Enjoy the unexpected potential of leftover ink

So, you’ve come the end of your printing session; is there still a lovely patch of leftover ink rolled out on your slab? You could just clean it off and shut up shop for the night, but if you are like me this square of colour is an invitation to play (and a way of postponing clearing up!)

rainbow rolled leftover ink on slab
leftover rainbow rolled ink

A little burst of fun at the end of a session can be a great way to unwind; you may produce some papers for chine collee or collage; generate some fresh ideas for prints, or even create a surprise new print if you are lucky!

Don’t plan – just play

It is interesting how uplifting and productive these carefree interludes are, when you are just playing with no expectations or plan.

Here is an account of an “I’ll just use up the leftover ink” activity that got a bit more involved. I hope it may give you an idea for a quick energising something of your own.….

Here’s a film of it and there are written instructions as well.


I had a rainbow roll left on the slab after making a set of prints, and the colours suggested a watery theme.

I grabbed my box of combs.

A selection of combs
A selection of combs

These include a range of different sized combs from a huge metal tiler’s comb, down to a very fine nit comb. I also have cheap plastic combs cut into various lengths and some plastic floor tiles cut into chunky serrated shapes. They are great for using with cement and also for mono prints.

By holding the comb at an angle and letting your arm make wave movements you will create watery patterns….

Press the comb on the back of the paper

dragging the comb across the back of the paper
dragging the comb across the back of the paper

Lay a sheet of paper over the ink. Different types of paper will give different effects, here I am using some old computer paper which is quite thin and smooth. The paper doesn’t need to be damp.

Make designs by pressing and dragging the comb on the paper. Lift up a corner to see what has happened.

If you don’t have a comb just use a pencil or the wrong end of a paintbrush.

mono print made by combing the back of the paper
mono print made with a big comb

Add some texture with wallpaper

cutting fish from textured wallpaper
cutting fish from textured wallpaper

I have a pile of textured wallpaper samples – it occurred to me to make some fish to swim along the combed waves so I picked a sample that looked vaguely scaly and chopped some fish shapes out.

(I know, I should be clearing up but it won’t take a minute….)

Of course you don’t have to do fish – allow the textures in the wallpaper to suggest different shapes to you.

Masking areas

fish laid on the ink and combed
fish laid on the ink and combed

Laying the fish shapes texture side down on the ink as a mask will leave clear patches in the combed area.

The pressure of the comb presses the wallpaper onto the ink and transfers ink to the textured wallpaper fish. (Two jobs in one go is always satisfying).

You can always roll ink over the fish separately as I did with the orange fish – see below.

Mono print the fish

inked up fish laid on print
inked up fish laid on the print

Peel the fishes off the ink and lay them in the blank areas of the print  (press down well on the back with a roller) This transfers the texture and shape of the fish onto the waves.

Add more colour

Just to perk it up a bit I rolled a patch of orange, (I know, I’m just about to clear up) and pressed more fish onto it, then transferred the colour to the print as well.

adding more orange fish
adding more orange fish

Feeling animated

This whole activity took less than 10 minutes, but what fun I had and my weariness from a days hard printing evaporated in the waves! I even felt inspired to make a little animation with all the cut out fish as you can see on the video. The prints are by no means great art but the idea of animated prints is going round in my mind as I finally clean up the bench for the night. 

Permission to play

The moral of the tale is don’t clear up leftover ink until you have given yourself permission to play a bit. It is exciting to discover that just when you thought it was all over something new comes along…….

Everyone benefits from a little printing holiday like this – I’d suggest you build these in as often as you can – the clearing up can wait.