Print from a spider’s web
It’s not easy, but its definitely possible!
After quite a few experiments and false starts I succeeded in creating a printing plate and making a set of prints from spider’s webs. These have aroused a lot of interest and the first question people ask is ‘how did you do that?”
In this post I will show you how I did it and how you can do it too…..
Printmaking from nature
Spiders’ webs are particularly noticeable in autumn with the mist on them, and really evocative of this time of year when the seasons are changeing in England.
You can probably guess where this is going – lets try printing from one!
First find a web
Look for a place where spiders like to make webs. This should be in the open, and somewhere where you can reach the web from both sides. This could be between the legs of a table, or along a fence; they like to use the uprights and cross pieces to anchor the web.
Is it unkind to spiders?
Spiders renew their webs frequently as they get broken by insects and other hazards. To make a printing plate from a cobweb you will be taking her web away. I don’t feel too bad about this as the spider is not hurt, and, if they like the site, will start on a new web as soon as you have gone.
Watch the weather
You will need a still day – if there is even slight wind or rain, don’t try it. Check the spider is not on the web – blow it gently to encourage her to leave if you can see her.
1. Increase the size of the silk threads
Take a piece of old card that is bigger than the web, I used A2 packaging. Hold the card behind the web with one hand. Take care not to break any of the supporting threads.
Gently spray the web with acrylic paint, the card behind it will catch the spray. Do this a few times, letting the paint dry each time. The purpose of this is to build up layers of paint on the silk threads and make them thicker.
If you do it too much the web may collapse, not enough and your printing plate will be indistinct. I did it about 4 or 5 times.
2. Catch the web on a printing plate
This is the tricky bit which may need practice. I used a piece of fairly stiff acetate, anything smooth and shiny that you can hold upright should be ok.
Spray the web one last time and before the paint dries hold the acetate plate behind the web and gently bring it into contact with the web. You may need to break the threads supporting the web to detach it. These can be very strong and will pull the web away from the acetate or distort and tangle the web if you don’t spot them, as shown in this picture.
I don’t have any photos of this because I was doing it by myself and it takes a lot of concentration and both hands!
3. Fix the web to the plate
Once you have the web on your printing plate take it indoors and spray with clear varnish. Do this several times to make sure the web is well protected and stuck to the plate. If you skimp on this the web will break when you ink it. The image shows a plate where this has happened.
If you have got this far – congratulations! You have made a printing plate from a spider’s web. Let it dry overnight.
4. Print your plate
These plates are surprisingly robust once dry, but the surface textures are quite shallow. I recommend treating them as relief plates.
Use the hardest roller you have and very little ink; charge the roller up and roll it lightly over the plate.
I printed these on damp paper using an etching press, but you can also use thin Chinese paper or other relief printing papers and rub the back of the paper rather than using a press.
Roller mono prints
To make these lay a piece of thin paper over the plate.
Ink up a roller and and roll over the back of the paper gently. The ink will reveal the high points in the texture of the plate and you get a softer image than printing directly from it.
See this post for more info on roller printing
To introduce more colour, try a viscosity print, again using very little ink and not much pressure on the roller.
You will need two mixes of ink, one stiff and one runny, (add thinning oil to it, e.g. linseed)
Roll over the plate lightly with the runny ink, and then (different roller) slightly harder with the stiff ink.
Cobweb prints are beautiful just as they are, but I took a photo of a spider catching a fly in my studio window, and thought it would be interesting to combine this with the web print
I used a process of chine collee to get the spider/fly image into the print. This is a type of collage that lets you incorporate different images directly into a print. The technical process of chine collee is described in this post.
To prepare the chine collee images I photocopied the spider and fly onto hosho paper, several times, then cut it out.
I felt this introduced drama and a narrative into the cobweb image. The fly has a bit of mica powder on its wings to make them glitter.
Spiders and music
This is a diversion, but I hope you will find it as interesting as I did. Many years ago I found a copy of ‘Life of the Spider’ by John Compton in a second-hand bookshop. This is a wonderful entertaining and informative book.
Beethoven and the spider
I had another look at it before writing this blog and discovered the section with the story of Beethoven and the spider….
Spider web sonification
I love spiders and this seemed to be yet another interesting aspect of their mysterious lives. A little googling produced this magical video by Marcus Beuhler about spiderweb sonification.
This is just one of many of his fascinating experiments with spiders and sound.
Learn from spiders; be patient and persistent
If you decide to have a go at making a printing plate from a spider’s web, be prepared for a fair bit of trial and error before you get a good print. Don’t let that put you off, its fun to try regardless of the results, and may give you more ideas for printmaking experiments.
I am always interseted to hear about unconventional things you try, and if you think you have stumbled on something that others would be interested in please let me know, and we can do a blog post on it.