I’ve been experimenting with lithography on plywood since 2016, and thought it was finally time to share some of what I’ve learned on here. A lot of my findings build on a combination of my knowledge of stone lithography, and the hard work of other artists who have spent a great deal of time testing and honing the process, so thank you to all who have shared their knowledge with me though blogs, websites, emails and courses. I’ve posted a few links at the bottom.
I studied stone litho on a fellowship at Leicester Print Workshop in 2013/2014, which is where I heard about wood litho and made a mental note to follow it up. After I had finished the fellowship and no longer had access to stone, I started to think about other methods of making lithographs without all the specialist equipment. I was also really drawn to the wood grain you get with this process, (which would eventually lead to learning Mokuhnaga too), and had it in mind to use for a particular piece of work.
After quite a few test blocks, (some successful, others not so much!), the first piece of work I made using the technique was ‘Relic’, a composite print made up of 6 pieces.
This piece was the start of a series of images depicting tree stumps, (snags!), which I am still currently working on. The tones were achieved by using different dilutions of liquid litho ink, and by sanding back and cutting into the wood. This was done on plywood from B&Q.
Since making this piece, I have taught a good few short courses and workshops, honing the technique each time with more test blocks. Here are a few general things I have learnt during my experiments to keep in mind when doing plywood litho:
- Every piece of wood is different and should be treated so. Inking needs to be adapted for each block, even if they are cut from the same piece of wood. One might absorb more water than another, one might need more or less ink to get a good print. Feel what the block is doing and adapt.
- Manage your expectations! This isn’t a technique for those who want complete control over the final print. Embrace accidents!
- Think about the variables. This is the same with all printmaking. Wood species, litho drawing materials, press pressure, type of ink, type/dampness of paper, all affect the resulting print, and are all things which can be altered if you are not happy with the results you are getting.
- Litho crayon is the least stable drawing material, and charbonnel liquid litho ink is the most stable.
- Pine and spruce plywood can’t be used because of the high resin content.
- Runners the same height as your plywood need to be used on either side of the etching press when printing.
- The longer you can leave the gum on before printing, the better. The more heat and UV light you can give it, the better.
- Foam rollers enable you to control inking more and leave less roller marks than rubber rollers. They seem to act a bit more like a traditional nap litho roller.
Generally on the courses I run, we tend to get anything from 3 – 8 prints from one block. This usually improves over time when people get used the inking process, (it’s important not to be too heavy-handed). But usually the thing people really want to know is how they can extend the life of the block and get more prints out of it. Personally I like the fact that you only get a limited number of prints from a block before the image degrades too much – it imposes limitations which for me is a good thing – when its done its done, that’s it. No wondering whether I could add something or make it different, no leaving and coming back to it.
But it can be frustrating for people on the courses I teach when they only get 2 or 3 good prints from their block, so i’ve been doing a few trials recently, none with breakthrough success, but interesting results:
Last year I tried making 5 different blocks, treated the wood with various different substances, to see if any of them helped the image to stay put for longer without the background ‘filling in’ too much. Here are some photos of the results:
From left to right on each block the drawing materials I used were: Litho crayon, dilutions of stick tusche, dilutions of liquid litho ink.
I applied all the different substances to the block after drawing and before gumming. The block which seemed to hold up the best was the one treated with the dosa liquid. (Which is a shame as I’m vegetarian).
However, since then I have found that the things which seems to work the best out of all the the things I’ve tried, is heat and light. When I was teaching an ‘Alternative Techniques in Lithography’ summer school last year at Leicester Print Workshop, it was the hottest week of the year, and got up to a sweltering 38 degrees! To speed up drying times we put the gummed blocks out in the midday sun for a good hour. They printed better and more consistently than any others on any courses I’d run previously. On the next course I did at Leicester print workshop it was drizzly and a bit cold, so instead we put the blocks into the UV exposure unit and gave them a good dose of UV light. This seemed to work well too, with people getting 5-8 good prints from their blocks before the images degraded too much. Here are a few pics of the brilliant prints made by the lovely people on the course:
Finally, here are some links to sites and videos which helped me with my research into the technique:
There are many more…
It’d be great to hear about your experiments with plywood litho! 🙂
Mon 2nd Jan – Sat 2nd Feb 2019
I’ll be showing a selection of works from the past 5 years including etchings, lithographs, woodblock prints, drawings and artist books. Work will be hung in the courthouse, cafe and foyer areas, and all pieces will be for sale.
I love Otley, it’s a beautiful place, so I’m excited be exhibiting there, and am hoping to find time for wander around the Chevin too!
I’m excited to be running a few printmaking courses and workshops in the next few months covering various techniques – photo-plate and plywood lithography, etching, and Japanese woodblock printing (Mokuhanga). Still a few places available, and they’d make great gifts for the creative person in your life! More details below…
2 day course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop, Mirfield
Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd December 2018
11am – 5pm
This course will teach you all the basics of hard and soft ground etching, along with aquatint, to enable you to create a wide variety of marks and effects. Hard ground produces crisp, clean lines, while soft ground can create softer, textured, crayon-like lines and impressions. Aquatint is way of creating tone on an etching plate. All these techniques can be used in conjunction to create unique, atmospheric prints.
You will be etching zinc plates using copper sulphate solution, a less toxic alternative to traditional nitric acid. The course is led with a hands-on approach from the start, with the opportunity to produce a good number of prints to take away with you. You will also learn about paper, inking and registration techniques. This is a great course for beginners and those who need a refresher, and can act as a lead-in to membership of WYPW so that you can continue to use and develop the techniques you have learned.
Japanese Woodblock Printing (Mokuhanga) – Taster Session
Day workshop at West Yorkshire Print Workshop, Mirfield
Saturday 9th February 2019
11am – 3pm
Join me for a demonstration of Japanese Woodblock Printing (Mokuhanga). I will also be talking a little about my residency in Japan where I learned the technqiue, and showing some of the work I made during the residency.
Alternative Techniques in Lithography
5 day summer school at Leicester Print Workshop
Tuesday 23rd – Saturday 27th July 2019
10am – 4pm
Learn experimental processes with and without the use of a press over five days in this Summer School.
Join artist and printmaker Kathryn Desforges for an immersive 5 days of hands-on printmaking.
This course will teach you the basics of plywood and photo-plate lithography with an experimental approach, and a focus on using hand-drawn imagery, (although there will be opportunity to incorporate photographic or digital imagery as well).
Once you have to got to grips with the techniques involved, you will have the time to practice, and develop your work using either or both of these processes to create hybrid prints.
I’m excited to announce my upcoming exhibition at Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, with printmaker Sophie Layton. I’ll be showing recent prints, drawings and artist books.
Private view: Thursday 12th July 2018, 6.30 – 8.30pm – all welcome
Artist talk: Saturday 14th July 2018, 1.30 – 2.30pm
Join me for an informal talk which runs alongside my exhibition at the gallery, (more info here). I will focus on my current practice, my recent residency in Japan, and give a short demonstration of the Japanese Woodblock Printing process, (Mokuhanga).
– bookings through the gallery https://zillahbellgallery.co.uk/workshops/
I’ve been in Japan now for 3 weeks, and so far it’s been fantastic! I started my trip with a couple of days in Tokyo being a tourist, then made my way to the Mi-Lab residence in Fujikawaguchiko to start the artist residency learning ‘Mokuhanga’ (Japanese woodblock printing).
The residence is in a really beautiful spot – near Lake Kawaguchi, overlooked by Mount Fuji (Fujisan!). It’s been cloudy for the last couple of days so he’s been hiding, but when he does pop up it’s as if out of nowhere…turn a corner and suddenly there he is!
The first week was very intensive, being taught all the basics of the Mokuhanga technique by Chihiro Taki – a Japanese printmaker who makes the most beautiful woodblock prints. (I recommend checking out her website: http://www.chihirotaki.com)
To start off we all did a little presentation about ourselves and our work, which was an opportunity to get an insight into each other’s art practice, and an understanding of why we were all there. Taki San then presented some of her work, and seeing her prints in the flesh really blew us all away – such subtle colours and textures. She then gave us a brief history of woodblock printing, and we got straight on with the technical stuff – covering ‘Iruwake’ (colour separation), the ‘kento’ registration system (the best, simplest and easiest way the register prints!), and introducing us to the tools we would be using to carve the plywood blocks – the ‘Hangi-toh’ knife, the ‘Maru-toh’ gouge, and the ‘Kento-nomi’ knife.
Taki San then went on to demonstrate the printing process. The block is inked up with watercolour or guache paints, using ‘Maru-bake’ and ‘Te-bake’ brushes, along with ‘Nori’ (rice paste- very important in the process). The damp paper is placed on the block, (prepared the day before), and a ‘baren’ is used to apply pressure on the back to transfer the ink to the paper. (This mainly happens through absorption – the fibres of the kozo paper ‘drinking’ up the ink from the block.) She also showed us the different effects you can get if you alter the amount of ink, water, nori and pressure used – including ‘gomazuri’ (sesame effect), ‘mokumizuri’ (wood grain effect), and ‘bokashi’ (gradient).
Phew! It’s a lot to take in, but so much fun and a it’s so exciting to be learning something which is so different from the kind of printmaking I am used to. Being here has made me realise that I haven’t had this much time dedicated to learning and creating work since university – 13 years ago!
This is the first post I’ve managed to write since being here, as I’ve been trying to spend as much of my time as possible just sitting at my desk and making….but I will try to post again soon, as It’s a good way of reviewing what I’ve learned.
I’ll leave you with a few images from the last few weeks. Thanks for reading 🙂
P.s. My apologies if I’ve spelled an or the Japanese words wrong!
This Spring I will be spending 5 weeks in Japan learning the traditional art of Japanese Woodblock Printing! I will be undertaking a five week residency in learning ‘Mokuhanga’ – the art of Japanese water-based woodblock Printing – at the Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory (Mi-LAB), Lake Kawaguchi, Japan. The residency runs from 22nd April – 26th May 2018, and is designed to provide extensive knowledge of Mokuhanga and its techniques to international artists, printmakers and teachers of printmaking, as well as to enable them to make use of traditional tools and materials. I can’t wait!
I’ve set up a crowdfunder campaign (www.crowdfunder.co.uk/kathryn-desforges), and any money I raise will go towards the remainder of the residency fee and associated costs, including travel, accommodation, materials, and general subsistence costs.
There’s a range of rewards available if you pledge, including sets of cards, original art prints, demonstrations and 1-1 tuition. I’d be mega grateful for your support!
Join me at The Hepworth Print Fair
Fri 2nd – Sun 4th March 2018, 10 – 5
Private view Thursday 1st March, 6 – 8pm
Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5AW
T: +44 (0)1924 247360
E: firstname.lastname@example.orgI’m really excited to have a stand at this year’s Hepworth Print Fair. I’ll be showing a selection of recent prints and artist books, along with a new range of greeting cards, available exclusively at the print fair, and afterwards through my Etsy shop. (Sneak Peak HERE). If you haven’t been before I highly recommend it, it’s a great atmosphere and an excellent place to buy original prints and gifts. Hope to see you there!
New Light Prize Exhibition at Huddersfield Art Gallery
Exhibition continues until 2 June 2018
Open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 4pm
Princess Alexandra Walk, Huddersfield, HD1 2SU
Free EntryMy ‘Peak’ etching starts it’s tour around the UK with the New Light Prize Exhibition, first stop Huddersfield Art Gallery!
It is a chance to see some of the North’s finest artists in one of the North’s finest galleries. From the hyperreal to the purely abstract, from printmaking to sculpture, this high-profile open exhibition celebrates contemporary artists from all corners of the North of England, including the winner of the £10,000 Valeria Sykes Award.
All works will be for sale.
Click Here for Exhibition Catalogue