intaglio print of a cat with attitude

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Making an Intaglio Drypoint Print from Recycled Paper Cartons

While walking a freshly emptied carton of frozen Mango & Cream bars to the recycling bin, I wondered if the thin paper carton would yield an intaglio print. There’s only one way to find out, right? So let’s give it a twirl, shall we?

Here’s the source (left) of my curiosity (probably fueled by the fruit sugar I just consumed). I snipped a sheet of the packaging off a frozen Mango popsicle box to get this experiment started (inside of the carton on the right).
A loose sketch and a thorough coat of Liquitex High Gloss Varnish on the front back and edges of the packaging material
The product on the left with the green label is the sealer I’ve used on collagraph prints and all paper-related printmaking plates for years. They changed the label, and separated the Medium from the Varnish (bottle on the right). This printmaking project was made with the high gloss version of the bottle on the right.

Recycled Cartons as Printmaking Materials

If you’re new around here, visit a previous post about a series of printmaking experiments involving Trader Joe’s plastic Biscotti containers printed by stomping on the paper & plate to make a drypoint etching over here.

And if you’re leaning more towards a collagraph print, rather than a Drypoint Etching, this post with all the how to make a collagraph goodies might help you get started.

This is a stainless scribe. The tool is also called a twisted scribe, or an etching needle. Some call it a Whistler’s needle…. printmaking nomenclature meanders all over the place, so it’s best to go into this method of art-making with an open mind. Like, all the windows open, and the doors ajar. Downright breezy. Three printmakers at a table will give you fifteen opposed definitions of tools, methods and best practices. These are just mine, so they aren’t hard and fast rules, as you’ll see when you speak to another printmaker.
Scribing tiny hairs all along the edge of the cat to suggest fur. Using the tip of the scribe, I’m pushing the paper with enough pressure to create an indented line that will hold ink. I’m not trying to break the sealer or tear the carton material.
After scribing and cross-hatching grooves to hold ink on this cat portrait, I sealed the plate again with two more thin coats of the Liquitex High Gloss Varnish, front, back and edges. Sealing the plate almost transforms the paper to a plastic. Now, the ink won’t absorb into the paper, and the slick surface of the varnish will please the ink when I press paper against the plate.
The ink I used was Akua Van Dyke Brown, mixed 50/50 with Akua Mag Mix to thicken the ink and increase viscosity
After inking the plate, I wiped it intaglio style (gently) with Akua wiping fabric.

Printing Lots of Detail on an Intaglio Plate

If this experiment were made with a simpler design – no cross hatching, and less cat hair, etc. – I could print it by hand. Since there is so much detail, and hundreds of linear elements to transfer from the plate to paper, I think hand-printing this might be a beast.

Moistened printmaking paper stretches. A lot. So, rubbing the back over and over with a good baren would make contact with the line work on the plate in slightly different regions of the paper, repeatedly. Lines would print in a staccato style – over and over, next to each other, rather than in the exact same place.

When printing something like this on a press, the cylinder and the press bed provide so much pressure, the paper contacts the plate to collect the ink just once. That results in a nice, clean print.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do this experiment at home without a press! (Read on…)

Since the plate material (the Mango popsicle carton) was so thin, I cut a sheet of mat board to slide under it. This raises the printable image higher, which creates more of a plate impression in the paper, and the press doesn’t have to work so hard to push the printmaking paper into the grooved lines on the plate to collect ink

Printing from Paper Food Cartons at Home without a Press

The next experiment on my roster is underway right now. I’m using a paper carton from a box of tissues, and I’ve got the beginnings of a still life of limes in a bowl sketched on the rear side of the carton material.

I still need to seal the carton, and scribe my line work, but THIS TIME – I’ll be avoiding all the details and cross hatching, so I can print with a rolling pin in the kitchen. All the shading in the image can be applied to the print with other media (like watercolor or colored pencils). I think this approach will work, so stay tuned for that post coming up soon.

An edition of three intaglio cat prints, hanging to dry in the studio
Finished, dried cat prints, made from the inside of a box of Trader Joe’s Mango and Cream popsicles. Good eating, and fun art. Title: Catitude. (This intaglio print is available in my Etsy Shop over here.)

Making Prints from Recycled Packaging

If you’re on instagram, can I recommend following Karen Wicks? She’s making intaglio prints from small packaging, sliced open and printed fully, including flaps, creases, logos and tabs. Have a look at her work over here. Artists like Karen make us survey the stuff we toss in the recycling bin with new eyes and broader possibilities. Don’t you think?

What artistic experiments are you playing with in your creative time these days? Share a description, and a link to your work if you’ve got one – in the comments.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping in, and be sure to come back and visit for the next ‘press-less’ version of this printing from paper cartons experiment!

I’ll see you in the next post –


Art Quote

I know that the writer does call up the general and maybe the essential through the particular, but this general and essential is still deeply embedded in mystery. It is not answerable to any of our formulas.

Flannery O’Connor
Meet Eric Friedensohn, a painter who lost his home and studio in a fire. Here’s how he overcame such a gut-wrenching loss.
File this one under Inspiration, and Perspective.

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9 thoughts on “Make an Intaglio Drypoint Print from Recycled Paper Cartons”

  1. Intaglio was my favorite of all time in college and I took independent studies under James Munce (love him!). Then I taught middle school art for 27 years and stopped intaglio. I still have the tools, but no metal plates. THIS IS INCREDIBLE! I cannot wait to try this–thank you for posting your details and I love the kitty. (Sigh, we have 6 ‘stray’ kitties in our backyard–so adorable to watch!)

  2. Thank you for taking the time to create and share this! I love how informative these steps are and the accompanying images. I’m so excited and inspired!

    1. Hi Jenna, I’m glad the steps and materials are making you feel inspired. Eat some fruit, veggies, popsicles, or baked goods, and grab that packaging to get started! Happy printmaking!

  3. I can feel my heart pounding from this exciting post. Found this process fascinating and Eric’s video really powerful. I’ve never done printmaking but I’ll give this a go.

    1. Oh, I hope you do. It can be habit-forming, but I think some of your sweet landscape and house portraits would lend themselves well to this style of experimentation! Have a ton of fun with it!

  4. Belinda, you did it again! The cat prints turned out great! Like little miracles. I have been saving carton pieces and just today received the wool press blankets I ordered to try out on the Big Shot pro machine I just got. Thank you, again, for inspiring me to overcome my ailments and keep going. Eric’s video was also inspiring. Up here in Northern Calif we have had to evacuate or be ready to every year since 2015. So far we have been among the lucky. I am in awe of artist friends who did lose everything. Thanks for taking the time to share your creativity and do it so clearly. I always look forward to seeing your email.

    1. Hi LeeAnn, I can hardly wait to see what you print with your new felts on the Big Shot Pro! I’m *so* tempted to get one to experiment in a small (portable) format! I feel your pain on the fire evacuations. We’re *still* hosing off ash from the Thomas fire. I hope you stay safe and busy with creative projects. Making things keeps the brain calm under such frightening circumstances. Thanks for your visit, and your encouraging note. I really appreciate it!

  5. Angela Finney

    Love your dry point on cardboard kitty! Also, thanks much for the share of. Eric Friedsohn’s very very uplifting video!!!!

    1. Hi Angela, I’m so glad you like the video profile of Eric’s ordeal & re-emergence! How inspirational, right? And thanks for the compliment on my cat print! I appreciate that!

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