The Watcher

Happy new year everyone! I’m currently preparing and making plans for my printmaking in 2013. My main resolution is to be a bit more selective in the teaching that I take on and careful with the planning of my year so that I allow myself time to develop new ideas, get absorbed in my printmaking and undertake any projects that come up. I’ll write more about that in a future post but I did promise to tell you about the process of making a collagraph and so I’ll do that now 🙂

I’ve always been fascinated by hares and over the years I’ve made a series of collagraphs inspired by them. Many of these have been titled using names found in Seamus Heaney’s translation of a middle English hunting poem called ‘The Names of the Hare’. I am really fortunate to see hares regularly in the countryside where I live and I know a couple good places for watching up to fifteen of them at a time! I have taken numerous photos for reference and spend plenty of time just observing them. It has been a while since I’ve made a new hare collagraph, I seem to have been concentrating on birds lately, but The Lime Gallery in Settle asked me if I would consider creating some new designs for their winter exhibition ‘Feast’. From a purely commercial point of view, hares sell! There has been a huge increase in their popularity as a subject for artists and an ever growing group of customers desiring to own an image of one. From a personal point of view, I love them and making prints of them is never a chore!


I decided to combine another favourite with the hare, an umbellifer. Plants such as Cow Parsley, fennel, dill and angelica have beautiful flower and seed heads that have an architectural quality.

I ought to say a quick word about what a collagraph is. In the true sense of the word, a collagraph is a print made from a collage but it has become a more general term for mixed-media printmaking. In my opinion, it is the most diverse method of making prints. Collagraphs can be printed in relief or intaglio but I prefer to print intaglio. This is when you apply ink to the indented surface of the plate and wipe the excess away from the raised surface. Dampened paper is then laid on top of the plate and passed through a press so that the pressure forces the soft paper into all the nooks and crannies and transfers the ink to create the image. You start with a thin base plate of card, wood or metal and apply textures to the surface (you can also cut into it) and the rougher the texture, the more ink that will be held and darker the tone that is created. If you apply smooth surfaces, they will wipe more cleanly and create a lighter area. An infinite number of materials can be used to create a collagraph plate and part of the fun comes from experimentation.

I always start my designs by doing some rough thumbnail drawings in my sketch book and then I work up the ones that I like best with a bit more detail before settling on my preferred composition.


I also hold the sketch up in the mirror so that I can see whether the design works well in reverse (intaglio prints always come out as the reverse image of the plate) and so that I can spot any defects in the drawing. This usually results in a few changes before I start to cut the plate. When I am happy with the design, I trace it using a well-sharpened soft pencil and then turn the tracing paper face down onto the cardboard and burnish the back with a harder pencil or bone folder to transfer the image. This means that you automatically reverse your original drawing and will end up with a print that looks the way round that you intended it to be. I use mountboard as my base plate because it allows me to both paint and collage onto the surface but also cut into it and peel sections away.

The next stage was to apply acrylic gesso to the areas that I wanted to be textured. I use gesso a lot because it holds the brush marks well and you can draw into it when it is wet to create design details.


I then let the gesso dry totally before cutting into it to create further fine detail. When that is done, I often apply small areas of pva glue to create highlights. The pva dries to a very smooth surface and so the ink wipes away cleanly leaving white areas.

The next step was to score around the outline of the hare, the sun and the umbellifers and peel away the background. I used a very sharp surgical scalpel and changed the blade regularly. I scored into the board just deeply enough to cut through the top layer of paper so that it can be peeled away to reveal the rougher texture beneath. This will print as a mid-tone.


Once the cutting was done, it was time to cut another layer in to add a bit of depth. In this case, I cut a further couple umbellifers. These print as a darker tone to the background.

Once the plate was completed, it had to be sealed with varnish. I used button polish. This is a shellac based furniture polish that seals the plate perfectly but does not diminish the detail. I sealed both sides and the edges and let the varnish dry overnight to make sure it is totally hardened. At this stage, I also cut the background plates that I planned to use in conjunction with the collagraph plate. For my new hare I used a blank piece of card cut to exactly the same size which I planned to roll up in a blend of colour to create a coloured background to print the detail onto.

When the plates were sealed it was time to ink, wipe and print them. I already had a clear idea of what colours I wanted to use and started by rolling up a blend of raw sienna and white which I then rolled onto the base plate.


I then printed the rolled up plate onto dampened and blotted paper using my etching press. I made sure the paper was damp because it needs to be wet for printing intaglio and if I had printed the relief block on dry paper, it would have then expanded when I dampened it for the next stage and it would not have registered properly.

Once I’d printed the bottom layer, I applied raw sienna, white and sepia à la poupée to the collagraph plate. I always apply the ink using my fingers so that I can feel if the plate has any loose sections that need re-gluing. I use nitrile milking gloves to protect my hands and then I can just take those off when I need to handle the paper. Once the whole block was covered in ink, I carefully wiped the top surface using pieces of an old phone directory. I used the flats of my fingertips and a polishing motion to ensure that the ink didn’t get rubbed out of the indentations.


Once the plate was wiped, I placed the already printed block of colour face up on the bottom blanket of my etching press. This is a bit unorthodox but allows me to register my prints easily by eye. I was then able to carefully place the inked and wiped collagraph plate face down onto the block of colour, lay some acid free tissue over the top and the rest of the blankets on top of that. I then wound the whole lot through the press. Then came the exciting part of revealing the first proof 🙂


I was really pleased with the result. It came out just the way I wanted it to! However, something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while until I realised. I’d forgotten his whiskers! This was easily remedied by a few quick cuts with the scalpel to the collagraph plate and the rest of the batch came out fine. You have to repeat the whole inking and wiping process every time you make a print.

The Watcher

So here he is, ‘The Watcher’. I’ve already sold a few so I hope he will be popular.

On a final note, my lovely boyfriend surprised me on Christmas day with a hare! We had been looking at the wonderful feltwork by Emma Fountain at the October craft fair, ‘Crafted by Hand’ in Masham and I’d fallen in love with a beautiful large hare she’d made. Brian later searched for Emma on the internet and secretly commissioned her to create me my own moongazing hare. It was a total surprise and I’m thrilled to bits. Here is a picture:003


8 thoughts on “The Watcher

  1. Just wanted to say that your explantion of the collagraph technique is brilliant! No wonder the results are so superb! Thank you

  2. This is a great explanation of the process Hester. I’ve never considered using gesso before and I love the idea of combining the two plates. I’ve recommended the post to a friend as I think there is so much to learn from it. The finished result is beautiful too. I’m not suprised you’ve sold some already! Thanks for the newsletter by the way. Was really interested to see Jane’s glass work so good luck with the exhibition.

  3. Hi Hester. I’ve just stumbled upon your blog. I had never heard of collagraphs before. That was fascinating thank you, and the finished result is wonderful!

    • Thanks Gary. It’s an exciting printmaking method and everyone that specialises in collagraph works differently. There are so many ways to approach it. I’m currently in Sweden at the printmaking studio in Boras and I’m doing some further experimenting with my collagraphs. Thanks for reading my blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s