JACK FRENCH

Photopolymer Printmaking

I’m mid-way through a course of photopolymer printmaking at the Spike Print Studio in Bristol, taught by Martyn Grimmer. When I signed up for this course I was looking for a way of printing photographs that lent them a character and depth that I’ve found lacking in commercial printing with a digital indigo press. I wanted to work hands-on with analogue machines and materials instead of being at a computer. Like most people, I spend enough time with screens. 

For years now I’ve been attracted by the photogravure course that runs over the summer at the Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE’s Bower Ashton campus, but I was put off by the cost and the full week duration. It turns out photopolymer is an updated version of photogravure and the two courses cover the same ground. I’d rather do an evening class over 10 weeks because it allows more time to let things sink in between sessions. 

I had only a vague, idealistic notion of how I imagined my photos would look printed like this, imbued with some kind of gothic atmosphere from the mid-19th century, and somehow, right from the first attempt, with beginners luck, I was getting what I wanted. A dream come true. 

I’ve enjoyed every aspect of the course, including working together with my classmates in the studio, with everyone engaged in making their own images, but helping each other out too. The procedure is quite complex, but it’s really just a question of remember to follow all the steps in the correct sequence. It’s a slow and almost meditative task of inking up the plate and rubbing it down and then running it through the press before lifting the paper to reveal the printed image. We’ve done Chine Collé as well, which adds an extra dimension, a layer of delicate Japanese paper. 

I feel at home with printmaking in the old fashioned way. I want to pursue it, make the most of it. I can use what I’ve learned to make photobooks as artist’s books to represent some of the photography projects I’ve done over the last few years, to bring them to life and create a coherent body of work. 

I’ve not yet followed up my Nordic Songs & Fairytales book because I felt something was missing. I wanted to make a book entirely myself rather than relying on commercial printers. I bought a big expensive digital printer to that end, but I could never make much sense of it. It comes back to being one step removed, behind a screen. Now I’m getting somewhere, with new skills and old technology.  

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