Mixing Relief and Intaglio Printmaking Methods

a linocut and drypoint of a kitchen sink near a door and a washing machine

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Mixing Relief and Intaglio Printmaking Methods

This mix of relief and intaglio printmaking methods was the second project I worked on last Fall. The process carried some pearl-clutching challenges, so I’ll share them in this post.

If you’re interested in trying a printmaking blend of linocut and drypoint from plexiglass, have a look at the previous posts in this Printmaking Mashup series:

Preliminary pencil sketch for the print titled Headquarters – drawn using the Grid Method, in a spiral-bound Strathmore Sketchpad with a Papermate Clearpoint 0.7mm lead technical pencil
Clear acrylic plexiglass (9×12), with beveled edges, and a drypoint etching of the kitchen hand engraved into the surface with a tungsten steel scribe.
After printing the drypoint engraving on soaked and blotted BFK Rives printmaking paper, the still-wet drypoint print was pressed against prepared, unmounted linoleum to transfer the ink to the surface of the lino. This is a cognate print, used for reversing an image on a block, and it’s effective for better registration in a multi-color print.

Preparing Linoleum for Printing

I get a lot of questions about what I mean by the phrase “prepared linoleum”. To be clear, I print linocut almost exclusively from un-mounted, burlap-backed, traditional battleship gray linoleum. (Like this stuff.)

Linoleum is coated with a sealer after manufacturing to keep the material from drying out and getting crumbly. Sanding that sealer off the surface of your linoleum plate, with a block and super fine sandpaper (more on sanding linoleum here), will also smooth any blemishes or lino-freckles on the plate and it will lead to better ink application and smoother ink transfer.

I don’t like using Soft-Kut or Speedy-Carve plates, with predominantly rubber ingredients, because they are too flexible to carve fine details.

Also, when registration is part of the printmaking plan – aligning a soft rubber plate to print on top of colors you’ve already printed is challenging. The rubbery plate flexes under pressure, so the edges of shapes skip across the paper during ink transfer, leaving an infinity mirror trail.

After the drypoint ink transfer and a coat of sealer was dry on the linoleum plate, the first areas were carved out before printing a light veil of transparent gray ink.
The first two colors of transparent ink were printed from the linoleum. Hanging on a drying line in the studio.
The carved and (two-color) inked sheet of lino, on a piece of mat board, with pencil marks, and washi tape markers, as well as Ternes Burton pins and tabs to help with paper-to-plate registration.
Four colors on the print, hanging to dry in the studio
Lots of colors – lots of layers- a challenge for printmaking ink (Akua) that dries via absorption in printmaking paper.

Drying Printmaking Ink

Akua intaglio inks are soy oil-based, and they dry via absorption. If you print on papers that were made with surface or internal sizing which prohibits absorption, you can count on wet prints for a very long time.

This linocut and drypoint print mashup was printed with Akua intaglio ink, adjusted with Mag Mix (magnesium carbonate, to increase viscosity and reduce tack and length), on BFK Rives heavyweight paper.

The inks are at least 12 years old, as is the paper. The only change I’ve seen in the inks over time is a slightly more liquid viscosity, but that can be remedied with modifiers. After spritzing the paper to print the first few layers of linoleum – I observed the paper’s internal sizing had left the building. (Read more about the breakdown of fine art paper sizing and caring for your paper here.)

Reduction linocut prints hanging to dry in the studio – for months.

Ink Absorption vs Evaporation

Most traditional printmaking inks that are oil-based dry quickly via evaporation. In other words, the moisture in the ink dissipates when exposed to air, and the pigments thicken and dry quickly.

Quick-drying inks are the reason we tape the lid on the ink cans and buy a packet of wax paper “skins” to lay over the ink inside the can. We want to prevent air from getting to our unused inks, to prohibit their drying. Once they’re printed to paper, we want them to dry, pronto!

Inks that dry via absorption need to soak into a paper’s pulp to dry. Akua inks can be left out in the air on a glass slab for weeks. The pigments may air-thicken, but they won’t dry till they’re transferred to an absorbent paper surface. This is a great feature when you want to take your time with a monotype print. It also gives you lots of control once you get acquainted with various printmaking paper absorption rates to accelerate your drying time.

Like any relationship, getting acquainted with your inks and paper and printmaking tools works best with some dating and lots of Q&A. You have to get to know each other before you can feel confident about compatibility.

Waxed paper ink skins and a can of oil-based printmaking ink with the lid taped to prohibit air from getting into the ink to dry it out.


I started this project with paper and inks that are a decade old, and the inks required absorption to dry. When you print multiple layers of ink onto age-compromised paper, each layer dries as a barrier, thereby blocking absorption for later color applications.

I knew my paper issue, in particular, would likely cause challenges, but I planned to (and did) use a variety of ink-drying methods I read about from other printmakers, including:

  • “Blotting” the uppermost (wettest) inks on each print against newsprint via a run through the press
  • Setting the prints outside in the sun to “solar bake” the inks into submission
  • Separating each print with a sheet of blank printmaking paper and heating the stack on a radiator for a few days to encourage drying
  • Hanging each print in the studio with spacers to encourage plenty of airflow around the front and back of the paper/print to assist with “air thickening” the ink. (I did this for 6 months.)
oil bleed through from printmaking ink on the back of a linocut
Printmaking ink oil bleed-through on the back of the paper. I suspect this is a paper issue rather than ink because it didn’t happen on every print, and I’ve used the same inks in layers on “fresher” paper without any oil ghosting.
a linocut and drypoint of a kitchen sink near a door and a washing machine
Headquarters, 9×12 reduction linocut with drypoint etching (Available in my Etsy Shop here)
  • On Thursday, April 28th, the Smithsonian is presenting a lecture ($25) on Zoom titled ‘Picturing Women‘. From their website: More than half of the famous artworks on most top-ten lists depict women. But none were made by women. Art historian Heidi Applegate considers the centrality of women as subjects in the history of art, including two of the most well-known examples: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

Every creative endeavor in the studio is an adventure, and every artistic adventure has surprises, growth, failure, and perspective to carry forward toward future adventures. The most important part of being a creative person is to keep making. Whether it’s 10 minutes or ten hours, throw your fear of failure out the window, and get determined to make some art.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post –


P.S. This is a thought-provoking essay on whether artists need to use Social media.

Art Quote

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Neil Gaiman
a greyhound dog resting on a carpet with a leopard skin collar and a speech bubble asking if you wish you had more time for art
Visit Six Tips to Paint More Often

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