Artist Todd Lim didn’t have to go far to find all the resources he needed to put together a series of prints for an upcoming show at Greenwich Connecticut’s Samuel Owen Gallery.
His new series, a set of prints combining imagery from personal memory and popular culture, are done using a mix of specialized and innovative printing techniques, brought together with the aid of a skilled printer and a ca. 1958 Charles Brand etching press.
Studio Paper+ is the brainchild of artist Chad Andrews. Andrews received his MFA in printmaking at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, so he not only acts as a masterful technician for each project, he’s uniquely qualified to lend a hand creatively, suggesting techniques and processes that the artist can employ to realize their vision.
Creating a consistent and reproducible result requires that a lot of factors be considered—the ink, for example, gets checked for color and consistency. Andrews pours a bit of the oil-based pigment out onto the long glass-topped table he built for the studio and works it over with spatulas and brayers, checking it not only for color, but for its viscosity, the thickness and opaqueness of the ink. When he’s satisfied that it’s just right, it’s spread out a final time and then the plate, in this case a thin film of polyester known as a pronto plate, is inked up, the color checked a final time by the artist and placed on the print. This method lets Lim build up the image in layers, the thin plate not damaging the paper as it might with a different process, allowing Lim to make each print unique.
The press itself is a massive thing of black-painted iron and shining steel that despite its outward appearance of indestructibility, must be carefully calibrated for each pass of the plate, ink and paper that makes the prints become a thing that collectors will treasure and display. Owning a press like this is certainly not a reasonable likelihood for most people, certainly beyond the prospects of all but the most dedicated of artists. A well-equipped college art department may have one, but access would be likely limited to students and faculty.
At The Pajama Factory, Studio Paper+ has not only this press, but an equally impressive press for making lithographs, as well as a letter press, on which hand-set lead type is laid out and printed.
Andrews doesn’t want to be a service bureau, merely taking direction and producing prints, he wants each artist to be as involved as possible in the process. Not only that, as a natural teacher, he’ll encourage you to expand your repertoire of skills and techniques, but never pushes. As you tell him your ideas, he’ll often cock his head a certain way and say “You might want to think about…” and proceed to tell you about a technique that may be a year old, or perhaps a few hundred years old.
In the course of writing this article, Andrews asked me if I still had any interest in trying etching.
Etchings have been traditionally made by taking a copper plate about the thickness of a penny and covering it with a thin layer of asphaltum, a thin, tar-like substance. The asphaltum dries to a nearly varnish-like finish and the artist scratches through that with a variety of tools to make the design. When the design is complete, the plate is set in a bath of acid and, where the asphaltum has been removed, the acid bites the design into the copper. The artist will clean the plate and rub ink into these etched lines. The inked plate is then run through the press with a sheet of dampened paper and the ink is beautifully transferred from the plate to the paper.
For over twenty years, I’ve been a fan of etchings. I’ve bought and sold many over the years, from “Old Master” etchings of 17th Century Holland, to the revival the media experienced in the early twentieth century. Often times, the artist or subject of the print would interest me little, it was the process itself, the subtle bite of ink lines on the paper, the faint traces of a mistake that had been (nearly) burnished out, the embossed edge of the platemark on the paper and even the occasional trace of an inky fingerprint of the printer, left as he lifted the corner of the wet sheet off the press bed. It was all these things that drew me in and kept me hooked.
A bit later, I left the studio with a print in hand. No old master etching by any stretch of the imagination, it was merely a test of lines upon the paper, sections of cross-hatching that overlapped in ever-increasing densities until it reached the point where the acid ate away everything, leaving areas of “open bite” that lost their detail to the ink. Still, that was what I was after, a test to see what would happen when I subjected my drawing to the acid and the ink. I was hooked. Some of the lines, combined with subtle shadings left on the plate by previous work done on it, were sublime. I could see that, with a lot more intention, talent and control, there was nothing Rembrandt did 380 years ago that I couldn’t do today. Not by me, perhaps, but by someone… Someone, that is, with access to a press and a good teacher.
If you think you might like to try your hand at printing, be it copper etching, pronto plates, linoleum block, stone lithography, or any number of other processes, stop by Studio Paper+ inside studio Nr. 30 in the Pajama Factory most Friday evenings for the Printmaker’s Forum.