Printmaking at St Barnabas Press
Our art and design students have recently attended our annual visits to St Barnabas Press in Cambridge. These trips enable our students to work under the tutelage of master printmaker James Hill using professional workshop equipment including use of the vast nineteenth century printing press.
Prior to the visit each of our IGCSE and A Level students had produced two zinc plates engraved with their original designs using an extremely sharp six inch nail. After a detailed and extensive demonstration at St Barnabas Press by James, each student started work on their first plate, pressing oil-based ink into their ‘dry-point’ lines using the a la poupée intaglio technique (a piece of twisted cloth resembling a doll). After wiping most of the excess ink off using rags – aided where necessary by the use of magnesium dust – the first plate was ready for printing. Placed face upwards on the printing press table with damp paper on top finished with tissue paper and lambs’ wool blankets, each student took it in turns to operate the cog wheel mechanism of the press using a large wheel.
Essentially the printing press is a vast clothes’ mangle, squeezing under great pressure the paper onto the zinc plate, thereby forcing the ink to be transferred onto the paper while creating the characteristic embossed finish that can only be obtained using this ancient method. Students started with monochrome before experimenting with the full range of colours, plus ‘glazes’ obtained using large rollers immediately prior to printing.
The results were spectacular and often unexpected. By the end of the day each student had produced around a dozen high quality intaglio prints, returning happy but totally exhausted to CCSS.
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