by Mike Sullivan
viscosity printing
oil of wintergreen
soft ground etching
correspondence on printmaking vs contemporary reproduction

Most of these images were scanned directly from the print.
Printmaking is an extremely versatile medium. Each individual technique takes a lot of patience and practice which ultimately has to contend with creative spontaneity. So one can't help but assess the validity of each technique used to make a print. The result, of course, is an edition, each print containing the same high resolution, the same variety of color as a handmade painting, and potentially the same variety of texture. You might be interested to know that commercial photography is limited in color and always favours one end of the spectrum. Therefore, the colors you enjoy in photographs and here on the internet are always an inferior representation of the original. The pixels used to make up internet images and book images are always one mark. While the handmade print, like a handmade painting, has potential for way more variety- what we like to call "markmaking." Markmaking is delightful fun.

Here's a description of how these prints were made:

72 x 8" 1997

Here's a photo of my son lying on a bed (sucking his toe).  I saw the photograph as resembling some kind of angelic motion, even descent. There are two plates used to make this print. One is smaller in the middle and was a messy oil of wintergreen transfer. The second, larger plate was made with riston film. Up close, the print shows those little geometric lines that computers make. I was happy that the oil of wintergreen plate was more organic


is a method wherein marks (textures, lines)  are etched into a metal plate. Ink is smothered all over the plate and then wiped off in such a way that ink stays in the etched portions, but wipes off the smooth unetched surface. The plate is sent through the press under a damp sheet of paper which soaks up the ink entirely. The process is repeated for an edition.

These prints were made using riston film. The film is placed over a copper plate. Then a transparent image is placed over the plate and exposed to ultraviolet rays. The rays will burn away any riston film that is not covered by the opacity of image, and the open areas corrode in acid.


6 x 8" 1997

 The photograph in the middle is one of my older sisters dressed in a lampshade and a curtain. Its zeroxed, subscribing to an idea of fading. At one time it reminded me of the look of posters of missing children. The frame around the photograph was made from a zerox of my dad's paisley pajamas. The guitar chords (entablature) were written down for me by sister years ago. I don't think that this story is necessary to the enjoyment of the print which is in itself very beautiful, I think. It may still subscribe to ideas of being entranced musically, or the sleep of death, as the title denotes.



Oil of Wintergreen

"Piper" was made with two plates. The second plate was made using oil of wintergreen which will take the toner out of a photocopied image. Sent through the press, the toner comes out of the paper and onto the plate. The toner acts as an acid resist. I used a negative image.

Viscosity Printing

These four prints were colored via viscosity printing, in which one color, in this case a mixed black, is rubbed over the plate and then the surface of the plate is gently wiped, so gently, that ink remains in any grooves or indentations on the plate. This method is called intaglio. The second color is ink of a different viscosityand is rolled on the surface of the plate. I used mostly litho ink, The difference in viscosities of ink prevent each ink from mixing.


6 x 7" 1997

This was the third of these 3 and done with one plate. You can see the same idea of a sleeping figure suspended in mid air motion. I was also becoming increasingly interested in the idea of the living figure being barely evident as such, relying on the viewer's own subconscious awareness of having a body to fill in the black space.

Soft Ground Etching
inovolves the application of a soft asphaltum to the plate, which, when warm, will take impressions of textural objects so that those textures can be etched in acid. Here, I drew a picture on thin paper right over the plate so that the pencil marks left their impression in the soft ground (exposing plate). The wall in this picture is made out of the impression of lace.

the waiting room
soft ground etching
5 x 12" 1993

anjls r
8 x 16" 1997
Here's a silkscreen print made from a zerox of rags. The composition on a transparency is shot with ultraviolet light on a silkscreen containing a coat of emulsion. Areas of emulsion that are not covered by opaque areas will wash out of the screen when run over with hot water. Therefore, when ink is pulled over the screen it will fall through the open areas onto paper.


This is a linocut. An image is carved into mipolam, which is the contemporary floor covering material which used to be linoleum. Now linoleum is only made for printmakers. The image is carved into the material, then ink is rolled over, missing the carved portions which remain white. Myself, I use a certain nib that is about as wide as a pin then softly sand out the excess burr.
approx.2x3' 1996
(this image was scanned from photo)

Here's something that may be of interest to those of you searching for printmaking methods. This peice is a segment of a proof from a peice entitiledTeresias Blazon. It was done on a plastic plate that could be engraved using a linocutter or a drypoint needle, but it would also maintain brushed on gesso. The grooves of the brushstoke took ink like intaglio, which accounts for the subtle grey tone. The final proof looked nothing like this and included a relief roll.


Last year Mike had solo shows at Don Giovanni's, Bukowski's (with Jordan Bent), Mecca, Lugz, and Turks and showed at the Roundhouse for the annual collaberative performance peice "Anu." He'll be showing over a dozen books at the Britannia Branch Library in July. He'll also be performing at the Railway Club  May 25.

7 printmaking methods 1997     the portrait ongoing the 3 minute portrait experiment (25 in a 3 day marathon)2003 the Carnegie Hall Sessions 2001   lil' nudes (paint on photograph of large life studies) 1997-2003 pen & ink drawings from t.v. 1994 "Rachmaninoff" & other Composers (very recent work in development) 2003 portrait of an artist as a young man (& other novels drawn by me) 2000-2002 paintings of C.R. Avery's "A Shotgun Wedding"  2002 "the quick brown fox"  is out for awhile moonmojo(5 songs) 2003 the diarial adventures of Mickey the Swan 2002 (the late 20th Century . Bop) 1988 a contribution to Jabbar Al Janabi's "Anu"2001 commercial work ongoing  studies of bus stops  1988  studies of taverns 1988        sign guestbook       view guestbook       c.v


More printmaking links and resources

Here's some of the corespondence between myself and Paul Hamilton at the U of Ulster:

Here Paul, 

    I'm very glad you asked me these questions as I'm glad that someone is asking them. I think and express these concerns all the time. If I've overlooked anything, don't hesitate to write me back. 
Mike Sullivan 

Do you believe that process can be attributed to content? 
-I wish I understood this question specifically. Perhaps you can find your answer below. 

Do you think digital medium is restrictive or  advantageous to the creative output of fine art  printmaking? 
-I've explained in statements (below) how digital methods can be incorporated into the visual banacular. There is a real problem these days, notably at the Emily Carr Institue of fine Art and Design, as well as the social perception of image making, that digital imagery is a suitable replacement. Its like unspeak in Orwell's 1884. Our vocubulary is being reduced to accommodate a thinner dictionary. 

The surface qualities of traditional print have been >regarded as an important aesthetic quality of  traditional printmaking; do you believe this to be true? 
-It absolutely true. According to modernist principals the work of art is composed primarily of its inherent qualities. Printmaking is all about markmaking. The 4 color process is about ONE mark - the rosette. Its a beautiful mark but its ONE of a whole discourse. Computer prints are composed, on the screen, of computer pixels, moreover, the computer printer leaves a sort of a speckled mark made up of CYMK. I don't like it myself. I kind of like computer pixels when they're manipulated, if they're big enough to be made obvious and taken another step. CMYK as versatile as it is, and widespread, still is incapable of producing certain colours, therefore, when Robert Bateman has his work photographed, color separated, and pixelized; the whole process is weeding out the original colours of the painting, replacing them with 4 colour illusions, he also sacrifices a hand made brushstroke for a collection of pixels. I'm all for freedom of expression so I want computer pixels and process colours available to me, but I also want free reign on opaque marks (not gridded) and colours that aren't available in CMYK. Recently I've been visiting fine art galleries and examining giclee prints - very fine computer prints. A discerning eye can see immediately "computer jiggies" (little steps of squares, leggo thinking) used to replace opaque brush strokes, even sumiere strokes; and also spots of process colour. 

What qualities does digital technology bring to  print and what qualities, if any, do you think are made redundant through digital technology? 
-Digital technology brings to me, as I have said, 3 of 4 knew markmaking techniques to an already rich banacular of marks. 

Why use traditional processes if computer technology > can simulate many aspects of traditional printmaking? 
-Computer tecnology, as I have said, is no replacement. when I look in the newspaper at a full colour picture I know that I am looking at a computer grid, and that many important elements of the original photograph are no longer available to me. Computers cant print spot colours or de- gre -de or print impasto, they can't soak into paper and they can only bastardize hand made marks. Rellying on one method of making art is to reduce the potentail dimensions of the work of art. 

What implications are there for the traditional  studio  and which will be attributed to the computers  integration into the printmaking studio of the future? 
-For myself, I use computers to reproduce my own images on watercolour or photoglossy paper. Right away I sacrifice colours and lines that computers don't understand. Its invaluable to me to catalogue as well as reproduce my own images but I don't stop there. Oh no. I can computer manipulate my own images and resize them. Then I paint over them, reintroducing an opaque mark and non process colours.I'm working on a sort of gasoline tansfer that effectively smudges computer marks. The silkscreen process, incidentally, sort of "rounds off" sharp edged computer pixels. Theses are the kind of concepts I learned as a printmaker. I continue to force those little jiggies and process colours throught the whole gamut until once again I have an original work.