Tag Archive | printmaking


These are strange, scary times, and I have little to say that others aren’t already saying with more thoughtfulness, eloquence, and authority. So I’m not going to wade into those waters. Suffice it to say that I am well, I feel lucky, and I’m currently confined with Isabelle and Olivier.

Back in the early days of the confinement, Isabelle let me make a print from her most recent drypoint plate. Drypoint is the latest printmaking technique she’s picked up (see our earlier adventures in linocut, screenprinting, and Gocco). In drypoint, you carve a design into a plate (Isabelle uses plastic ones), and the ink fills in the grooves. Thus what you carve is what is printed (vs. what you leave uncarved, as in relief printing). Apparently drypoint is etching, but without the acid.

Isabelle carved the plate; I just made a print. This design is called “Springtime frailty” (“Fragilité printanière”). I first smeared black ink onto the plate, filling in all the grooves. Then I used a bit of paper towel to rub away the excess ink.

Next I placed the plate ink-down on the paper.

I cranked the plate through Isabelle’s Cuttlebug, which we were using as an improvised press.

The completed print!

My Gocco-Printed Business Card

Last week I wrote about screenprinting my cupcake zine, and this week I’m back with another printing post featuring Isabelle‘s artwork and ingenuity–and my first ever business card! Isabelle had wanted to design me an author business card for a while, and earlier this year she’d sketched out some sample art. She also bought a Gocco on eBay. What is a Gocco? It’s a Japanese screenprinting system, compact and very cleverly designed, but they aren’t produced anymore, so the only way to purchase machines and supplies is secondhand, generally online.

Last time, I tried to explain how screenprinting works; the Gocco also uses screenprinting, but the process is a little different than what it was for the cupcake zine. After Isabelle drew the final business card design digitally, she printed it out on paper on her laser printer. The Gocco machine is equipped for burning screens, so there’s no photo emulsion or exposure to sunlight. Instead, you place the printed design on the squishy, sticky printing block, slide a fresh screen into its slot, and place a box containing two flash bulbs on top of the machine. When you press down, the bulbs flash, burning the screen so that ink will pass through the areas corresponding to the printed design and not pass through elsewhere.

Ready to burn the screen

After burning the screen, you apply Gocco ink to the surface of the screen (which is then covered with a transparency so ink doesn’t get everywhere), slide it into its slot, put your paper or cardstock or whatever on the printing block, and press down to print. The stickiness of the block is helpful for keeping paper in place, and the grid on it is helpful for registration.

Printing the blue layer on the back of the card (the box with the flash bulbs is visible in the background, along with Gocco inks in the box)

The business card design was two-color. We first printed the blue layer on the back. Then came registration. The first time we tried printing cards, we printed the black layer on a transparency taped to the printing block to see where the black would print and then positioned a card with the blue layer already printed on it under the transparency to get the right alignment.

Ensuring proper registration of the black layer

The second time we printed, we got a bit smarter and burned the screen such that the cards could always be aligned with the edges of the printing block. This made registration easier.

The black layer included both the front and back of the card, so we printed two cards (one side of each) at a time. One press would print the black layer on top of the blue layer on the back of one card as well as the black text on the front of another card.

The full design

Finishing up production

After printing, Isabelle recycled some glossy cardstock to make a box and covered it with marbled paper bought at the Printers Fair!

Screenprinting the Cupcake Zine

My friend Isabelle is an accomplished self-taught artist and has dabbled in a number of printing techniques. Earlier this year, she acquired screenprinting equipment, and we recently produced a screenprinted version of my latest zine, A Cupcake ATM Misadventure. I am slow to grasp how various forms of printing work, but I’ll try to explain how we (mostly Isabelle) made the screenprinted zine.

First, we had to know how many layers of printing we were doing. We decided on a four-color zine: black for the lines, pink for the cupcake ATM, and pink, blue, and purple for the sprinkles. Isabelle manipulated a scan of the zine in Procreate to create the layers and then printed the layers on transparencies.

Next, we needed to burn the screens. Isabelle painted the screens with a greenish photo emulsion. The transparencies went on top of the treated screens. We covered the screens with cardboard and took them outside into the LA sun. Then we exposed the screens to the sunlight for 45 seconds, covered them again, and took them inside. When exposed to light, the photo emulsion hardens on the screens. The printed design on the transparencies covers up parts of the screen, and the emulsion under those covered parts doesn’t harden. So when you rinse the screen, the unhardened photo emulsion comes off, leaving parts of the screen unplugged. This is where the ink will be able to pass through the screen during printing. Thus the design that was on the transparencies is what will ultimately be printed. 

Once the screens were burned, we were about ready to start printing. But then came the joys of registration! The first color we printed was pink (which Isabelle mixed). With each layer, we had to make sure that we printed on the right place on the paper. So each time, we first printed on a transparency, and then we moved around a piece of paper (or a partially-printed zine) underneath the transparency until everything was correctly aligned (this is registration). Then we taped markers around the correctly positioned paper so we’d know where to place each subsequent sheet for printing that particular layer. The zine only had four colors, but we ended up doing six layers because we hadn’t burned the screens in such a way that all the pink could be printed at once.

As for how the printing itself works, the screen is attached with hinges to a frame. You apply ink to the upper side of the screen and place your sheet of paper underneath the screen. Then you bring the screen down and use a squeegee to scrape the ink across the screen. The ink passes through the part of the screen that isn’t covered with hardened photo emulsion and prints onto the paper below.

The six layers were as follows: two layers of pink to do all the ATMs, a layer of black for all the lines, and one layer each of pink, blue, and purple sprinkles. Here’s what the screenprinted zine looks like!

Partway through printing: the pink and black layers have been done, but the sprinkles remain

Carving and Printmaking

Our university’s international student center has a new artists and writers collective whose meetings Isabelle and I have been attending. At the last meeting, Isabelle taught everyone how to carve stamps out of plastic erasers with X-Acto knives. The erasers are nice and soft. For my first ever stamp design, I eventually decided on a bass clef, and the result wasn’t too bad. It’s like a rustic bass clef.

Two days later, we went to a linocut workshop hosted by the Horn Press, UCLA’s book arts society. Isabelle is quite experienced with linocut, but I had never done it before, and it’s a bit trickier than plastic erasers. We used gouges of various shapes and widths to carve linoleum plates mounted on wood blocks. It took me a while to come up with a design again. I tried thinking of things I used to draw when I was younger that I actually felt turned out well, and I remembered these little birds made of simple shapes for the crown, eye, beak, wings, tail, and feet. I don’t remember what originally inspired those drawings; I think I must’ve seen a brush painting somewhere. Anyway, I set to work with my gouge, and of course I picked a design that required me to carve away most of the plate. But I finished.

First print at the workshop

Later I did some additional cleanup with some of Isabelle’s tools, and I tried printing again.

The Los Angeles Printers Fair

The International Printing Museum in Carson hosted the 9th annual Los Angeles Printers Fair in mid-October, and I went with Isabelle and Adam. The fair features demonstrations of many different presses from different eras, and you can get prints made on these presses or even make the prints yourself. There was also a paper-making station and many vendors selling prints, cards, paper, old books, inks, and actual type (yes, one of the vendor was a foundry!). There were also presses and parts for sale through the museum.

The most exciting part of the day happened almost as soon as we arrived, just after the fair had opened. We went right up to the linotype machine demonstration, where the volunteer on duty would cast you a linotype slug of the text of your choice. I’ve talked before about the linotype machine scene in Sparkers. I considered getting a line from the actual notice Marah and Azariah print in the book, but none of them struck me as the perfect one, so instead I chose “Marah Levi Azariah Rashid,” since after all they do print their names in the notice. Before my eyes, the volunteer cast what might have been an actual slug in Sparkers on an actual linotype machine! Just like Marah and Azariah watched the night watchman turn their text into slugs! When the slug came out, the volunteer said, “Marah?” and I reached out to take it from him. Isabelle joked he probably thought I’d wanted the double-name slug made for my wedding invitations.

14pt Spartan

We made our rounds to the other demonstrations. There were presses of various sizes where you got to roll cylinders, turn cranks, pull levers, and/or press a foot pump to make your print. Here are a few of the other prints I got:

This was printed on the Columbian Hand Press, and I got to help make it!

A page from the Gutenberg Bible, containing the beginning of Proverbs, I believe