The resulting print becomes an impression of an image, rather than an exact representation, each print being quite unique. The actual printing is archival and permanent which takes on a warmth and beauty that is not present in any other photographic process. The process is environmentally friendly as photopolymer plates require no toxic chemicals using only water.
The polymer plate is twice exposed to uv light, once in contact with an aquatint screen (a random patterned screen producing a similar effect to a halftone) and then to the image acetate positive. After both exposures and having removed the film under a safe light, the plate is immersed in water and gently brushed with a soft sponge or brush for several minutes. This washout removes the unexposed and unhardened areas of polymer (shadows) while those that were exposed to uv light harden, become insoluble and remain on the plate (highlights). After processing the plate it is dried and re-exposed to uv light to cure it and enable it to withstand the pressure of the press.
The plate is then inked and gently wiped by hand using tarlatan to remove the ink from the lightest areas, but being careful to leave ink in the grooves of the darkest shadow areas. The finished plate is then placed on the bed of an intaglio press, covered with damp etching paper and the felts and run through the press. Under pressure the ink is squeezed out of the deep grooves and onto the paper to form the image. Carefully, the felts are lifted and the print pulled away from the plate and laid out to dry. The plate can then re-inked, wiped and printed until the edition is complete.
Each print is hand pulled onto heavy grade archival Somerset or Fabriano Fine Art paper, which produces beautiful tonal and linear intaglio prints that present incredible depth and perspective. The thrill of lifting a print from the plate never ceases to excite!
My journey as a specialised printmaker started at the influential and inspirational John Howard Print Studios in Penryn where I create my photopolymer plates. I combine my photography with traditional printmaking techniques to produce small runs of limited edition fine art prints through this photogravure process.
This slow but meditative art of making etchings has changed my approach to photographing my surroundings. At times the process can be frustrating and sometimes variable, but always satisfying to create from plate to print. I never quite know if it will be a success until I finally ink the plate and pull it through the press and then breathe a deep sigh of relief.