Drawing with Another Dimension

(entry by Jeanne Norman Chase, a story from Design magazine)

Editor's note: Although this entry is not specifically about woodblock printmaking, the process of embossing a drawing that Ms. Chase describes here can readily be used as a complementary technique in the production of a woodblock print, and indeed, at the end of the article, such a print is illustrated.

Embossing is a printing technique which has been in use for many years on such items as calling cards and stationery, and in contemporary times in many other printmaking arts. I decided to carry this technique of raised relief design into the realm of drawing.

Embossed pictureFor my embossing statement I designed a rough sketch of my mother from a photograph of her at a young age. To complete the composition, I worked up an old photograph of my father from the same time period and added a purely imaginary Jeanne Norman Chase as a young girl. A composition such as this has to work with the drawing and the embossing as a unit. After I had my composition together, it was time to start the art work.

The selection of paper for such a project is important and certain factors have to be taken into consideration. The effect I wanted to obtain was delicacy, and I needed fine detail and sensitive shading. Also, the paper would have to be soaked in water in order to take the embossing technique effectively. With these factors in mind, I decided on a half sheet of Rives paper; this is one hundred percent rag and has a beautiful smooth finish.

It is a good idea to always have on hand a long thin sheet of scrap paper of the type that is to be used for the drawing. This is handy for testing different drawing effects and also serves as a protective hand rest so that you do not smudge the paper. Keep in mind though, that Rives paper and most rag papers do not take kindly to too much erasing, as it breaks down the fibers in the paper and leaves a rough surface.

When the composition has been completely drawn on the selected paper, it should be sprayed with a good fixative. I prefer an acrylic fixative, which can be worked on again with pencil or other mediums. The acrylic fixative is tough and as the embossed drawing is going to take a bath, it needs a strong fixative.

Next, tracing paper is put down on the drawing or print and the areas to be embossed are traced using a soft lead pencil. Using this as your pattern, you transfer the embossed pattern onto your template. If this embossing template is only going to be used once, mat board is the ideal material as it is easy to cut and holds up quite well. I have used mat board for editions of as many as 25 prints, and if it is coated with a protective coating it will withstand many printings.

Using a large X-acto knife, the areas to be embossed are then cut out. A little practice is needed to be able to handle the knife correctly. Making circles or curved lines can be tricky but with a little practice you will be able to do it with ease.

After making the template, you are ready to give your drawing or print a bath. In the case of a drawing, be sure that it is well sprayed and dried before soaking it. It can be a traumatic experience the first time you fill your tray with water and gently lower a drawing that you have labored over into the water, but if it is sprayed the drawing will still be there when you come back to retrieve it. Leave the drawing or print to soak while you prepare the light table and blotting table for the embossing. I usually soak the paper for at least 30 minutes to ensure that it is sufficiently saturated.

Two tables or working areas are needed - one large area is needed to blot the drawing or print of excess moisture, and the second (a light table) as the actual embossing area. Tape the template (mat board) to the light table so that it will stay in a fixed position during the embossing.

Before removing the drawing or print from the water, put one dry sheet of blotter paper, larger than the drawing or print, down on the table. Have another sheet of blotter paper near by. Lift the drawing or print from the tub very gently, as any sudden movement with the paper so full of water can tear the paper. Lay the paper down on the blotter paper, making sure it is flat. Put the second sheet of blotter paper on top of the drawing or print. Press the papers together until the excess moisture has been removed. Sometimes an old fashioned rolling pin can be used or if one is not available, use your hands to smooth the blotters.

Employ patience for this next step. Lay the blotted drawing or print on top of the template (which is on the light table). By carefully maneuvering the paper around you will be able to tell when the drawing is in the proper position. When it is in place, lay a large sheet of thin plastic over it. This plastic keeps the paper from tearing during the embossing process, and also helps hold it in place.

Using an embossing tool, or the wrong end of an old smooth paint brush, I carefully start to trace around the raised matboard template. Just the right pressure on the embossing tool is needed to make a clean indented edge. Too weak and embossing is not seen clearly, too heavy and you can tear a hole in your paper through the plastic. Try practicing on a damp sheet of paper first to get the feel of embossing.

To dry the drawing or print and prevent wrinkles or curled edges, place it on a dry sheet of blotting paper and put another sheet on top. Put a heavy, flat weight on top - a sheet of glass larger than the paper is ideal. A few heavy books on top will keep it evenly weighted.

After the thinking, composing, drawing (or printing), tracing, cutting, soaking and embossing, you are rewarded with an example of another dimension in your art work.

'Sylvia's New Fur'

(copyright 1998 Jeanne Norman Chase)