Making a collagraph

An illustrated guide to this method of printmaking

Making a collagraph
15th April 2006 Jane Tomlinson

A collagraph is a printed image made using a ‘plate’ crafted from collage materials such as paper, cardboard, glue, sand, fabric – indeed anything that produces a texture.

Collagraphs produce a quite different from a painting, slightly three-dimensional and sometimes with unpredictable results. Often I get asked: ‘what is a collagraph? How do you make one?’ This blog explains.

I decided to make a collagraph of the Nebra sky disc, a unique and beautiful bronze age astronomy tool, which you can read more about here.

First, I draw out my design on tracing paper to make it easier to reverse the image. You have to work in reverse, as the printing process produces a mirror image of the printing plate. Using my traced image, I reverse the design out onto a thick piece of sturdy card. I usually use mount board. I then cut this out into the shape of the sky disc itself. This is my ‘plate’.

Using different materials, in this case thin cardboard, I cut out the required shapes and place them into position on the plate.

When I’m happy that everything is in the right place, I stick everything down using PVA glue.

I add some carborundum powder. This is very rough and sharp and picks up a lot of ink so is good for dark areas of tone.

The plate is then left to dry thoroughly overnight. Once dry I spray it with car spray paint to seal it completely and make a good hardwearing surface.

Now I can start printing. Using thick etching inks made from vegetable oils I mix the colours I want, in this case a turquoise green and some gold.

Using a cardboard spreader I apply the ink to the plate, taking care to rub it well into edges and all the textures.

This cannot be rushed.

I gently wipe away excess ink; too much ink will run and appear blobby, too little will print too washed out and pale.

As this is a two-colour image, I then need to apply the second colour. In this case I’m using a roller to place gold ink onto the areas which stand proud of the surface of the plate.

At last it’s ready to print.

The plate is put on the etching press and a sheet of heavy duty, dampened watercolour paper is placed onto the plate. This is then run through the press. The enormous pressure from the roller drives the damp paper down onto the plate to pick up the ink from all the textures on the surface.

Then comes the most scary and exciting time of all – peeling the image back from the plate!

I apply the finishing touches with, in this case, acrylic paint.

Due to the huge pressure applied to the cardboard plate by the roller, collagraph plates degrade quite quickly. I find I can get fewer then 10 workable, sharp images from a plate. Metal plates (copper, zinc, steel) can produce many hundreds of images from the same plate.

In the case of my Nebra sky disc image I produced only three images, an artist’s proof and two further pictures, each of which are unique and individual works in their own right.

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