printmaking relief woodcut wet paper sheet

Relief Printing with Freshly Made, Wet Paper Sheets


Last month was the SGCI Printmaking Conference, held here in New Orleans, Louisiana. I ( had the opportunity to be an official demonstrator as part of the conference, thanks to Vanessa Adams, who runs the New Orleans Community Print Shop.

Papermaking and Printmaking are two mediums which we are both addicted to, and try to bring closer together. What better way than to print on freshly made paper sheets? Let me clarify: the paper has never been dried, only pressed after forming sheets by hand from wet paper pulp (see this post).

relief printmaking ink roller

First, use a brayer to roll out and even slab of oil-based printmaking ink. We tested the range of ink, from very stiff lithography ink to very loose, mostly plate oil ink. This process still works!

inking up woodblock printing printmaking

Ink up the woodcut block. Linoleum cuts work the same way, and I’ve even done this wet paper process with collographs. Relief printmaking matrices are made by carving away areas of the block where you do not want ink. Thus, when you roll on the relief, or higher areas, the areas you have carved away do not receive ink, and are open space on the paper that you make the impression on. Think rubber stamps.

printing wet sheets hand made paper

These wet sheets were pressed under about 3 tons of pressure in a hydraulic paper press. They are strong enough to handle, but wet enough to still allow for manipulation (later on in this post).

printmaking relief woodcut wet paper sheet

Place the wet paper on the block. The sheet can also be larger than the block to allow for margins.

sgc conference demo printing wet sheet paper may babcock

Here we are at the conference demonstrating this process! Takach Press let us use their brand spankin’ new, beautiful etching press. It was like butter. Or a rolls-royce. Takach makes beautiful printmaking presses.

An etching press normally has a moving press bed, operating by a handle. The plate that has the ink on it is placed on the bed, topped with the paper to be printed upon, several layers of scrap newsprint paper, and cushioned with felts. As the plate passes under the cylindrical drum, it goes under an enormous amount of pressure.

takach etching press "may babcock" printmaking

You can experiment with how much pressure you put on the wet paper sheets. In general, very light pressure will be sufficient. If you want a serious embossment, normal printing pressure works well.

*The wetter the paper, the more the paper can be formed sculpturally. However, paper that is too wet will be squished as it goes under pressure when printing.

papermaking printmaking

Finally, peel the paper off the plate. Note: very, very thin sheets will make this step difficult.

Those with access to a hydraulic paper press can most likely print wet sheets with that press. Or, print wet sheets by hand using a baren, wooden spoon, or brayer. I wouldn’t recommend trying to print unpressed wet sheets. The oil-based ink is repelled by the large amount of water in the sheet.

demonstration sgc printmaking conference paper papermaking

What are the advantages to printing wet sheets? Endless!

RECEPTIVITY: Those who create intaglio prints know that you must soak paper before printing, or else the paper will not receive the ink and image. These wet sheets are extremely efficient at picking up every single detail of your plate, giving the print an amazing surface.

woodcut wood texture wet paper sheet printing

For instance, look at this intaglio-wiped woodcut with some relief roll! I love wood grain texture, so this blows my mind, right now.

wet paper handmade relief printmaking

PAPER AND PRINT BECOME ONE: Yep, they’re almost the same entity now. Instead of simply sitting on top of the paper surface, the printed image becomes almost embedded within the paper. If the sheet has pulp painted imagery or textured plant fiber pulps, the printed image become integrated within the pulp..

collograph pulp painting

The orange/red is pulp painting on the fresh sheet before it was pressed. This is also an example of an intaglio-wiped collograph printed on a fresh sheet. Traditional intaglio copper or zinc etching plates would most likely work well with this wet paper sheet process, as well as monoprints and monotypes.

sculptural papermaking paper art printmaking relief print dimensional

THREE-DIMENSIONAL: Since the sheets are still wet, they can be molded and formed into sculptural forms. Paper has memory. Simply letting it dry around a form will give the paper that shape when it dries.

wrap around frame wet paper printmaking

Paper shrinks as it dries, allowing it to be taut dried around this simple frame. We wrapped the wet printed sheet around some frames with glue around the edges.

The paper can be wrapped around wire or wood armatures, or pressed into molds and cast if still very wet. If your pulp is high-shrinkage, embedding string or putting other stresses on the paper as it dries can give you more options to play with. See this post on Helen Hiebert’s work.

may babcock megan singleton art artist papermaking printmaking handmade paper

I have printed with 1-hour cotton pulps, 5-hour abaca, and various plant fiber pulps, all with different types of results. Above is a woodcut printed with 5-abaca pigmented blue, and then dried without restraint. Since the sheets were very thin, the paper dried with interesting textures and “cockling.” This was also a collaborative work with Megan Singleton.

blind embossment paper papermaking printmaking woodcut print

EMBOSSMENT: This paper was a mix of cotton and unbleached abaca. It was printed without any ink added to the block, a blind embossment to show how much dimension the plate actually gives the wet sheets. The thicker the sheet, the better.

*photos taken at the conference are by Maurice Abelman


7 thoughts on “Relief Printing with Freshly Made, Wet Paper Sheets

  1. Really informative! Thanks for putting this up. Printing is one of the harder branches to break into at my school’s art department, and I’ve always been curious. You seem so totally passionate!

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