Multi-layered printmaking at home

May 31, 2020

Tutor Rossen Daskalov takes you through the different processes you can use to build up a multi-layered print with press-free techniques. Rossen will be teaching on The Drawing Marathon this Summer.

Printing is a dynamic process and unique way of interpreting our drawings. It is both analytical and inspires our imagination with its wide scope for experimentation. 

This Multi layered print combines intaglio (drypoint) & block printing methods (stencil and monoprint). The aim of this exercise is to improvise with mixing the direct qualities of the drypoint with the rich variations of block printing. This approach explores possibilities where the print develops more like painting, collage or even mosaic. The process is very dynamic and sensitive to your personal vision.   

Printing by hand introduces a different quality into the process, where the irregularity of the marks will create an open, irregular harmony of different fluidity and increased painterly variations. The use of basic printing methods can give us greater creative freedom than when following the stricter complex technical methods of chemical-based printmaking. 

What you will need:

You can use materials from commercial suppliers or alternative materials that you have at home.

Printing paper - Cartridge paper or similar types. Japanese Kozuke paper (45gms)is good as it is light, durable and sensitive. Avoid using heavy (300gms) papers, they are not sensitive enough when printing by hand.   

Inks and mediums for printing - Block printing and etching inks or alternatively:
For block printing - water-based mediums will work such as watercolour, gouache, chinese or indian inks, though water-based mediums dry quicker so you will need to print soon after you have inked up the plate. 
For drypoint and monoprint you can use oil paints, before printing you will need to spread the paint on newspaper to absorb the excess oil giving the paint a thicker paste like consistency. Oil crayons can also be used for mono printing by placing paper over a plate covered with oil crayon, then drawing on the back. For drypoint you can mix oil crayons with turpentine/oil to serve as ink for the plate.

List of other materials
Thin plastic plate for dry point, any packaging plastic can be used
3-4 thin polyester sheets, acetates or recycled cardboard for making stencils eg. cereal boxes
Etching needle or sharpened nail, sewing needle, any sharp tool really
2 rollers
Brushes: soft flat or watercolour brushes (medium size)
Permanent marker
Pencil and tracing paper (optional)
Tweezers, craft knife, masking tape
Table spoon for applying pressure when printing
Scrim or rags for wiping the plate

Making the drypoint plate
Make a drawing on the plastic plate using a sharp tool. The printed mark will depend on the pressure of the needle. Deeper incisions will result in darker, inkier mark. Start lightly, the lines will be indelible. You could define the drawing later when you are more aware of the various interconnecting layers. Suggest space, characteristic forms and their scale. 

1 Multi-Layered print exercise - Dry point print
Print showing just the dry point layer

Making the stencils
Cut the same size acetate and place it over the drypoint plate. Outline the new layer that you would like to introduce in the print. Use a marker pen and plan the overall structure as individual shapes/volumes. If you are using cardboard to make your stencils you will need to use tracing paper and soft pencil to transfer your plan from the dry point plate. Using the craft knife cut out all negative shapes from the acetate/cardboard surface.

The design must retain an overall integrity as a coherent network of shapes that will interpret the subject. Well planned spatial rhythms would ensure the structural balance of the template’s surface and durability. In order for the positive surface to remain attached to the stencil the tonal shape must not encircle it completely.

2 Multi-Layered print exercise - Three stencils
Three different stencils stages plus a combined stage of all three based on the drypoint plate

Prepare the paper and the register
Make an accurate register and prepare papers cut to the same size. This will help to control the layering of the different stages.

The paper can be bigger than the dry point/stencil plates. Place the drypoint plate under a clean acetate, centre it and with a permanent marker draw a line around it. Repeat the same process with a piece of paper. Measure an equal margin around the rectangle indicating the printing plate. Indicate the middle of each side of the paper rectangle. Using a ruler connect these opposite points with small lines drawn across each side line. Mark this side as the back of the register. You should always use the front side when printing. This way you can safely clean the surface after printing without erasing the marker lines. 

Aline a piece of paper on the register and with a ruler draw light pencil lines that correspond to the ones that indicate the middle points of the sides.    

 3 Multi-Layered print exercise - Paper on register trapped under weight
Paper on the register trapped under the weight

The register that I am using is for a few plates of different sizes, their indications visible under the wet paper. For this exercise I am using a dry point plate smaller than the stencils.

Making the print - drypoint
Spray the paper with water to make it soft, it must be damp when ready for printing. Blot it before printing with newspaper if it is too wet. 

Apply printing ink on the drypoint plate using a soft edge brush, spreading it into the lines with even pressure. Place a piece of newspaper under the plate and using scrim or a soft rag gently wipe over the plate absorbing the excess ink. Stop before you remove all of it and switch to whipping with the palm of your hand with light sweeps. The aim is to move the rest of the ink onto the newspaper the plate is sitting on. The skin of the hand is oily and is more tolerant to the ink, allowing more of the ink to be retained in the marks of the drawing whilst removing it from the rest of the plate. 

Place the printing paper on the register and match the pencil lines with the middle points. When in place, add the weight to trap the paper. Lift the paper and place the dry point plate under it, on top of the register. Lower the printing paper onto the plate and remove the weight. Now place an extra layer of cartridge paper on top and secure in position with your hand. Using a table spoon begin to rub around the whole area of the print. Work slowly, gradually increasing the pressure, making sure that you cover each area a few times. 

6 Multi-Layered print exercise - Pressure applied on the back of the dry point
Pressure being applied on the paper and plate

Once you think you have applied enough pressure peal the print slowly up from the plate and place it to dry covered with tissue under a flat object. The print needs to dry before the next layer is printed, with oil-based inks this period might be one or two days. 

Making the print - stencils and monoprint
The simplest way to print a stencil is to place it accurately over the desired area of the dry print and carefully apply the paint with a brush. 

8 Multi-Layered print exercise - Painting the stencil layer

Different stencils can be used at any stage of the printing and in multiple ways. Stencils can also be printed from both sides and utilised as a mono print plate, a method that allows you to print two stages simultaneously. A layer of ink is applied on the positive surface of the template. The paper is secured in the register and laid on top of the plate and pressure applied. If you are using water based medium and the layer is moist, you will be able to apply enough pressure with a clean roller. Protect the back of the print as before. 

5 Multi-Layered print exercise - First stencil to be printed as a monoprint layer
The stencil inked up ready for mono printing and laying the paper over to take the print 

After one side of the template has been printed as a monoprint layer, we can carefully turn around the paper together with the stencil, and continue working on the other side of the template, painting a colour layer through the original design. Liquid paint will likely bleed around the edges but this is to be embraced. 

7 Multi-Layered print exercise - First stencil to be printed as a stencil
The paper and stencil carefully flipped over

9 Multi-Layered print exercise - All three stencils  printed plus monoprint layers
All three stencils printed plus monoprint layers

You could also start with a separate background stencil and use it as a monoprint layer with the figure cut out and inked as another independent shape and print with the drypoint plate over the top.

4 Multi-Layered print exercise - Background stencil printed first
Here are two plates, one cut-out from the other, the separate body shape is inked up in a different colour 

You can start by printing either the drypoint or stencil/monoprint layers first and experiment with layering one over the other. Using strong light paper will allow you to work both sides of the print. Let your artistic intuition guide the process and explore as many layers as you feel are needed to resolve your print. The intaglio mark creates different intensities of line and texture, actively resonating with the surface of the paper. Block printing is mostly associated with uniform marks but this exercise can give you the opportunity to explore broader variations from soft transparent washes to irregular textures. 

10 Multi-Layered print exercise - Finished print
 Finished print 

Rossen Daskalov, Inwards 5, dry point, monoprint, stencils on Kozuke paper, unique print, 21.5x29cm