Combining collagraphs and mono-prints is a lovely versatile technique that I have used several times in community workshops. It works so well because it is easy to understand and people quickly get satisfying results. There is also plenty of scope for development so people with more printmaking experience enjoy playing with the two techniques together.
Collagraphs and mono-prints as a warm-up activity
This activity is not just for groups; it makes an uplifting warm-up activity to do on your own if you are feeling a bit rusty or slow to get started.
You may surprise your self and produce some finished prints, or it could lead onto other new ideas….
Cheap and cheerful collagraph materials
The plates are made from simple safe materials; plastic offcuts, masking tape and sticky labels.
As they are relief prints it is fine to use basic photocopy paper, so everyone can print away without worrying about wasting materials or making a ‘mistake’. If you are able to use thicker paper which is dampened your results will be even better.
Your prints will be brighter if made with a press, but you can get good results using the back of a spoon or a clean roller to transfer the print to paper if you don’t have a printing press.
Learning about printmaking
This method introduces a number of key printmaking ideas, and is therefore useful for beginners of all ages:
Reversing an image; sometimes this part of the process is hard to grasp but using clear acetate makes it easier.
Adding and removing layers of texture on the printing plate; the collagraph plate is dynamic and continually evolving.
Creating multiples and unique prints; like members of a family the prints from one plate are similar but different. The collagraphed plates remain constant and the mono prints provide changing images and colours.
Critical awareness; people can enjoy producing a lot of prints, then editing down to the best ones.
First make your collagraph plate
I use acetate, you could also use old plastic file covers, flat packaging plastic, or a sheet of laminated paper. The important thing is that the surface should be smooth and shiny.
Do a rough design sketch
Lay your plate on a piece of plain paper and draw round it, then make a rough sketch of the image you will base your print on.
Lay your plate back over the drawing and trace it using a marker pen.
To Reverse or not to reverse your image?
Look at your sketch from both sides of the plastic plate, decide which way looks best and write ‘back’ on this side. Then turn your printing plate over and stick tape etc. on the other side to create a texture for printing.
Congratulations – you have just reversed your image! One of the essential things to grasp in printmaking is that the finished print is a mirror image of the plate.
If the marker pen is on the front of the plate you will need to remove it before you print otherwise it may transfer to the printing paper. Once you have added texture to the plate, use meths to remove any marker pen that is showing.
You might prefer a less controlled approach, in that case don’t bother with a sketch – just start sticking texture directly on to the plate and let your imagination be your guide.
What can I collage onto my printing plate?
The word ‘collagraph’ comes from ‘collage: collagraph plates have textures collaged onto them. For this particular technique you can use anything that is thin and has a self adhesive backing. Your local Scrapstore is a good place to hunt for materials for collagraphs.
Thin and wrinkly tape
Thin tape looks great with a few wrinkles in it. Try brown parcel tape, sellotape or aluminium tape.
Tiny differences in height will print so the edges of thin tape will show in the finished image.
Different brands of masking tape often have different textures, this will make your print more interesting. for example decorators masking tape for painting round curves has a lot more texture. You could always raid the first aid box and try surgical tape, which has a coarse woven texture.
Sticky back plastic
Have a go with textured sticky back plastic. The sort used for obscuring bathroom windows has some interesting ready made textures on it.
Plain self adhesive vinyl looks good built up in multiple layers.
In these examples we used stick on stars and labels, also file reinforcing rings and the dots cut out of sticky back plastic with a hole punch.
Ready made shapes can inspire a whole design or add a bit of definition to something more random.
Tearing or cutting?
Torn tape has a nice organic look and is great for landscapes, sky etc.
If you want more defined details stick the tape down first, then score through it with a craft knife and peel off areas.
This is much easier than trying to cut shapes from sticky tape, but not recommended for children.
Make sure everything is well stuck down and that no tape has the sticky side up (this will stick to your printing paper and tear it)
Be sure to leave plenty of smooth clear areas, keep the texture to less than 50% of the plate to leave room for the mono prints.
Inking up your collagraph plates
Cover the table with plastic and have some packs of baby-wipes handy.
Provide old magazines to work on; these help prevent everything getting covered in ink.
We used different sized rollers, some are cheap wallpaper edging rollers, while the wider ones are school grade printing rollers.
Rollers made from harder rubber are best for this technique; I get mine from Seawhites.
Inking your plate
Hawthorns linseed oil based printing inks with a bit of transparent ink added give lovely vibrant colours. They may take a day to dry but wet prints can be stacked between sheets of newsprint for transporting home, then laid out to dry. Other printing inks can be used of course – test out any you have to check they work before running a community workshop.
Roll a thin patch of ink on to a plastic floor tile, or other flat surface. Be mean with it – you need less than you think, (much less than for lino prints). Too much ink will clog up your textures and they won’t show very well.
Charge the roller up with ink and roll colour onto an area of your plate.
Use a second roller with another colour as well. Cover the whole plate, not pressing too hard as you want some areas of the plate to remain un-inked for contrast.
Mono prints are one off prints; there are lots of different ways to make them but these ones are made by rolling ink onto a smooth surface and scraping or drawing into it.
Now the fun gets a bit messier; you are going to make marks in the ink on the smooth areas of the plate.
The idea is to remove some of the ink and add to the textured design already on the plate.
Use cotton buds, pieces of card, scratchy fruit nets, rags or old combs.
Print your plate
Cover the inky plate with paper and rub the back, or ideally run it through a printing press.
After your first one, keep printing; roll different colours onto your plate each time and wipe or scrape new marks. As you progress each print will be different (that’s why they are called mono prints) and the colours will start to mix and become more subtle.
It is exciting to see your work developing and changing before your eyes with each print you take from the plate.
Evolving your design
Most beginners collage too much on the plate – as with most things in life, ‘less is more’, and you can easily remove the tape to simplify the image after your first print. However it is harder to add tape as the plate will be greasy with printing ink so it probably won’t stick.
The finished prints can form a good starting point for new work in different media, for example you could work on the printed images with oil pastels or acrylics once the ink is dry.
The benefits of combining collagraph and mono-print techniques
The textured areas on the plate will remain constant, this helps to provide a template to work with. The mono printed areas can be totally different each time. Having a collagraph structure on the plate to start with helps people feel more confident about mono printing, as there is something there to base your drawing and mark making on.
The continuity of the collagraph element combined with the fluidity of mono printing is a great way to develop a series of images, and naturally lends itself to experimenting and improvising.
Thankyou community printmakers
These pictures show prints made during community workshops by Copmanthorpe residents at the Copmanthorpe Art Group annual exhibition, and members of Leven Art Society in Stokesley.