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December, 2003

Painting with Plates:
Printmaking Taken to Another Level

Editor's Note: On a visit to San Antonio, Texas, last year, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Southwest School of Art & Craft. At the time there was a faculty show in the gallery. Margaret Craig’s etchings in the “All School Exhibition” enraptured me, since they were so very different from any others I had previously seen. I recently contacted Prof. Craig to ask that she submit an article on her work for publication. The following article is her response. The samples of her art work tell more of her exciting story.
 
Hobgoblins & Pixie Perforation, by Margaret Craig, 2003.
Hobgoblins & Pixie Perforation, 38" x 48" Mixed Media Margaret Craig, 2003.
Click for larger view.
Painting with plates: This is the description that one of my students used to explain the process in my work, and I think it was quite apt. In my recent work I don’t have a prescribed goal of visual outcome, but the piece develops in response to the previous layer. My response is more formal than expressive. I like the interaction of color and shape, and the element of surprise that comes with each run of the press. I was pleased when I was asked to do this article. I was glad to make a printmaking connection with my home state. When I left Maryland at 18 to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I don’t think I knew what printmaking was; and I certainly wasn’t going to study Art. I didn’t turn out to be an engineer like my father either, but wound up getting a degree in biology secondary education. I got through that to please my parents, and then went back for a Bachelor of Science in Art and a Master of Art in Painting. There I took my first etching class with Fran Myers and was hooked. The irony of studying painting at arguably the best printmaking school in the country did not escape me, especially when I wound up focusing on printmaking for my MFA at University of Texas, San Antonio.

 
Red Well, by Margaret Craig, 2002.
Red Well, 32" x 37" Mixed Media,
Margaret Craig, 2002.
Click for larger view.
 
   Void Red Reaction, 
			<br>by Margaret Craig.
Void Red Reaction, by Margaret Craig.
Click for larger view.
 
That original biology degree is what informs my work, providing both concept and imagery. For many years my work was about the illustration of ideas. My intent was to create work that would engender thought about the relationship between humans and their surroundings. Recently it has become less literal. It is now about the manipulation of form: perhaps a scientific pursuit of aesthetic sensibilities. And this is in a sense a reflection of my human biology: the need to create and control. The process controls the work. Each layer is a response to the results of the last experiment. And the imagery is not as overt. It is about the small worlds viewed through a microscope, of holes that drain color and garbage, and black holes that drain galaxies; in my mind it spans from the microscopic to the universal. At UTSA I first learned about the prospect of Nontoxic Printmaking, and when given the opportunity to set up the print shop at Southwest School of Art and Craft, I got the chance to really use it. Nontoxic of course appealed to the little biologist but also the unrequited engineer. I got to experiment with a whole new group of chemicals and invented grounds to mimic natural images such as crackle, bubble and pond scum effects on copper etching plates. From this I developed a vocabulary of plates that I use in my “paintings.” I have drawers of shaped plates labeled “texture plates,” or “Circle plates,” or “photo plates.” (I have had wonderful results using Z*acril and now “Blue Shot” photofilms.)
 
Catalitic Brain Excitor with Trepan and Drool, by Margaret Craig.
Catalitic Brain Excitor with Trepan and Drool,
44" x 58" Mixed Media, Margaret Craig, 2003.
Click for larger view.
 
Lately, when I set out to work, I start with a watercolor monoprint just to get something on the paper to go from. For those not familiar with this medium, taught to me by Dennis Olsen, a matt Plexiglas plate is wiped with gum arabic and let dry, then painted with standard artist watercolors. With me it usually involves big wet puddles that form interesting pasterns as they dry. The dry plate is then run through the press with wet paper; that activates the paint, and the gum becomes a release agent. Then I start layering on the etchings and collagraphs. When I feel the print is “done” I glue it down to a wooden support. After this I may drill into the image and board, poor plaster and carve into it. I may paint on the print. Sometimes I use acrylic medium to make clear etchings. I ink the plate, pour medium over it, and let it dry. When I pull it off the plate, I have a print I can glue to the “painting” wherever I want, and the underlying print shows through. All of the above techniques let me play with the illusion of space, verses actual three-dimensional elements. Usually the piece is finished with a layer of clear Tar gel, because I’m a magpie and I like things shiny. If glassy shinny is called for I bite the bullet and use good old toxic epoxy resin.
 
Microbial Catterwallen with Gelatin Rift Valley, by Margaret Craig.
Microbial Catterwallen with Gelatin Rift Valley,
60" x 44" Mixed Media, Margaret Craig, 2003.
Click for larger view.
 
My current employment is Chair of Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking at the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio, Texas. We are a nonprofit, non-degree granting art school, with diversity in student population from hobbyists to professional artists. I teach various classes, mostly in printmaking and painting, and administer over about 20 adjunct faculty. Fortunately, my job description also includes creating and promoting my own work. I show regularly around Texas and sometimes outside, but do not have any formal representation at this time. Like my job, which keeps me involved with lots of interesting people and a multiplicity of ways to make art, I am waiting for a gallery with the right fit. ---Margaret Craig
 
Duplicate Kournal, by Margaret Craig.
Duplicate Kournal, by Margaret Craig.
Click for larger view.
 
Clear Tar Gel may be used to pull prints on paper too. Using a fairly tough paper, I place non-sticky masking tape to form a mask, cutting it to form the exact shape of the plate (see illustrations). Ink the plate as normal and then pour a little Tar Gel on the surface of the plate. Use a small card to pull the Tar Gel into a thin, even coating; then invert on to the paper, being careful to stay within the tape edges. Apply firm pressure. Some Tar Gel will leak, but don’t worry about that. Place a piece of newsprint over top and place a weight on the print. About an hour or two later take off the weight and newsprint, and carefully pull off the tape. Flip the print still attached to the plate so the back of the print is up, and let dry for 24 hours. Then gently pull off your plate. The ink on the print is still wet and needs to dry uncovered for at least another 24 hours. This is a great method if you don’t have access to a press; and it can actually produce an even better impression, since the Tar Gel runs into every grove.
 
Template Demo.
Template Demo.
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Plates in place.
Plates in place.
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Watercolor monoprint.
Watercolor monoprint.
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Plate placement.
Plate placement.
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