In April this year printmaker Emma Jones wrote an excellent review of the Sláma Press, testing it on woodcut, linocut and drypoint. Her prints are usually taken with a bamboo baren or on her converted mangle etching press, so she is well placed to give a fair evaluation of its unique features and performance. The article did prompt interested customers to speculate on how it might work for other printmaking techniques. With those questions in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to take a Sláma Press back to my studio and try it out on my etched plates, as well as see how it performed for collagraph, monoprint and a technique I have been itching to try, Mokulito, or wood lithography.
The Sláma Press Ball Graphic Press is a beautifully crafted hand printing press designed and manufactured in the Czech Republic. It was developed by Milos Sláma during his search for a solution to printing his large-scale linocuts with a tool that was portable and affordable. The design is based on the ball bearing baren, a modern interpretation of a traditional Japanese baren, but with added weight. The freely rotating ball bearings create multiple pressure points across the disc and the disc itself rotates around a central axis as you move the Sláma Press across the paper.
Given Emma had already discussed relief printing, and I knew I would be testing out some heavier papers, I took away both versions of the larger press as well as three of the Additional Weights. Three of the 1 kg weights mounted onto the large Sláma Press of 1.5 kg gave me a 4.5 kg tool to work with. I felt that would be enough for my shoulders, and I didn’t want to remove the large handle and convert it into a more traditional style baren, as I find pressing down exerts too much pressure on my wrists. The vertical handle keeps your wrist in a neutral position, one of its big advantages in my eyes.
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Printing a Collagraph
Collagraphs are a form of print taken from a collaged plate of often found materials. The materials, of varying texture, are stuck down onto card or wood and further worked into if desired. The plates can be sealed or unsealed, inked up as for intaglio or relief, or both on the same plate. Ink will cling to the contours, soak into any absorbent areas, or sit on smooth surfaces and printing can be either by hand or by etching press, therefore the variables are endless.
My small plate was made from torn pieces of paper stuck onto a piece of mount card with Jackson’s Acrylic Gel Medium. I scored the mount card and peeled away its surface layer to reveal the absorbent core as well as sticking down some string. In a few places I painted on a little gel medium, in particular sealing the glued-on circle of paper. The plate was inked with Akua Intaglio Ink, chosen as I know it is very soft with a high pigment load and I knew this would be easy to apply to and wipe from the plate. The paper was dampened Fabriano Unica, a very versatile 250 g printmaking paper. I thought I should use Sláma Press 60 with three weights added for pressure.
This was a challenge. I found it difficult to keep the paper from moving, the ink in this situation not acting in any way to adhere to the paper and stabilise it. This print, though well embossed when inspecting on the back, printed rather like a relief, with the ink taken mainly from the surface or smoother areas. In addition, I found the raised elements, in this case the string, interfered with the contact Sláma Press could make with the plate. To compare, I took the plate over to the little Fome Etching Press and took a ‘ghost’ print to see what ink remained.
If you look at the ghost print below you will see that most of the ink in the absorbent areas has been left behind by the Sláma Press, the darker areas are the torn edges and exposed core of the mount card. The ink from the raised and smooth areas has already been transferred to the paper by the Sláma Press.
On the basis of this basic test, I feel that if you treat your collagraph more as a relief printing project then the Sláma Press could work well but you will need to adapt your process to it rather than the other way round.
Line Etching and Aquatint
Emma, in her article, tested Sláma Press on a drypoint plate, and in fact I have also tried it and it works very well indeed. It is worth remembering here that in drypoint you are using a sharp tool to move the plate material up into a raised burr that will hold your ink. In etching you are biting troughs down into the plate that will hold your ink. This creates a different challenge for the Sláma Press.
I tried a variety of plates I had made for printing on an etching press, beginning with a fine copper plate etching with elements of acrylic aquatint. I chose a smoother paper, the Stonehenge Fine Art Paper, which is a lovely 100% cotton printmaking paper. My thinking being that there would be minimal texture to ‘interfere’ with the fine lines, and again chose the Sláma Press 60 with three of the added weights for pressure.
Above shows a traditional oil based black, Cranfield Traditional Etching Ink Aquatint Black. I did start with a sheet of tracing paper between the dampened Stonehenge paper and the press, but then removed it as I found the Stonehenge paper to be pretty strong. It has picked up the fine lines well but not completely, and the aquatint areas I would say mostly. I also found the paper stayed put on the metal plate, which I think is down to a certain amount of adhesion between the dampened paper and the smooth metal.
The same plate is printed with the Caligo Safewash Etching Black on the Stonehenge paper. The water soluble oil inks can bleed a little more, the paper here coming from the same damp pack.
By way of comparison, here is a zinc plate etching printed with the same Caligo Safewash Etching Black and the Stonehenge paper. This zinc plate has deeper lines than the copper plate etching. This time I have used The Sláma 60 with no additional weights to good effect on a small plate.
And then the same etching printed with Caligo Safewash Etching Ink and Fabriano Unica paper on the Fome 250 mm Etching Press. You can see how much crisper the lines are. The action is so different and as a result you obtain a very different feeling with the Sláma press, somehow a much softer looking print.
Deep Line Etching
Sláma Press describe the limitations of printing a deep line etching and here is one to demonstrate that. Below is a zinc plate etching where deep lines have been bitten and you can see how Sláma Press is picking up the ink from the top edges of each line but missing the ink from the centre. It illustrates how Sláma Press will butt up against the sides of these deep marks but cannot squeeze the paper down enough to pick up all the ink.
Monoprinting is considered a planographic form of printing, where the ink sits on the surface of the plate in the same way that ink sits on a relief plate. The ink can then be drawn into, or impressed into with textured objects as with gel printing plates.
I used a Jackson’s Transparent Printing Plate to make the first print and two inks I had to hand, the Charbonnel Aqua Wash Prussian Blue and the Caligo Safewash Relief Raw Umber. The plate was a Jackson’s Transparent Printing Plate. I have usually printed a mono print from this type of firm plate on an etching press, rolling on quite a thin layer of ink and then creating the image by drawing and wiping into the ink to move it around or lift it away.
Working in this way, I took a print on dry Snowdon Cartridge 130 gsm with the Sláma Press 150 with a single 1 kg weight added. I thought I wouldn’t require quite as much pressure this time. I did find that the press didn’t transfer quite as much ink as I had hoped, although it handled very well, gliding across the smooth plate and paper easily. I did however obtain a really good transfer by rolling the ink onto the plate in a slightly thicker layer.
After printing there was still quite a bit of ink remaining on the plate which can be seen on the ghost print I took on the etching press afterwards. So, with this little adaption of working with a slightly heavier layer of ink, the Sláma Press works extremely well, but be prepared for more ink squish in this situation.
Given the array of substrates that can be used for monoprinting, there is scope for a great deal of experimentation. Thinking about how Sláma Press was initially developed with linocut in mind, I imagine lino as a monoprint plate would be a great option, especially as it can be cut into shapes or its surface carved and incorporated into your work.
Gel Plate Printing
Monoprinting on the gel plate however was a different story. Printing with Speedball Professional Relief Inks it could be argued that merely the palm of your hand is all that is needed to transfer the ink from plate to paper, but given that the question was raised, I thought I would test it out. I used a Gelli Plate 6 x 6 inch and some Speedball Professional Relief Inks
Since the plate was small and quite thick (5 mm) I thought a heavier paper would avoid any bending and creasing over the plate edges. Both the Sláma 150 and the Sláma 60, without any additional weights, gave identical results. Prints were taken on a lovely smooth hot pressed Fabriano Artistico and a slightly more textured Somerset Velvet. A very even transfer of ink was made onto both papers and the movement of the Sláma Press over the plate and paper was very easy, the slight bounce of the Gelli Plate contributing to this. Printing with this gel plate brought to mind a video of Sláma Press printing onto fabric. Many of the soft lino type plates such as Speedy Carve and Essdee Softcut could be used to create an image that could be transferred onto fabric, and it feels like the Sláma Press would be a good choice of tool for this.
Mokulito (Wood Lithography)
Another planographic technique is lithography and we had a question after Emma’s article; how would the Sláma Press work for lithography? I am afraid at the time of writing this I didn’t have access to lithographic stones or ball ground plates but in this case, I feel that if you are working with these you probably have access to a lithographic press. Instead, I took the opportunity to try out some wood lithography, otherwise known as mokulito.
Like traditional lithography, which is based on the principal that water and oil do not mix, mokulito involves drawing an image with grease carrying materials onto a wooden plate as opposed to a stone. Plywood has become the popular option given its economy and light weight. Developed 50 years ago in Japan as a non-toxic alternative to traditional lithography, the processing of the plate is much simpler, with an ‘etch’ of pure gum arabic the only solution required to fix the image.
Despite the slight difference in processing, mokulito prints in the same way as traditional lithography. The dampened paper will pick up the oily ink from the surface of the plate, while at the same time absorbing water from the non-ink areas. I have seen artists print mokulito on etching presses and by hand with ball bearing barens and even backs of spoons.
Despite having much to learn with this fascinating technique, I did manage to create something to test out the press and get surprisingly good results. Using Shina Plywood sanded with 1000 grit paper, I found the most successful drawing medium to be a lithographic drawing ink applied by dip pen or brush as well as particularly soft lithographic crayons. I won’t go into the process here, as I am just a beginner, but you can find lots of information and ‘how to’ videos on the internet. Suffice to say it is an economical and accessible ‘version’ of a lithography. Shall I name names here? I took the following prints with both the 60 and the 150 Sláma Press with a 1 kg weight added.
The paper was dampened Stonehenge Fine Art Paper and the ink was a traditional oil-based relief ink softened with some plate oil. In the second image you can see the black areas deepening, this increases as you repeat ink and I understand only small editions are possible. I found the Sláma Press transferred the ink faithfully to the paper, of course the wood has a slight springiness to it which I feel helped.
I hope this article goes some way to answering the questions raised. Adapting to this very versatile printmaking tool could open up a whole world of possibilities for the printmaker who cannot accommodate a large press or desires a portable option for taking prints of all sizes.