kept them, because I had a plan for them, about which I will blog later.

The last couple of steps in Book Moths were to tea-stain "age" the edges and razor-cut the left edge. Astute readers will realize this was to make it look like the prints had once been actual plates in books that some vandal had cut out (no actual books were harmed in the making of this print).

I started this post intending to blog about the moths and show you the bits that I composed them from, but this has already gone on longer than I intended, so I'll stop here and come back to the moths themselves tomorrow, perhaps.


Carol said...

Oh, I love this print. Everything about it rings bells of recognition for me: etching, old books, natural history... Can't wait to find out the other mysterious things you are doing.

Niko said...

Hee hee! I'd love to make the imaginary book the plate came from, but I'm not sure I can write a whole treatise on camouflage and mimicry in insects that don't exist outside my brain. It would be cool, though . . .

Carol said...

If anyone could do it from their imagination, it would be you.

By the way, I've posted a poem (not by me) about paper. It may appeal to you as a fellow paper afficionado.