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a collagraph print of a woman reading a book in bed
The Written Word 9.75 x 7 Collagraph print with Watercolor

This (below) is the back of a piece of mat board (also known as mount board in other parts of the world), which is the stuff used to mat art work and photos under glass.  I’m using it here to make a mat board collagraph, and I’ve drawn a figure reading a book with pencil,  and then I coated it with Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish. After drying the plate overnight, I incised shapes and line-work with an exacto knife and peeled the uppermost layer of mat board away to leave recessed areas to hold printmaking inks.  After all the carving and peeling was finished,  I re-coated the mat board plate with gloss medium three more times on all sides and even the edges. This seals the plate, which is made from 100% cotton fiber, and that prohibits absorption of the inks and modifiers, which would wet the mat board and cause the plate to warp, buckle and swell.

collagraph plate in process
Building the collagraph plate: cutting and peeling recessed areas to hold ink

Get the Right Ink

In the photo above, I’ve coated the plate with water-based inks, and I’m wiping the upper-most surfaces with newsprint, trying to leave plenty of ink in the carved line-work. I’ve got a sheet of printmaking paper soaking in water, and a towel ready to blot it just before I press the damp paper to the inked plate to create the collagraph print. (If you’re interested in a survey of printmaking inks, see this post.) One thing to note about water-based printmaking inks: some of them dry as soon as you apply them to the plate, which is *so frustrating*, and others might print okay, but they’ll re-wet if you add a wet media to the print, like watercolor or gouache. It’s worth your time to think ahead a little so you have the right supplies for your overall plan.

Watercolor and Printmaking for Sale on Etsy
Monday – Friday this week only – Etsy is turning 13, so we’re celebrating with 15% off all original art in my Etsy Shop. Use discount code Etsy13 during check out for the discount. 🙂
Pulling the first print after hand-rubbing/transferring the ink with a brayer and a wooden spoon on the kitchen counter.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

I laid the blotted paper on top of the inked plate, and covered the back of the damp printmaking paper with a sheet of wax paper so I could rub with the baren (the teflon coated disk with the wooden handle above) and the wooden spoon without marring the soaked & softened paper. After lots of rubbing and checking, I’m pulling the print. After this print dried, I added watercolors to repair some of the scumbled and sketchy ink transfer. Often, in a first print, the plate hasn’t absorbed enough ink in all the crevasses, or in the curbs following the shapes cut from the plate. Ink takes a few print cycles to build up and nestle into the corners of your collagraph plate’s details. If you get a bad first print, re-ink the plate, soak some more paper, and try again.  The prints get better and better as the ink burrows into the nooks and crannies you carved into the plate. (If you need a comprehensive list of supplies to make a mat board collagraph, here’s one.)

a mat board collagraph
The same plate (on the left) and a new print (on the right) with different ink, and printed on a press. Do you see a difference from the first print?  Either method works: transferred by hand, or with a press. Especially if you’re going to use other media on the print to enhance color & detail. Give it a go! If you’d like more details on this process, check out the video tutorial on my youtube channel below.

Reading Books Makes Us Smarter

Do you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books each year? As a full time artist who spends a lot of time in the studio alone, I feel that books are necessary to keep my language skills exercised.  After working on a project solo for a couple of weeks, it’s all I can do to grunt and nod to my husband over my salad bowl, because my words are still sleeping. If I read good old fashioned paper books, which I dearly love, I read less than one book each year. If I listen to audiobooks while I’m working in the studio, driving or taking care of our house and garden, I read many more, and I remember how to talk.  I do a better job of prioritizing books with a set goal, so Goodreads lets you set that up at the beginning of the year and then tracks your progress with Reading Challenge encouragement.

Get Your Ducks (books) in a Row

The books I listened to last year are below.  I didn’t meet my goal, but I’m trying again this year. Have you ever had a friend or family member urge you to read a book they adored only to find you couldn’t get past the first few chapters? You might adore the person who recommended the book, but your book-loving tastes can also be a mountain range apart. This is one of the reasons to use Goodreads: it allows you to line up your already read books with another friend’s books in columns to compare ratings of your common books. If you and your friend rated the same books with similar numbers of stars, then bingo, you found a kindred spirit book lover. So if your friend marked a book five stars, and you haven’t read it yet, one click puts that book in your To-Read list, and based on your newly discovered simpatico book lover, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll love the book too. I can’t tell you how many discoveries I’ve made because of this feature on Goodreads. Books I’d never heard of, but swooned for as soon as I started reading them. What a gift! And my To-Read list continues to grow with so many books I’m excited about.

Research Some Bookishness

Here’s the list of my last year’s books with links in case any of the titles interest you. And I’ll still love you if we have no overlap in our book tastes – pinky-promise. 🙂   Tinkerbelle, San Miguel, The Captain’s Wife, The Rosie Project, The Book of Speculation, Not My Father’s Son, Commonwealth, My Family and Other Animals, Beautiful Ruins, News of the World, Americanah, DaVinci’s Ghost, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, The War of Art, Some Writer, Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot, The Husband’s Secret, The Pearl Thief, The Good Earth, The Demon Under the Microscope, Color and Light, A Gentleman in Moscow

Fiction vs Non Fiction

What is your favorite book flavor? Do you swoon for Westerns, Mysteries, True Crime, Romance, Young Adult, Travel, Instructional Books, History? And when you find an author who’s voice resonates with you, do you read all of their books? (I recently read all seven Harry Potter books when one of my grandkids challenged me to a dueling read-along. Jim Dale’s narration is utterly splendid. But still, my grandson (9) lapped me twice on his kindle – so he won the race – but our conversations related to characters, quagmires and spells has been a delight.) And what about characters: do you have to love some of the characters to love the book? Which books inspired you recently?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!


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Art Quote

All art forms, including painting and music and poetry, are vehicles for us all to participate in being alive.

Whatever adds richness to the experience of being alive is an art.

~Quang Ho

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10 thoughts on “Collagraph: The Written Word – and Books I Read Last Year”

  1. Hi Belinda,
    I read books from my small town library and haven’t seen others by Graeme Simsion but will keep my eye out. My inks still haven’t arrived and I will enquire about why. Thanks for your tips on watercolors, I am eager to get going and will send images of the finished results.

  2. Hi Belinda,
    I love to read and have copied your book list. I liked Rosie Project a lot and just finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, also China Dolls. Her books are riveting and real eye openers about life in China and the US. Those two books started before WW2.
    I’m still waiting for my Akua inks to arrive so I can get on with my matboard collagraphs. So far I’ve cut four small ones and love that process. My question is: Could you recommend a basic set of watercolors? I know the folly of buying cheap but honestly don’t know where to start.
    Thanks for all your tips, videos and inspiration.

    1. Good morning, Clare,
      Thanks for the recommendations! I enjoyed The Rosie Project too. Have you read any others by that author? I hope your akua inks have arrived by now, and your plates are sealed and ready for some inky experimentation! Use the Akua mag mix to thicken your inks so they’ll cling to the recessed areas you’ve carved into your plates. I hope you post them somewhere we can see the fruits of your labor! For watercolors, I’ve used and enjoyed the Cotman line of Winsor Newton watercolors – which are considered student grade, but they’re perfectly fine to get started. You can see them here. And I just purchased the equivalent starter set by Sennelier, but I haven’t tested them yet. Their reviews are excellent, so I suspect they are just as good a choice. This is the set I just bought to test. Thanks for your feedback and compliments, and Happy Printing!

  3. Hi, Belinda. I recently finished News of the World. To me that screams MOVIE with Sam Elliott as the main protagonist :). And I like all Ann Patchett books. “State of Wonder” was the first of hers that I read, and still remains my favorite. I read Diary of Anne Frank on a cruise over to Europe; when in Amsterdam we did see the house she was hidden in for over two years, about two blocks from Nazi headquarters, but we didn’t go in.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Kendra – Yes! Sam Elliott would be perfect as the main character in News of the World! But who would play the little girl?
      The first Ann Patchett book I read was Patron Saint of Liars, and I LOVED it, and everything since. Her characters and conversations and relationships are true enough to lean against. Bel Canto is a book I still think about too.
      I havent read Diary of Anne Frank, but I should. Thanks for the reminder. Are you on Goodreads?

  4. Wonderfully informative blog and tutorial! Impossible for me to resist answering your questions! I’ll focus on just one of them though, as to not overwhelm the blogger and readers. I reviewed my list of books read or listened to since 2016 and am listing only the audiobooks (and I was very excited to read your list..I’ve already put a hold on one from our Library!) I may have mentioned a few of these to you before: All the light we cannot see (Anthony Doerr); Antifragile: things that gain from disorder(Nassim Taleb); Blue nights (Joan Didion; Clear mind, wild heart (David Whyte); Eckhart Tolle’s Findhorn retreat: stillness amidst the world (Eckhart Tolle); Leap first (Seth Godin) ; Love, etc. (Julian Barnes); Purity (Jonathan Franzen); The dip: when to quit – and when to stick (Seth Godin); The great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald); The Nathaniel Hawthorne audio collection (Nathaniel Hawthorne); The Toltec art of life and death. (Ruiz, Miguel) ; The year of magical thinking (Joan Didion); A gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles); On the road (50th anniversary edition – Jack Kerouac); Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller); When you are engulfed in flames (David Sedaris); Naked (David Sedaris)..note: David reads the script himself..he is SO hillarious!

    Besides these I’ve listened to as many musicians’ bios I could find at the Library (given my age, you can guess which ones!) I’ll only list 2 here (since I’m forever in love with Bob Dylan!) On the road with Bob Dylan (Larry Sloman); Chronicles (Bob Dylan). Note about this last one. It’s actually titled Chronicles Vol. 1 and I was so disappointed to find out that he has not yet written Vol 2, although he has been prompted to do so by Rolling Stones Magazine. Happy printing, painting, reading and listening . . . and all that jazz!!

    1. Hi Gayle! We have so many overlaps! Yes, All the Light We Cannot See was astounding! I loved that book! And I adore Amor Towles and Seth Godin! I’ve made a list of your titles I’m unfamiliar with so I can look them up on Goodreads. Thanks so much for sharing, and I wish you a happy summer of frivolous reading in a hammock with a cool beverage in the shade!

  5. Ooh, glad I read this! I’m done cutting a collagraph and was about to print it without enough varnish! And thanks for the paper tip – Rives, correct? I think some of my lines might be too fine to register after two more coats. We’ll see!

    1. Kirsten, I bet your fine lines will print beautifully! Just keep your acrylic varnish thin but thorough. It’s more about creating a barrier to the paper of the matboard, and prepping that surface for the rubbing/friction of tarlatan cloth, etc. Rives light weight, or Arches Cover Light weight if you’re printing by hand. But with a press, heavier papers work beautifully! I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOUR PRINT!!!!

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