The thing that appeals to me about printmaking is that it is all about solving problems. I have been printing at home for about two years, after attending a course on drypoint and collagraph printing and getting very fed up trying to share a press, in limited time, with twelve other people. I was determined to explore what I could do at home under my own control.
Initially, I experimented with monoprints and water based block printing inks, but found this unsatisfactory. I needed a press for drypoint and collagraph printing. Presses available for amateur use had drawbacks:
- restricted bed size
- need to be solidly mounted
Internet research and talking to printmakers showed that a converted mangle was a viable alternative. I managed to find one in good condition on ebay in the next county for £50. Its rubber rollers were in excellent condition and it worked straight out of the box. It is not small but is self supporting and rolls away. The top half can rotate down into the bottom space.
I used it like that for a year, but when I was offered re-sleeved rollers from an identical mangle, I grabbed the chance. A local engineering firm had re-sleeved the rollers with steel for a friend for £100. Unfortunately, when she dismantled her mangle to fit them, a casting broke. It must have already been cracked.
We were obviously concerned that we would dismantle a fully operational press and break it or not be able to fit the rollers, but, in fact, it proved pretty straight forward. We soaked screws and pivots in oil overnight and then took it apart and had it back together again the next day. Apart from the rollers, it is unchanged. Here you can see my hand rollers hanging from it and the box I use to store my inks, scrim etc. I have left the wooden drip tray and use it to store palette knives, ruler, craft knife, etc. I use a piece of MDF as a bed with a combination of a proper felt blanket, a piece of old woolen blanket and a piece of camping carrimat. The mangle rolls away into the corner of the breakfast room. I love its gears and sculptural qualities.
In order to print, I set up my kitchen with a garden gravel tray by the sink to soak papers. I use tabloid format newspaper to work on, so that I can keep turning a page for a clean sheet. I have acquired small sheets of perspex for mixing and rolling up ink. These came from either the garage (my husband never throws away a bit of wood or a piece of sheet material) or WRAP, Watford Recycling Arts Project. This is a materials warehouse in Watford where local business put excess materials for the use of subscribing artists, art groups or schools. It’s a truly wonderful resource for a printmaker.
I do have a large piece of thick glass which is perfect for rolling up, but I don’t often use it because of its size, weight and general unwieldiness.
I don’t use blotting paper to blot my damped supports as it becomes dirty, creased and is difficult to store flat. Instead, I have settled on a stack of ancient linen tea towels (probably originally my Nan’s). These are very absorbent, are so old as to have no texture, and wash and iron flat excellently. I set these up on my ironing board, which really focuses the attention on clean working.
Since I am working in my kitchen, I have decided to use Safewash inks. These oil based inks clean up with soap and water and are easily washed from hands, tea towels and work surfaces, although I work hard at limiting my inky area.
Once I have printed, if I am using damped paper, my prints are stacked on a table on a piece of MDF (for flatness and protection of the table) between kitchen paper and under large books. The kitchen paper gets cycled, dried and reused.
I am very lucky that my printmaking has the support of my husband who’s hobby is model engineering. He has helped me immensely with taking apart and re-rollering the mangle. He is also unfailingly wonderful at sawing up pieces of perspex and MDF and never complains when the kitchen is in printing rather than cooking mode. I am also grateful to Lucy of Printmakingafloat, who regularly refurbishes mangles, and who was generous with advice and allowed me to buy the rollers at cost.