Project 11 – Creating Texture with a Blow Torch

With summer and the possibility of working outside, I was offered the opportunity of a one day workshop making a plate using plywood and a blow torch. Firstly, we prepared a plate using:

  • 1.5mm plywood scored and cracked apart
  • tile cement applied thinly
  • various tapes, parcel, duck etc
  • carborundum in pva
  • left wood in areas for a background tone but also to see if it produced interesting textile, charred.

The design for my plate was developed from my theme based on astronomy and gravity.

Whilst the tile cement was still wet, I played a moderate flame from a small blow torch over the plate. The cement and tapes bubbled  and melted. The process was surprisingly controllable. The plate was then lightly brushed and sanded to get rid of any flaky or raised material, and sealed with polyurethane varnish.

Plate after burning

Plate after burning

Before printing, the plate was run through the press a couple of times to flatten it. The plate stuck to the cover paper in a few places where tape glue had been exposed, so this had to be removed with solvent and a scalpel before printing. The press blankets were replaced with upholstery foam to avoid damaging them.

The plate was proofed by applying ink with a toothbrush and then wiping it with scrim and then torn up yellow pages. I proofed in a dark colour (Paynes Grey) which I think was a mistake, since cleaning a plate like this thoroughly would be nearly impossible, so I might struggle to print in any brighter or lighter colours. The plate was proofed using damp bread and butter paper on an etching press.

first proof

first proof

I reinked and reprinted the plate, trying:

  • a rub of colour after inking and wiping
  • a roll over of a contrasting colour
  • adding chine colle
  • printing on different papers, watercolour and Somerset
  • printing on fabric.
with rub over

with rub over

ink wiped less, with rub over

inked in two colours with pale roll over

inked in one colour with two roll over colours

inked in one colour with two roll over colours

inked with roll over with monoprinted, copper chine colle

inked with roll over with monoprinted, copper chine colle

Section printed on linen scrap

Section printed on linen scrap

I think the plate got better and better with subsequent inkings, although the surface of the wood started to flake off in places. Somerset produced better definition than watercolour paper, though both were good. Damp fabric was excellent.

Immediate things to develop were:

  • try cleaning plate and printing in contrasting colour blocks
  • try printing on my own press using lino runners and foam as a blanket.

Red oxide, opaque grey, yellow rub over, under inked.


red oxide, opaque grey, blue rub over

I was pleased that this difficult plate printed well on my own converted mangle which doesn’t have the adjustment or pressure of an etching press. I like the contrasting blocks of colour, but not the colour choice. The lighter colour used for the intaglio isn’t as effective as the dark tone with the light rollover.

I felt the design lacked something and that a linear element would add to the composition and develop my original idea. Lines were drawn on using pva from a nozzle,  melting this with the blow torch and revarnishing the plate.

blowtorch (2 of 3)

The Plate

blow torch  (9 of 3)

Analysis of method:


  • really fun to do
  • wonderful texture from tile cement
  • interesting effects from splitting the edge of the plywood
  • can keep developing the plate
  • the plate is strong but alters as you print
  • the roll-over worked really well here
  • lots of different printing effects, lots of ways of inking
  • the plate printed particularly well on 140lb watercolour paper and fabric


  • difficult to design a plate, you have to go with the flow
  • no interesting effects achieved with pva and carborundum on my plate, but we were shown examples where it worked well
  • only the thickest tape worked for me
  • needs really thin plywood which is difficult to find and expensive
  • very difficult to see how much ink is on the plate
  • difficult to clean the texture
  • need to consider the health of the press carefully
  • safety considerations with fire risk and fumes – must work outside.

Analysis of print:


  • the use of heavily textured and plain areas
  • I like the chine colle on the textured areas – not so good on the plain
  • I like the broken edge of the plate
  • the colour contrast in the texture
  • forced abstraction
  • I think adding the linear elements improved the design, but the extra layer of varnish filled in crisp detail and lost texture


  • having started so dark, I didn’t have anywhere to go
  • insufficient interest in some areas, although I think the eye needs a rest from all that texture
  • possibly over wiping? more ink in some areas
  • the final linear layer gave three levels of inking which was technically difficult
  • plate not square, got what I was given.

Directions for development:

  • test other thin materials eg mdf
  • mount/develop fabric prints
  • try large areas of chine colle over textured areas
  • test tapes and other materials with different amounts of heat
  • develop design which exploits the texture of tile cement
  • experiment with relative viscocities for different levels.

I wanted to try out more materials and a different support. I used kraft board for the support (framing leftovers) with applied carborundum, wet pva, Tyvek, tile cement and Hammerite paint.

blowtorch (3 of 3)

The Hammerite creates wonderful splashes and dribbles, but is far too exciting under the blowtorch. It also won’t then dry, so I haven’t been able to print this sampler. All the other materials worked really well and the kraft board was amazingly resistant to flame, although not, therefore, creating the interest of plywood. I could see all sorts of subjects suggested by these textures; landscape, seascape, beach, erosion etc.

My next plate looked at some of these developments. I wanted an element of representation and developed some ideas on landscape in my sketchbook. These were drawn very loosely on ideas of mountains, sea and estuary from holidays in Skye and the Picos De Europa.

blowtorch (1 of 3)

I found developing an image with collage particularly useful and decided to go with the idea bottom left.

I applied carborundum, wet pva, Tyvek, tile cement, and a bit of shredded nappy liner, and then played a blow torch over it. The plate reminds me of Norway or Iceland and the arctic circle. I particularly like the texture of the Tyvek in the mountain shape.

tundra plate (1 of 1)

Proofing showed that, with so much texture, managing the tones on the plate would be challenging. The soaked, heavy Snowdon cartridge was creasing under the pressure of the press and thickness of the plate, so I continued with watercolour paper which I hoped would mold better over the plate.

first proof

Some areas were best treated as a ghost and some fully inked. I wanted to add other colours to generate more definition. The watercolour paper molded better, but I think lost a little definition. Perhaps soaked too long?

ghost with local relief inking

The tones of the two blues were too close, and looking at my earlier prints, the bubbled tile cement texture was most successful where the intaglio ink was dark and the rollover light, so I added my turquoise ink to some white and some black to my blue to separate the tones.

iceland (6 of 8)

ghost plus relief inking

ghost plus relief inking

I didn’t like the blue/black and the other inks disappeared on it, so I cleaned the plate as much as possible and returned to blue.

iceland (8 of 8)

I felt the red oxide was a good addition but not strong enough so I painted some tissue with copper acrylic paint and used this as chine colle. I chose copper to resonate with the red oxide and also the turquoise/verdigris. I ran out of watercolour paper at this point so used cartridge again, which creased slightly.

four colours of ink, both transparent and opaque, applied intaglio and relief with various sized rollers and copper painted tissue chine colle. The works.

Four colours of ink, both transparent and opaque, applied intaglio and relief with various sized rollers and copper painted tissue chine colle. The works.

At home, I tried further prints on watercolour paper, without the chine colle:

iceland (1 of 8)


  • really pleased to have developed this project in a constructive, directed way
  • achieved a print with strong tones, colours and textures
  • lots of interest
  • watercolour paper worked well
  • acrylic paint worked well for chine colle and should be more fade resistant than coloured tissue
  • dark colours for the texture with pale roll-over works well


  • I an unsure about the merits of the precise cut edge on the chine colle, generally preferring torn edges
  • not enough tonal contrast
  • the chine colle is positioned a bit high up the plate
  • very difficult to ink this plate consistently
  • no interest from the edge of the plate, but it’s probably busy enough
  • some paper creased, some broke down at the edge of the plate, some seemed to lack definition; difficult balancing texture, water content and thickness.

I could develop this by:

  • adding  Hammerite and/or pva after burning to give areas if high wipability
  • work much bigger; this would be great for a print A3 or bigger
  • print this plate in cooler colours more reminiscent of the arctic, using an irridescent blue for the chine colle
  • try other good papers such as Fabriano Rosapina.



About SteveCussons

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in Experimental Printmaking, Printmaking 1, Project 11 - Creating Texture with a Blow Torch and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Project 11 – Creating Texture with a Blow Torch

  1. Wow! These are gorgeous! I really appreciate the window into your process.

  2. fibresofbeing says:

    Fascinating sequence / exploration. Good to see mention of health. I generally use a respirator when doing something fume-y.

  3. ocaartbyajm says:

    These are lovely! A real pleasure to see and an inspiration. Ange x

  4. Hi Steve. Just wanted to say thank you for posting this. It has inspired me to try the technique today on a couple of collagraph plates and I love the results!

    • starrybird says:

      Pleased that you liked it. I love the fact that printmakers are generous with their knowledge and I am pleased to contribute. What goes around, comes around! I have an up to date academic blog at but sadly haven’t torched anything recently.

      • Yes, I agree with you about the attitude of most printmakers. Thanks for the link to your blog – very interesting. I noticed your mention of the work of Barbara Rae. Recently, another printmaker also suggested I take a look at her work, which is inspirational. Thanks again Steve.

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