Printmaking always brings me joy, as each time the unexpected turns into something so interesting and new. I took a more complicated approach to this printmaking project, layering on different colors and using different printing plates to move from a true beginner’s technique, like you’ve seen in a few of my other classes, to something a little more advanced.

This time I was looking at creating a unique water scene using the French curves I’ve experimented with previously. I love bringing art experiments together and using this still new-to-me stencil from the Wave Drawing project was a natural choice (but I bet you thought I’d grab my ruling pens again!).

The French curves really help me to replicate moving water; it’s a tough artistic challenge using any technique or medium, so I’m glad to have this simple tool to increase my confidence. It simplified this step and allowed me to put down on paper what I saw in my mind’s eye.

Adding to the usefulness of the French curve, printing ink creates its own interesting textures. So that will also enhance the movement of the water layer of this print.

Next was my fish. When creating more complicated printing subjects like this, I almost always draw it on a piece of paper first. The number one reason is that practice makes you confident, so practicing my drawing makes me feel like repeating it on my foam will be a breeze. The number two reason is that, if for some reason I’m not feeling confident about doing a second drawing or if I am really pleased with my first attempt, I can trace it!

Being done with my printing plates, I needed to choose some colors. I have many printing inks in my art supply, but this could also be done with tempera paint. Tempera paint would be a better choice for younger or more inexperienced artists, as it washes out of fabric much easier than ink does. If you are using tempera paint, there will be more waiting between printing steps because it takes a little longer to dry down. Not waiting will cause too much color mixing or smudging of your print.

Gold and black were quick and easy color choices for my fish, but I had a hard time deciding between deep blue and bright turquoise for my ocean background. I went with the deep blue for my first practice print, because it felt more authentic to what I was imagining for this print. I thought the contrast with the gold would be more intense than the turquoise would be, and I really wanted that fish to stand out.

Here was my first practice print:

I cut out a contour fish piece for the gold ink, using black ink for the detailed fish drawing. I was so proud of myself for this step, because it would really make the fish pop on the print, but I placed my contour fish on backward! I couldn’t change it, because my drawing was already done, and I did not think about how all prints show up the reverse of how they’re created on the plates. It was not what I wanted to do, so I had to really check and double check during my final project that my fish two fish were lined up in the same direction.

I also wasn’t as happy with the dark blue as I’d hoped. It didn’t create the contrast I predicted it would and instead just made the gold look kind of dull. So, I was excited to adjust and use the turquoise for my next attempt.

What I used to make this print:

  • White paper, at least one piece for sketching and one piece of heavier paper for the print
  • Printing ink in black, metallic gold, and blue or turquoise (tempera paint can also be used and choose whatever colors YOU like for this project, be creative!)
  • Sheets of foamboard and/or foam plates can also be used
  • A pencil with a dull tip or other rounded tip object
  • An ink roller
  • Paper towels
  • A plate or paint palette
  • A French curve

The steps to making this print:

  1. Draw a goldfish, or other underwater creature, on your sketch paper. Set it to the side
  2. Mix your paint colors, if necessary.
  3. Create the waves on the foamboard by outlining the desired shapes using the French curve and dull pencil. Really press in to get good, strong indentations and go over it additional times to make sure. Remember, the print will be the reverse of what is drawn on the printing plate.
  4. Use the ink roller to pick up the ocean color, coat the entire surface of the printing plate by rolling across it with a light touch. The impressed marks that make the wave shapes should not be filled with paint.
  5. Press the printing plate, paint side down, onto your paper. Press down with your hands or a paper towel, remove printing plate, and set print aside.
  6. Clean your ink roller.
  7. Using another piece of foamboard or foam plate for the fish, draw or trace the fish drawing from Step 1 onto that piece, again using the dull pencil and going over your drawing multiple times to ensure a deep indentation.
  8. Cut out the fish printing plate in the shape of the fish. Use this cutout to make a second fish cutout (your contour fish) on another piece of foamboard or a plate, this one slightly larger than the one with the drawing on it.
  9. Use the fish printing plate without the drawings, your contour fish, making sure it’s oriented the same way as the fish drawing. Using the ink roller, roll gold ink onto the smooth side of the fish, covering it.
  10. Bring back the ocean print and choose the spot in the ocean for the fish.
  11. Repeat pressing down the printing plate and removing it, same as Step 5.
  12. Clean your ink roller.
  13. Flip the fish print over to the clean side with the impressed drawing on it. Cover the drawing with black paint, Same as Step 4.
  14. Line up this fish with the gold ink fish outline/contour, then repeat pressing and removing the printing plate like in Steps 5 and 11.

Here’s my final layered print from the time-lapse video above, and yes, I did manage to get the contour fish on the right way this time:

Using a solid background and then cut pieces for the fish was an adventure, and I love bringing my students more advanced projects using techniques we’ve practiced, practiced, practiced in previous classes. As usual, I learned as I went along and, even though this might seem a little complicated, I know you can do it and create something spectacular!