Mad Scientist at Work

One of the things I like about printmaking is the experimentation you can do. For any given image, you can change paper type and color, ink type and color, add chine colle, add monoprinting, combine prints… the only limit is your imagination.

Before we left for a short jaunt to the Los Angeles area, I spent an afternoon making rust. Last year I had found a jar of iron filings at Kaleidescope, an educational supply store in Capitola. I tried adding rust to damp paper at that time, with mixed results. A friend suggested using salt water to speed the process, so this time around I made a supersaturated salt solution.

I set up my table on the back patio, and after applying the salt solution to the paper, sprinkled the iron filings on top.

Here are iron filings on a salt splatter.
Iron filings in a splatter

Then with a brush stroke of salt water.
Iron filings in a brush stroke

And finally, I dipped bubble wrap into the solution and applied it to the paper.
Iron filings in a bubblewrap pattern

Here are six experiments drying in the sun. If you look closely, you can see that the iron filings are immediately starting to get rusty. That’s the jar of iron filings in the middle; it looks (and works) just like a spice jar.
Iron filing experimental station

After gently shaking off the excess filings, I lay another clean sheet on top of each sheet of paper, so the pattern would transfer and also so each rust pattern would be protected. I then collected all the pairs of sheets, wrapped them in newsprint and blotters, and put them in a plastic bag, where they sat for the week that I was away.

Success! Here is a pair of rusty sheets. Note that the rust patterns are mirrors of each other, since the sheets were face-to-face.
Mirror images of rust

A close-up of a rusty sheet. I still need to brush off the iron filings; I want to wait until the paper is a wee bit dryer before I do that, lest I scratch the paper. But look at how nice and rusty the iron filings became, and how the rust bleeds out into the paper.
Detail of rusty paper

I think I will be using these sheets for an etching I have in mind. Next step: getting more copper. Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “Mad Scientist at Work

  1. Carmen D. Meléndez-Lugo

    Amazing! Once I saw this woman at the art book expo at Berkeley who used old machine parts, these heavy (sometimes huge) shapes of iron and she would place them on wet paper and leave them outside for days. As a result she got all this paper with all these beautiful ghostly rusty shapes, and then she would print on it. Your experiment reminded me of that. This is pretty amazing too…

  2. Melissa Post author

    Thanks! Using old machine parts would be pretty darn amazing… they’re getting harder to come by, unfortunately, or perhaps I just don’t travel in the right machine-parts circles. ;)

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