August 30, 2010

Battle of the Inks

 "In the field of opportunity it's plowing time again,
there ain't no way of knowing
where these seeds will rise or when...."
                                                        (Neil Young) 
I'm conducting an experiment.  I've become dissatisfied with my trusted Daniel Smith water soluble relief ink.  I've used this ink almost exclusively for several years now and, although it's most definitely a quality ink and has been excellent to work with for most of my scenic reductions (where the many ink layers printed over each other produce an interesting almost "painterly" effect), this is not what I want in the graphic florals I'm playing with now.  

Maybe I'm being overly critical.  Or maybe my expectations are unrealistic. But what if I really am using the wrong type of ink for what I want to achieve?  Whatever the reason, in my last two prints the ink frustrated the hell out of me.  Specifically, while the first layer of each print was lovely and smooth, as the colours built up, even though I applied the ink in very light layers, the coverage became less consistent.  It was patchy in some areas and too thick in others and I couldn't get the clean crisp lines I want. 

I once met a local printmaker who used a letter press and rubber-based inks to create prints with crisp lines and colours so rich they glowed.  I don't have a letter press and I'm not sure if rubber-based inks are the answer for me but I still want to get as close to that printmaker's results as I can.  So, even though the block for my sand dollar print is ready to go, I've decided to hold off and try figure out some of my ink issues first. 

I still have a set of Daniel Smith traditional oil relief inks, originally abandoned because clean-up is more trouble than it is with the water-soluble ones, and I also have a set of Georgian oil paints and a tube of Georgian printmaking medium (meant to turn oil paints into a medium suitable to printmaking).  I want to see exactly how the three compare.  I've done up a small design for a simple four-colour reduction and am testing all three inks in an edition of four prints for eachI began yesterday.

Keeping in mind that my irritations never surfaced in printing the first colour, I got off to a great start.  The hardest thing was getting the tops off the tubes of ink and oil paint that's been sitting around, albeit wrapped well in plastic and Tupperware, for a few years now. Once I managed to do that, and thank God for that old metal nutcracker hiding at the bottom of the utensil drawer (saved me from using my teeth!) the next hardest was mixing up the same colour in three different mediums.  Pretty clear from the pictures below how that one went.  Other than that, no real issues.  Still, some slight differences emerged even at this natal stage.

Daniel Smith (water soluble):

I started with this ink simply because it's easier to go from a water clean up ink to a more traditional oil ink.  As I already said, no issues here.  The ink rolled out in a nice even layer and covered well.

Daniel Smith (oil relief ink)

No, the colour's not quite the same.  A bit too much red.  That's what I get for leaving ink sitting around for so long that it positively gushes forth once the cap is off.  Beyond this, this ink behaved much like its water soluble cousin but with a slight difference:  while I always ink up my block by rolling out very thin layers of ink over each other until the whole thing is evenly covered, this ink seemed to roll out just a little more smoothly and with just a little less effort. 

Georgian Oil Paint and Printmaking Medium

One of the things that became clear to me very early on is that good printmaking ink is not the easiest thing to come by.  Not in Canada anyway. Even in a city the size of Vancouver, boasting several good art supply stores, getting professional grade printmaking ink locally is impossible. Speedball dominates the store shelves and the good stuff is only available from the States usually for what can be a hefty shipping fee.  So, before I decided to go that route, a locally available medium that promised to make oil paint suitable for printmaking held a lot of appeal.  Oil paints are everywhere, come in a plethora of colours, and are reasonably inexpensive.  

I picked up a tube of the medium and I did a number of simple prints using  modified oil paints.  It worked ok, was better than Speedball,  but curiosity still nagged.  So much so that I finally took advantage of a trip we made to Seattle, visited a Daniel Smith store, got some of their ink and that's been the end of that story until now.  Oil paints forgotten.  Now, since I'm going to the trouble of experimenting, it's worth including them in my side-by-side comparison.

Anyway, given this was the oddest of the three mediums I'm testing, I wasn't surprised to find differences between it and the other two.  First, the consistency of the oil paint/medium mixture was much less viscous.  And, whereas both DS inks completely covered the glass inking-up plate (i.e. they were opaque) this mixture was slipperier and significantly more transparent so I thought I may have mixed it wrong and wasn't expecting much coverage.  Surprisingly, once printed, the colour came through well enough.  The real "tell" will come in the next layers but, for now, so far so good.  

Next weekend, part two. 

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