Collagraph: Garden Meditation – and how to make a collagraph with carborundum

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Making a Figurative Collagraph Print

Before we make a collagraph, let’s get inspired. Have a look at Alice Carter’s excellent book – The Red Rose Girls – An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.

The true story chronicles the lives, careers and friendships between famous artists Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935), Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) and Violet Oakley (1874-1961).  

Their work ethic and resourcefulness is inspiring given they were making a living as artists when those skills were – at the time – considered a man’s job.  

Their amazing work was created over one hundred years ago, and I wonder about their methods, materials, inspiration and daily routines.  You can call their art sentimental, or as one of my friends says “sweet enough to give you a tooth ache”.  I find their art to be so skillfully designed, with balanced compositiosn, and atmospheric color harmonies. 

Below is a watercolor & charcoal (!!) that I love by Elizabeth Shippen Green – using her own garden and her room mates and friends as models –  titled Life was made for Love and Cheer (image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Life Was Made for Love and Cheer, Elizabeth Shippen Green

Tap Into Your Own Images for Inspiration

Now that we’re freshly inspired, let’s get into the studio and make something, shall we?

I’ve posted the photos of the process for this collagraph, Garden Meditation, below, and there are more details here. The root of the word – colla is derived from Ancient Greek κόλλα‎ , or glue. In many collagraphs, texture and shape is glued to the plate, like a collage, to be inked and printed. Here is an example of material glued to the plate to make a collagraph print.

If you decide to make a collagraph, leave a link to your blog or social media post about it in the comments so we can see your results and cheer you on. Go ahead… Make something. 🙂

mat board collagraph supplies
Scrap mat board with a beveled edge (leftover from framing other art).
Sketching with pencil on mat board to make a collagraph with a cat swatting at the pencil
Sketching the design with studio cat Scout swatting at my moving pencil.
Using a blade to carve a shallow upper-layer from the mat board which will leave recessed shapes to hold ink
Cutting and peeling the top layer of mat board to create recessed wells and curbs for ink collection
Applying carborundum to the sealed plate
After cutting & sealing the plate with Liquitex gloss medium varnish, I’ve re-wet specific areas with the varnish, and added #120 grit carborundum (fancy word for sand paper grit) to grab ink. I want this area to be black, so the “tooth” of the carborundum (you can buy it here) will hold enough ink, even after wiping, to ensure a solid color.
A rolled up piece of felt, hold in a short stump with masking tape, used for inking plates in printmaking
I’m inking the plate with separate colors in the à la poupée method. Rolled and taped felt “dollies” (in French; poupée) are used to daub ink and apply it to directly to the plate, so I can get a multi-colored, painterly print in one pass under the press.
applying different colors of ink to the collagraph plate with a felt dauber
Applying intaglio ink to the collagraph with the rolled up felt daubers in the à la poupée method of inking.
Using newsprint to wipe ink away from the collagraph plate before printing
Wiping the uppermost layer of the plate gently with newsprint to remove some ink, and leave parts of the ink full strength, depending on the values and color saturation I’m aiming for. This will adjust what’s referred to as plate tone in the print, or the transparency of the pigments on the final print.
printmaking paper pressed against an inked plate on a press, leaving embossed shapes on the verso of the paper
After pressing printmaking paper to the inked plate on my etching press, you can see the relief pattern of the recessed and raised areas on the plate through the paper
pulling a collagraph print
Pulling the print from the mat board plate after a trip through the press. After the ink was dry on the printmaking paper, I used colored pencils to help define features and blend skin tones, etc
Here is a video tutorial showing you how to make a line style mat board collagraph, and then print it with non-toxic ink, without using a press

Mat Board Collagraph Printmaking

If you’re interested in making a collagraph print like this from mat board, here is a playlist of collagraph video tutorials from my youtube channel to help you get you started. 

Under each video, in the Show More section, there is a list of supplies with links so you can order what you need online. If you want a printable list with links, you can find a collagraph Supply List here.

As always, you can leave any questions you have in the comments below, or in the comments under each of the tutorial videos on youtube.

Don’t be shy, because your questions might help another printmaker with the same issues after you’ve already become a master at this process. Keep your first designs very simple, go slow, and mostly have fun!

I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email buy signing up here.

a profile of a woman with dark hear pulled up in a green and flowery garden
Garden Meditation Mat Board Collagraph print, with colored pencil

Art Quote

For middle and upper-class women interested in art and fortunate enough to be provided with a “fashionable education,” lessons were taught by private tutors. The curriculum, known as drawing from the “flat,” consisted of copying from the tutor’s own drawings or replicating engravings of works by well-known artists. Although amateur accomplishment in art was considered an advantageous social refinement, professional studies in life-drawing classes were feared to compromise a woman’s virtue by inflaming her passions and making her unfit as a wife and mother.In 1860, a group of female students at the Pennsylvania Academy, upset by their exclusion from life drawing, started their own classes outside the campus, posing for each other sometimes clothed, sometimes half draped. Although word of the renegade courses embarrassed the Academy, Ladies’ Life classes were not added to the curriculum until 1868, and they remained segregated for many years. In 1886 when Thomas Eakins lifted the loin cloth of a male model to reveal a little too much anatomy to his female students, he was fired.

Alice Carter – The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love

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13 thoughts on “Collagraph: Garden Meditation – and how to make a collagraph with carborundum”

  1. Belinda, she is beautiful and women have come a long way in art! I love your process and think it would be fun to try-you give us all the information we need. Thank you!

  2. Hi Belinda!

    Your “Garden Meditation” is so peaceful…so beautiful…
    Thank you for sharing your creative process, it’s very interesting. I didn’t know how to do the colllagraph.
    I am impressed by the things you’ve told about the female painters in the nineteenth century.
    Nowadays it’s hard to accept that this kind of segregation existed!

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