Scratchy Drawing! How to make a Drypoint Print at home | Printmaking without a Press
Drypoint is a wonderful intaglio printmaking method which is rooted in drawing, but uses a sharp point instead of a pencil. If you want to get some inspiration, check out my other blog here for some examples through history.
When I first came across it, I was being shown in a print studio on a printing press, and so I thought that was the only way it could be achieved. But no! Drypoint can be done at home too, without fancy equipment. Hurrah! Read on to see how you can make a drypoint print at home...
*Psst - to dive in further, check out my Skillshare class here!
What is Drypoint?
It’s exactly as the name suggests. A design is created with a dry metal point, by scratching it against a surface of metal or plastic.
Once a design is drawn, all of the tiny scratches in the surface of the plate are filled with ink. The excess ink on the surface is then wiped away, so that the only ink left on the plate is inside the scratches.
Paper is placed on top of the scratched, inked design and pressed well. When lifted, the paper brings with it the ink from within the scratches - magic!
It is part of the Intaglio family of printmaking methods, because it primarily takes a print from the recessed areas of the plate, not the upper surface.
What materials do I need?
A drypoint/etching needle. An etching needle is perfect for the job, and can be bought in art stores, but you can also experiment with other sharp pointy tools found in the home - such as a metal skewer, a metal nail file, or the point of a compass.
A piece of metal/plastic to be your plate. The easiest at-home material to access for this is plastic. You can buy acrylic sheets from art stores, but you can also repurpose plastic from old cleaned food containers. All you need is a nice flat piece of plastic, so if you cut the edges away from food packaging, you can end up with some great material.
Ink. I use Essdee Block Printing Ink because it’s water-based and easy to clean. It’s great as an all-purpose ink, but if you get the printmaking bug you might want to experiment with oil-based inks, which can often create more defined prints.
Paper. Home printing is about trial and error, and so finding the paper that works for you is part of the fun. I find medium-weight papers tend to work well for my drypoints - such as cartridge paper - but test out any scraps you have and see what results you get. Bear in mind, you will be dampening the paper too, so if it is too light the water may buckle the paper before you get to print.
A metal spoon. This is so simple, but so effective. Just grab a metal spoon from your kitchen (any size that is easy for you to hold) and keep it handy. They are great for applying localised pressure to your plate and ensuring the paper finds all of the ink.
A loose-weave cloth. This is going to be your scrimming cloth…which simply means, you’ll use it to rub away all of the excess ink on the top surface of your plate.
Some small bits of stiff card. These help you to scrape ink over your plate and push it into all the scratches. Any bits of stiff card will do!
Masking Tape. This is optional, but it does come in handy for keeping your plastic steady as you scratch and scrim.
Scratching your Drypoint Design
The easiest way to begin is to find a photo or drawing that you can trace over.
* In this example I have a photo I have printed at around A6 size, and I am using a piece of plastic I cut from the base of a food container. I cleaned the plastic, and removed the sticky labels from it, so it is transparent and I can see through it easily.
Place your piece of transparent plastic over the top of your reference photo/drawing. (If your plastic isn’t transparent, or you feel more confident, then let loose and draw freehand!)
Tip: If you are using thinner plastic like I am here, it’s a good idea to use a little masking tape to stick your plastic to your reference image. Plastic is slippy as it is, and as you start pressing with your needle, it’s easy for the plastic to shift about. Thinner plastic will also start to bend the more it is scratched, so masking tape will help keep it flat while you draw.
Use your etching needle (or pointy tool of choice) to begin tracing over the shapes in the photo. With the plastic I am using, I press down quite hard as I draw - but not so much that I pierce the plastic. Different types of plastic will give you different results, so go lighter at first and build up the pressure as needed.
If you can run your finger across the surface and feel the indentations you’ve made, you should be able to get a print from it. If you cannot feel the scratches, you might need to use a bit more pressure on your plastic.
Keep going until you have created a fully drawn, scratched version of your reference - or at least the main outlines.
It can be hard to see exactly which bits you’ve scratched and which you haven’t. I regularly hold my plastic sidelong towards the light, so I can see where the scratches are.
However, once you have the main shapes and composition scratched out, you can take your plastic off of your reference image and place it onto a black sheet of paper. The black paper makes your scratches easier to see, and from here you can finish the design freehand.
Remember, as you go, you can vary the types of marks you make, using hatching or stippling techniques, just like if you were drawing with a pencil. (Just be aware, you will be pressing harder than if you were drawing with a pencil, so if your hand needs a break at any point, take one!)
Once you have completed your design, it’s time to print!
Printing your Drypoint Design
Dampening the paper can really help your print to come out well. So, before you start getting inky, get your paper ready…
Run a clean damp sponge across the surface of your piece of paper. You don’t need too much - you are aiming for the paper to feel a little bit damp, but not wet. If it feels like you’ve dampened too much, lay the sheet between two towels and press lightly to blot it. Leave your dampened paper to one side while you get inky…
Use your masking tape to stick your plastic design onto your printing surface. Your printing surface can be the tabletop itself (if it is wipe-clean) or you could use a tea tray. Sometimes I have simply held my plastic steady on some newspaper.
In a palette, or on the edge of your newspaper, blob a tiny bit of ink out. You do not need much for one print, so only add more as needed to prevent waste.
Using a piece of stiff card, scrape the ink across the surface of your design, until you have covered the plate. Then, scrape the ink in different directions on the surface - this helps to ensure the ink is being pushed into all the scratched indentations.
Now take your cloth (scrim). Rolling the cloth into a tight ball, so that it feels firm, begin to wipe it across the surface of your design in light circular motions. You are aiming to remove ink from the untouched surface of the plate, but leave behind the ink inside the scratches. As you rub the ink away, you should see your design peeping through a little easier.
Go slowly at first, and gain speed as you gain confidence.
There are many ways you can experiment later with leaving more ink on the plate, but for the first print it’s useful to keep the ink just in the scratches. This helps you to see exactly how the plate design is working and whether you need to add anything to it.
Once you have removed as much ink from the surface as you can, but can still see ink in your scratched lines, grab your dampened paper.
Lay the paper over your plastic plate, and press down on it with your hands. Try to ensure the paper stays in one place on the plate, so you can avoid any blurring. You can now use your spoon to press down on the paper, working your way across the whole surface gradually.
Then, gently peel up the paper to reveal the print!
If you would like to take a second print, you can simply go round again - dampen your paper, scrape ink onto the plate, scrim ink away and print. If you spot something missing, or want to deepen some lines, you can always clean the plate and go back in with the etching needle.
Cleaning the plate
Cleaning your plate is easy…
If you are using water-based inks, grab a damp cloth and rub it over the plate until it’s clean.
If you are using oil-based inks, grab a cloth with a bit of vegetable or sunflower oil on it, and rub it over the plate until it’s clean.
As plastic is so hard wearing, your drypoint plate, once cleaned, can be stored away easily and used again in the future. Nifty, right?
So, what do you think? Will you be giving Drypoint a go at home? If you do, let me know how you get on!
Thanks for reading!
Keep making happy,
Love Gem x