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keithwms

Keeping it "Fresh"

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by , 05-22-2009 at 02:22 PM (1304 Views)
Recently I was persuaded by my good friend and co-experimentalist, Diwan Bhathal, to try some metal-plate ink printing, which produces results resembling intaglio.

The process is simple: you lay out a print, sketch it roughly onto a metal plate with a wax pencil, add ink, flip the inked plate onto some paper and brayer it. The ink partially transfers to the paper, and you get a print.

Faced with the task of drawing my image onto the plate and inking it, I conjured up all manner of difficult ways to get a more exact facsimile. I proposed cyanotyping a negative onto the plate and using that as a template; I proposed outlining a print with pencil and then rubbing the pencil off onto the plate, like we've all done with tracing paper. I proposed numerous other complicated solutions.

Diwan said "nah," handsketched an image, inked it, and produced a very nice print in a few minutes. He claimed that working quickly and without templates/guides would keep the image "fresh."

Now, Diwan knows a good deal about art and intaglio in particular, so this wasn't a comment I could ignore. In fact, the "fresh" comment caused me immediate discomfort. How am I supposed to put "fresh" into something? When it comes to photography and printing and drawing, I am typically slow, methodical, and I have a strong tendency to discard most of my work! The product is either acceptable to me from start to finish or... into the dustbin it goes. Forgotten.

Diwan succeeded in getting under my skin with this requirement that a print be "fresh."

So what is "fresh" ? I do know that it is the opposite of contrived. It is not too deliberate nor affected. "Fresh" has an impromptu feeling of movement, impromptu like a phrase spoken ad libitum, rather than a recitation. If that's the case then I suppose that Monet was the ultimate practitioner of 'fresh"... I've read that he may have painted works like "Impression, Soleil Levant" in only a few minutes. Perhaps there is a necessary speed required to produce freshness, because the impression has to be delivered to the canvas before too many thoughts (and doubts) start to cloud it over and overcomplicate it.

"Fresh" is, above all, not stale. That sounds obvious, but if we start to look at photography and printing, it's not at all clear to me how to make "fresh" happen without sacrificing something... detail, tone, all those little things we sweat to get the best possible print. Perhaps, then, "fresh" requires acceptance of all those little things that really won't play much role in the effectiveness of the final print.

I should complete the story of me, Diwan, and the metal-ink printing. Eventually, I relented and tried one myself. So I set a print to the side, duplicated its basic lines and curves in wax, inked it up as freshly as I could, trying very hard not to overthink each stroke. I did not erase, I did not "fix" mistakes. Oh, I definitely wanted to! But I did not. I admit that I was thinking far more broadly about the subject than I normally would, under an enlarger. It was even therapeutic. Within a half hour or so I had an inked plate and was ready to print it. To my delight, Diwan himself wanted to make a few changes, but stepped back when I declared it fresh. So we printed my plate and I got something.

And it was indeed fresh.
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