The Sandragraph

Between Printing and Painting

1st Sandragraph

1. Definition. The "sandragraph" is my term for a low-relief collagraphic printmaking procedure in which I make prints directly off surfaces that have been covered by cloth and acrylic polymer gel medium, mounted type-high and locked up on the flat bed of a printing press, and printed in a traditional letterpress or relief manner. I named this process in 1984 after my wife and partner, Sandra Liddell Reese, who continues to work with me on many experiments in making plates, prints, and books. The term refers both to the plate made in this process and to the print as well.

2. Sandragraph plates. There are many variations of making the "sandragraph" plate and the "sandragraph" print. In general, this is the basic approach.

a. I use a flat plywood board for my base, or block. Though I have used many different bases, I prefer a smooth 3/4" birch veneer plywood attached to a 1/8" plywood sheet (or doorskin). Any flat boards will suffice. Plank wood or shelving lumber may warp or curl. Make sure the base is flat and firm.

b. I cut a piece of 100% cotton (fine weave muslin) slightly larger than the block, and staple it to a temporary working surface (another piece of plywood), and brush a thin coat of acrylic gel medium on it. After I put another thin coat of acrylic gel medium on the block, I remove the cloth from the working surface and place it on the block, with the gel side down. I add another coat of gel medium to the cloth as I paste it down onto the block. Smooth out the air bubbles and brush marks. Brush marks and divots on the plate surface will be printable. Let the plate dry completely. How long does it take to dry? How thick is the gel? What is the temperature? Thin coats dry faster than thick ones. After the plate is dry, you may sand the surface, and/or add additional coats of gel medium. The ultimate goal is to build up the block, along with the cloth and gel, toward (but not exceeding) type high (.918"). If you need to make a choice, it is always better to make the plate lower, not higher, than the height of type.

c. There are many variations of cloth, blocks, and amount of gel.

d. This method works best as a low-level relief print. Large clumps of cloth or gel will prevent smaller areas from printing. The printing surface can be textured in great detail or sanded smooth as glass. Keep in mind that it is a low relief process.

e. You may collage (apply with glue) cloth, paper, or materials of any kind to the plate. This method is more commonly known as a "collagraph."

f. Can you put the acrylic directly on wood? Of course you can. It has been my experience that the cloth and acrylic hold ink and paint much better than wood. They deliver the ink/paint much better too.

g. The "sandragraph" prints well as a relief, but may be adapted for intaglio printing. You should be careful with the relief depth of your plate. Acrylic gel medium can dry into sharp points which may cut your printing paper or create other difficulties. I usually do not dampen papers for relief prints (I prefer Magnani Italia, Arches Cover, Arches 88, and other softer surfaces), but for intaglio printing or deeper impressions it might be helpful to dampen the paper a little.

h. Stable, flat boards give reliable bases for the construction of these plates. Your adventures in printing are compounded when your plates rock, bow, bend or otherwise move during printing.

i. I use the best oil paints I can afford for my "ink". Specifically, I have had some good success with the Schmincke "Mussini" resin-based oil paints. They are expensive, but the pigment is very good. To the oil paint I will sometimes add transparent base printer's ink (a.k.a. tint base or transparent white) which gives both vehicle and drier to the oil paint without changing the pigmentation substantially. This way I have been able to print certain thin opaque colors which most printmakers who use traditional inks achieve only by using transparent overlays. Oil paints have better pigment than printer's ink for all colors, especially earth pigments. There is much investigation left to do in the area of color mixing and printing with color. Remember to keep the ink or paint very thin.

j. As a general rule, I do not like to add solvents or painting mediums to the paint or ink. When I add solvents or paint medium, I have frequently coated my papers first with various mixtures to prevent the paper from absorbing excess oil.

k. As an investigation of both printing and painting, the "sandragraph" allows for the same ways of exploring that are commonly practiced in relief printing as well as painting. For example, there are certain approaches to putting on the gel medium which give painterly effects, just as there are methods of coloring the plate which result in painted appearances. There are as many printing variations as a printer can imagine, involving the basics of relief printing: surface quality, ink, paper, pressure, and repeatability. A complete investigation of these possibilities awaits the curious artist.

3. Clean up and storage. Acrylic gel medium is water based. Clean up brushes quickly. Clean off the sandragraph plates after printing or the paint will dry as a thin bonded film on the plate surface. Slip sheet (i.e. place between sheets of paper) the finished prints if you cannot put them in a drying rack.

4. Materials and Supplies. For acrylic polymer gel medium, I have used Nova Gel (#207), which I buy in one gallon containers, and which cost $17.75 per gallon the last time I made a purchase, from Artex Mfg. Co. (aka Nova Color), 5894 Blackwelder Street, Culver City, CA 90232-7340, (213) 870-6000. Delivers COD with UPS if needed, or will take credit card # over telephone. Has other materials and supplies. When using all acrylic polymer mediums, make sure the room is well ventilated.
Certain tools are assumed available; if not, substitutes for them should be planned. I have around scissors, a flat 2" brush, sandpaper (of various grits), and some kind of power saw (circular saw, table saw, band saw) for cutting the wood, if needed. There are many kinds of cloth, all of some value depending upon the ultimate purpose, and more ways to apply or pattern the gel than we can think of. And then the papers to print on are as numerous as there are papers. The primary point to keep in mind is that this process is a low-level relief printing technique with great subtlety and variety.

5. List of Supplies
a. cloth - tightly woven cloth such as 100% cotton (muslin), unbleached.

b. board - flat surfaces to build up to type high. I recommend 3/4" birch veneer plywood and 1/8" plywood doorskin, in combination with the cloth; as an option, type-high linoleum blocks or type-high photoengravings can be utilized as supports for each individual plate one wishes to make.

c. acrylic gel medium - see #4, above: one gallon goes a long way.

d. paper for printing - see #4, above.

e. tools for applying gel: palette knives or spatulas; flat artists' brushes of varying sizes; cheap gloves for hand applications.

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