Manzella Adapts Printmaking Class for Virtual Learning

By Caitlin T. Burns | October 14, 2020

What do you get when you combine an etching needle, a plexiglass plate, ink, a shopping cart wheel, and paper towels? An intaglio press—just one of the three portable presses that Adjunct Professor of Visual and Fine Arts Jennifer Manzella built and mailed to students in her Advanced Printmaking course.

As Arcadia prepared for an All-Modes Ready approach, Manzella thought about how to adapt the large, shared presses that students would work with during a semester on campus into something they could manage in their homes. Manzella had two challenges to overcome: availability of materials, and space. 

“Typically students have access to a large studio with very sophisticated equipment in a shared space for these processes which include screen printing, copper etching, and relief printing,” said Manzella, who remarked that students share everything from inks to presses for in-person instruction. “It was a challenging task to recreate or even get close to what students would experience in a normal semester where we met on campus.”

In her Advanced Printmaking course, students learn processes to create complex multicolored and layered prints. Manzella designed three different setups for her class of six students: a woodblock printing setup for relief printing, an intaglio press, and a screen printing press.

Intaglio press

The woodblock relief printing press came from a prototype Manzella designed at the end of last semester to print multiple block prints without a large press. Manzella describes the press as “a simple registration jig made of wood molding and masonite board that is used to register multiple wood blocks.” It enables students to perfectly line up their wood moldings that each represent a different color so the multiple colors align correctly.

The intaglio press uses a 3” rubber caster (or a shopping cart wheel) to apply pressure, enabling an image to be transferred from press to paper. Intaglio printing is making prints by drawing lines/scratching grooves in the surface of a metal or plastic plate with a sharp needle tool. Manzella was inspired by a Youtube video from a Facebook Printmakers group that connects instructors around the country to share how to teach printmaking remotely. 

“The way it works is an etching needle draws lines across a plexiglass plate to create the image which is then inked up,” said Manzella. “The surface of the plate is wiped but the ink stays in those drawn grooves. Damp paper is placed on the plate, which is clamped to a masonite board, and the caster is rolled over the surface. This prints really well—I was very surprised.” 

Screen printing press

The screen printing press was made out of a plywood board with hinges attached to hold the screens in place. Screen printing is a stencil technique often used in t-shirt or poster printing, where the students will create their own design and then pull ink through to press an image. Manzella’s inspiration for this press comes from a portable screen printing press that she built for a demonstration at the Philly Art Center. 

Manzella built all the setups over two weeks in August at Sharktown Studios in Old Kensington, Philadelphia, where she rents a studio space and enough room to build these presses quickly.

“Making the portable setups helped me envision a more diverse way of working and teaching printmaking,” said Manzella, who has already started thinking of ways to adapt these new presses for in-person learning. “More portable methods of making prints can allow students to create prints beyond the course itself, and makes the process much more accessible than I had ever really imagined.”