Charles Shearer and the Collagraph

Deborah Gearing

' The plate is your work of art.'

Blue sky and sunshine. Pools and meadows.  Time with a master printmaker. A new temporary printmaking workshop to try out. Time together with Cowprint makers…

We all gathered at the classroom of the Activity Centre at Woodmill, Southampton, full of anticipation for what the day would bring.


Mandy, abetted by Aylsa and Amanda in particular, had worked hard to set up the space:  a central table was protected by a mylar covering, for inking up, two presses, and a number of tables around the room. We might have been slightly too tall for the children’s tables and chairs, but we took that in our stride.  Some of us had taken to heart Mandy’s warning to wrap up, but very quickly we were discarding layers as the classroom went from comfortable to positively warm.

We had been introduced to Charles Shearer’s work when he came to an evening meeting to give a talk for Cowprint members.  We had been bowled over by the flexibility and ingenuity of his making and the use of colour.

We were introduced to Enviromount – a more flexible option for making plates than mountboard, and CS demonstrated different techniques for marking, scoring, working into the plates and the advantages of learning to cut on the bevel for clean edges.


CS had suggested cutting up our Enviromount plates and experimenting with shapes and techniques.  There was no pressure to make a plate that looked like ‘a thing’ and this was a good way in for those of us who were not sure about approaching a subject.

We were invited to play.  To experiment.  A liberating thing that many of us felt had been lacking in our practice, a way of taking the first step to producing a finished plate from which to print.

As CS said:  ‘the plate is your work of art’ – that means lots of experimentation, cultivating a good critical eye and being open to what is happening beneath your hands.


The morning passed with making plates, which we varnished with shellac before heading for the café at Woodmill.


Then we talked about inks and paper and preferences.  The ink of the day was Caligo water-based ink and CS mixed up some juicy, deep colours for us, along with brights for smaller rollers.  He demonstrated working with stencils and cutouts – and we watched as plates were transformed with the application of bright colours, with rolling and re-rolling, layering and wiping back.  The resulting prints were joyous.


We all duly inked up, wiped, applied stencils and masked areas with cutouts – and after patiently waiting for the press, each print was a revelation. Delicate details and bigger, bold areas all jumped from the paper and each print was taken away by its owner to study thoughtfully. In the spirit of experimentation – it’s about what you learn from what you are doing – perceived failures were examined in a new light with helpful feedback from CS’s expert eye and input from other members and each successful detail on every print was filed for future reference, or for reprinting.  As CS said:  ‘Accidents are for exploitation’.


Before we finished, at the end of the second day, I asked around for some comments, to give a better picture of how people felt about what we had been doing.

‘Oh my goodness!’

It was:  ‘exhausting, stimulating, colourful’ ‘uplifting and informative’

What did you take from this workshop?

‘Layering colours’

‘how to mix intaglio and relief’

‘You should play and experiment without pressure’

' Stencilling!'

‘using the marks left on the roller’

‘using the marks left on the roller’

‘CS’ personal techniques’

I would just add that CS is the most inspiring, generous, sensitive teacher and we all took lasting inspiration from our time with him. Thank you.

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