Art and Stickiness

Stickiness has magical implications for printmaking. Fluids with different degrees of stickiness, technically known as viscosity, will resist one other – literally pushing each other away on a molecular level. If you’ve poured a cocktail of orange juice and Campari, the luminous separation into layers of red and orange is the result of differing viscosities. In printmaking, this allows multiple colors to be applied to one plate. A thinned-out, runny ink is rolled on first, then wiped away in some areas; a sticky ink is rolled over top. Careful rollering ensures the inks retain their separate colors, and careful wiping enables the two inks to blend in some places, creating gorgeous intermediate tones and textures.

It’s a finicky process, difficult to control – but it yields spectacular prints, each of which is entirely unique. For last night’s linocut class, I added a great deal of burnt plate oil to a rust-orange ink to thin it. Just a few drops of plate oil kept the green ink thick, enabling the resist. In these prints by Merty McGraw (dog), and Kristina Horton-Flaherty (turtles), you can see the glory of viscosity -- the rich variation in tone and texture achieved by their thoughtful wiping and layering. Notice the deep shadows and the murky moodiness. Thank you, stickiness!

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