Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heartbreak in the print drawer: A cautionary tale

Ah, yes. June. Do you remember June? I do. Sort of. In June I made a linocut of a sunset -- My first sunset, even. It turned out pretty well and I was happy with it.

The edition of 12 hung on the drying rack for some time, and then I stacked the prints between sheets of glassine and put them away in the drawer. I was a little concerned that although dry to the touch they might not quite be ready for stacking, but I checked them a few days later and everything seemed fine.

So I forgot about them, and the rest of the summer happened.

This week I was moving prints around in drawers and discovered.... tragedy.

I hesitate to reveal this disaster to the entire blogosphere, but my friend Brenda once gave me a mug that says "It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others," so here we go:

While the few prints in the top of the stack were fine, the ones at the bottom suffered from the weight above and the glassine interleaving was STUCK to the prints. More than half of them. Like this:

Say it with me now: Oh S@#$!

I spent a few minutes coming to terms with the fact that I might have lost more than half of the edition, and then tried to oh-so-carefully peel up the glassine.

We can say that word again. After much lip-biting and gentle persuasion, I got to this:

Little bits of glassine were still stuck to the print. Not pretty.

I walked away.

But after I berated myself for a while I had a thought that went something like this:

"Okaaaayyyyy.... wait. I have used oil-based inks. The glassine stuck to these darkest bits because the ink layers are thickest there (and therefore didn't dry at the same rate as the rest of the image). More ink means the paper underneath is probably well-protected from water. I wonder if I can lift these little bits of glassine with a damp towel. Worth a try. Can't make things worse."

And so I tried. And sure enough... with slow, delicate application of damp towel followed by immediate application of dry towel I can, indeed, lift the stuck bits without damaging the print.

It's slow going, and tedious. (I think of art conservators and feel extra respectful.) I don't know that I'll be able to save all of the prints... the bottommost ones are really, really stuck... but I won't lose the entire edition.

I'm really surprised at the extent of "stuckness," since I've never had this problem before. Okay... once before... earlier this year... smaller prints stacked even higher had a few slightly stuck pieces at the bottom... but the glassine pulled away easily and it was no big deal. Not like this.

So. I'm not sure what happened. I suspect a combination of thinner print paper, darker pigment (Did I put black in this last blue? Black can take forever to dry completely.), lots of transparent base, and a wetter-than-usual summer. But who knows? Maybe I should stack prints between newsprint for a while before the glassine. Printmakers... have any of you run across this problem?

I guess I know what I'll be doing in the evenings now that it's getting dark earlier. (sigh) I like to think I'll be able to turn this into a meditative action, but at the moment I'm ruminating rather than meditating.

But hey... I bet I don't make this mistake again.


  1. When I make monotypes with oil based ink I can print a layer and put the paper back in the water, and then blot the printed sheet with newsprint, print the next layer, and repeat as desired. (I did go too far on one print and the ink stuck to the paper and pulled the image right off.) However, it seems to me you could soak on of your bottom prints with hope that the glassine would come off when saturated.

  2. Thank you for the lesson. I appreciate it.

  3. oh no :(

    and now, yes, people know not to do that :) so thank you :)

  4. Gosh, I love that you can share this with us! Your words of tragedy, averted disaster and advice are gratefully accepted!

  5. How awful. At least it came (mostly) good in the end. Phew!

  6. Hey, Wendy... unfortunately I've been working on thin, unsized Awagami kozo, so I work my paper dry.

    "Repair" work is going okay, just slowly. I think I have 4 prints left to go, and I'm reasonably confident that I'll be able to clean them up.

    I've begun to suspect that the glassine itself played a large part in the problem. The ink on these bottom-of-the-stack prints is ever-so-slightly tacky in the places where the glassine stuck. Almost three months later! Apparently there just wasn't enough breathing room.

    I took down the little paintbrush wildflower prints today and interleaved them with newsprint. They've been hanging for 10 days already, but with 12 color passes they probably still need to evaporate some oil. So. I'll check the newsprint every day for a while and see what happens. Once I'm convinced they are really and truly dry, I'll get out the glassine. At least that's the theory!

  7. I don't know if this will help for the future I was taught a trick when I am printing monotypes or collagraphs where occasionally the paper sticks to the ink and threatens to tear the image. I get a hair dryer out and turn up the heat. I blow the back of the paper and gently lift the paper slowly all the time with the hairdryer behind the paper.

    The heat from the blow dryer softens the ink while drying the paper (not to bone dry) just enough to release the ink and it works a treat.