Way back when I first came to the US, I started using Van Gelder Simili Japon paper for my own platinum printing. It was from the last remaining mill in Holland yet it was easily available in large sheets and had good wet strength. The downside was the watermark. Running the length of the longest side were the words ‘Holland’ at each end and in the middle its huge logo. These all encroached many inches into the sheet, so you lost quite a bit of paper, unless you wanted a print with the word ‘lland’ or ‘Holla’ in it.
Over the years other papers came along that were supposedly better for platinum printing, improved versions of Arches Platine, Weston Diploma, COT 320, and my use of the Van Gelder faded away. But recently I’ve found myself wanting to make prints on it once again. You can still buy the large sheets from New York Central, my original supplier, but that watermark… Then I found that they make an easily available, but lighterweight version, in convenient pads of 25 sheets for calligraphy. It’s only available in 12 x 9.5″ size but my prints are only 7 x 7″ anyway. Perfect! And it has good wet strength too.
With my work being so small, it’s easy for the texture of a paper to become distracting and lose detail. But after making just one print on this paper I remembered why I loved it so much, all those years ago. So the new prints I’ve been making are all on the Simili Japon, 50/50 platinum and palladium.
‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ is the motto of my favourite pencil in the studio and darkroom, the Blackwing, and one which I imagine can apply to most things in life. A classic, loved by animators, writers, composers and artists alike — even Paul Kinsey used one.
My using it may also imply that I can either a) draw or b) write. Wrong.
One of the problems with polymer plates is that they can be susceptible to scratches, if not handled properly. I must have picked up the smallest speck of grit when I inked this plate, because once I started to wipe it, these horizontal and vertical lines appeared, and they hadn’t been on the previous five prints I’d pulled earlier.
In situations like this, there’s nothing you can do except go back and make a new plate. Fortunately, because I keep very detailed notes, the second plate ended up being practically identical to the first and I picked up an hour later where I’d left off. It’s not always this simple, believe me.
I have been proofing the first plate with a variety of Charbonnel black inks, which I probably use 90% of the time, plus Gamblin Carbon Black. I had recently run out of the Charbonnel equivalent and tried to buy a 1lb can locally, without luck, so I ended up with the Gamblin, just to see me through a small edition, and I still had it knocking around. It’s OK, but it’s a lot looser than the stiffer Charbonnel version that I’m used to, and prefer.
The Charbonnel inks were Carbon Black, Soft Black and Universal, both with and without modifiers. Over the years I’ve found I’m needing to modify inks much less than, say, 15-16 years ago when I first started using polymer plates. Part of that is due to the ability to control the contrast of the film positive within Photoshop. When I started with this process I was still making film positives with large format sheet film, an enlarger and chemistry in the darkroom – a much harder thing to get right.
The first proofs had great separation in the highlights and mid-tones but the shadows were just a little too deep and black and losing detail. Working with a looser ink gave better separation throughout but the sky was becoming over wiped and too light. I made a second plate, increasing the aquatint screen exposure to lighten the shadows a little while at the same time darkening the high tones slightly. Being the very first image in the series, it’s especially important to get this right as it will set the standard for the remaining prints to match to. After a day of proofing I finally decided on Charbonnel Universal Black.