Collagraphs are, loosely defined, prints made from a collage. This is a relatively new form of relief printmaking, the term having been coined in the 1950’s by artist Glen Alps, a printmaking professor from the University of Washington in Seattle. Collagraphs are unlike monoprints and other types of etching and intaglio prints with which you might be familiar.
The making of collagraphs is essentially an experimental technique in which many layers of diverse material, from cardboard and glue, to wax, string and plaster are applied to a printing plate. The plate can be made of cardboard, wood, plastic or most anything else! Using a specific kind of sand called “carborundum” allows the plate to hold more ink and creates varying tones and soft, velvety areas of deep, dark color. In preparing the printing plate, the artist works with an eye toward creating different surface levels and textures in which to hold ink that will later be transferred to paper with a printing press or by hand.
The interest in using recycled and “found” materials has generated a resurgence of this open-ended process that lends itself well to abstract art and experimentation with pattern, texture and paper embossing (creating a pressed shape into the paper with or without ink). Representational images are equally enhanced through the spontaneous process of building up texture and depth on the plate.
I love this process because there is almost no way to fail if you keep an open mind and are curious about the way any given material might hold ink or leave random and unexpected marks. In fact, it is the unanticipated marks and mysterious patterns that appear that make this technique my favorite form of printmaking. Although collagraphy is experimental and lesser known than other forms of relief and intaglio printmaking, it is widely accepted in the printmaking world and is practiced around the world. I find it complements my jewelry making with my ongoing interest in surface textures, rich colors and bold patterns.
One of the finest books on the subject is a small edition, Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking by a wonderful pair of collagraph artists, Brenda Hartill and Richard Clarke.