The Chine Collee technique clearly explained
Often printmaking books (and courses) have a little section on chine collee tagged onto the main subject. This may have sparked your curiosity and, like lots of printmaking techniques, you will find once you start investigating it you discover a whole world of possibility.
This exciting technique will enable you to:
- Add a background colour over your whole print
- Add colour to specific parts of your print
- Incorporate text or photos
- Add a variety of pattern and texture to a print
This post covers the basic technique of integrating coloured paper into your prints. I will explain how to select and prepare paper, make glue, and print your plate incorporating the chine collee paper.
This is just the beginning – look out for future posts with more variations and inspiration for including chine collee in your prints.
What is chine collee?
Chine-collé roughly translates from French as
Chine = China, referring to thin paper imported from the Far East
Collé, meaning stuck on with glue
Chine collee is thin (usually coloured) paper sandwiched between the printing paper and the printed image.
It is bonded to the printing paper during the printing process, and is integral to the print.
The chine collee sticks to the printing paper and the image prints on top of it.
By laying the coloured paper on your printing plate you can position it exactly where you want to add colour to your image.
Make a chine collee failures folder!
There are lots of variables with chine collee so it is best to test things out as you go. The technique can be tricky and you will probably collect a folder of mistakes as you develop your skills. If you remember to make notes your failures folder will be very useful to you on your chine collee voyage of discovery.
In this post I aim to give you some pointers to help you get started without too many disasters.
Choosing printing plates for chine collee
Chine collee works with relief plates and mono-prints as well as intaglio plates.
Make sure your design has some light areas so the coloured paper will show through the ink.
When starting out it is easiest to print in black or very dark ink.
The examples for this post were all made by students on a short printmaking course in my studio.
The plates we used were made with aluminium foil.
Choosing papers for chine collee
There are 3 things to be aware of when choosing paper for chine collee:
1. It must be thinner than the main printing paper
2. It must not collapse when it is wet.
3. It must have an absorbent surface to ‘receive’ the print, especially fine intaglio lines
For your test pieces newsprint works well. Traditionally printmakers use thin Japanese papers; Hosho is particularly successful and doesn’t cost too much.
Look out for wrapping paper, craft papers; anything thin, strong-ish and with an absorbent surface is worth a try.
Prepare your papers
Here is a handy method for testing out how chine collee will look with your print. It is my own invention so please let me know how it works for you.
Print your plate in a dark colour on white paper.
Photocopy the image on clear acetate so you can slide different coloured papers under it to see how they will look when printed.
Alternatively lay the thin paper face upwards over your print and trace the shapes you want.
If you lay chine collee papers directly on the plate to decide on the shapes you want, they must lie face downwards.
1. Cut or tear rough shapes
This is fun and produces lively results.
Pieces can stick out beyond the printing plate, or roughly follow elements in the design.
2. Cut a shape the exact size of the plate
This makes a single background colour to your print.
You can also stick smaller pieces of coloured paper onto this background sheet. In this example I used a glue stick to fix the small shapes to the backing – give the glue time to dry before pasting the back of the big sheet.
3. Cut exact shapes
The pieces can be cut to fit the printing plate, so when laid face down on the plate they match the areas you want coloured. If you photo copy the print while it is still damp (i.e. before the paper has dried and shrunk in size) the photocopy can serve as a template to cut chine collee to fit exact areas of the plate.
I think life is too short to aim for an exact fit. If you design your chine collee to be deliberately mis-aligned with the image on the plate, the result will be more lively and interesting anyway!
Dampen the paper
If you are printing onto damp paper make your chine collee papers damp too. This means they will take the image better, stick better, and also dry flat as they will shrink along with the base printing paper.
Once your papers are cut/torn and ready, use a soft brush and gently dampen them with water. Stack them between damp sheets of plain newsprint to help the fibres relax and lie flat.
Make your own glue for chine collee
Starch glue is traditional, and corn flour paste is easy and cheap to make.
Mix 1tsp corn flour to 3 tbsp water.
Heat it while stirring till it goes thick. It will be like gloopy custard (in fact it is basically custard!) and will go thicker as it cools down.
The paste will keep for a few days before going mouldy so just mix up a small amount at a time.
Don’t worry – once it’s dry it won’t cause your prints to go mouldy.
Lay the damp chine collee paper flat and face down on a slab of glass. Spread the glue thinly using a little piece of card as a squeegee.
Apply enough glue to coat the paper, but not so much that it squidges out in the press. (This takes trial and error!)
After pasting it don’t hang around or the glue will dry.
Thanks to Liz K Miller for the fool proof starch glue recipe.
Have your inked up printing plate next to the glue station.
When your paper is evenly glued on the back, carefuly lift the paper (tweezers are useful here) and position it flat on the printing plate.
Always lie it right side down, with the glued side facing upwards.
That may sound obvious but it is quite counter intuitive and very easy to get wrong so keep concentrating!
After all that preparation you are finally ready…….. here are the stages in a handy list
- Ink your plate up ready to print.
- Paste the back of your papers
- Lay papers on the plate, glue side up. (Right side down)
- Position your plate with the papers on it onto the press bed; lay dampened printing paper over the plate and print it as usual.
- Peel the print off slowly and carefully
- Press your chine collee prints between blotting paper and stiff boards to keep everything flat as it dries.
Chine collee may sound complex, but after a few goes I hope you will have the knack, and find yourself setting off on an exciting journey of discovery.