Blocking Light In A Creative Way

Or how I learned to rethink my materials…

Broadly speaking, my work is about process and mark-making, as driven by the curiosity with media/process manipulation. Sometimes it seems as if the actual prints, as objects in and of themselves, are more of a by-product of my experimentation. In a way the images that end up on paper are really just my research notes, with an added bonus of having a bit of visual interest.

Because many of the avenues that I’ve explored started with a need for adaptation (following the old adage of necessity being the mother of invention), I am particularly fond of purposely seeking constraints to use as a spring board when I’m feeling a little stuck or in need of a new puzzle to ponder.

Constraints can be good things; they limit the limitless imagination of an artist, and they often prevent the spontaneous combustion (or complete freeze) of a mind with way too many options at hand. One such constraint it the topic of this post, and was one of the major spring stepping stones that brought me to my current work with electrostatics.

After the first big contract job in my new studio, I was left with a glut of photopolymer plate. (I use Toyobo Printite, KM43, mostly, if you’re curious.) Having just made 40+ editions utilizing the photographic properties of the polymer to turn sketchbook drawings into “etchings”, I had very little desire left do the same for myself. But because it would be silly (and wasteful) to not use these leftover materials, I needed to re-evaluate it’s use to make it palatable for my own ends.

While printmaking is replete with overlapping processes, where similar (or the same) marks can be made using different techniques, I wanted to figure out what was unique to photopolymer; what can it do that nothing else can achieve. The glaringly obvious and first thought is it’s photographic sensitivity. But I didn’t want to just make a transparency with drawing materials, and after some thought, I realized that I wanted to work the plate directly. But how?

How does photopolymer work? By the inclusion of “photo” in the name, it indicates a sensitivity/reactivity to light. In this case, the polymer hardens upon exposure to ultra violet light. Before it is exposed and hardened, this particular polymer is water soluble and will dissolve when in contact with water-based liquids.

When making a photopolymer gravure, a positive transparency is laid upon the polymer-coated plate and is exposed to light. The white areas allow for a complete exposure, black areas block light completely, and the grays allow for any percentage of exposure in between. So, when you get right down to it, all that is happening is that light is being blocked in varying degrees to create an image that can be developed and then printed. When broken down in those terms, and when the mythos of “photography” is shed, a whole other world of possibilities opens up. All we have to do is block light in a creative way!

Since the habit of tweaking or substituting materials/processes was already in place (see the fluidity of prinmaking techniques above), the brainstorming came pretty easily. Photograms were naturally the first thing to explore and is what lead me magnetic field lines. The gist of a photogram is that if you aren’t going to use a film, just start piling some shit on top of the plate and see what happens! The foundation for this brainstorm was obviously built by the pioneer and alt-process photographers.

I am not entirely sure why magnetism, or it’s use in that ubiquitous grade-school science experiment (that I am not certain I actually did) came to mind, but one day I though, “hey! iron filings can block light…”


One only needs to consider the characteristics of what one would like to achieve and start asking: what else can this be used for, or what could be used in its place? How would any kind of substitution affect results? Or just, Oh! What happens when I do THIS?!

These experiments were done in 2012.

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