When Brian Kirk (welder, artist, and Art League instructor) left a cardboard box on his steel welding table, it was an accidental start down a new artistic avenue.
Two months later, he was surprised to discover a beautiful pattern on the box — created by the oxidation of the table below. That led to five years of experimentation and, as with any artistic endeavor, a lot of trial and error.
How to Make a Rust Print
Cardboard was the inspiration, but for his on-purpose prints, Kirk uses archival watercolor paper.
He places a steel plate between two sheets of paper, then soaks it for six weeks in water. During that time, the steel oxidizes (rusts) and transfers that rust onto the paper. Afterward, he seals the finished print.
Each print is unique, and while the outcome is somewhat predictable, Kirk said the interesting and unexpected effects are what make the process enjoyable. By using two sheets of paper, one on top and one on bottom of the steel plate, the process yields two distinct prints each time. The bottom is typically more “watery,” and the top more “crisp,” Kirk said.
Originally, the steel plates were found scrap metal, and then he started to use metal he cut for the purpose with a torch. Today, he’s cutting steel with a laser cutter for precise edges.
Kirk’s background is as a sculptor and welder, but he also has some printmaking experience that guided him on his five years (so far) of diversifying his art practice and trying to perfect the prints.