Saturday, October 4, 2008

Japanese printmaker Ando Shinji demonstrates a complex process of printing a two-plate etching with a double chine collé!

In this traditional printmaking technique the plate is covered with an acid resistant ground, then worked with an etching needle to create an image. The thus exposed metal is then "eaten" in an acid bath or etchant, creating recessed lines that are inked and printed. Etching was developed during the 16th century; it was made popular by Dutch artist Rembrandt.

This effect of this method produces solid areas of tone. The plate has to be covered at one point with very fine particles (traditionally rosin, at New Grounds hardground is airbrushed onto the plate) so that the almost invisible openings between those particles can be etched. To the naked eye those tiny etched dots will appear as a gray tone. Shades of gray are achieved by altering the length of the etch; the longer the etch, the darker the tone will appear. Before etching the plate, parts of it are blocked out with a resist so that different areas will retain different shades of gray after a succession of etches. A Spitbite is a variation of this process. The etchant is applied with a brush rather than immersing the entire plate in the etchant. This results in soft, painterly marks rather than sharp edges.

Chine collé:
A printmaking technique in which a thin sheet of Oriental paper is laminated to a heavier backing sheet. The collé paper is adhered with a combination of glue and the pressure of the etching press. Usually, the fusion of the two papers takes place at the same time as printing a plate. The purpose of chine collé is to introduce additional colors or textures to the printed image. There are two approaches:
1. The collé paper is the same size as the plate – this approach is usually very subtle and results in a mere tinting of the image
2. The collé paper is smaller than the plate and used as a color accent in specific areas of the image

Printmakers and print lovers were treated to this eye-opening demonstration during New Grounds’ September 19 reception. Ando Shinji creates highly detailed botanical etchings in which he combines several plates with chine collé to achieve a maximum saturation of color. What makes Shinji’s approach so unique is that he uses both chine approaches on one plate (see definition above). In addition, Shinji custom dyes Gampi paper for maximum control of his overall color scheme.

Note that Gampi paper comes from the Gampi plant. It is available in a large variety of colors and weights. A good source for these extraordinary thin papers is

For demonstration purposes Ando brought along impressions with just the chine collé applications (left) - one with and one without the inked plate (middle).

In multi-plate printing, all plates are inked before the artist starts printing. This way the dampened printing paper stays moist and will not shrink between plates.

Shinji begins by inking the color plate with orange ink. This is a shallow plate with few values changes – it was created with aquatints and spitbites. Light, shadow and all details are part of the key plate which will be printed over the orange. Shinji applies the ink with a piece of mat board, covering the entire plate with orange ink.

He then wipes the excess ink off the plate with a piece of rayon. The objective is to wipe away most of the ink in the raised non-image areas while leaving behind ink in the recessed image areas. Shinji uses rayon since it will not wipe the plate completely clean but leaves behind a thin film of ink in the non-image areas. Printmakers refer to this as “under-wiping” with the layer of ink adhering to the copper called “plate-tone.”

The inked plate is now ready to accept the first chine collé of a very thin piece of Gampi paper which has been cut to the exact size of the plate. This paper is very fragile when wet and can tear easily. Shinji invented this trick to place the Gampi paper on the plate without damaging it or smudging the ink. First he immerses the inked plate in a tray of water.

He then places the warm white, yet translucent Gampi paper into the tray and moves the plate underneath the paper until it lines up with the paper exactly. The paper is never touched – it is literally floated on top of the plate.

The plate with the collé paper in place is now removed from the tray. The gampi paper now receives a liberal soaking of diluted Nori paste which is applied with a brush. Nori paste is a Japanese rice glue – it is as common in Japan as Elmers glue is in America. The trick is to dilute the paste to the right consistency – it should have the viscosity of milk and feel slightly sticky when rubbed between your fingers. Excess glue is removed with a piece of balled up rayon which has the advantage of no leaving any lint behind.

Shinji is now ready to apply the second chine collé. It consists of three separate pieces, one for the inside of the lily, one for the outside, and one for the stamens. Each piece has been cut to fit the exact shape of the design, and each has been dyed a specific color using cloth dyes to fit the overall color scheme. The pieces are tiny and have to be applied carefully with a pair of tweezers. Once the pieces are in place, Shinji also brushes them with Nori paste and blots them to remove the extra glue. The color plate is now ready for printing.

Once the plate is printed, the order of ink and collé papers will be reversed. The small pieces of collé will adhere to the support paper, the large piece of Gampi paper will sit on top of them, mellowing the bright colors slightly, and the ink printed over the papers pulls it all together.

Shini still has to ink the “key plate.” This deeply etched plate contains all of the line work and shading. The latter is often achieved with aquatints, but in this case, Shinji created mid-tones with a roulette - a textured wheel that can be drawn across the plate to roughen the surface and produce tonalities. The key plate will be printed in a rich blue black. In all multi-plate printmaking, the key plate is usually created first since it contains the essential information that defines the image. However, it is always printed last and in the darkest color. Shinji starts by rolling the ink on the plate. He uses a brayer instead of a piece of mat board since it allows him to fill the deeply recessed lines.

He now wipes the plate with a tarlatan which is a heavily sized piece of cheese cloth. Again, his objective is to remove the ink from the image areas, but not from the lines that were etched into the plate. Shinji finishes wiping the plate with a piece of Rayon. This time he does not leave any plate-tone behind and he wipes the plate as clean as possible.

The New Grounds intern and gallery assistant, Tanya Landin, above (to the right), provides a running commentary on Shinji’s printing process. Shinji spoke very little English which made this demonstration a huge challenge. We are now ready to print the plates, starting with the orange plate. Shinji uses a precise registration sheet to line up the plates and paper exactly. In addition, he employed a technique called “locking the paper” where the printing paper stays underneath the press roller after the first plate has been printed. The paper simply stays in place while the first plate is removed from the press bed and replaced with the second plate.

The final print was pulled accompanied with much applause. Shinji worked at record speed, he usually pulls a maximum of twelve prints in an eight hour day - this demonstration took place in a little over twenty minutes.

Yoshiko Shimajo, above (to the left of both pictures), who is one of the two printmaking professors at the University of New Mexico, graciously volunteered her time for this reception to translate for Ando Shinji. This would not have been possible without her help.

The New Grounds staff welcomes your comments and questions about this demonstration!
Photography by Bruce Childs

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