Printmaking in Thai!

by FieryTree on July 15, 2013 · 8 comments

Post image for Printmaking in Thai!

How brilliant it would be if I could write this post in Thai for it would give my American readers a taste of the language barrier in my printmaking art class…but alas no.

I signed up for class without considering that a) it was in Thailand and b) the national language is in fact Thai, a detail that I should have put more thought into. A goal while in Thailand was to spend more time making art though. I love art but have never dedicated a lot of consistent time to it, so when my friend mentioned taking an art class, I jumped at the chance. We’d actually met in a calligraphy class and I was eager to take another art class with her. I had concerns about my technical level but she showed me cute prints of what she’d previously made in a woodcutting class, so I was onboard, not once considering a language barrier.

And that language barrier was a definite hurdle that added a level of complexity to class. I was completely reliant on my friend, and another classmate, for details from the teachers. I greatly appreciated the teachers trying to speak to me but my brain had no way of computing their words. Some pantomime did help and one teacher knew basic English for numbers or other words, but mostly they called my friend to translate. It was frustrating to me for I am a documenter, something EVERY coworker can attest, I take a lot of notes. So, it was challenging to not be able to take down all the teacher was saying and really ‘get it’. Likewise, in class, I was mostly left out of conversations with the other students. To be honest, classes were kind of depressing. I wanted to communicate and be social and get to know them, but didn’t have the words to do so. I frequently felt alone in class. It was interesting to hear the name they used for me, which sounds more like ‘Malea’ and constantly be wondering if I was doing something incorrect or just amusing. My friend did a great job with her translations though and by the end, I was very glad for the opportunity to try out this art form and the different techniques to create images.


The main techniques used were etching and soft groud. We also got to play a day with spray paint to create unique backgrounds to be used with a second plate with a hand drawn image.


Copper plate with varnish and start of image.

Etching involves prepping a cooper plate, to remove scratches and grooves; drying it; then applying a varnish. The plate is left to dry, powdered and then marked with tools to create an image. My drawing skills can best be described as “basic” (which is generous). I unfortunately have not learned much about the fine art of shading and bringing an image to life. Other classmates created amazing pieces but even with the teacher’s encouragement, my pieces never quite ‘popped’. An important item to also note is that the mirror image is printed. I could never seem to remember this concept on piece after piece, so most of my images were the reverse of what was intended.

Completed image ready for acid bath.

Completed image ready for acid bath.

With the image on the varnish, the plate goes into an acid bath that etches the image onto the plate. The time in the bath dictates how deep the grooves are into the copper plate.

Images on soft groud, drying before acid bath.

Images on soft groud, drying before acid bath.

The soft groud process is similar. The plate is prepped and applied with the soft groud, which is of a softer consistency to allow an impression to be made in the varnish. We made use of fabrics and natural items like leaves and arranged them on the plate. The press is then used to set the impression on the plate. Areas to be protected from the acid bath are covered in varnish. Unlike the varnish, soft groud can be done in layers, creating a first image then applying a second or third on top of it, soaking the plate in the acid bath between layers.


The messy inking process.

With the etch defined, the plate is cleaned and then applied with an etching ink. The plates can be used about 200 times without degrading the print. The inking process killed the little hippy in me though. The ink is applied, with your fingers, and then rubbed off with piece after piece of paper. I found it incredibly wasteful and yet that is the technique. The ink remains in the little grooves of the etching.


Our battered press used for printmaking.

With the plate inked, hands are cleaned of the ink (as much as possible – my nails were always left dyed with the ink) and the paper is prepped for the print. A sheet of Fabrino, ‘nicer’ paper with more cotton to hold the ink, is sprayed with water on both sides, then blotted with other sheets of paper. With the plate and paper prepped, they are couched between blotter sheets of papers, on the press. A pad goes on top of it all and they are run under the press drum.


Plate and print, if only I’d remembered it’d be a mirror image!

Once run through the press, the image is created, the “proof”. Later copies are stretched on a board, to dry flat. The masterpiece is then marked, with pencil, information about the piece including edition, process, name of piece, artist name and year. And voila, 4 hours later, you have your first print, only to ink it again to create others.

In the eight classes I attended, I made about 10 images and roughly 30 prints. I felt a general dissatisfaction with probably all of them but that’s true for most everything I create. The last class I tried soft groud again and made the piece below with bodhi leaves, for the first layer, then sticks and straw for the second. The school will be putting on a showcase so the general public may see my art too. I asked my friend if we could list my age as “7” (to account for my lack of skill), no such left though. Oh well.


Final image from class, generally agreed by classmates to not suck.

Some of the other prints created in class –

Do you make art? 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shannon O'Donnell July 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Not only did I have no idea how this one done, but nor did it occur to me there were classes for this in BKK! I love that last image, it’s beautiful and I think we all have those issues with our art, but learning to accurately assess is only something that comes with time. Sorry to hear that it was tough in the early days with the language barrier. I think it’s hard for people who don’t understand Spanish but go “eh, I can get the gist” to understand how completely *not* the case that is for Thai. 🙂


2 FieryTree July 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Great to hear from you Shannon! And, yes, ‘the gist’ is definitely not the case in Thai. It would kill me that the teacher would so earnestly tell me something and I could only smile and nod – absolutely clueless as to what they were actually saying. Towards the end I could generally figure out what they were saying based on what step *should* come next in the process, still no substitute for actual communication though!
Goal for this week is to add a few new words to my Thai vocabulary. “Nit noy” only gets one so far. 😀


3 Christina July 16, 2013 at 6:45 am

What a process! You explained it so well. I can’t wait to see all of them when you return.


4 FieryTree July 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Thank you! I’ll be sure to bring them! 🙂


5 Renee October 22, 2013 at 8:24 am

Wow! Beginner or not, these prints are lovely, Maria! Congrats on your art being exhibited, too!


6 FieryTree October 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Thank you Renee! The exhibition was a lot of fun too!


7 Dalla October 24, 2013 at 8:46 am

Maria, what did the teachers think of your photo documentation? Even though you couldn’t write everything down due to the language barrier, you’ve found a way to document in a different fashion. I love your art!


8 FieryTree October 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you Dalla! Keep an eye out for orange elephants! 😀
I’m not sure if my actual teachers saw my post. At the end of class, I gave my teachers and classmates pictures I’d taken during class, including them, and they called me a ‘spy’. Apparently, they didn’t connect my constant photo taking might include them too. 🙂


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