Cleanliness Is Required

Ah, the printmaking studio. Now I remember! Everything has to stay perfectly spotless when it’s not in use.


There are a lot of necessary skills in the printmaking studio. First is the artistic skill to take an idea and turn it into artwork that’s suitable for the medium. Then there are the technical skills to carve a block, ink it correctly, and pull a good print. But underlying everything are good procedures for handling the paper, the ink, and the tools so that ink only goes where it’s intended. It might take hours, days, or weeks to prepare a plate for printing only to have the print ruined by a fingerprint or a table smudge.

[clean tools]

One habit that can help is to make sure that all tools are kept clean whenever they’re not in use. The end-of-day procedure takes about 30 minutes but ends with all tools and work surfaces being spotlessly clean. First, I use the cheapest vegetable oil to dilute the ink and lots of newspapers to soak it up. Then, I use CitraSolv to clean up the oil. The glass slab gets cleaned with an organic glass cleaner.

[progressively dirty rags]

After newspaper, I use clean newsprint, then shop rags to clean the tools. Dirty rags can be used to clean very dirty tools. As they get cleaner, I switch to cleaner and cleaner rags. As the rags get used, they progress from clean to half clean to dirty to “burn pile”. Every night after printing I take the rags home and torch them. This is an old habit from art school where the “empty every night” bucket got carried to the incinerator. Back then we used mineral spirits that would, apparently, spontaneously combust if we didn’t empty the pail. Now I just burn them so they don’t build up and make for a heavy, greasy trash run.

[Oily rag fire]

The artistic and technical skills are going to take me a while to master, but I can, at the very least, make sure that I follow spotless cleaning procedures from the get-go so that I’m not hindered by this aspect of the work when I finally get good at the art.

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