4.1 Making a test collage block

This exercise explores the process and creative possibilities of collatypes and involves creating a test collage block.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Assemble your chosen materials
  • Simple, bold arrangements of shapes and textures work particularly well
  • Take your cardboard base and draw a grid of lines
  • To make your test collage block you will be using a different material in each of the 16 sections
  • Care should be taken when inking the collatype collage block
  • Take all your printed impressions in one session

Research point

Before you embark on this interesting project, take a look at what others have achieved using a relief collage as a starting point. Pick out some favourites and write about them in your learning log.

I used Pinterest as the starting point for my research, but also followed links and leads from Google.

When evaluating these I’m really looking at the techniques and final quality of prints that most resonate with me.

For simplicity, variety of texture and quality of relief print I’d call out Anne Moore’s Fugitive Mirage.

However my favourites are those that use a combination of relief and intaglio collatype print techniques such as the prints made by Kerry Buck. These seem to combine found objects and drawn imagery with interesting textures and use of colour. I can see how this combination would work well with my own interests and subjects.


I was really taken with the idea of combining relief and intaglio techniques in a single print and decided to explore this in the test cut.

I’d watched several YouTube videos about using mountboard as the base for a collatype. By cutting back paper layers to different depths using a scalpel knife it’s possible to create a collatype block where the different depths print at a different tone (depending on how the block is inked), in the same way as an etching. I wanted to explore this technique as well as experimenting with different textures and materials.

I sketched up a couple of layouts as a starting point. The central image of flowers was from a sketch I’d done in a pervious exercise and a subject I was considering exploring in more detail in the next exercise.


Making the collage block

I worked on an A2 mount board with a 45º bevel cut around the edge to help prevent paper tearing when run through the press. This was glued onto 3mm MDF that had been sealed all over with acrylic medium; this gave a solid block to work from.

I divided the block into 16 x sections and then started to construct the collage using various materials.

  • Lentils
  • Wire
  • Various anaglypta wall papers
  • Liquitex natural sand
  • Different grades of sandpaper
  • Offcuts of different pieces of netting

For the flower image I simply printed out a photocopy of my original drawing, cut it to size and carefully glued it in place. This was a quick and accurate way to transfer the image to the block.

In making the collage block I wanted to test:

  • The tonal variations I could achieve by cutting back layers from the mountboard
  • How easy and accurate I could be with a scalpel
  • How well the flower image would print and whether it would make visual sense
  • How different textures would print
  • How the wire would print; would it give a clear line?
  • The effect of using grit
  • How combining intaglio and relief techniques in the same block would/wouldn’t work.

Once all the parts had been firmly glued using PVA, I sealed the whole block using a thin coat of acrylic medium, making sure the beveled edges were also covered.

Collage block
The final collage block ready to print – A2 sized

Printing the collage block

I used the large press at Kew Studio and did the printing in a single session. I had the advantage of having the print technician available to help me set-up the press and advise on inking techniques.

I printed on Snowdon paper which was soaked in water for 10-minutes and then put between large sheets of blotting paper before printing.

I used Intaglio etching ink straight from the tube and applied this to the collage block using a toothbrush. This lengthy process ensured that ink was worked into all areas. I then used a tarlatan rag to rub off excess ink, finishing some areas with tissue paper. I then tried a rub-over using a ruby red colour in one direction, and cobalt blue in the other.

The first print had to go through the press three times, each time increasing the pressure until the right amount of ink was transferred.

test print 01
The first impression using sepia intaglio ink with a ruby red and cobalt blue rub-over. The block was over-wiped.
test print 02
The second impression. Using the same inks as the first impression, this time the block was under-wiped in places and over-wiped in others.
test print 03
The third impression combined sepia and burnt siena with a ruby red rub-over. Overall the gave better results and the choice of colours worked well with the textures.


What went well

  • I enjoyed the process of making the collage board and was please that cutting back into the mountboard gave me the results I was expecting.
  • Using Liquitex natural sand (fine grit in an acryllic base) worked well in printing a dark tone and was very easy to use.
  • The found textures gave interesting results; particularly when combined with the rub-over inking process.
  • The final prints have areas that are quite subtle and visually interesting.

What I’d do differently/better

  • I’d cut right back to the MDF baseboard in some areas and this was just too deep to pull a good intaglio print. I’ll avoid that in future collage blocks.
  • It’s difficult to get fine outline from the mountboard and the method I used gave a result that looked a bit like a lino print and not what I wanted. I’m really interested to try using collatype to provide tonal values and a drypoint or similar overprinted to provide fine lines and detail.
  • I didn’t really have the time to experiment with more than a basic set of colours. I’ll look to explore this in the next exercise.


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