Etching: line and shape figure

Using one of the line and shape figures I recently drew I  created a new print design, then worked on some simplified and stylised flowers.


This experimentation involves using sugar paste to create a printing surface on a zinc plate.   The studio had no  sugar paste and mixing dissolved sugar with pottery slip (kindly donated by the adjoining studio – see right) didn’t form a  sticky enough mixture to use successfully.

For those wanting to use this method a trip to the supermarket to find liquid chicory essence is worth the effort.  It’s cheap, readily available, and very syrupy.  Perfect for this type of etching.

Using an old ragged paint brush with the chicory essence I painted my base design onto the zinc.  When dry, the plate was flooded with diluted bitumen and, again, left to dry.  Once placed into a tray and covered with very hot water the sugar paste dissolved lifting the bitumen off the plate.  Where there was no paste, only bitumen, it created a resist on the surface of the zinc plate.

Above left: gently wiping the plate to help the sugar release from the surface in the hot water.  Right: the remaining bitumen resist (obviously the dark sections) where the plate will not etch when it is in the acid bath.

The next part is laborious but effective in creating a tonal range when etching.

  1. Aquatint was lightly applied to the plate surface and heat set.
  2. The plate was placed in acid for 20 seconds for an initial etching, then rinsed.
  3. More bitumen was applied over the zinc in selected areas to create a further resist.
  4. The plate was etched for a further 20 seconds, then rinsed.
  5. Still more bitumen was painted onto the surface, blocking out more areas from etching.
  6. The plate was acid etched for a further 40 seconds, then rinsed.
  7. The plate was cleaned with meths, removing the bitumen, ready for printing.

Above top from left: plate with aquatint, plate after first etching with more bitumen added, plate after second etching with more bitumen added.  Bottom: acid bath and working samples.


  1. A hard ground (wax) was rolled onto the surface of the warm plate and allowed to cool and harden.
  2. The design was traced onto the surface and an etching tool used to draw through the wax.
  3. The plate was etched in the acid bath and cleaned ready for use.

Above from left: applied hard ground with traced design, drawn design, finished etched plate ready for printing.

Single proof plates:

First print run:

Left: Cream Stonehenge 250gsm  Right: Pale brown Stonehenge 250gsm.
Both prints: base plate sepia + black, figure & flora plate pthalo blue + black.

Second print run:

Left: Creamy yellow Stonehenge 250gsm  Right: White Stonehenge 250gsm.
Both prints: base plate pthalo blue + a touch of black and 50% extender, figure & flora plate black. Roll-over 20% blue + 80% extender.

Overall, great outcomes.  Some plate slippage when going through the press so alignment is out by 2mm – will try to rectify this in the coming week with new prints.  My preference is the prints without the roll-over (first print run).

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Banana pulp

Remember my baby banana trees from way back in October 2016?

The left-hand one, living in direct sunlight, grew enormous, had a baby, and was chopped down a month ago.  The baby, now a late teenager (!!), has a baby of its own just popping through the earth.

Back to the original tree.  As instructed by my very experienced paper-making friends, I separated the tree into 3 sections; the leaves and leaf stems, the inner trunk and the outer trunk.  Each part was cut into small pieces and put into a black garbage bag, tightly tied, and left in the sun to rot for 3-4 weeks.  This is to soften the fibres before boiling with caustic soda in preparation for later pulping.

From left: inner trunk, outer trunk and leaves.

Having space for two pots I started with the trunk sections.

From left: my fabulous (and extremely useful) camping stove, inner trunk in muslin bag, outer trunk in pillowcase.

My reason for putting the plant material in bags when cooking is to make removal and washing easier, as can be seen below.  The fibres ‘collapse’ and turn to mush when ready to be rinsed.

From left: rinsing the outer trunk in the tied pillowcase.  Yes, I’ve got the sink plug in as wasting water feels like a crime to me.  On the right you can see the final quantity of remaining fibre.  The left-hand bag shows the amount of inner trunk and the larger bag has the outer trunk. 

Wow, what a shock!  I’ve hardly any fibre from a full-grown 2 1/2 metre high banana tree.  Granted I still have the leaves to work with yet but I expected more than that.  I’m told that the inner trunk makes finer and smoother paper than the outer, hence my decision to separate the two, but I’m not going to get more than a few sheets.  Below you can see the difference in texture between them at this stage.

From left: inner trunk, outer trunk.

As it’s currently still very cold to be working for hours outside making paper (even though it’s officially Spring now.  The studio is being refurbished) I’ve put these bags into the freezer to store until I’m ready to blend it to pulp and make my new paper.

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Design Play: Exercise 2 – drawing and preparing

Exercise 2: designing and cutting stamps

The goal: to explore the possibilities of stamping as a design tool.

I’ve decided to use an old favourite image of mine, one that naturally lends itself to wide interpretation; the Boteh.

The Boteh is a teardrop stylised design which found its way to Paisley in Scotland and became known as the paisley pattern.

Originally depicted on shawls in Kashmir under its original name, it was mass-produced in Scotland in woven fabrics and garments.

It is also indicative of the English high comma, another sensuous curvy shape, which is also known as an apostrophe.  No, not that horrid basic line we scrawl when writing quickly; I’m talking about the smart carefully crafted circle and tail.

So, my husband and I sat, with small squares of paper and a jar of coloured pens, and drew our interpretations of the Boteh/comma.

The  next step is to prepare bases as stamps.  I’m going with standard strata 3″ x 2″and will fit my chosen designs onto these.

Left to right: Easy-carve, lino, foamex board, woodblock, mountboard, vinyl.

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Design Play: Exercise 1

Alongside the time I spend printing, drawing and whatever else I can fit in I’ve decided to undertake some exercises from a design book I own.  Whilst the first exercises are very basic I’ll still work through them.  I’m aiming to build a resource to use when evolving new ideas for future print projects.

Exercise 1: Splitting Shapes

The goal: to split recognisable shapes into parts, which are then reassembled in various formats, sometimes so the origin is still evident and sometimes so it is not.

I’ve chosen to work with triangles.  I first took one triangle and reset it, photographing each time.

Then I cut a range of triangles and reformed them.

I combined triangles.

I chose one from above and explored pattern repeats and distortion.

These patterns are based on one shape, repeated, elongated, squashed, rotated and overlaid.  I could continue making many, many more and create a huge selection but the idea is to produce a few and move on to the next exercise.  Easy to get bogged down at this early stage otherwise.  Anyway, as I’ve done this multiple times in the past I don’t want to stagnate here.

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Drawing: Line & shape figures

Combining line and a little substance, working on proportion and movement.

Adding a sphere/ball/circular shape.

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Painting: water-based pigments

Yesterday I went for my second water-colour painting class.  What can I say?  I’ve done part of an on-line course and last month I did the ‘Absolute Beginners’ first class.  Yesterday was the second and final one.

Here’s the result:

You might just be able to spot the sheets on the fire last night – that was all they were good for.  OK, let’s accept that I’m not going to be a master painter and leave this experience where it belongs – in the past.

However, I’ve had a couple of other water-based painting experiences recently that have been interesting.

I recently sat with a group of people exploring Lindys Stamp Gang Magicals.  Described on their website as dye based powders packed with vibrant shimmery colours you have the option to buy them in a tiny ‘salt’ shaker which enables lovely blending of colours.

What interested me was some of the effects I had seen in an art journal by a well-known Australian scrapbooker.  Whilst I’m not interested in scrapbooking I love her journal pages and the flow of colour and effects across them.

So I joined a 30 minute trial using some of the Magicals (her journals also include the use of other colouring products).  The colour range is huge and they dry fast, keeping their vibrancy.  We sprinkled the pigments onto 300gsm water-colour paper and spritzed with water.

On the left I have used red, green and yellow ochre shakers, spritzed, and angled the paper so they run together to some extent.  The green in particular has partially separated into the base yellow and blue, giving more depth to the colour range.

On the right I only used bright yellow and black shakers.  Wow what a lovely colour range once wet and blended.

The products weren’t for sale on the day so I came home, met with a couple of other friends, and spent an afternoon trying to get similar effects using some Brusho water-colours I already own.

These come as dry powders, but not in shakers (well not when I bought them anyway) and they are flat colours, not shimmery.  The website has a ton of great video tutorials.

I took my water-colour paper, a small spoon to sprinkle with and a couple of spritzers, and got to work.

A bit heavy-handed.  The powder is super highly concentrated but without proper shakers it’s hard to avoid small clumps of pigment which create such a deep colour.

They’re looking better but I quickly learned that I need to use yellow in nearly every one because most other colours make the paper too dark too quickly.

Some lovely colour mixes which I would quite like to print over, in black – create some drama.

Next I’ll wet the paper first so the sprinkled colours spread with spidery tendrils.  Then, later, I’ll mix the pigments into water before applying them to the surface, as that way I can control the strength of colour more accurately.

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Lino: Printing from latest drawing

Jumping for joy

In position

Out for a stroll

Help, please

The world is even more amazing upside down

Stepping out

These are the final prints for this project.

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