1.3 Two-coloured masked monoprints

The purpose of this exercise is to walk through the process of producing a two-coloured print using positive and negative masks.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Prepare two printing plates of contrasting colours
  • Print the positive mask first
  • Perfectly aligned to match the previous printed material
  • Try a few experiments where you overlap the colours and mis-align the masks
  • Using simple forms and colours
  • Every part of the print should make a statement and nothing should look unfinished or out of balance.
  • Try out some new ideas using masks, layers of colours, painted printing plates and so on.
  • Use the lighter colours first and over print them with the darker ones.
  • Different layers of many colours by varying the alignment of your masks or using several different shapes of masks on one printing surface.
  • Use a mixture of different masks and leave areas of the print as white paper
  • Find items which can be impressed into your ink surface to leave a shape or texture. Be adventurous and try anything you feel will work.
  • Using an inked-up printing plate press the items into the wet ink and lift them off You can move them around the plate a little to create a different texture
  • Try layering different texture prints on top of each other
  • When you can see the possibilities of this process, make a print depicting a landscape or townscape using the print of different items
  • Backdrawing
  • First prepare your printing plate with a thin layer of ink.
  • Gently lay your paper over the inked printing plate and with one hand, hold the border of the paper to your work surface to steady the paper and prevent it moving draw your design on the back of the paper over the inked surface
  • There is no limit to the number of times you can back draw a print

What I did

Print 1 – Two coloured masked prints

My first two coloured masked prints were made during the same print session as the single masked monoprints from the second exercise.

I extended the use of Illustrator for mask making to create colour thumbnails to test colour combinations.

Registration was a real challenge for these prints, and I ended up laying the second colour mask on top of the print, and then placed the color plate face down on top of the mask. I then put this through the press. This worked well.

One of the bigger problems was misalignment between the print and the mask because I dampened the paper with the one colour print before laying the dry mask on top; for A3 paper the misalignment was up to 3mm. The damp paper was naturally swollen, so it became impossible to get a perfectly registered mask.

Here are the two and three colour prints of the same subject using different variations of colour and mask.

Print 2 – New ideas using masks and layers

I did a series of landscapes from sketches and dypoint prints I’d made from Hunstanton beach (as part of Illustration 01).

Unfortunately I used far too much ink on the first print for backdrawing the clouded sky, and the sky turned from a stormy grey to a dark black.

Monoprint using three masks, backdrawing and painting direct to the plate

Print 3 – Masks using found items

These masked prints made using found items were made in Kew Print Studio in a single 4-hour booking. For the found textures I went to B&Q and took numerous anaglypta wallpaper samples.

The only consideration I had starting the prints was the selection of colours, otherwise I was purely experimenting.

The printing plate was A3 sized perspex.

Based on lessons from other exercises I used dry Snowdon proofing paper to print with through the large studio press. Using the dry paper makes accurate registration easier, and I don’t think it really makes much difference to how well the ink takes to the paper for this type of printing.

Found items02
Masked monoprint with found textures 03

Print 4 – Backdrawing

I became interested in the Punch and Judy puppet characters and thought that rendering them as backdrawn monoprints would be quite effective. Many of the characters have a dark side and, as an illustrator I liked the idea of creating characters and then building a narrative into the images.

I researched the subject using the internet and sketched out a number of the characters, trying different combinations, approaches and expressions until I found several to work into prints.

Puppet sketch02
Pen and ink sketch of Old Nick and Punch – 2 x A3 pages
Puppet sketch01
Pen and ink sketch of the policeman and thumbnails for an etching 2 x A3 pages

For these prints I tried working at home without the benefit of a printing press but with the ease of taking over the kitchen.

I was working with a plate at A3 size with oil based inks.

The method I used was to lay dampened paper over the inked plate. I then drew the design using HB pencil and my fingers onto A3 photocopy paper.

I printed on top of two colour and textured monoprinted backgrounds.

As a separate exercise I also tried working up the same idea as an etching. Although not part of the course I include it here for completeness.

Puppet etching02
Etching and aquatint, 25cm x 20cm


I also did a series of drawings inspired by Leigh Bowery that went in a strange direction. I thought these might translate into an interesting print.

The prints were a combination of masks, found textures, backdrawing, painted monoprint finished using acrylic marker pen. I don’t think the prints are as successful as the drawings.

Backdrawing from life

I chose two still life objects for backdrawing from life; a mexican death mask and a vase of lilies. I drew both subjects before doing the print to get a feel for the image and the kinds of marks that would work.

I inked up the plates with a very thin layer of thinned ink.

Research point – Printmaking artists who use back drawing

Find some printmaking artists who use backdrawing. Examine how they use it and evaluate it. Does it work well? What can you learn from it?

I carried out some internet research to find printmaking artists that use backdrawing as some part of their image making process.

Very few use the techniques in isolation; I could find several examples of artists using it as a technique to draw directly from life, and this does have a nice quality although, I think, limited in application.

Most printmakers use it in combination with other techniques; monoprinting with masks and found texture, linoprinting and collage. It’s used to add outline detail to an image, usually as the final print layer.

I particularly like the work of Lucy Jones who uses an inventive range of mixed media and printmaking techniques to produce images of Edinburgh.

I like the freedom, looseness an expressive nature of the images. She uses backdrawing occasionally as the final line art layer that provides the detail over the rest of the image.

My learning from this is that backdrawing is another tool in the printmaking toolbox that has wide application when used in combination with other techniques.

I’ve been inspired to combine backdrawing, monoprinting and collage will experiment with this as part of the next exercise.


What went well

  • The work in this exercise spanned a period of 7-weeks and covered a range of topics and subjects. I learned a lot through trying things out and experimenting with different formats and techniques.
  • Some of the subjects, such as the puppet pictures, I worked through in my sketchbook in some detail, thinking more about what I was trying to achieve and what interested me. Others such as the still lifes and portraits were much more instinctive without too much consideration apart from that I found them interesting.
  • I successfully printed in both a print studio and in my own kitchen; I’m now clear on the strengths and weaknesses of using each.

What I would do differently/better

  • I think the quality of work in the exercise is very mixed. I think this is because I was trying things out and so not necessarily applying the best technique to achieve a particular result.
  • I didn’t enjoy working purely with masks. I found it a frustratingly slow and cumbersome process, with challenges around registration.
  • I won’t soak/dampen paper when I’m creating monoprints in the future. I think I only did this because it’s what I’ve been doing in the print studio making drypoints and etchings rather than thinking through that unlike intaglio techniques, where damp paper picks up ink from the etched plate more easily, this doesn’t apply to monoprinting, where the ink sits on a flat plate.
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