Backroads Journal

My Journey into Creativity (Cont.)

With the weather settling in to the dreary, monotone of grey skies and most of the fall color gone, I have made a commitment to concentrate on new art processes and images for a while.  My goal is to master the product called Solarplate Copper, a photo-sensitive polymer coated plate.  Information about the product can be found in my last journal article.  As with most new products, there is a learning curve as new concepts are explored and processes are worked out.

The first challenge has been assembling the materials and equipment needed for the process.  Using information found on-line, I built a UV light box for exposing the plates using six blacklight units found at Wal-Mart, assembled an exposure bed with glass cover, found some magnetic vinyl for holding the plates down while washing and inking and purchased Solarplate Copper plates from Daniel Smith Art Supplies, as well as some new water-based ink for the printing process.  That was the easy part. 

Since a home-made light box is not factory tested for output, I needed to go through a series of test exposures to find the right length of time to expose the plate to my art transparencies.  Now, I’m not sure how many artists are the type to patiently try test strip after test strip until a perfect sample is obtained, but I know that I don’t have that kind of patience. 

By reading the web information, I narrowed the expected times down to about 60 seconds for an aquatint screen, to give a small dot pattern to tonal areas, and five minutes for the art transparency.  I figure adjustments can be made on the exposure times as I go.  Without getting too technical, a double exposure with the aquatint screen before the art allows the art to contain tones and large dark areas.  Without the screen, tone and dark areas would have open bite which would hold ink only along the outlines of the area.  The dots keep the ink from being wiped out of the wide, shallow tonal areas.

After a quick test exposure confirmed my timing was relatively accurate, I jumped right in to an experimental image.  The first full-size trial was from a photo of our home on a Football Weekend.  I modified the photo in Photoshop, converting it to black and white, posterizing and fading the edges with the dissolve brush.  Using my inkjet printer, I printed the image on a transparency and exposed the solar plate to the aquatint screen and then to the transparency image.  The plate was then developed by washing in a water stream and brushing with a soft bristle brush.  The inked and printed image is shown here.  In the detail photo you can see the soft, grainy effect that the aquatint screen gives to the image.  I prefer more of a crisp, line-type image, but I’m sure there will be a need for the aquatint toning and softness of this process.

The next print is of a weathered looking Seed Cleaning building found in Leon, Kansas on my recent Butler County drive.  A pen and ink illustration of the old structure was scanned and brought into Photoshop where some of the sky and ground texture was added and photograined to be a dot pattern.  The image was again printed on a transparency and the solar plate exposed and developed.  The resulting print was taken one step farther with the application of watercolor washes to add depth and interest.  This is the process that most closely works with my style of etching images.  I think I have found a winner of a product.

These are only two of the many options for image preparation using the Solarplate Copper.  I will be experimenting with adding text to the backgrounds as well.  I am impressed with the versatility of the product and will be using it for many of my new prints.  In the next three to four months I need to produce a dozen or so new images to expand the interest base of my portfolio as we move to more of an upper Midwest art fair base.  I love the images from the prairie, but it’s difficult to make a living as an artist on the Kansas art fair circuit.  Watch for more farm country, nature and universal-type images to be added to my gallery in the coming year. 

With Christmas approaching, I want to wish you all a merry Holiday Season and a creative and productive New Year!