Silk Aquatint: Bandana

silk aquatint portrait

Bandana 5×7 Silk Aquatint on BFK Rives paper (sold)

What is a Silk Aquatint?

Silk aquatint is a variation of a printmaking method – Aquatint.  The traditional version uses an acid bath, a metal plate, a blow torch and some pretty caustic materials.  This “silk” version is a home-studio, no-acid, Do-it-Yourself aquatint using plexiglass as a plate, synthetic silk and acrylic paint. By most accounts, this alternative was invented by Massachusetts maritime painter and printmaker Donald Stoltenberg (1927-2016)

silk aquatint plate making

Testing different plate materials, and assorted polyester silks for silk aquatint printmaking adventures in the studio

Silk Aquatint Print – Wait, What??

The premise of a silk aquatint – on a larger scale – is this: pretend you took an 8×10 sheet of plexiglass, and you painted one side black, and then attached an 8×10 section of screen door material to the painted surface. If you squeegeed the screened-side with black printmaking ink, and then wiped all the ink off with tarlatan, like you would for an etching, you’d still have enough ink huddled in the tiny square spaces between the strands of the screen to print a solid, black 8×10 square if you squeezed the plate against paper on a press.  On a micro-level, each strand is protecting a square well that will hold ink. (see below)

silk aquatint printmaking methods

By painting the fabric with white modified acrylic, you fill the voids in the weave, and block ink from settling there.

Fill the Well with Cement!

The magic happens when you adjust which squares are empty and ready for ink, and which squares are full of something that blocks ink accumulation. If you paint a solid white circle in the middle of your screened plate, using a mix of white acrylic paint and gloss medium, you’re ostensibly filling the wells between the strands of screen. Now, when you ink the plate again, and wipe it intaglio style, all of the ink on your white circle wipes away, because 1) there are no deep areas on your screen for the ink to settle into, since you filled them with white paint, and 2) the white paint is now slippery with the addition of the gloss medium, so the ink can’t cling, and it wipes away completely. Can you visualize that?  See what I mean? Totally Cool!

So, What Do You Get?

When you ink, wipe and print this version of the plate, you get a clean white circle on a black 8×10 rectangle. By varying the layers, thickness and brush application of the white acrylic to the screen – adjusting the depth of the “well”, you can create subtle halftones and gradations in the print. And for folks that find imagining the finished product on a traditional etching or engraving challenging – this method is WYSIWYG: What you See is What you Get.  The plate looks just like the print (see the print being pulled near the bottom of this post as an example), albeit in reverse. Intrigued yet? I knew you would be excited to try it!

Printmaking Experiments in the Art Studio

After making a few silk aquatints, I mixed two different consistencies of gloss medium and white acrylic paint to control variations in tone in the printmaking process.  In previous tests, I used a 50/50 blend of gloss medium and acrylic paint, and the result was a little too thick and viscous for finer details. Thinning it this way gave me better control of layering and feathered edges.

silk aquatint under construction

Painting the portrait with a thick and a thin gloss medium and white acrylic mix on my prepared silk plate

The beginnings of this Print

The base of this silk aquatint plate is a sheet of standard plexiglass with polyester silk adhered to the surface with thinned black acrylic paint. After it was dry, I put a drawing on the silk, and then painted in layers of white (a mixture of gloss medium varnish and white acrylic paint) in all the areas I wanted to block the weave of the silk. Areas where the weave of the silk are not painted will print dark. You can think of painting the plate as a process of “painting the light”.  💡


Applying akua black ink, cut 50/50 with transparent base to the silk aquatint plate with a paper card

silk aquatint printmaking

After a trip through the press, pulling the print from the plate.

Silk Aquatint print of a woman in a bandana

After the ink on the print was dry, I added a thin layer of colored pencil.

Make a Silk Aquatint! Go on, Now – You’ve GOT This!

So, there you have it – a silk aquatint! I hope you’re intrigued enough to give it a go. If you’ve made one, and you have any tips, tricks, ideas or cautions, please leave them in the comments, because you know – we get better at art together. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by today and I’ll see you in the next post!


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Need a little art-titling assistance? I’ll be your Title-Fairy. Click the brushes above to read more about three different titling systems in one little video course!

Art Quote

Actually, it goes the other way

Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact…
It turns out that choices lead to habits.
Habits become talents.
Talents are labeled gifts.
You’re not born this way, you get this way.
Making a Silk Aquatint from Plexiglass, polyester and acrylic gloss medium and paint
Article Name
Making a Silk Aquatint from Plexiglass, polyester and acrylic gloss medium and paint
Photos of the step by step process to make a silk aquatint from a plexiglass plate, silk screen polyester and acrylic paint.
Publisher Name
Belinda Del Pesco
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10 Responses to Silk Aquatint: Bandana

  1. Marissa December 17, 2018 at 8:12 am #

    In the workshop where I took the Relief classes I have access to etching ones. Unfortunately I’m not in the same city now and won’t go back for some time. That’s why I’m considering buying a small/medium one for myself and sharing with friends. I’m a middle-age creative (retired from schedules and engagements) woman. My degree is in Philosophy and I’m an Art fan, so I love to try new techniques and media for better expression, you know?
    Anyway. Keeping in mind what you are telling me about this, I think I can make a better choice now. I’m excited! 🙂
    Thank you so much Belinda! Reading about your Printmaking discoveries is always a pleasure and oxygen in this crazy world. Thank you for being so professional and human ♡

  2. Marissa December 13, 2018 at 3:48 am #

    I have a book binding one and do some of my relief prints there. I’m planning to get a bigger one during this year. Do you have any advice considering this technique? I would really appreciate it 🙂 Thanks for your replies!! <3 <3

    • Belinda DelPesco December 17, 2018 at 7:04 am #

      Hi Marissa – I’m not sure you could pull a detailed print of a silk aquatint on a book press. The pressure is distributed along the length and breadth of the platen, which is great for relief prints. On an etching press, all the pressure is concentrated on a 1/8 to 1/4 inch width along the length of the drum – so it’s more pressure per square inch. Do you have a friend with an etching press to borrow time on, or is there a college nearby, where you could print an aquatint?

  3. Marissa December 5, 2018 at 9:05 am #

    Belinda is this a kind of mix between intaglio and serigraphy? The process and finishing look fantastic. It got my attention! Do you have a video showing the process? I’d love to give it a try. Thanks! 🙂

    • Belinda DelPesco December 5, 2018 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Marissa, I think you could categorize this method as a mix of silkscreen and intaglio… but in process, it feels like a painterly form of aquatint. Thanks for your compliments. I’m working on a tutorial video, but the set up and filming is happening in fits and starts while squeezed into a million other projects. Thanks for your interest. Do you have a press?

  4. Liz Mitchener October 25, 2018 at 4:53 pm #

    This is fascinating, thankyou for sharing, definitely soething totry in the new year.

    • Belinda DelPesco October 29, 2018 at 4:14 pm #

      Hi Liz, Thanks for letting me know you’ve enjoyed this post. I hope you gather your most fun art friends and everyone makes gorgeous silk aquatints together!

  5. Belinda Del Pesco April 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    Alan, Thanks so much for your note and your compliment. Yes, the value control achieved by layering glazes of acrylic and gloss medium/varnish onto the screen is fascinating. I have much to learn still, so I will continue and repeat the process till the right “muscle memory” settles in and I don’t have to think so hard to get the effects I want. I have new silkscreen fabric to try next, so I can’t wait for a little more time to get inky. 🙂 Thanks again for your encouragement!

  6. Alan Takach April 17, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    I’ve seen so much progress in your recent endeavors with this medium (silk screen aquatint). From the look of the test prints you are mastering the required “fill” (of the screen pores) to achieve the values you desire.
    They look amazing!
    Happy Printmaking,


  1. Making a Silk Aquatint: The Captain's Cabin - Belinda Del Pesco - January 14, 2019

    […] a Silk Aquatint?  This previous post covers the mechanics of how silk aquatints work, and some of the materials used.  Let me show you […]

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