Belinda Del Pesco

a monotype ghost print of two roses in a bud vase, tinted with watercolor
Arizona & Angel Face 6.5×4.5 Monotype Ghost Print with Watercolor

Adding Watercolor to Monotype Ghost Prints

In this monotype group on facebook, there was discussion about what to do with very faint monotype ghost prints.

Many folks new to printmaking aren’t aware that adding watercolor or colored pencil to monotype ghost prints is an option.

The only caveat is noting the paper you’ve printed your monotype on, and the inks you used to print with. Wet media like watercolor, or a dry media like pastels or colored pencils will be affected by the inks and the paper you use to create your monotypes. Read on…

a smooth zinc plate, with a thin, even layer of intaglio printmaking ink rolled out on the surface to create a dark field monotype
A zinc plate with black printmaking ink rolled in a smooth, thin layer, ready for image-making in a subtractive process.
a dark field monotype of two roses in a bud vase
The dark field monotype pulled from the inked zinc plate above, after manipulating the ink with a clay shaping tool, pastel stomps and paper towel rolled into a point.
a faint black and white image of two roses in a bud vase, created as a monotype ghost print
The ghost print of the monotype above, after a second trip through the press pulled what remained of the ink from the zinc plate. With just watercolor, this faint, single-value ghost print became the art at the top of this page.
tubes of watercolor
Assorted tubes of watercolor are all you need to add a veil of color and increased contrast and details to your monotype ghost prints.

Printmaking Inks You Can Paint On

Many water-wash-up printmaking inks do not dry permanently. They are still great printmaking inks, and you can always use dry media to enhance them or add color after printing with them. But you can’t paint these inks with wet media without re-wetting and bleeding the pigments.

Speedball Relief and Intaglio inks will re-wet after they dry (see the FAQ from their block printing inks below). You’ll have better results with dry pigments like colored pencil and pastel added to your prints after the ink dries.

water soluble printmaking ink

Akua inks, and Caligo Safewash inks both clean up with water, and they both dry permanently. So, you can paint watercolors on your prints after Akua and Caligo inks dry.

But both of those inks require paper that’s porous enough to absorb the ink in order to dry. You’ll have best results with these inks on printmaking papers with some internal sizing. Otherwise, you may have to wait weeks for your prints to dry with printmaking papers that have internal and external sizing. See more below…

a monotype ghost print with watercolor of ornate glass bottles, a bowl of dried rose petals and a persimmon on a sunny window sill
Another example of adding watercolor to a monotype ghost print – Persimmon, Rose Petals and Glass 4×6 Monotype Ghost Print with Watercolor
a ghost print of a vintage portrait of a young woman with a heavy coat and a feather in the band of a broad rimmed hat
A faint monotype ghost print from a portrait taken in the early 1900’s of one of my great aunts.
monotype ghost print with watercolor of a vintage girl in a heavy coat and a rimmed hat
The ghost print monotype of my great aunt from above, painted with watercolors.
a monotype ghost print of a bed and pillows
A portrait of pillows and rumpled sheets as another very faint ghost print.
dark field monotype ghost print with watercolor and colored pencil of a bed and pillows with rumpled sheets
The same pillows and sheets ghost print with watercolor and colored pencil added.

Adding Watercolor and Colored Pencil to Ghost Prints

One of the most effective ways to enhance – or even “correct” a monotype is colored pencil.

The pigments are opaque enough to cover most printmaking inks, so you have the option to highlight or brighten an area that got too dark.

You can see in some of the example monotypes in this post that colored pencil can also amend shapes, add details, or edit them out.

And colored pencils (or pastels) work on all printmaking inks and almost all papers, so you don’t have to be selective with regard to printmaking paper sizing, or selecting a permanent-ink that won’t re-wet on your prints. More on that below…

a very faint ghost print from a monotype
This monotype ghost print was printed on Arches 88, a beautifully smooth, bright white printmaking paper with no sizing. The lack of sizing in the paper dictated using only dry media to enhance the print.
a monotype ghost print with colored pencil added showing two women sitting on the bumper of a model T ford wearing fur collars from the early 1920's
Mae and Tess 7 x 5 Monotype Ghost Print from above, with Colored Pencil added.

The Relationship between Printmaking Paper and Pigments

Pay attention to the paper you make monotypes on if you want the option of adding wet media.

There are many printmaking papers to choose from: BFK Rives and Arches Cover (two of my favorites for adding watercolor), Arches 88 and Arnhem 1812 (both excellent for adding colored pencil), Kozo, and Somerset, etc.

Some printmaking papers are made from cotton, others from mulberry, or wood pulp, or sulphite, etc. Have you done experiments with different papers to see which ones suit your style and materials best?

You can purchase printmaking paper sample packs from Legion Paper here, and from McClain’s here. If you purchase some of the samples, test different papers with the inks you already use to make prints, and then add media like colored pencils, watercolor and pastels to see which paper’s work best with your supplies.

an old fashioned paper cutter and stacks of small squares of printmaking paper on a counter

Sizing in Printmaking Paper

Sizing in printmaking papers works the same way it does in watercolor paper. The gelatin or starch mixed with the pulp during manufacturing holds the fibers together, and acts as a barrier to pigment.

Sizing hinders pigments from bleeding into the fibers and spreading willy nilly, as though you were painting on a paper towel.

Sizing also gives you more control in printmaking, and keeps your ink colors rich and bright, sitting on top of the paper, rather than sinking into it.

Some papers have sizing mixed with the pulp, and then sprayed in a fine mist on the surface. That’s referred to as internal and external sizing. My favorite watercolor papers use both internal and external sizing, but this can cause drying trouble with some printmaking inks.

Too much sizing in the paper under printmaking inks that require absorption to dry, like Akua, will slow your ink drying time considerably. The sizing blocks absorption.

No sizing in your paper at all will prohibit adding watercolor to your print, because watercolors will bleed and sink into the fibers of the paper.

One of the reasons I like printing on Arches Cover and BFK Rives is that they each have *some* internal sizing, so you can paint watercolors on your prints, but not so much sizing that Akua inks won’t absorb and dry.

I haven’t experimented with wet media on Strathmore’s printmaking line – Riverpoint yet, but it’s on my list. If you’ve experimented with watercolor on your prints using this paper, or any others, please share your observations in the comments.

a monotype ghost print of a woman reading a book, in profile, next to the copper plate it was printed from
A monotype ghost print, next to the copper plate it was pulled from.
Did you consider that painting monotype ghost prints with watercolor helps inform your mark making on future monotypes?
a monotype with watercolor and colored pencil of a woman iseated in profile reading a book from the arm of a couch in front of a window
The monotype ghost print above, with both watercolor and colored pencil added to the print.

Pause for a Refresh

This will be the last blog post for the year. I’ll be back in 2020 with more watercolors and printmaking. I’ll miss you over those weeks, and I hope you’ll be busy making art here, there, and everywhere. You’ll do that, right?

My website needs an overhaul, so I’m going to focus on that for a few weeks to re-build it. I need time to learn the specs of a new Theme on WordPress (think of WordPress as the chassis of the car, and the new Theme as the skin, or the layout, color, and design of the web site).

I’ve been researching Themes, and sketching designs for the main page. It won’t be too different from the way the site looks now. But some of the plugins (the parts that make the website function) are out of date, or no longer supported, or causing glitches. It’s time to fix that.

If you’re new around here, and you want to be notified when the new web site is up and running, sign up to subscribe here.

If you’re already subscribed, I thank you for hanging around the studio with me. Good company is precious, and I am incredibly grateful for your camaraderie in this amazing, networked art world.

Your company balances and enriches the time spent alone in the studio while making art. ?

Happy wishes to you, for more art, more color, more creative adventuring in 2020.

See you soon,


a cat making direct eye contact, and asking of you miss your art supplies
Scout the Studio cat will show you where to take a free online course with six tips to paint more often. Click his photo to check it out.

Art Quote

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

George Bernard Shaw

6 thoughts on “Adding Watercolor to Monotype Ghost Prints”

  1. Thank you Belinda for all that you do to bring art into my life and others too throughout the year. Enjoy the holiday season.
    Now it’s time for me to take a break and clean up my studio! ?

    1. Hi Phyllis, Thanks for the note, and I wish you great fun in sorting your studio. Cleaning up reminds us of supplies we have, and projects we planned, and I think it helps to get the creative juice flowing. Happy 2020 to you!

  2. Happy Holidays, Belinda! Thank you so much for all your research and posts – you’ve really helped my art making along, as well as giving me way too many techniques to investigate and enjoy! LOL – I’ll get to them all some day. 🙂

    1. Hi there, Ivy! Thanks for your kind note! I’m grinning to think that reading this little bloggy has given you too many techniques to try in your art adventures. That’s good news! I hope you do get to them, and each one is a party of creative experiments and method-investigation. Happy Holidays to you too!

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