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  1. #1
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Pushing Boundaries Problem - and Excitement

    For the last couple of years I have challenged myself to become a much better printer. I want my prints to have this 'organic' and very vivid tonality with lots of beautiful tonal shifts, elegance, highlights that are muted but have that inner glow, deep and strongly black blacks, and well defined mid-tones that carry the picture content forward.

    I have no real rules of what the final outcome should be, but essentially I want the pictures to leap off the surface of the paper, and engage me or whoever happens to be viewing the print.

    So, I have gone through hundreds, if not thousands of sheets of mostly Ilford MGIV fiber matte paper. I love it for its surface, for the way it tones, how easy it is to spot once the print is done, but also for its consistency from box to box. It's my staple paper, and with my negatives and Ethol LPD (replenished) paper developer, my prints almost always end up printing well at Grade 3 filtration. I use other papers too, and lay my hands on boxes of Forte Polygrade that I can manage to find, and I really love Ilford Warmtone semimatte for portraiture. Stunning paper. But mainly I stick with the MGIV matte fiber.

    Sometimes I use split grade printing with difficult negatives, other times I flash the paper when printing negatives with lots of highlight contrast. I dodge and burn my prints such that I try to make it 'invisible' in the final print, as if the tones were just like that in the negative. I don't use masks - it's too much work and I usually find it isn't worth my time. I outflank the prints, by making a test strip using the f-stop printing method first, and then I make two prints - one a bit too dark, and another too light. On purpose. Just to see where highlights and shadows take me and how much I should dodge and burn in the work print, and then go from there. It gives a very solid foundation for the print.
    I also tone the prints. Sometimes a lot, and other times not so much. It depends on the picture. I use four toners to get what I want.

    Setting the stage - I try very hard to become a better printer, looking with a very critical eye on the prints, working them over if I'm not happy the first time. Or the second time. But I do find that I usually nail it pretty good in the first round, and it's rare that I have to go back and re-do something. I'm proud of that. I've gotten better, and I hope to continue that way and improve basically with each printing session. Today I think I'm decent. I go to museums and galleries to find inspiration from masters of the past and today, and I look at the work of fellow photographers today, exchange views, exchange darkroom tips, etc. We look at each others prints and it's wonderful to share like this.
    So overall I'm extremely satisfied and excited with how things are coming along. I'm starting to feel ready to really have a go at some of my past material and do the pictures justice after a decade of improving.
    I do find it frustrating sometimes, though, that I see clear evidence of how I improve, and think a lot about what I might accomplish when I improve to a level that's better than what I am at today, and then I look at my old prints and compare, thinking that I will want to always reprint my work, which becomes impossible, because the amount of work I amass just keeps growing.

    Does anybody else find themselves in a situation similar to mine? The desire to aspire to becoming one of the upper echelons of printmaking. But at the same time finding it frustrating that printing something today will basically be a learning experience for getting better, basically rendering a print a little bit obsolete as soon as it's created. It's a thing of never being satisfied, I guess, a desire to push boundaries and limits, to find out what's beyond my current scope of knowledge and skill. It is a wonderful journey, don't get me wrong, I'm both happy and proud about what I'm able to do, and a prospect of becoming even better.
    Last edited by Thomas Bertilsson; 10-09-2012 at 08:08 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  2. #2
    Bob Carnie's Avatar
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    Grasshopper

    You have reached the 9th level, you must leave and find yourself happy with what you can do .. you are one with printmaking.

  3. #3

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    +1 Bob. Thomas it sounds like you're in a great place, I get where you're coming from on reprints I was in a similar position with writing. I do have an idea that may help with that allow yourself one or two reprints of an image or 2 every so often that you can give to someone who will truly appreciate the new print.As an example redo a portrait and give it to one of their relatives, or a landscape to someone who likes that place or photo..

  4. #4

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    Is anything ever complete?

  5. #5
    David Brown's Avatar
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    Thomas:

    I am very close to what you are feeling. I may be a little more satisfied with my printing "at this point", than you express, but I also know it can and will get better. I am at the point of revisiting old negatives, too. Some as far back as 40 years. It's a bit exciting, isn't it?

    PS: also pretty much set on MGIV.

  6. #6
    coigach's Avatar
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    Thomas, I'm an admirer of your superb work, even through the muddy lens of scanned prints on a monitor screen. Bet your prints look amazing in the flesh.

    Constant critical reflection of your vision and the means you choose to achieve it are the raw materials for producing great art.

    But don't beat yourself up either. Pour yourself a skelper of a dram of malt whisky (I personally recommend Mortlach 16 year old!) and bask in the contented glow. You produce phenomenal work, and are an inspiration. Looking forward to seeing more in the years to come.

    Gavin

    PS- I am a thousand years away from your situation in my recent adventures with Polymer Photogravures. But I still enjoy the drams...

  7. #7
    Ambar's Avatar
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    I've changed inerests and areas quite a few times in my life, professionally aswell as personally.. I've been seriosely into photography for the past 2 years and I'm about to start-up my first lab and initiate myself on a print making journey.
    As a trained professional musician (and in other inquiries of life) I came to the conslusion that progress at a skill is alot like the famouse mathematical conundrum of always travelling a fraction of the distance between you and your destination. (Your a mile away from your destination and then you walk until you're only half a mile away. You walk again but you're just a 1/4 of a mile away. You walk again but now you only get 1/8 of a mile away. etc..). You never truely get there, but then again, how much fun would that really be?

  8. #8

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    Thomas,

    We all must live in the present.
    Accept that your work skills ,today,take you up the ladder to better work tomorrow..
    Look forward not backwards.

    Howard Dvorin

  9. #9
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Bob - I have always wondered at what point I'd be happy with what I've got in terms of skills and final prints in order to be happy with what I've got. I'm writing this in fear of becoming too obsessed with print quality. While it's good to be critical, and to actually pay close attention to the final results, I don't want it to be a road block to finishing prints and portfolios either.

    Larry - thanks for those words. I think what I need to do is to finish portfolios of series of pictures, and then leave them be until there is a request or a desire to reprint something (as a gift like you suggest, or a purchase).

    Ghostman - never.

    David - It is exciting. 40 year old negs - that must feel great to do. I had an experience last autumn when my father and I together printed a negative he made in 1963 of my great-grandfather. It turned out really great, and there was a sense of coming full circle with a portion of our lives that has come to pass, strengthening the wonderful experiences both have had with him. Those pictures become valuable with age, it seems.

    Gavin - thanks a ton for the kind words. I think you like my work better than I. Usually when I ponder printing options I indulge in a not so wee dram of Highland Park single malt. Sometimes the 18yo, but usually the less expensive 12yo. Mortlach, I say, your taste is exquisite.
    Have you chatted to Max Marinucci? He's been going head first into photogravure lately; copper gravure but still very much the same outcome as your polymer works. I'd like to see some of your plates some day too. Preferably over a glass of something good...
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  10. #10
    coigach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson View Post

    Gavin - thanks a ton for the kind words. I think you like my work better than I. Usually when I ponder printing options I indulge in a not so wee dram of Highland Park single malt. Sometimes the 18yo, but usually the less expensive 12yo. Mortlach, I say, your taste is exquisite.
    Have you chatted to Max Marinucci? He's been going head first into photogravure lately; copper gravure but still very much the same outcome as your polymer works. I'd like to see some of your plates some day too. Preferably over a glass of something good...
    Ha - life is too short for bad whisky. Malts are one of my passions (along with jazz, books and visual art) and I'm a bit of an anorak. Tasting notes for independent bottlings of Glen Garioch 19 year old anyone?

    Have had a good few emails back and forth with Max - regarding ink mixes, paper choices, calibration curves, plate wiping techniques etc etc. He exposes digitally enlarged negs onto copper plates, me onto polymer plates, but pretty similar workflow. Except he's a lot better than me! His results are pretty special, see DPUG gallery. Am currently recovering from 2x recent bouts of shoulder surgery, having bones cut and metal inserted (see picture) , so no wiping ink off plates for me in the studio for some time unfortunately...Click image for larger version. 

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