How to Make a Mat Board Collagraph
If you’re new to collagraph printmaking, you might enjoy watching a demo on how to make a collagraph in tutorial videos posted on my youtube channel. This blog post will show you – in photos – some of the supplies and steps so you can make an intaglio style mat board collagraph too. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of supplies with links, so you can see what they look like if you’re not familiar with this style of printmaking. Collagraphs are a versatile, fun printmaking process.
Is this the only way to make a Collagraph?
Collagraphs are printed in a variety of ways, with a myriad of materials in print studios worldwide. I’m going to show you how to make an inexpensive collagraph plate and print, using scrap mat board, acrylic varnish, a blade and water-based printmaking ink. (All supplies are listed below.) You’ll see a decade of mat board collagraph examples on this blog, and you can search for more on Google and Pinterest.
Gather the Goods
To start, gather your supplies and a simple design for your first print. (For the sake of perspective, the boat in the collagraph at the top of this post is *not* a simple design. 🤓 This post shows a simpler design, so I’d recommend starting with less cut-outs and focusing on simple line-work.) I use non-skid shelf liner (the waffley stuff above) cut into smaller squares to stabilize my mat board plate while it’s under construction. The non-skid keeps the matboard plate from sliding around while I’m cutting. Any time you’re using a blade, or doing fine, detailed motor-skills on your work, it’s very helpful to have your plate held steady, so your other hand isn’t doing all the plate-stabilization un-assisted, which can put the holding hand in the path of your blade. 🏨
Light and Dark in Your Design
After your design is sketched on the mat board, look back at your reference photo and squint till you see only areas of light and dark shapes – no details. Now, back on your mat board plate, you can shade in some dark areas of your design with pencil to match the darks in your reference image. This will give you a map of where you want recessed areas to hold ink. Before you begin to carve the lines from your design, seal the plate top, bottom and edges with Acrylic Gloss Medium and Varnish with two or three coats applied smoothly. Wait for it to dry completely before you start carving. In the photo above, I’m peeling a shallow cut out of the uppermost layer of mat board to leave a textured shape in a slightly recessed “well” that will hold ink. These are going to be the darker areas of my design.
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Visual Collagraph Inspiration
You can click on the images at the bottom of this post to read more collagraph blog posts from the archives (starting in 2005) or you can use the search box at the top of this blog to search for the word ‘collagraph’ – and poke around the archives at your leisure. Either way, I hope you feel energized and inspired to make a collagraph. They are so much fun! Okay, onward to the process shots! Are you still with me? Good!
Sealing the Plate
This is a very important step to the collagraph process if your plate is made from any paper-based product. Ink is wet, and cleaning products are too. If you wet your mat board, the paper will swell, droop, absorb moisture and be ruined. Coating the entire surface with a sealer – including the edges and back – will transform your mat board into a sturdier printmaking plate. I use Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish. (Some artists use shellac or button polish, but the liquitex cleans up with water, so I prefer this to something that requires solvents to wash brushes afterwards.) In printmaking, you want the ink to release from the plate, and adhere to the paper you’re pressing against it. The gloss varnish is an important part in that process; it’s slick, so it releases ink easily. Your ink won’t transfer well if you’re using a matte-finish sealing product.
More Advanced Additions to Collagraphs
After adding gloss medium to the pencil marked and carved channels, and while the medium was still wet, I poured carborundum (sand paper grit) on them. (You can see more fun experiments with carborundum on this Sinking In collagraph.) You don’t need carborundum in order to pull a successful print. The purpose of the grit is to hold ink, so that even after I’ve wiped inks from the plate to lighten shapes in my design, some of these carborundum-treated areas will remain rich with ink, because the pigments stay embedded around the granules of the grit. If this is your first print, skip this part and scoot down to the process video below, and the inking section. 🙂 After pouring a thin layer of carborundum grit on still-wet, selected shapes, I let everything dry, and removed any excess grit. The entire plate got one more, final thin layer of Gloss Medium Varnish.
Inking the Plate
In the photo above, I inked the plate using the a la poupee method, with rolled and taped felt daubers, or “dollies” (poupee is the French word for doll). The rolled end is dipped into ink, and then rubbed on the plate in sections of color. This is a great way to do a multiple color print from one plate, with one pass through the press. And the effects are often quite painterly. The photo above was taken just before I started wiping the plate, to clear some of the uppermost surfaces that I want to print lighter than the darker, recessed areas. (Watch the sink still life video below to see how wiping is done, and what the effects look like on the print.)
Using a Press to print a mat board collagraph
After a trip under the press, with soaked and blotted paper on top of the plate, you can see the results of the pressure (in the photo above); the paper is embossed with the shape of the voids I cut & peeled out of the mat board collagraph plate. The soaked paper is flexible enough to drape and stretch down into the recessed areas I cut from the mat board. If you’re linework prints white, it’s not making contact with the ink. The paper will collect the ink I left in the recessed area of the plate, and the pigments will transfer to the paper when pulled from the print.
This (below) is another simple crescent mat board collagraph plate, sealed with a few layers of Liquitex Gloss Medium Varnish. In the video, you’ll be able to see how the inks are applied, and then wiped to get a full color print.
Make Something Soon
Have you ever made a collagraph before? If you’re interested in trying one, and you don’t have a press, you can get started with just a few supplies. Here is a play list of collagraph printmaking tutorials from my YouTube Channel. I hope they’re helpful to you, and I always welcome your comments and questions, so don’t be shy! If you’ve made collagraphs, please share your tips & resources in the comments.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
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(Some of the links in this post are affiliates, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a tiny commission if you make a purchase. I’m grateful for your support. These gestures go towards art supplies so I can continue to share my experiments with you.)
Supply List (with links)
(I have one on an xacto knife to help with finger-fatigue in some of the tutorial videos)
Akua MagMix (modifier to thicken the ink)
BFK Rives paper Heavier Weight (for use with a press)
BFK Rives paper (lightweight) for use with hand rub/transfer
(*recommended over the Kozo paper below if you plan to add other media*)
Kozo Mulberry paper (for hand rub/transfer – no wet media should be added to the finished print)
Colored Pencil (optional media to add to your prints)
Non-skid liner to secure your plate while inking & cutting
metal ruler with cork back for paper tearing
spatula for mixing/laying out ink
Mylar sheets (tape one down to mix ink on, if you don’t have a piece of glass)
NOTE: If you’d like a downloadable four-page PDF of the supplies, with links and descriptions, you can order one here.
More Examples of Mat Board Collagraphs
Here and there on this art blog, you’ll find variations on watercolor painting, printmaking and drawing. In the category of printmaking, there are quite a few collagraphs to look at (with links to the original posts and process photos in the titles), like these:
Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.
~ Richard Feynman