Friday, February 23, 2018

robert quackenbush -- kc printmaker

Mineral spirits were causing light colored ink to drip across a wood plate covered with dark ink. Caught up in the moment, its creator invited attendees to take notice. Robert Quackenbush was giving an print demonstration for members of the Kansas City Print Society, in the studio of artist Jane Voorhees across from the Plaza (photos below). Voorhees had given permission to use her press for the demo.

Often in the world of prints, the final image can be seen as rigid, set in stone, a finite quantity, a collision of colors frozen in time. This print maker had the attitude of an explorer. To him the equation to a product had variables and his job was to try them all. Saturday he let us in on the wonder. That was what he intended when he inked his plate with a beige swath across the top and a black swath across the bottom.

By design he intentionally let a solvent mingle with both colors, letting gravity pull rivulets downward. Solvents that were used for cleaning up oil stains in a work room could very well destroy or wreck a carefully planned image. Who would ever risk losing such an image? To do so could be seen as a careless act. It was our teachable moment. Clearly, that gentleman wanted us to see what the chemical reaction would do and share in his excitement.


    Girded in an orange apron, Quackenbush explained how he once was doing an aquatint and how he wanted to block out a certain area, so he applied ground over the area. (Ground was used by etchers to keep portions of the plate from being eaten by the acid) He couldn't get the ground to work as it was leaking all over the place. So he streched some masking tape across instead, figuring if the acid ate up the tape, it was no big deal. It was a chance he was willing to take. When he took the plate out the the acid bath he noticed that the acid had no effect on the tape. He liked the way the taped area looked, so he printed it up. Through trial and error he came up with his wood plates (ABOVE) which are covered with tape patterns. Double click on images to see enlarged. He used a brayer to roll on the oil-based ink. The paper for his prints were 
soaked and blotted Arches or Stonehenge paper. He discovered that certain tapes are too slick and would not hold ink. Others had the right kind of tooth or grit to hold and transfer the ink, when he ran them through the press.

A simple purchase of lotus leaves at the Asian Market inspired two artists. His friend, Reilly Hoffman, whom he shared a space with in the Kansas City Crossroad district, created a sculpture of a lotus leaf. Robert, in turn, used re-hydrated lotus leaves for printing. He sprayed shellac on the leaf to give it strength. Double click on ABOVE closeup to see enlarged. His techinque captured every crease and detail from the leaf. But it was a sacrificial thing, the leave was so fragile it distegrates after passed under the rolled pressure of his press. He mounted the leaf on a glass substrate and brushed the ink onto the leaf before printing it. It was labor intensive and used lots of ink, but the results were fantastic. He showed us a large leaf print done on a heavy black paper. He got the 40 by 60 inch sheet from Daniel Smith Art Supplies at fifteen bucks a page.

Her husband was a perpetual learner his wife Merry pointed out.

"Any place we have lived Robert has always found the best art school in town and taken classes, always wanting to try something new. Even at his age, he is still curious and willing to risk failure, because, usually, anytime you start something new you make mistakes."

You can watch her FULL INTERVIEW on the video below. She spoke in length about the lotus leaf project. Video is three minutes.


According to Merry Quackenbush, the white ink on black paper and black ink on white paper ABOVE were some of the first images Robert produced when he began using masking tape. After eight to ten prints, he has since learned, the tape on the plate would begin to fall apart.

Part 1. One minute video of the solvent drip demo.
Click on triangle.
Members study large leaf print.

Part 2. Solvent drip demo, six minutes.
Click on triangle.
RQ: I just want to let this rest another couple seconds. Can you all see how that is turning out?
MQ: What is that little block over there? Is that tape coming up a little?
RQ: Yes, that is a piece of tape coming up. Remember how we talked about this plate has been used before, it's been cleaned, and eventually the solvents will get under the tape and compromise the glue. Particularly where they have little points and what not. But I am going to let that go, We'll just see what happens. It was on the other plate too, and it did not seem to have a big negative effect. Still need to bounce this one a little more. (He lays plate on the newsprint on the press bed)
MQ: You can see where Robert has penciled in guidelines, so he knows where to place the plate. In this case he is centering this.
RQ: The last plate was a little bigger, that's why you see those lines. Now there is a chance that some of these lines may come off on the print. This is just an experiment for today.
A piece of paper coming up. I like to use paper that is a little wetter than most printmakers would recommend. I feel more comfortable about it, I think the ink takes better. (He blots the wetted paper with clean towel on work table. Husband and wife bring large paper over to the press bed) The paper is in place. I have added a couple sheets of newsprint. I am pretty sure that some of this ink will be coming through this paper, cause there is a lot of it. We can't soil these felts.

MQ: They would never have us back (in the Voorhees studio or use their press). We would never have another party here. (chuckles)
RQ: In the printmaking world, the biggest thing you can do wrong is mess up the felts. Frankly, art students are terrible human beings when it comes to being neat.
This is called a pusher, catcher rather. You will see a lot these with images off.
Now the experiment begins. (Robert rotates the big metal wheel next to the press bed, hand over hand, moving the pressbed under the steel roller, with even pressure)
Viewer: Does the speed of how you roll that affect any of the printing?
RQ: It can. Sometimes if you move too fast you can push the plate. If you are using multiple plates, it is important to have them angled a certain way,. For instances, if you are going to make a print that has three plates in it, you got to do it from the side, if you don't that third plate is going to move. It is one of the things you learn the hard way. If you move too fast you can move the plate, and some printers actually roll it back and run the plate through again. (Robert and Merry, on either side of the press, pull the layer of felt blankets back over the top of the roller).....OK, are you ready?? (ahhs and wows) (Robert gently pulls the paper off the plate to reveal the print BELOW) Double click on image to see enlarged.

Robert and his wife Merry, BELOW.

RQ:  We are going to run a ghost, which means I am not going to ink this plate again. I am just going to run another piece through. Sometimes they are very interesting, and like the other ghosts we ran in the first demo, they can be used in other ways. (Merry takes above print and lays it out on the table for the members to inspect up close. Husband and wife carry a second blotted sheet over to the press, carrying it by the edges with both hands. They carefully lay it on the taped plate, BELOW. They lay sheets of newsprints on top and felt blankets) 

Viewer: Some of us are going to be tempted to try the taped thing. Do you have a patent on it, Robert? (laughs and giggles)

RQ: I should. Although I can't be the first person to have tried this. (Robert rotates the big metal wheel next to the press bed, hand over hand, moving the pressbed under the steel roller. Felts are pulled back, newsprint rolled up, print it lifted up. Regarding the print: ) Not much, not much.

Viewer: No, but you could do something with it....

RQ: Absolutely!!

MQ: You could paint over it.

RQ: You could draw or paint over it. I could cut it up and collage it into something else.

Viewer: Could you print over it?

RQ: You could print over it. Sure, sure, absolutely!! Well, that's us. If you have any questions....(applause)

More on monotypes, click HERE.
(courtesy of Wikipedia, accessed September 16, 2012)

To view Robert's print page, click HERE 
accessed September 16, 2012

Robert is a member of the Hand Print Press
at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
To visit Hand Print Press, click HERE.
(courtesy of Hand Print Press,,
accessed September 16, 2012 )

A word to the Kansas City print community:

"Be prolific! Do a lot of work. Constantly improve your skills. One of the best lessons I ever learned is not to be afraid of my imagination. If making art is your passion, go after it. Don’t wait for anything. As Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs
…..Get to work!”
(courtesy of Art By Karena,, accessed September 16, 2012)
submitted by Karl Marxhausen, September 22, 2012