Assignment1: Monoprints, reflections

At last! Finished the assignment …just a teeny bit late though.

It’s obvious I massively overestimated the amount of time I’d have to work on the course, and a lot of other things got in the way, but I have enjoyed the coursework very much. There were times when I felt really stuck though: as an example I took ages over those poppies taking many, many prints before I was reasonably happy with the double-masked version. And later I remember I kept putting off the “textured landscape” exercise that eventually led to the “Cockenzie Power Station” print (which I was very pleased with in the end).  But I now feel so much more comfortable about all the techniques and with being more experimental. In particular:

  • Registration and masking – lots here including how to create a positioning “frame”, how to use hinged masks, how to achieve isolated positive masks, how to plan a design to aid registration, and the use of lots of tracing paper and masking tape.
  • Inks – using acrylic medium to extend drying times (a little), mixing and rolling inks and achieving the best coverage for printing.
  • Textures, mark making and backdrawing – using a range of materials and tools to create different effects (especially tea leaves)

I expected at the start of the course that I’d be working quite a bit at the Edinburgh Printmakers Studio, but in the end did it all at home – once I got my little workspace set up, with the glass table, it was just much easier.

So, onwards and upwards to Assignment 2. Hopefully I’ll have more time to devote to the next stage!


Backdrawing from life: Lillies

Backdrawing - lillies

Another catch up – I realised I hadn’t done any backdrawings from life, so made an attempt.

I decided to draw some lillies growing in a blue container in our garden. After a couple of quick preparatory sketches, I mixed up some yellow, green and blue ink and applied it to my perspex plate. I liften some ink off with some scrap paper, then laid some green textured paper on gently and took the plate outside to create the backdrawing.

I made a couple of versions – the one shown was the better of the two.


Hmm, not brilliant – mainly I think because of colours weren’t really strong enough against the paper, so poor choices there. I did want to create some more examples of backdrawing from life, but just ran out of time. Also, I guess I’m not always that confident in creating decent drawings very quickly, and as usual time is of the essence when using my water-based inks.

I did want to create some more examples of back drawing from life, but unfortunately ran out of time.

Three worlds – abstract monoprint (masks, texture, backdrawing)

I wanted to create an abstract image for one of my project 4 pieces. I generally like designs incorporating circles, so started with the idea of three circles in a row. I made a few exploratory rough sketches, and planned to use the starry effect I’d achieved before by using scattered tea leaves again as texture. This led to the idea of something vaguely planetary, but rather than planning ahead too closely (as I had with the other project 4 prints) with this print I wanted to see where the printing took me.

1. First I inked the glass with 3 colours – red, green and blue –  and sprinkled my tea leaves. I applied a mask that would leave the three printed circles, then pressed a roughly-torn shaped piece of tissue paper across the ink to add an extra textured shape that ran through the circles. Here’s the result:

stage 1, 1st print

As hoped, the tea leaves did produce an effect like constellations, and pressing  the tissue paper into the ink produced an effect that reminded me of  images of dust clouds in space or perhaps the edges of continents on the planet itself.

2. I took a ghost print of the print above, but this time also added a little backdrawing (sorry this is not a good photo):

ghost image with backdrawing

3. To create another version I re-inked the glass and repeated the process, but this time left the tissue paper shape on top of the ink to create an additional white masked area.

2nd print

4. Again, another ghost print with backdrawing:

2nd ghost image with backdrawing

I quite liked some of these as they were, but wanted to add a background. However I but got a bit stuck here and wasn’t sure how to proceed. I searched the web for some inspiring images, and found the work of Helene Brier, which included some very nice “planetary” images. The choice of yellow as a background in particular, and the white halo around the coloured discs, were inspired by her monotypes.

5. For this next stage in each case:
a) I inked the glass table with the yellow ink, trying to roll in some variations of colour so that it wouldn’t be too uniform. I then used a dry thin roller to try to lift off some ink again in various straight lines to create some more variation and texture.
b) I used three irregular, torn circular shapes from tissue paper, which I stuck directly onto the prints from the previous stage, slightly off-center, to mask out the “planets” and to create a white “halo” around each of them.  In three of the four I also masked out the horizontal irregular shape across the planets as well.
c) I used another mask to frame the rounded rectangle of the background.

Here’s a pic of the table, mid-process. (This must have been after a print was taken).

lots of masks

Here are the four results:

final prints

And the best one:

Three worlds monoprint


I am quite pleased with this set – I think there may be more I could do with the fainter ones that incorporate the ghost images, to add some darker tones to balance the stronger yellow, but I do like this last one as it is. I’m not sure whether we are looking at three objects (planets?), or looking through three windows into different universes (hence the title).

Again this was a lot of work, with lots of masking and registration, but I think again by now I was feeling much more comfortable with the process, with registration, and with experimentation in general.

Clachtoll cottage

I recently had a holiday in my favourite place on the planet, Clachtoll in Assynt on the NW coast of Scotland. While I was there I made this sketch of “Seaside Cottage” through the window of our caravan:

Seaside cottage, Clachtoll

I decided to use this for one of the Project 4 prints, which I wanted to be a painterly monoprint with some textures. I did a couple more sketches to simplify the image down to the main shapes: sky, sea, roof, foreground light green grass and midground darker green. I traced this then stuck the tracing to the underside of the glass table for a guide.

1. Painting and texturing

1. On with the painting and texturing. I painted the inks onto the glass then used a) a cotton bud to attempt some movement and clouds in the sky b) a crosshatched sponge to give texture to the slate roof, c) the end of a brush to scratch in rough grass in the darker green d) a dry brush to shape the lighter green foreground grass.  The main problem with the painterly approach I always find is how quickly the water-based inks dry out once applied, and this was the case again especially as it was a hot day. Acrylic medium does help with this but too much just makes the ink too dilute. I could see the ink drying as I worked so had to do this all pretty fast. Lastly I applied some black  marks to suggest fence posts and a seagull.

2. I used some little masks to create white areas a) between the two grassy bits and b) for the gable end of the house c) to separate sky and sea and d) to frame the print.

Here’s the result, the first print. Some of the textures came through better than others here, and as always some interesting and unexpected effects materialised as I pulled the print – the sea was suddenly rough for one thing. The fence posts were a bit of a mistake I think, too smudgy.

first print

I took a ghost print but by then the ink was almost dry so it was very faint. On impulse I tried brushing some acrylic medium over the driest inked areas left on the glass to see what would happen – here’s the result:

2nd print

Quite surprisingly, this worked quite well – you can see the masked white areas more clearly the textures are interesting, often because of the uneven way the ink transferred from glass to paper. (Luckily the smudgy fence posts didn’t pick up this time). On the down side the seagull had become a smudge, and the paper had buckled at the top because of the amount of liquid on the glass. But I thought this would make a good background, so pressed it once dry while I worked out some backdrawing..

2. Backdrawing

I decided to add backdrawing to pick out the cottage and fence more clearly. I traced the first print to create a guide, then masked both of the prints so that only the cottage, fence areas and seagull areas were left free. Here’re the final results:

…I think I actually  like the 2nd one best- I like how the sky and sea and grass all have such movement it looks quite stormy…maybe that explains why the cottage looks like it’s getting blown away… a bit of a registration problem there has left it a bit squint. I also like the irregular shape of the print, rather than it being square like the first one. The first one really suffered because of those fence posts I think.


The painterly approach is the technique I’m least comfortable with – so unpredictable – but I am reasonably happy with this work and enjoyed doing it all in a few hours.

Actually one thing I’m very happy with is that I seem to be much less self-critical than I used to be. I think the unpredictable nature of monoprinting has really helped me to stop striving for some kind of perfection, to appreciate the unexpected and to look for the positives and the possibilities when the print is pulled.

Back to masks: “Mother” monoprint

I’m almost there – almost have all the pieces I need to hand in for my assignment (phew). Looking closely at the requirements for submission, I noticed I was missing some pieces, including a second example of a print employing positive and negative masks. My first attempt with this, ages ago, was quite painful, particularly in getting the registration right. But after gaining practice through subsequent work, I found it much easier this time.

sketches for "Mother" monoprint

Sketches and planning

I decided to work with a shape I’d sketched last year. This actually started life as a doodled zentangle curve (in the top left of this photo), the shape of which reminded me of a nursing mother.

I developed this only a little to create some simple shapes that would work as masks, and decided on a three stage process. Past experience with registration meant that that this time I made things easier by including one edge of the figure that “bled” over the edge of the frame shape – this helped to position the masks.

Setting up

Once again I used my masking tape right-angle frame which is stuck directly on my fantastic glass table. This provides a corner on which I can register my printing paper each time, and I can simply use more masking tape as hinges on the top edge of the “frame” to position my masks. Each of the three major masks were attached at the start of the process so I could check their position up front.

1. The first print created the grey background, using a mask that masked out the “frame” of the image and the central figure. You’ll notice that the  print is facing the opposite way from my sketches. This was of course deliberate…. ok, no it wasn’t, but I didn’t noticed till I took the first print (sigh) and didn’t have time to reposition all the masks. I thought it might look good anyway so pressed on and took three more prints, re-inking the glass each time:

2. Next I added the dusky pink of the central figure using one mask that masked out everything but that central shape, and two smaller ones that created the shapes of the mother’s face and the baby, leaving them white.

For the shape of the mother, I had deliberately cut the mask to leave a white border between her head and the grey backround.

For the smaller masks, which sit isolated in the middle of the  image, I used the same technique I’d used in the poppy print – I attached the small masks directly to the previously-printed grey images using small pieces of low-tack masking tape.  (This was easier than trying to lay them directly onto the ink without smudging). At this point I lost two of my set of prints because of some remaining registration problems I hadn’t forseen – here are two that survived after some adjustments:

After the 1st (grey) and 2nd (pink) prints

The small white internal spaces are not quite white – this is becaused I used very thin tissue paper for these small areas, which let a tiny bit of speckly ink through. I looks kinda nice though.

3. The final print used a final mask to add a darker contour to the figure. Both prints came out well, and slightly different. I like this one best:

Mother monoprint - final 3rd stage - dark contour


This was good, I enjoyed it and found the whole process so much smoother now after all the practice I’ve had with previous experiments. Saying that though, I still made a few fairly basic mistakes, but by now I think I’ve understood this is part of the nature of printmaking and know that even the professionals will count on losing a percentage of an edition to various mishaps and errors. I  am pleased with the resulting prints too and that I got it all done within a few hours (hooray for water-based inks!).

This image was created to demonstrate the use of +ve and -ve masks together, so I’ll leave it at that, but if I have time I may take this a little further by adding some backdrawing or texture.

Zoe revisited – More masks and backdrawing

For this print I’ve revisited my previous attempt at a backdrawing of Zoe using a photo of her from a few years back.

This time, I decided to add some background colour first.

I painted three areas of colour – pink, brown and blue – onto my glass table, then masked them off to create the shapes – here are the 4 prints I created. I tried to use brush strokes to add some texture, especially to the hair.

With hindsight, I wish I’d gone for much paler colours, because when it came to adding the backdrawing, it was difficult to get the “drawing” colour strong enough to compete with the colours but without being too inky.

You can see what I mean in the prints below – with a couple of these the first pass of the backdrawing was too light – I had to try again with more ink, but then ended up with a bit of a blotchy mess:

This was the best of those 4:

But I thought I’d give it another go, and created another print, this time starting with the backdrawing again, then used tissue paper masks to add a big pink button to the hat, and some light blue to the collar.


These didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped really – I wasn’t able to repeat the feel of the earlier backdrawing I’d made here, and I think the big masked colour areas of the first 4 prints were just too strong. But I think the two above are ok  – I quite like the last one with the big red button even though at first I thought that was way too strong too! It’s often the case that I’ll grow to like them more after a while.

Red shoes monoprint

As part of my final monoprinting project, here is a print made using a series of masks, textures, scratching and backdrawing. The subject is a pair of my daughter’s red and white boots, worn when she was just a toddler.

1. Here’s a photo of them, and the sketch I made:

2+3. Masks and impressions

The first layer of the print was a beigey background shape using a negative mask.

The second used another negative mask to create  the red shoes shape. (As you can see I created 6 prints each time – lots of work, but in the end it was worth it.)

On some of these I pressed then lifted off some spotty wrapping paper onto the ink before printing – the white spots on the wrapping paper lifted more ink, creating the spots on the shoes.

4. Mask and scratching

Next, for the darker red of the inside of the shoes and the soles, I used a third set of negative masks for the shapes, and then used the end of a paintbrush to scratch in some lines to give a bit of contour to the inner shapes.

At this point I was really tempted to stop as I was nervous about spoiling the best ones with a further stage, but decided to grasp the nettle…..

5. Backdrawing

So the final stage was some backdrawing to add some detail … in the end I had two decent prints left, and here’s the one I was most pleased with:


This was loads of work, but I was very pleased with the result and that my initial planning of the whole process had worked out.

Registration went really well here – all the masks were negative – I just used masking tape to both position the printing paper and secure the masks and it worked really well.

I used thinner paper for the masks than before but found I was able to use the same paper for 8 prints of  each stage, so only had to cut one version of each.