Silk Aquatint: The Captain’s Cabin

The Captain’s Cabin 7.75×7.75 Silk Aquatint & colored pencil
Available on Etsy.
I’m starting to learn what works best for me with Silk Aquatint Printmaking. The work in process shots and details of what I’ve learned begin at the bottom of this post.  The reference photo for this little aquatint was snapped at a wonderful B&B called the Inn at Bath, in Bath, Maine.


Rinsing the plate after scrubbing with Dawn soap. [NOTE: If you’re using mat board as your plate, and you haven’t sealed it first – front, back & all four edges – with Acrylic Medium before building the plate, don’t run it under water, or you’ll turn it into a sponge. Before I adhered the polyester screen to this mat board, I coated the entire surface with Acrylic Medium to seal it. The Akua ink Silk Aquatint instructions suggest avoiding cardboard as a plate, because it’s too absorbent. I have a lot of scrap mat board from framing my work, so I’m blocking the absorbency with acrylic gel as the first step to preparing the plates.]

The fine folks at Takach press gave me a good tip: when cleaning Akua Waterbased Inks from plates, hands or work surfaces, straight Dawn dish soap (no water) works fast. I used more than I needed here to illustrate the point, but a dime sized dollop and a scrub brush or old rag works great to clean all the ink from the polyester screen on my plate.

After a trip through the press, I’m pulling the print, and you can see the variations in tone and value – from rich darks, to brighter passages, and some nice gradations in between. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with this easy to build, non toxic printmaking method.


On the press bed, with a soaked & blotted piece of BFK Rives paper, ready to print.

Here, I’ve inked & wiped the plate, intaglio style, with a blend of Akua Intaglio water based ink in Paynes Gray, cut 50/50 with Akua Transparent Base.

Using white acrylic paint, blended with either acrylic gel (for thicker application) or acrylic medium (for thinner application), I painted this little interior and let it dry completely.

The photo above shows a new batch of silk aquatint plates under way. The plates are either scrap mat board or plexiglass, coated first with a thin layer on all sides & edges with Acrylic Gel. This step shows polyester cut about an inch larger than each plate, and laid on the surface. Using a foam applicator brush, I spread a layer of black acrylic paint, thinned 1/5 with water on each square of polyester so it would adhere to the plate with no air bubbles or wrinkles. I let these dry over night, and trimmed the excess fabric the next morning. For step by step instructions, visit the Akua web site, and/or see the description below.

Art Quote

To prepare a silk aquatint plate, you will need a substrate or backing board, some black and some white acrylic paint and fabric. Caraccio prefers to use high impact polystyrene because it comes in large sheets, has the thickness of a zinc plate and cuts easily, even curved shapes with just a mat knife. Other choices are Plexiglas, rigid wood or metal. Avoid cardboard as it is too soft and absorbent. For black paint, use any kind, even inexpensive house paint as long as it is acrylic. The acrylic white paint should be artist’s quality. Acrylic medium or gel are needed too, but do not use gesso or modeling paste as they both have a sandy texture. For a brush to make the plate, use a sponge brush if possible. For the image making, some artists use trowels, spatulas and squeegees as well as painting brushes. Caraccio’s favorite fabric is silk screening polyester 12xx or 14xx. Real silk organdy will work as well; other fabrics can be experimented with. Wrinkles are a potential problem. Roll the fabric and do not let it touch the floor to avoid dust.
First, sand the backing material lightly to give it tooth. Next, clean the board of all dust with water and a rag and let dry. The black paint is then applied to the board after first thinning it to the consistency of light cream. If you are getting obvious brush strokes, thin the paint even more. After the black is dry, inspect the surface for any lumps and remove them. Next cut your fabric on the bias and cut the fabric larger than the backing by one half inch. The bias cut prevents fraying around the edges. Lay the fabric over the painted backing. It is helpful for the next step to lay your backing plate on a surface into which tacks or pushpins can be used. Tack around the edges only if there are wrinkles to be pulled out. Now with a brush, flood paint the fabric with more black paint. Make this a fluid application to drench the pores of the weave. This colors the silk and adheres it to the backing. Let dry completely, about three hours.
Now prepare the white paint by mixing 1/5 acrylic white paint with 4/5 acrylic medium (for smooth coating) or gel (for impasto effect). Now begin to make your image. If you do not wish to see brush strokes in the print, water down the white paint and use more layers (letting the paint dry before adding to the layers). You can wet the silk for water color effects. Let your plate dry and trim the edges. Ink with a square of cardboard or plastic ink spreader. Wipe the plate with tarlatan & print.
~ Maryland Printmakers InPrint article,   Sue Anne Bottomley visits the New York City studio of Kathy Caraccio, March 1998


6 Responses to Silk Aquatint: The Captain’s Cabin

  1. Belinda Del Pesco May 7, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    @diane cutter, I look forward to seeing the results of your experiments. So far, I LOVE this process. I don’t think your hubby’s shirts will net you the results you want. Even though it sounds like a great way to be really “green”. 🙂 I’m about to use the recommended fabric, which I ordered online – silkscreen fabric in 12xx (or 14xx), because I’m not getting the definition I want with the synthetic silks I bought at the fabric store. I would recommend skipping my mistakes, and just getting the silkscreen fabric, as the layered plate assembly and image painting is time consumptive, and good results are a sweet reward. Good luck!

  2. Diane Cutter May 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Belinda… I’m about to launch myself into this technique, thanks to your great walk-throughs. I’m wanting to do this from scratch and would love to know what type of polyester you used. Would my hubby’s old Hawaiian shirts work?

  3. WuXing painter February 7, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    Wow, what a difficult technique!

  4. blissful chick January 24, 2012 at 4:08 am #


  5. Kara K. Bigda January 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    What a great print — so beautiful — and such a fantastic step-by-step instruction. I loved etching and aquatint in college, but this non-toxic version is awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your process. You make me want to start taking printmaking classes again!

  6. John Brisson January 21, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Belinda…thanks so much for the walk through on this print. I love it!!

C'mon, Write something.... we'll wax poetic about art & making things!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Site by Spunmonkey