If you like textures in printmaking you will love crackle texture. You will have seen this effect on Japanese ceramics and old paintings, it is often used to give the impression of age on painted furniture and ‘vintage’ ornaments.

Crackle texture suggests many associations….

Collagraph print with crackle texture

Collagraph print with crackle texture

Drought, desert, geological formations, rock forms, ageing, the effects of time and heat…. With this range of associations crackle texture can signify many different meanings in your prints.

Sometimes a particular texture can set you off with an idea for a new print, at other times it may be just the thing you were thinking of to represent a particular element in your planned print.

Abandon ready made crackle pastes!

You can buy different forms of crackle texture paste, many of these provide a great surface pattern for painted images. However the surface often lacks enough texture to ink up and print it effectively as a collagraph.

Alternatively some, (like ‘Golden’ crackle paste) dry to deeper texture but can have a very gritty finish that is hard to ink up as intaglio.  I would be interested to know if you have tried printing from any of the commercial crackle pastes and how it worked out.

I am guessing if you test out my tile cement method you will abandon the ready prepared pastes for making collagraph plates!

Get organised; make a supply of crackle texture

Because it takes a little while to dry thoroughly I usually spend a session creating sheets of crackle texture to cut up and collage into plates.

Having a ready supply of different grades of crackle means you can choose the best type for your particular plate.

The basic idea

Detail of crackle texture collagraph plate

Detail of crackle texture collagraph plate

This is very simple, I can’t remember how I devised it as I have been doing it for ages.

When people see it in my prints they are always intrigued and want to know how it is done. I used to be a bit cagey about telling people, but now I think what the hell, lets all do crackle texture!

The way you use it and the prints you make will be uniquely your own and it is too good a technique to keep secret.

Please remember you heard it here and mention the curious printmaker if you share it.

The principle behind the technique is sticking cement onto a flexible base – when you move the base around the cement will crack.

Heres how:
You spread a thin layer of tile cement onto a piece of fabric.
When it is dry you stretch and crumple the fabric to create cracks in the cement
Then glue it onto your plate.
That’s it!

Read on for more detailed instructions:

To make a sheet of crackle texture you will need;

Dampening fabric before adding cement

Dampening fabric before adding cement

1 – Old T shirts and cotton fabric.
2 – A stiff board to support the fabric  (+ masking tape to fix it while you add cement.)
3 – Tile cement
4 – Palette knives and spreaders.

5 – And to fix it to your plate; plenty of thick pva glue.

Clart it up with cement

Tile cement spread onto wet cotton fabric

Tile cement spread onto wet cotton fabric

Fix the fabric to a stiff board first – it stretches and gets baggy and heavy once it is covered in cement and can be hard to handle if not fixed to a firm base.

Spray it with water to make it damp and help the cement to stick to it.

Spread a layer of cement onto the fabric; a thin layer produces a finer smaller pattern, thick will be more ‘chunky’.

Crackled tile cement on cotton fabric

Crackled tile cement on cotton fabric

Try different types of fabric to see how they work.

Plain woven cotton will give lines crazed in all directions

Horizontal direction in crackle texture

Horizontal direction in crackle texture

Stretchy jersey T shirt fabric can be pulled in different directions to get a variation in the pattern

Add designs into the crackle texture

Leaf impression with crackle texture

Leaf impression with crackle texture

If crackle on its own is not quite enough for you, you can draw into the wet cement or impress things into it. (another post coming shortly about this)

Once you crack it you can get great fossil type images.

Turning it into a printing plate

When the cement is dry cut up the sheet then glue it onto a firm base plate, eg mountboard. Paint pva onto the back of the fabric and make sure it is well soaked in, also paint glue your board. Press the fabric with cement on it down well and stretch and hold it in tension as it starts to dry to open up the cracks. Pay attention to the edges to make sure they are well stuck down.

Let it dry completely.

Sand the whole surface to remove sharp points, smooth the rough texture and even the surface up. If you paint gesso over it this will help to fill larger cracks, sand this when dry.

Finish with a coat or two of thinned pva to smooth the surface and lighten the texture when printing as intaglio. Seal with shellac to prevent the pva sticking to your printing paper in the press.

Different ways of inking up crackle texture

Print detail with crackle texture

Print detail with crackle texture

It is important to smooth the surface by sanding and adding layers of pva. The cracks will hold ink so you want the top surface to be fairly smooth in order to  wipe clean and provide a contrasting lighter tone to the cracks.

You can also ink the plate as intaglio and then roll another colour over the top. Sanding and sealing the surface helps to make it flatter and smoother so the roller applies the ink more evenly.

Cracking fun

Making crackle texture like this is cheap, easy and fun. It allows you to manipulate the cracks before applying them to your plate so you have more control of the finished effect. The added potential of drawing into and marking the cement, or impressing textures into it before cracking it means you can create intricate effects.