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Making a Collagraph from Mat Board with Acrylic Gloss Varnish

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This is a post from Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.

a girl in a swimming pool, with her arms outstretched in a yellow inner tube, about to push off into the water

Acrylic Gloss Varnish Sealer on Mat Board Collagraphs

When you make a collagraph plate from mat board (also known as mount board), the front, back, and edges of the board should be sealed. Moisture from printmaking inks and modifiers would soak the mat board plate into cotton pulp. The sealed printable surface should be a barrier between the ink and the cotton paper. The sealer should also be slippery enough to release ink when paper is pressed against it.

For the past 15 years or so, I’ve use the same product to seal my plates: Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish. If you’ve followed any of my collagraph tutorial videos on YouTube, you’ve seen and heard me sing praises for the stuff.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that Liquitex has discontinued it. Mediums and Varnishes are in separate categories now.

After putting a ball point pen drawing on the back of the mat board, the plate is ready to seal

Comparing two acrylic gloss mediums - for use with collagraph prints

The old-version of acrylic sealer I’ve used on mat board collagraph plates on the left, and the new sealer I’m testing in the studio on the right.

Testing Acrylic Plate Sealers

According to the advice from the rep at Liquitex – my best bet was to try the Varnish products. When I looked for it on Amazon, Gloss Varnish (not high gloss) was the only type available.

Gloss varnish is described as brush on or spray, non-removable, archival varnish with a gloss finish. Sounds good, right?

I want to compare this with their line of High Gloss Varnish, which is described as Non-Removable, archival varnish with a high gloss finish. This version is even slipperier than the gloss version, which would imply that it will release ink quickly when transferred to paper. It just became available, so I haven’t tested it yet.

But I did test the Gloss Varnish on some mat board collagraph plates (see below).

Two collagraph plates, ready to be sealed before carving out incised areas around the drawings

After sealing the plate with a single coat of the gloss varnish, and giving it ample time to dry, begin carving and peeling

Seal the Plate Before You Carve

By sealing the mat board with a thin layer of acrylic varnish before you start carving – you can pull your cut-out shapes off with less risk of tearing.

After peeling shapes from the thin uppermost-layer off the back of the mat board (carve on the reverse, not the front, because its smoother), add another coat of acrylic varnish to seal the exposed cottony filler fiber.

The new Liquitex Gloss Varnish brushed on the plate similar to the previous version I’ve been using, but it was a bit thinner, and it seemed to soak into the paper fast. The surface had a shine, the same as the older version of the medium and varnish, but it felt thinner and a bit more fragile.

After all the carving is complete, add one more layer of gloss varnish, and let it dry completely before you begin inking the plate

After inking the plate in multiple colors, try wiping just the upper surface areas to lighten values and add some visible mark-making to the ink

After a trip through the press, pulling a collagraph print. This was about the 5th print I pulled from the plate. The ink had to build up quite a bit in order to release from the plate and transfer to the paper.

Oh, Hi. I’m just putting my face in here too in case we haven’t met yet. Introduce yourself in the comments. I’ll be glad to know you came by for a visit.

a girl in a swimming pool, with her arms outstretched in a yellow inner tube, about to push off into the water
The print is listed in my Etsy Shop over here.—> A

Close, But Not Quite the Same

The Gloss Liquitex Varnish is close to the previous Varnish and Medium, but thinner, and a bit “porous”. The ink penetrated through the two coats of varnish sealer, and stained the plate with more saturated inks than usual. Even after wiping the plate clean, it still looks inked. (See below)

I added a third coat of the gloss varnish and printed a few more the next day, which improved the ink release a little. It’s not quite the same product, but it’ll do for now. I’ll be ordering the high gloss varnish this week, and I’ll test it on another collagraph. Have you used it like this?

You can see here how much ink stayed on the plate, and how little transferred to the paper on the first few pulls.

The plate has been cleaned of all ink, but it’s clearly embedded into the mat board under the varnish.

Varnish for Painting, Used for Printing

I should be clear here, and confess that I’m using a product by Liquitex that wasn’t meant to seal printmaking plates.

This varnish is primarily a painting medium, for use with their line of acrylic paints, so it’s not fair to stamp my foot and demand ‘How Could You Change My Varnish!?’ I’m not using the stuff for what it was formulated for, so its best to roll with it.

Printmaking has always been a squirrelly art-making medium. It’s loaded with necessity for adjustments, tweaks and unconventional work-arounds.

Making prints honors ingenuity. I think it’ll always be that way, and if you’re a natural born problem solver, head scratcher, figure-it-outer, printmaking could be your spirit animal.

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


P.S. Have you seen Nell Smith’s Collagraph Printmaking demo video using plain cardboard and a variety of tapes, with no press?

P.P.S. In a printmaking group that meets every Thursday morning at 8:00am (California time) on the audio app Clubhouse, I asked what other printmakers seal their plates with. Wood glue and Mod Podge came up. What do you think about other water-washable plate sealer options?

Art Quote

A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.

Malcolm Gladwell

a cat asking the question: Are You Missing Your Art Supplies?
Click the kitty to visit this free online mini course – Six Tips to Paint More

The post Making a Collagraph from Mat Board with Acrylic Gloss Varnish appeared first on Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.


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