Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Drypoint: Using cardboard and perspex plates


Last week I showed you how I made the covers for the altered book I’m working on for “Books…Beyond Words”. This week I’d like to show you how the next stage is coming. I’ve been doing tests with drypoint using both card and Perspex (acrylic) for the plate.

For the book I need an image of a cocoon. I think I’ve mentioned (just a few times!) how much I want to learn etching, but the trouble is I have a few projects on-the-go, and a personal (exciting!) deadline of mid-May (more later!!!). I can foresee that a number of attempts might be needed before I can etch to my satisfaction!

Then this article from Nontoxic Print.com arrived in my inbox, showing me the way. I made the decision to try drypoint, also an intaglio print method, but a direct one, and therefore rather more straight forward than etching.

In the article Jenny Robinson discusses how she makes her large (e.g. 38” x 23”) drypoint monoprints using illustration board as her plate. She applies a thin coat of wood varnish and then treats the plate as she would any other drypoint.

With the high (and increasing) cost of copper and zinc, I thought this was definitely worth a try. As Robinson notes, cheaper materials provide the artist with more freedom to experiment, because you feel as if you can throw away something that hasn’t worked – and artistic freedom is always good, in my book!

Another cheap material that is often used for drypoint plates is plastic. I’ve heard of people trying virtually any type. Actually my kitchen chopping mat has some interesting lines appearing on it, and I’m thinking of swiping it and inking it up, but first I need to buy a replacement for the kitchen. More common choices are mylar and perspex, so I decided to give perspex a try too.

Tools, ink, paper 


Apart from ink and paper, this photo shows everything I used. For paper I used two different Japanese papers in buff, one a medium kozo and the other with a little more texture.

I compared two inks, an oil-based etching ink from Graphic Chemical and a water-based one from Akua. The second ink was self-mixed using transparent intaglio base and the Akua Kolors, rather than the pre-mixed intaglio inks that are available. It really needed the addition of some thickener, which I didn’t have (but now do).

Tests & Results

1) Initially I began testing with tools that I had on hand – an etching needle (above – yellow handle) which I had used before for this my only previous drypoint (plate: perspex).

I knew I would want some tone as well as line in this print. I don’t own a roulette, the tool often used for achieving tone. In the article, Jenny Robinson talked about using carborundum, but the art store was out of stock. Initially, I decided to test some dry pumice (in the Matisse jar above) applied with acrylic gel.

drypoint 4

The result wasn’t bad, but the tone is more in the style of a collagraph, and that isn’t the look I am after.

2) Next I inked the plate with my self-mixed Akua. The ink was much softer and the textural effect of the pumice is lessened (pardon the shadow that’s come through on the scan).

drypoint 3

I wasn’t happy with the tone alone, and tried sketching in some detail in pencil.

3) I decided to add more line detail to the plate using an engraving attachment on the Dremel. I also tried wiping more lightly, so that more ink would remain on the plate.


I did quite like this result, but I felt the image now had a “man-made/machine” look to it. It’s an interesting effect, but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted for the book.


Here’s the plate (on the right) and the print again, this time using Akua ink. You can see I started experimenting with the Dremel’s mark-making abilities.

4) I wanted to test the Dremel further and decided to use line to achieve tone, a traditional drypoint/engraving technique. The plate here is perspex for the first time.


The result was a very controlled and neat image, almost illustrative.

5) At this stage I made another trip to the art store and decided to splash out on a “proper” drypoint tool (you can see it in the photo under Tools). I was pining for that special soft line that you can achieve when your tool lifts a burr from the plate. It is this that holds the ink and gives the drypoint its characteristic “look”.

And there it is over on the right side. All those lovely lines! I’ve finally worked it out!

tests on card (l) and perspex (r)

Still no carborundum at the art store, so I bought some Golden fine pumice gel, which you can see holds the ink quite beautifully. There are also tests with three different grades of sandpaper (150, 280 and 400 – reversed).

6) So finally I tried with my new scribe on a cardboard plate with the oil-based ink. I’m still working on my wiping technique, but this print is the best result so far.



  1. wow wee amanda

    another stellar posting (and I'm loving the look of your BAO project)

    will be holding my breath for 'the news' (oooo such suspense!)


  2. Thanks so much ronnie! Yes, I'm teasing a bit by not just blurting it out!
    BTW - sorry to disappoint, but this isn't the BAO book, its for Gippsland Regional Art Gallery. BAO is developing quietly in the background...

  3. These posts/articles are so informative...great stuff. I'd love to get back into print making but the smells/fumes are such a problem for me (even turps etc ) Might try this when I get me studio straight again (after the building last year when it ecame a storage unit !)

  4. This is super exciting Amanda! You can imagine how interested I am...I am using evil chemicals in all my etching and my hands tonight are worn out and throbbing...I am going to look into some of these fabulous techniques.

  5. Gosh.. that is quite a process and you are speaking a foreign language to me as I have no idea whatsoever about printmaking.
    The end results are fantastic, they remind me of Davinci sketches.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experiments. I bought some perspex and etching ink on my last trip to the art supply store a few weeks ago, to try it for the first time. What a happy coincidence :-)
    Your cocoon looks lovely! I am looking forward to seeing it in context.

  7. Another fascinating post, Amanda. It's making me want to get back to printing, too.

  8. So cool, Amanda. I wanted to say that while I don't practice "non-toxic" printmaking, i have definitely reduced the nasty chemicals: I use ferric chloride for etching or caustic soda, and I clean up almost everything with vegetable oil. I'm sensitive to turps, white spirit and methylated spirits so I've ditched most of them and when I occasionally have to use white spirit (very rare!) I use a proper mask for vapour/solvents/fine powders (I also use it when applying aquatint).

  9. Loved that you shared your experimentation process in such detail; wonderful post! I've tried drypoint on various surfaces myself and there's always such subtle variations between surfaces that one can't help investigating the numerous possibilities. Best of luck with your work.

  10. the latest i've heard to replace acid is cola, of all things.
    congratulations on your beautiful and fascinating work!!

  11. I'm finally getting around to trying this!