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Adding Watercolor to Block Prints and Woodcuts

Have you ever considered adding watercolor to your linocuts, and wood block prints?

If you print in single colors, you can add full color to a block print after the ink dries. Use dry media like colored pencils, or pastels – or use wet media like watercolors.

But successfully adding wet media will depends on the ink you printed with, so read on.

See some examples of relief prints with watercolor added in this post, and this one.

water soluble printmaking ink
Read the details on the inks you plan to use before you add watercolor or wet media to the prints.

Not All Inks can be Painted

One thing to be aware of if you use water-washable inks. Some of them dry nice and fast, but they’ll re-wet if you try to paint them with watercolors. This is the case with Speedball Relief ink. You can still add dry media, like colored pencils, but wet media will re-wet the inks too.

I’ve had great experiences printing with Akua Intaglio inks (listed below), thickened just a bit with MagMix to print relief blocks. They dry quickly, and will not re-wet.

Carving the portrait from a block of sealed MDF board
a paint brush laying against a apper towel with watercolor that has seeped from the brush and bloomed all over the paper towel in purple and blue
Paper towels drink watercolor. Watercolor paper has sizing to hold watercolor in the place where you laid them down.

A Note about Absorption

Be sure to use printmaking paper that doesn’t have external sizing, as it will prohibit yur inks from drying. Akua inks need to absorb into the paper to dry.

The sizing in watercolor paper helps hold wet pigments in place so they don’t bleed all over the cotton fibers.

Imagine painting a watercolor on a paper towel. You’d have no control over the placement of your pigments, since they’d travel through the cotton fibers, willy nilly. (see above)

Sizing in watercolor paper holds the cotton together and blocks the pigments from sinking into the pulp, so your colors are illuminated from underneath with that bright, untouched paper.

Ready to ink and print the portrait with non-toxic Akua inks

Hand Colored Printmaking – Relief Prints

I hope you give hand coloring your woodblock prints a try. It’s a beautiful way to make each print in your edition even more unique and customized. You can change your colors and lean your palette in a variety of pigments appropriate for moods, or seasons.

If you have any questions about painting your prints with watercolor, please leave a note in the comments!

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


Pulling the first print after a trip through the press in my studio

P.S. As described in my last post, you can subscribe to get each new post as soon as it’s published here. It’s free.

Watching Flowers Grow 5.75×4.5 Woodcut with watercolor (available, framed in my Etsy Shop)
The woodblock print at the top of this post, painted with watercolor in high speed.

Printmaking Supplies

Check the links below for a few of the art supplies I use frequently so you can experiment in the studio too:

4 inch soft rubber brayer
Artist Tape
Foam/Gator Board support
unmounted linoleum
metal ruler with cork back
assorted tip black & gray markers
drawing pencils
bench hook & inking plate
flexcut micro set knives
power grip carving knives
bfk rives printmaking paper
spatula for mixing/laying out ink
Akua Ink starter set
Akua MagMix (modifier to thicken the ink)
Akua Transparent Base
storage jars for leftover ink
rubber gloves
Rosemary Sable Blend Brushes

Art Reference Books

Colored Pencil Painting Bible Watercolor Painter’s Pocket Palette (great color mixing book) Making Color Sing (great color mixing book) Painting the Things you Love (great watercolor glazing book) Breaking the Rules of Watercolor (older book, but still chock full of good lessons)

Art Quote

Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate.

William Arthur Ward

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14 thoughts on “Adding Watercolor to Woodcut Prints”

  1. Hi Belinda,I’m fairly new to the art and mastery of linoprinting…I’m trying to colour them with water colours on top…I’m using Caligo washable inks but the watercolour mixes with the ink and makes a mess…which ink and brand could l use instead and what would l clean my rollers with.
    Many thanks
    Ange Hinkins

    1. Hi Ange – Welcome to printmaking! What paper are you printing your linocuts on? Does it have sizing in it, which would prohibit the Caligo inks from absorbing into the paper, which is required for them to dry completely?

  2. Love your print! Have you done any prints where you used watercolor monotype printing first (dry paint, wet paper), let it totally dry under pressure, and then printed over the top with a block print? I’m trying to find a way to do this with good registration and am having trouble with my search! Thanks!

    1. Hi Jen,
      Thanks for the compliment.

      I’ve never used monotype under a relief print in the way you describe.

      Have you attempted to do your watercolor monotype on a clear (sanded) plexiglass plate, with a scan of your relief print underneath the plate as a guide for your watercolors?

  3. Thank you for this– beautiful! I’m interested in making my first set of monotypes using relief ink; I’m hoping I can watercolor over, but is this possible with relief ink (& if not, may I use another kind of waterproof ink for the monotype)? Please advise.

    1. Hi Oliver, Your ability to paint a wet media over your inks has less to do with relief vs intaglio ink. Both of those inks can be painted with wet media *IF* they’re manufactured to dry permanently. Speedball has relief ink that can be painted, and relief ink that cannot be painted. Every ink is manufactured with different properties. Water-Soluble means they will re-wet. Water Wash Up usually means they wash up with water, but dry permanent.
      Check the fine print on your inks – like the snap shot of the Speedball Block Printing ink at the top of this post. If you don’t see any details related to drying permanence, visit the manufacturer’s website and find your particular inks to read the FAQ’s and details on that ink. If you don’t find particulars, write to the manufacturer, tell them exactly which ink you’re using, and ask if your ink will re-wet after it’s been dry on paper because you’d like to paint the ink with watercolors, etc.

  4. Gorgeous! It has a very delicate feel to it. I especially love your choice to have the image become the border at the bottom of the piece.

    Glad to see you are still working with the Akua inks and getting beautiful results. I’m about to place my first order – can’t wait to try them with wood/linocut!

    1. Hi Gabrielle, Thanks for the compliments. Have fun with the Akua inks… they are quite different from oil-based inks (consider ordering their MagMix to adjust viscosity), and will take some experimenting to get used to, but I think it’s well worth the testing and time, because they are lovely. (And non-toxic.) 🙂

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