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Rust Printing with Lauren Koch

"Transformation: Beauty from Corrosion"

By – Lauren G. Koch

Have you ever gone into an old barn with tools scattered around? Maybe you recall moving some of the old tools and finding a ghostly trace left in rust upon the work bench or newspaper it was resting on. The moisture from the leaky roof caused the steel or cast-iron tool to corrode leaving behind evidence of the abandoned tool’s previous resting place in the form of an iron oxide transfer. Many people see rust as something to prevent and avoid contact with as the iron oxide can stain your clothes and skin easily. In my case, I see rust as a thing of beauty that I can manipulate to create monoprints of these discarded objects. Therefore, allowing memories to be triggered by the familiar shapes and bring new life to something forgotten. When you work with rust printing, a transformation takes place as you create beauty from corrosion.

"Shed #1 - Sloss" from the "Cathedrals of Industry" series - 2019

Iron oxide has been used for centuries as a mordant to alter the color of natural dyes, darkening or changing their hue completely. This was in the back of my mind as I ran tests of natural colorants for printmaking purposes, during undergrad. Until that point, I had mostly used natural colorants to dye wool and cotton for crafting, rather than for fine art. However, several professors prompted me to try bringing in techniques from my hobbies and combining them with my art practices. That’s when I jumped down the rabbit hole of rust printing.

"Layers 1" - 2018

Rust printing is an interesting process that can take minutes in direct sun and heat to days or weeks during the cooler months. It is very accessible for those working in a home studio or with children. Yes, it can be a bit messy but with some pre-planning and minor preparation you can create your own rusting zone anywhere, whether its in your yard, your basement, or on the side of the road while traveling. Throughout my experimentations, I have found that rust printing works well on almost any type of substrate, from cloth, paper, to even plastics. Of course, on plastic, the iron oxide will likely flake off if you do not seal it in some way but the staining and fusing capabilities of rust are truly amazing. If you want to combine rust printing with other natural, plant-based colorants, I recommend working with paper and cloth deriving from all-natural plant or animal based fibers.

Personally, I am intrigued by the alchemical transformations created before your eyes when you add natural colorants to the iron oxide. The natural colorants can be applied before or after the rusting. Additionally, they can be applied either as a liquid dye such as tea or dry in the form of a powder or dried flower petals. The combinations are endless and each application has varying results. While rust printing can be controlled to an extent, it can be very unpredictable because of atmospheric variables and other factors. Therefore, rust printing is a mono-printing technique, as you rarely create identical prints to complete an edition and lends itself well to collaging.

"Endurance of Youth" monoprint from the "Your voice is with me" series  - 2018

I have been fortunate to test these techniques, so far, on two continents in addition to teaching many workshops and classes. If you are interested in learning more about rust printing… follow me on Instagram or on my website to watch for updates on workshop and class availability. Also, I am currently working on some recorded offerings of my techniques to be accessed through Frederick Book Arts Center.

Lauren’s website and Instagram @lace.anvil_lgkart

"Forever with me..." from the "Your voice is with me" Series - 2016 completed during Emerging Artist Residency Atlanta Printmakers Studio

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