Part 4, Stages 2&3, Project 1, Exercise 2 – Drawing onto the printing plate

21 March 2017

Project 1, Exercise 2 – Drawing onto the printing plate

The second exercise focused on using colour to make a simple monoprint image by drawing onto the printing plate. However, it also included using some of the mark-making techniques learned earlier in the course to create texture. 

Initially I kept to using 130gsm Snowdon cartridge paper (because by keeping the paper consistent, I could understand how different printing inks behaved). I used a simple image from my (sketchbook page 35) as inspiration, which allowed me to explore texture and by using different mark-making techniques. I did’t worry too much about recreating the image accurately – I just wanted to use the idea as a simple template.



SAMPLE 1: Akua liquid pigment, perspex plate

In my previous samples, I had been reluctant to use the perspex plate with the intaglio press incase it damaged the blankets (they are expensive!). However, I decided I would try and make sure that I packed the printing table out with plenty of newspaper to reduce the risk of damage. It was easier to use than acetate, in that it can be more easily cleaned and reused without being bent and damged. It is also rigid during transporting from my inking table to the press (which is in another room).

I used the liquid pigment by placing a few drops onto the printing plate in the approximate location required. In the foreground, I rolled on the ink using a soft rubber roller, and obtained a good coverage. I then worked into this area To add the detail of the furrows in black ink using a brush. 

I didn’t have an appropriate colour for the sky, so had to use violet (I only purchased three colours to try – black, yellow and violet). Instead of using a roller, I brushed this pigment across the plate using a decorators’ brush. The result was that the paint ‘parted’ away from the perspex and did not form a solid continuous layer. This was acceptable for a ‘sky’ texture, and I added to the effect by dabbing off some of the violet paint to form ‘clouds’.

Finally, I painted in the tree lined horizon in black Akua liquid pigment using a fine artists’ brush. It was difficult to get coverage and to control the ink to make fine marks because it was so runny.

My finished print is shown below. I used dry paper.

Because the perspex was several millimetres thick and because I didn’t have a jig to hold the plate in place on the print-bed, it moved during printing – the result being that the print was crooked on the paper. 

As a general observation, I felt that the ink was too fluid to get the coverage and create the marks which I wanted. Akua liquid pigment has been formulated especially for monoprinting, so I referred back to the company’s website so see where I might be going wrong (Speedball Art products, 2017). I discovered that I should actually have laid down several layers of ink, allowing them to “air dry” for a few minutes between each application to build up solid, overall coverage and to obtain a thicker ink for brushwork.

As well as the success of the printing technique, I also thought about how the image made me feel. The feeling I get from this print is one of dark foreboding, due to the black silhouettes of the trees on the horizon and dark shadows in the furrows. This is reinforced by the “heaviness/thickness” of the marks. It is as if a thunderstorm is approaching and yet there is a “sunset” in the sky and light wispy clouds. The colours and textures in the foreground are somewhat at odds with those in the sky and as a consequence the image suggests contradiction.


SAMPLE 2: “Lawrence” brand oil-based relief ink, acetate sheet

I have a good stock of “Lawrence” oil-based relief ink because of it’s versatility; being for all types of relief work, including printing onto fabric. The company’s website states that it is also suitable for monotypes (T N Lawrence & Sons Ltd, 2015), however the ink comes out of the tube extremely “tacky”. A phone call to the manufacturers indicated that the “extender” that they sell would simply increase the transparency without making the ink more fluid, and they suggested I try thinning with linseed oil. This is the method that I used to make the ink mixable and suitable for application by brush. In general, I found that I needed 2 or 3 times the amount of linseed oil to ink, to make it a suitable consistency (this was in contradiction to the course notes which suggested only adding a few drops, to avoid the ink bleeding into the paper).

I used dry 130gsm cartridge paper and made the print on the intaglio press (see below, sample 2a):

There are some pleasing effects, especially in the sky (where I dabbed off the ink using a paper towel). I used the end of a paintbrush, as well as the paintbrush bristles to remove ink from the foreground. The use of both addative and reductive processes togather is a technique which was employed by Degas, and which I have discussed in my contextural reserach.

Compared with sample 1, the colour scheme makes this print feel calmer to the viewer. However, there is movement implied by the texture of the clouds and the displaced earth of the furrows which gives this print a lively, uplifting feel. 

The main problem with this print is that the black ink I used to paint the horizon was thinned too much (as evidence by the fuzzy tree-line and overspill of ink on the right of the print). I think it will take practice to get the correct consistency of ink, especially as viscocity is dependant not just on the brand/type of ink but also the colour/pigment.

I took a second print from the plate to make a ghost image (sample 2b, below):

Although not crisp enough to be used as a print on it’s own, it would be interesting to use it as a background for further printing, or perhaps back-drawing (with the necessary registration). There is something very pleasing about the subdued nature of this print which is suggestive of softness which gives it a relaxed feel (a viewer might imagine due to low cloud or gentle mist).

Note: The messy ink on the right hand side is because of ink on the print-bed from the first impression. I should have replaced the paper packing with a clean sheet which would have prevented this issue.


SAMPLE 3: Akua liquid pigment, acetate sheet

This sample revisits sample 1, applying several layers of akua liquid pigment using a mixture of brush and rubber roller. As the website suggests, I waited several minutes for each layer to ‘airdry’ between applications (Speedball art products, 2017).

In an attempt to make the image more realistic, I mixed an orange sky colour from violet and yellow. I worked the field and sky simultaneously before adding the field texture using black akua liquid pigment applied by brush. I removed ink to represent cloud texture and added tree line detail using the “wide” akua plastic needle applicator. Below is a photo of the plate on the intaglio press ready to print:

The finished print is shown below:

I would have been pleased with the result, had it not been for the “smear” of tree line detail which ruined the print. I thought about why this might have happened:

  1. There was insufficient time left for the tree line to ‘air dry’ before printing
  2. The nib of the needle applicator was too wide for the application
  3. The pressure on the intaglio press was too great.
Because the other elements of the print had not smudged, I decided that no. 3 was unlikely to be the only cause. I needed to do some experiments using a narrower applicator and different drying times (see sample 4).

Despite the disappointing tree line, the detail of clouds and field texture is very good. However, in future, for ease of use, I would be inclined to use Akua intaglio ink for large areas, rather than have to apply 4 or 5 layers of liquid pigment, saving the liquid pigment for working the detail (in this case the field texture and tree line). Both inks are compatible and are designed to be used together, however, at present, I only have one colour of intaglio ink (carbazole violet).

Visually, the image invokes a similar response to that of sample 1, with the sky colour appearing almost violent and confrontational. I prefer the finer detail and more varied mark-making which I achieve in the foreground because I feel this makes the image more engaging (the field being the largest part of the image compositionally).


SAMPLE 4: Akua liquid pigment, needle applicator, acetate sheet 

This sample is my series of experiments to determine why the smudging occurred in sample 4. I worked a series of lines on an acetate plate, this time with the finest needle applicator (red, steel-tipped). The inked plate before the print was taken is shown below:

When I took the print, I reduced the pressure on the roller of the intaglio press from that I had used in sample 3. The results show that there was no obvious difference between drying times of the lines (which ranged from 5 to 20 minutes), or whether the lines were worked straight onto the acetate or on top of a solid area of colour.

The only smudges are where there is a pooling of ink on the original plate – there is no correlation between drying time and clarity of line. This means that I can confidently proceed with using the fine applicator, reduced press pressure and a minimum of 5 minutes air drying before taking a print.

Because all the prints were successful, I suspect that the main reason for my difficulties with sample 3 was down to insufficient time allowed for air drying. However, I would need to do further experiments with the “wide” plastic needle applicator to verify this.


SAMPLE 5: Painterly monoprint using Akua intaglio and liquid pigment

Whilst I was waiting for my purchase of additional colours to arrive in the post, I thought about a new idea from a sketch which I could translate to monoprint using the limited colour palette which I had available. I decided to raid my fruit bowl and make some still life studies of a pomegranate, lemon and garlic bulb (see page 33-34 of my sketchbook).

Using what I had learnt from the previous samples, I first worked some Akua intaglio ink on a printing plate, mixing it with intaglio blender until I achieved a consistency suitable for brushing on the background. I worked the background first, leaving a space for the fruit. I worked two layers, aiming for an opaque even coverage around the fruit and textured brushwork near the edges of the plate.

I worked the lemon in yellow and yellow/black mix liquid pigment, working two layers and “stippling” the surface with my paintbrush to replicate the texture of the lemon skin. The pomegranate was similarly worked by brushing on several layers of violet liquid pigment with accents of yellow.

For the garlic, I left most of the shape empty, working some shading using very dilute black akua liquid pigment which I had thinned with extender. When dry, I used full concentrate black liquid pigment in a needle applicator to draw in the lines.

The inked acetate plate is shown below:

The first print taken from the plate is sample 5a), shown below: I was really pleased with the amount of detail which I had been able to achieve. I waited about 15 minutes to allow some time for the acetate to air dry before taking the print using the intaglio press with 130gsm dry Snowdon cartridge paper. 


Despite being generally happy with the print, I do prefer the bolder colours and stronger image of inked plate! I need to get in the habit of remembering that all the brush marks and impurities are going to be emphasised in the print, and adjust accordingly.

Because the inked image was still quite strong, I took a ghost print using the same dry paper (sample 5b):

Although feint, it has some interesting new qualities, such as the blotches of violet intaglio ink in the background. I like both prints, mainly because of the different textures of the varied mark making I have used; coarse and fine brushwork, stippling and the needle applicators. Although initially, I preferred the ink plate to the prints due to it’s boldness and brighter colours, there is a “gentler” quality about the prints which I am beginning to appreciate.


SAMPLE 6: Monoprinting an outline drawing using Akua liquid pigment and needle applicators

Development work in my sketchbook (page 29) suggested that I could use an outline from my figure drawing to make an interesting direct drawning mono print. Using what I head learnt from samples 3 and 4, I placed the drawing on page 30 of my sketchbook under a sheet of acetate and traced the outline using black Akua liquid pigment and a needle applicator. I was careful to work from left to right, so as not to smudge the plate (I am right-handed), having already made this mistake during a previous attempt at the drawing! The inked plate is shown below:


Despite leaving the acetate to air dry for 20 minutes before taking the print, I was surprised to find “dots” where the ink had pooled each time I initiated a line (see below): these dots mark the points where I started each line. 


Although this was not the effect I had envisaged, it does add an interesting quality to the line (I’m not sure why it happened because I was careful to “blot” the tip of the needle applicator before starting each mark)


SAMPLE 7: Reworking from a “mistake” in sample 6

As I mentioned, my first attempt at drawing the figure in sample 6 onto the acetate was smudged because I forgot to work from left to right. I tried to wipe away the mistake with a damp kitchen towel, but when I went to redraw the line, the acetate was slightly moist and the line bled (see below):

Instead of discarding this attempt, I decided to rework it using coton buds to soften any lines which were smudged or shaky, and I opted to leave the area where the line had bled and see what effect it would give. The inked plate is shown below:

After waiting 15 minutes to allow the ink to air dry, I printed from the plate in the usual way. The image is shown below (sample 7a):


I have to admit to being disappointed that the shading was not bolder. I decided to try a second ghost image, but this time using wet paper. I took a piece of Somerset Satin (which has a “tooth”) and soaked it in water for 10 minutes. I then blotted it with some blotting paper before taking the print using the intaglio press. The result is much more pleasing, as can be seen below (sample 7b):

This image is starting to have more character. The different marks (including the bleed on the leg) have come out very well. Next time I would be inclined to take the first print using wet paper. Of the three prints which I have made on this subject, this is my favourite because of the character of the marks. However, I think I could go further to enhance the image, perhaps by experimenting more with intentionally letting the inked plate bleed in a controlled way, and by trying different types of paper – perhaps Japanese papers, or everyday paper such as brown parcel paper (from my contextural studies, I particularly liked the effects achieved by Paul Klee, who often used cardboard for his oil transfer prints).



Ayres, J. (1991) Monotype. Mediums and methods for painterly printmaking. New York. Watson-Guptill publications.

Drysdale Green, J. (1993) Artefects. New York. Watson-Guptill publications.

Elisha, D. (2009) Printmaking and mixed media – simple techniques and projects for paper and fabric. Loveland, Colorado. Interweave press.

Flick, B. and Grabowski, B. (2015) Printmaking – A complete guide to materials and processes. 2nd Ed. London. Laurence King.

Newell, J. and Whittington, D. (2006) Monoprinting. London. Bloomsbury.

Ross, J., Romano, C. and Ross, T. (1990) The complete printmaker – techniques, traditions, innovations. New York. The Free Press.

Speedball Art products (2017) Using Akua liquid pigments. At: (Accessed 21 March 2017)

T N Lawrence & Sons Ltd (2015) Lawrence linseed oil-based relief ink. At: (Accessed 21 March 20017)


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