Back drawing

I hadn’t been enthralled with my first attempts at backdrawing on  a monoprinting workshop a few weeks ago. My first print seemed to me to lack substance and would have been much improved with a second colour.


I tried working with one of my life drawings as a subject. I cut a small oblong of balsa wood and drew with this on the back of the paper to mimic the effect of a square pastel block. This was much stronger than my earlier effort, partly because of the contrast in tone using black ink, but also because of the strong shape. When I had a blue roll up left from another print, I used it to draw some random body parts over the top. I deliberately draw some of these outside the original image to echo my sketch, right,  but I don’t think the intention is evident in the result.

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For my next experiment with the technique, I used a print I had rejected from my leaf stencil series. I echoed the shapes of the leaves and stems of the convulvulus and it  improved the interest of the print, but I think it looks very amateurish. I did not have the original plate with me, so I inked a larger plate and masked off an area with strips of paper. I masked a smaller area than the original plate to give me some latitude on laying my print over.

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This is another experiment on a discarded print. I was trying to get a feel for the effect over a previously inked surface,  how much ink I should have on the plate and practicing (unsuccessfully) my registration. I think these backgrounds are too strong underneath the drawing. I was struggling to tune in to the technique.

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Next, I called on a ghost background left over from my dark field prints. This was on newsprint, so hopefully I could get more precise lines, and I felt the softer background would work better with the charcoally lines. I removed a lot of the ink from my plate by rubbing over a sheet of newsprint, before drawing. I think the delicacy of this is much better.

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I developed this idea by selectively inking the plate in different colours, removing most of the ink as before, and then drawing onto the back.

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I taped newsprint to the back of my paper to draw on. This meant I could develop my picture in several layers and not mark the back of the print.

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Unfortunately, when I laid newsprint over to remove ink, it didn’t go down evenly and left me with two lines across the plate. I then inked the plate in dark blue and drew in again. I also wiped in areas of tone with my hand.

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The result is quite rich in texture, if rather confused in design.

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I like the idea if not the execution. My registration is improving (slightly) with practice. I had tried to lift a ghost of my background onto thin paper using the press, but the paper creased badly. I needed to use the press to pick up the ghost, but wanted to use light paper I couldn’t soak, to draw through successfully – a conflict in requirements.

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I repeated this approach but radically simplified my image and made the shapes of the acers stronger. I think this technique has worked well but the shape of the trees is now too similar. I used a yellow of different viscocity to the red and orange, and this had added further texture.

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Mindful that I was supposed to do a drawing from life (the trees were originally from life but getting more and more abstracted), I drew a portrait of a fellow printmaker. This had to be quick because she was working, not posing. She has red golden hair and colouring, so I chose to work in red. I then tried to add golden hair with a plate in yellow, but I also picked up colour in the face, loosing some definition of the features. I think this was because I hadn’t had time to let the ink dry, and although a  very application light, the red ink still had tack. I rolled up the plate again,  very sparingly, in blue and restated her specs, hair band and earrings.

I left too much red ink on the plate, but actually I like the effect here, and, although the lips are too big, the portrait captures her colouring and style.

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I wanted to further develop the idea of a textured backgound, particularly after researching the use of this technique by Klee and others. I wanted a subject which offered an uncluttered background and a simple graphic subject which would lend itself to back drawing. I have a large box of reference photos, taken or collected over time. I chose a photo which I took at the Hoge Veluwe National Park in the Netherlands. This is home to the wonderful Kroller Muller Museum ( and also the most amazing desert landscape mixed with forest. Some trees are half buried in shifting sand.


I used my sketchbook to consider a longer, thinner layout and rescale the tree. I decided to execute this in three layers, firstly rolling a two colour background which I planned to print in a textured way using my fingers and the blunt rounded end of a biro to pick up ink. I used masking tape on a perspex sheet to mark the location of the plate. I cut paper, making sure I had one absolute right angle side, and marked a corner with an arrow. I could then accurately line up that corner  paper with the outside edge of the masking tape and hopefully replace the plate and the paper accurately, repeatedly. The thickness of the tape usefully gave me an edge against which to nudge my plate.

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Again I placed a piece of paper on the back of my support to drawn on, having lined it up with the plate edge with everything in place but no ink. This meant that repeated layed of drawing would be self registering. After printing the background, I printed a drawn layer in dark green, and then a further layer in dark blue for added tone in the tree.

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I think this is much more successful with four colours and much more texture. The registration method worked much, much better than my previous efforts. Having taken a ghost of my first layer, I had to reposition my drawing on the back of an inky support. I did this by taping the support to a rigid edge and then holding it up to a window. Only a little ink got on the window!

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The background is, of course, weaker, but still a worthwhile print.

One last experiment. I took the ghost of one of my stencil prints and scanned it. I then flipped the image on the computer and printed it out on thin paper. I used this, together with my original image to decide how I wanted to develop it with back drawing.

starry guy P1030244

The print was on heavy cartridge and I was not sure that back drawing would work. My fine biro line did come through but as a very heavy thick line. The jury is still out on this one – I may yet add a further layer. Black is a difficult colour to develop from, I think.

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To develop this technique further I would want to think about:

  • working with backgrounds, coloured, textured
  • the balance of spontaneous line and coherent design
  • several layers of drawing in different colours

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.

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