2.2 More Mark Making – Positive/Negative/Layered

Experimenting with scratching through from one layer to another lead me to consider other processes or mediums which would allow the building up of positive and negative marks, adding to and taking away media. I recently bought some Indian ink from Seawhites only to find that it was not the shellac based indian ink I was expecting.  It is a rather blue ink which is water washable rather than permanent. I decided to see if it could be manipulated with bleach for negative marks. Experiments on Japanese paper (washi) showed that the ink had to be wet and the bleach thin but not dilute to work.


Here the paper was inked with a wide brush but some areas missed. Thin bleach (Miltons) was dripped and drawn on with a bamboos pen. The paper was washed to remove the bleach (and quite a bit of the ink) and then ink reapplied with a bamboo pen when dry. This has produced interesting textual effects and the light and dark marks create depth. The translucency of the Japanese paper adds to this effect. Washing the paper has produced delicacy.


Here bleach and water have been applied to create a suggestion of tree trunk and branches. Water and bleach have been spattered to create the feel of light through leaves. I have then tried developing some of these shapes with pen and ink but find this contrived by comparison.

I tried to refine and control this medium and got through lots of paper. I found that I could use salt and bleach to produce various effects. I tried this on watercolour paper as a more robust support.


‘Orbit’ Ink, water, bleach, salt, white acrylic ink. A3

The ink is rather dead on this support and didn’t move or react as much as on the washi. My marks, inspired by astrophysics and astronomy, are harder, crisper on this paper and lie heavily n the surface. I tried these same, simple marks on the washi.


‘Starbirth’ Ink, bleach, salt. 72 x 26cm

By not washing the paper, I have retained detailed marks recording the movement of the ink. However, the bleach and salt must limit the life of this piece. To make it big enough for large scale marks, I have had to tile the paper but I think that this works better than smaller, fiddly marks. The paper is marked on both sides so this would be interesting bound in an artist’s book. I enjoy both the happenstance and physicality of making work where the materials are allowed to evolve with only initial intervention. What I was going to do, the idea, shapes and rhythm was planned, but I had no idea of the final outcome.

The ink and bleach drawings remind me of early cyanotype photographic images. Combining photography or digital images with drawing and printmaking is something I hope to explore.  I have found the work of Gail Erwin who is working in this way, combining several layers, sometime of different media or technique to produce rather ethereal effects. Her inspiration of earth, trees, the elements in expressed through representational images, often digital, but also through direct impressions such as tree textures and and direct materials such as rust, soil, impressions, shadows and natural objects used as stencils for ink and photo printing. The works are placed within series in her website and are combined into installations for exhibition. The simple small works such as the torn paper series or the small natural cyanotypes build together to create a richer whole  but the rigid geometric placement of some, such as Mandala, jars with the naturalistic content. The larger layered pieces evoke a memory of physical objects. The combination of rust print with tree rings is visually interesting but there is no obvious connection between the two.

Printmaking is a useful process for developing mark-making, layered up, added and subtracted, as evidenced by Barbara Rae who combines many layers, sometimes in different processes.

marks (12 of 14)

Vine Path, Barbara Rae, 1995 Etching, 40 x 45 cm p78, Lambirth and Wardell 2014

marks (13 of 14)

An Ceo Driaochta (Detail), Barbara Rae, 2008 Etching and Collagraph, 59 cm x 59cm , p 117 Lambirth and Wardell 2014

It is possible to combine the marks in a print with other marks made on paper through chine colle or subsequent over-drawing with pastel, as Degas did, or with oil pastel, as Barbara Rae sometimes did in earlier work. I was keen to see if some of the painted and drawn tissues I had created could be combined with painted and drawn marks through wood lithography.

marks (2 of 14) marks (1 of 14)

Domestic lithography (‘kitchen sink lithography’) is available using aluminium foil but the texture of wood appeals to me more. In this process, marks are made on thin wood, in my case scrap plywood, with  a variety of mediums which repel water. The wood also allows negative marks to be made using wood cut tools. Since the wood is wet when printed, I was unsure whether chine colle with delicate tissue would work (especially as the tissue had been weakened by being wet first).

The first step was to make a test plate trying out marks and materials. I researched the process and found a useful blog here and video here.

Marks were applied using pigment pens, bamboo pen, various brushes, sticks and fingers. Mediums used were furniture wax, oil stick, oil pastel, Indian ink, acrylic medium, acrylic paint and shellac varnish. Negative marks were cut in.

woodlith (1 of 1)

The board was painted with gum arabic and left overnight. The plates were inked and printed on to light Japanese paper  which are particularly sensitive to woodcuts and so I hope would work well with this process.

marks (7 of 14)

First impression on Hosho paper

marks (5 of 14)

Second impression on lighter Washi paper

marks (4 of 14)

Third impression on Washi, some marks are crisper, some tone lost

The marks changed through the successive prints. I don’t know of this is because I got better at inking and wiping, or whether the board improved to to the developing water content of the wood. The lighter paper was better than the Hosho, recording crisper marks. I used a small roller to experiment with local colour, but this has left obvious roll-over marks. I think this is inexperience with the wiping but also a bigger roller would be better.

The details of pen and brush marks have been well recorded. Indian ink and acrylic paint worked very well and changes in the density of the ink allowed different tones. All the media worked to some extent, but the oil stick and oil pastel marks decayed very quickly. I think the underlying tone from the wood adds interest and the grain could be specifically utilised in more characterful wood than this off cut. The wood grain softens the edges of the marks, giving them an organic feel.

The limit of readily available Japanese paper and my press is just under A3. To make larger work, I would have to piece paper together. A larger drawing on wood could be cut up, printed and then re-assembled. An appeal of this process is that I could paint and drawn on wood in a very direct manner. Prints could then be worked on and developed in different ways. The artistic process becomes branching rather than a single straight line.

Researching artists who combine layers, especially using wood lithography, lead me to the works of Marilee Salvador. She has produced a series of prints in which she has combined a woodlith base layer overprinted with etchings. The method chimes with her organic subject matter. She extends her printmaking into mixed media by drawing over, layering up and assembling into installation. The inspiration of biological processes is obvious and the installation follow this idea through; the prints climb up the walls, spill organically across the floors.

Having done a mark making experiment, my next step was to draw and paint an image on wood for printing. This was based on a sketch of the negative, dark spaces in my rhodedendrons.

marks (3 of 6)

The block shapes were painted on the wood with shellac based indian ink. The density was varied to give variety of tone. Some lines were added using a pigment marks and some ‘subtracted’ using a wood cut tool. However, I decided that these looked far to contrived and restated them much more loosely using a Dremil and pointed bit. I had decided to work larger, and so had to print onto heavy printmaking paper, rather than the smaller sheets of Japanese paper.

marks (2 of 6)

The results were disappointing. The cartridge paper did not pick up the subtleties of tone and did not pick up the pigment line at all. This lack of repeat-ability must be partly due to my lack of experience with the method but also the change of paper. I tried to add interest with two colours, but that has left obvious brayer marks and also added confusion to the image.  The area to the top left has the variety of tone I was looking for and combines the wood grain with the cut line. All in all, a mess, but all information for the next time.

I think that this has been a particularly useful exercise in terms of investigating what drawing can do and how it can be incorporated directly into my practice as a printmaker, beyond the sketchbook. I didn’t get to a place where I could use the tissue papers as a layer under printing, but I have decided that whilst it is useful to consider what printing can bring to drawing and mark making and visa versa, I shouldn’t get too distracted by it.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to make an artist’s book, having had several attempts before. In order to keep samples of experiments and notes on materials, I have made a small concertina book. This has the advantage of being flexible, literally, when it comes to the thickness of the inserts, and I am finding it very useful.


Card cover with accidentally altered image


Samples and notes





Lambirth, A. and Wardell, G. (2014) Barbara Rae prints. United Kingdom: Royal Academy of Arts.



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