Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dancing with Elvis

Yeah, I think the "baby's" name is Elvis. As in Press-ley.

I've been twitchy as heck to put Elvis through his paces, but there were a few other things I needed to do first.

First I thought I'd like to try making a little registration jig similar to what I use when printing by hand. (I know some other registration systems for working on a press, but want to see if this will work.) I got out some Davey board (book board) and my straight edge and set to work. Patience and planning are two of my, shall we say, under-developed skills, so there were some things about the way I put this jig together that will need to be revisited at another time. But it was good enough for experiments.

Then I needed to hunt down something to use as a tympan. I ordered an entire set of etching blankets with the press, but for making relief prints on dry paper I wanted something rigid, rather than something squishy. Thankfully I've been carrying around a 9 x 12 sheet of plexiglass for about 20 years, thinking some day I'd make a monotype plate out of it. A few months ago I gave it to the Darling Man. Yesterday I took it back. I filed the edges so they wouldn't be sharp on the press, and voila! Just what the printmaker ordered.


Somewhere around here I also have an old photo developing tray that's perfect for soaking paper, but I haven't tracked that down yet. (It's both fortunate AND unfortunate that I'm finally justifying some of the "stuff" that I've been carrying around all these years.) For now plastic kitchenware will suffice for paper soaking.

Blotters cut to size? Check. Miscellaneous odds and ends of paper corralled and torn down? Check. Newsprint sheets torn down? Check. Let's experiment!

I used one of the unmounted linocuts from the map icon project as my test block... it was a good size and it was ready to print. I tried lots of printing variables: dry paper, wet paper, with a tympan, with blankets, in the jig, out of the jig, thick papers, thin papers. (Making copious notes the entire time, of course.) Totally fun, and completely klutzy.

It felt like learning a new dance... and I was the partner with two left feet. Over time my hand-printing routine has become second nature: This goes here, that goes there, and we're off across the dance floor. Today I kept moving things around, trying to find the best arrangement of tools and materials. It's going to take a while to get the logistics worked out.

After a while, though, my movements became a little less stilted and I felt a hint of rhythm in the process. As much as I love printing by hand, I also love the feel of a press...even this little "baby" one. The first time I turned a great flywheel... 30 years ago now... it felt right. I was in love with all of it: the weight of the press bed, the slight resistance as roller met plate, the gentle nudging to get things started and the physical action of turning the flywheel when the press took over the work. Printmaking is a finesse sport. A ballet. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Looky here: An inked block printed simultaneously with blind embossing. Cool.
Of course I still need to get back to that yellow rectangle from last week... a print that will be done by hand the "old" way, since that's the way I started. It feels as though my dance card is full, with the comfort of familiar steps and rhythms and the romance and mystery of a new dance partner. Pardon me, I need to go. I think they're playing my song.


  1. Looking good, girl!
    Oh - if you can't fine the developeer tray, kitty litter trays work just fine. (New ones. Of course.)

  2. Love the blind embossing. And Elvis is kewt.

  3. That is one beautiful baby press! Looks eager to please sitting there on your table. The little footprint is a really interesting addition to Baby Elvis. Oooooh I think I need to cut some lion....bye!

  4. OOOOPs....lino not lion...that wouldn't be a nice thing to do to a lion!

  5. So enjoyed the intro to Elvis, thanks for step by stepping as much is a new language for us who use brushes...going to love watching how you use this.

  6. Such a nice post, almost as good as having my own Elvis.

    There is magic when one first gets hold of a flywheel. I love to see the look on students faces when the pull their first print. With a lot of them you know it will become an addiction.

  7. An exciting experience and you wrote beautifully about it.
    An I love this blind embossed foot !

  8. How exciting Sherrie :)
    What size does it print up to?
    Did you not have any problems with the rollers nudging the lino out of position as they engaged? I always imagined what I call an 'etching press' squeezing the lino out of position.


  9. We're still all smiles here. Thank you all for the lovely welcome you've given the new addition in our household. (Not to be confused with a new edition, which I haven't done yet.)

    Ann.. the bed is about 11" wide and about 20" long. The specs say it will make prints up to 9.5 x 19, but I'm skeptical about the 19 length. The bed doesn't really track well for that length.

    Unmounted lino doesn't move any more than an etching plate would, I don't think. We did woodcuts on larger presses last summer and the only time there was a problem was if the pressure was set too tight or too loose. Remember, baby bear... it has to be juuuussssst right. ;-)

  10. Sherrie,
    Congratulations. She is lovely and I love that you shared her arrival with your fans. You are something!

    Keep making.