Variations using masks and multicolours

I have enjoyed printing with stencils but found the results rather flat and dull. I was therefore eager to experiment introducing more colour and variety to my prints. I thought that the stencils were OK but the backgrounds needed to add much more interest and context. The ballet poses had been back lit by strong theatre lights and I wanted to give an impression of that.

I thought I would try monoprinting using acrylic paint on a gelatine plate. The gelatine has a water content and flexibility that allows the paint to release easily onto paper. However it moves and warps as the paper is pressed down so there isn’t a stable plate edge. To overcome this I made a jig with the gelatine plate in the centre, placed over a plate mark and two flaps of cardboard on either side with a rectangular hole cut in them. This acts as a stencil to print through giving a ‘plate mark’. I have one one each side so that I can quickly pick up the ghost, often so interesting, before the acrylic dries on the plate. I experimented briefly with this earlier in the year (see .


The gelatine is ordinary cooking gelatine made very strong, with a little bleach added to stop it going off too quickly, but even so it needs storing in the fridge (carefully marked as art material not food!). The recipe is from Youtube.  I poured it into a baking tin to the depth of about 7mm and let it set. I used Golden Stay Open Acrylics to roll colour thinly over the plate and then laid pieces of fabric as stencils over the plate to block out areas but also leave a ghost texture. I printed (hand pressed) a positive on one side and lifted the fabric and quickly printed a ghost on the other.

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Positive background, ghost stencil tree

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Ghost background, positive stencil tree.

In my first effort I wasn’t brave enough to stencil out enough paint. The background created was too uniform without tonal contrast. The right hand print was better although I didn’t press hard enough to pick up all the paint in the tree.

My next effort was better.  I printed a positive and neg/ghost on the left and right papers twice each using oranges and blues. I placed the fabrics to imitate the undulations of landscape meeting sky (loosely). I then reinked the plate and laid one of my original negative stencils on the plate. Registration is not now a problem. I repeated the process to print the left hand paper.

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You can see that the backgrounds are pos/ghosts of each other. The fabrics are much more evident on the left. The ghost on the right is much more effective because the tonal range is greater and the fabric isn’t so evident. I think I prefer the lower placement of the stencil. The mix of colours also works better and it gives an impression of sunset over a receding landscape. The transparent acrylic paints give a luminous effect. I find this much more exciting than the flat backgrounds of the previous exercise.

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I repeated the attempt using my dancer stencil on a thinner, shinier paper for better pickup.  Again you can see that the backgrounds are pos/neg/ghosts of each other. The paints have picked up lovely textures from the fabrics. There were three layers of colour for the backgound and the transparency of the paints has lead to a real richness of texture. The torn edges of the fabric also add to texture.

net detail-1 net detail-2

Some of the detailed textures in the ink are really interesting. On the left two layers of paint printed through net has produced great colours. I want to experiment and see if I can harness this effect. It reminds me of a Bridget Riley.

The paint really picked up well but the paper has wrinkled and not stood up well to the process. I also think that the stencil shape is too big in the frame and hasn’t got room to ‘breathe’. I could have used an opaque paint for the final stencil, but I like the diagonal stripes through the body. I do think I have captured the feeling of theatre lights. I like the fact that some areas of the print on the right have been left bare. This gives the print a sparkle, a bit like unpainted areas in a water colour.

I want to further develop this technique:

  • try drawing into the paint – will the plate stand this?
  • experiment with the net
  • gain more control over outcome – more experience with the technique
  • mix transparent and opaque paint layers

I wandered around the garden looking for natural stencils and came back with a range of grass stalks, clover leaves, ferns, honesty seed heads etc, all of them really beautiful and interesting shapes. The bottom of our garden is mown once a year and largely left to wild life. Its a great place to go on safari for insects, slow worms, grass snakes, dragonflies, newts and many more. I find it endlessly fascinating and inspiring. I thought I might try to capture the sense of the long grass being like a mini forest. My idea was to collect quite a bit of material and print it in transparent layers to give the sense of complexity and depth. On my first layer, I used the honesty as a mask because I thought the larger, bold shapes would give structure.


The print looked ok after two colours (although one seedhead had creased) , and I thought I would overprint this with lots of more whispy material. Moving to a darker colour, I wanted to stencil out quite a lot of the next colour.

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I love the colour here, but most of the impact of the honesty has been lost. However, the detail picked up of the delicate grass heads is fantastic. The ghost left of the plate was almost photographic, so I wanted to exploit this in my next print.

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This is a dark purple ghost printed over  earlier layers of blue, magenta and yellow. The detail in the seedheads is terrific. Some seeds fell out and struck to the plate, adding further stencils.

leaf detail

I think this does convey the jungly atmosphere but is perhaps too chaotic without a sense of design. The other sheet on which I had printed my purple first ‘pull’ was also interesting.

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It is hard to believe that this is essentially the same print (no blue layer). The tonal contrast between the purple and the earlier layers creates a more ‘designed’, dramatic result.

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I repeated the process with ferns for a more graphic effect and with just the three layers.  Whilst these are quite interesting, and the detail in the underside of the ferns is fascinating, I don’t think the work as well as the grasses. The one in the right is better, but not great.

I plan to develop this idea doing some much smaller ‘plant portraits’ to use the medium to show intricate details of individual plants. I like the idea that a print could show you an everyday ‘weed’ as an extraordinary object. I also want to try the same approach using oil based inks on the press. I think this would also be a great candidate for back drawing. This project is going to run and run.



About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
This entry was posted in Part 1 Monoprints, Printmaking 1, Project 3 - Two Coloured Masked Monoprints and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Variations using masks and multicolours

  1. mags says:

    Superb array of work here! I’m particularly drawn to the honesty and fern prints – they’re such wonderful shapes.

  2. Wow, they are beautiful! I really enjoy reading your blog. I think I have to try printing one day, it sounds complicated?! But it looks great, and like a lot of fun.

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