It is a well known fact that we humans love shiny things. Mica has provided us with glitz since prehistoric times, so if you use mica in your printmaking you are continuing with a long and joyous tradition.

Make prints that change in the light

Adding mica to your prints brings depth, movement and interest, as it subtly reflects light from the surface of the print. In this post I will explain how I use it and I hope this will inspire you to have a go yourself…..

beetle with gilded wings and mica body
mica in its raw state

What is mica?

Mica is a natural mineral that separates into thin translucent layers and even sized flakes.

This amazing rock has lots of uses; as it doesn’t burn it is used for heat resistant windows in stoves and boilers, and also for widows in historic buildings where it creates a soft translucent light.

You will discover it everywhere once you start to look; you probably have some in your toaster, and if your car has a metallic finish that is most likely due to mica.

mica serpent carving

Mica in art

Mica is one of the materials used to make cave paintings, and the beautiful carvings from thin mica sheets shown here were created by the Hopewell culture, an ancient Native American civilization. Potters in traditional communities sometimes mixed mica with clay or applied to the surface of pots to make them lustrous, and in Pakistan mica flakes have been fixed to fabric to make it glitter.

You probably have mica in your makeup bag; the light reflecting powder is an important component in makeup and nail varnish, giving skin and hair an appealing glow, or glitzy party shimmer.

mica serpent carving
Utamaro print with mica

Mica for printmaking

The technique known as kirazuri in Japanese woodblock printing involves sprinkling mica powder onto wet glue, or mixing it with glue to give prints a glittering finish.

For a good description of this have a look at David Bull’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Woodblock Printing’ blog.

Forms of mica for printmaking

Mica comes in a range of natural colours, and it is also coloured with oxides to produce a huge array of bright shimmering colours.

You can buy it ground to different grades, I think the finer powders are easier to use in prints. Buy it in flake or powder form to mix wit

I bought mine from the colour shack, but lots of places sell it on line.

It is good to start with a selection of tiny pots to tryout different colours before buying larger quantities.

Four prints with mica

Reflections in water

In wintery northern Britain water in the landscape often looks brown but reflects the sky. It is quite hard to show this in a print, and it occurred to me that mica could help. Here is a test print, a drypoint sketch with mica on the water.

I painted Mixtion gold size on the print and dusted it with mica. I’ve tried a few differnt gilding sizes and I find that Mixtion is the easiest to use.

The effect is subtle and is most easily seen by moving the image around so it reflects light and changes as you look at it.

sketchbook page testing our effects of mica
close up of collagraph print with mica

I went on to use white mica powder in a print with reflection as the theme. The thin veil of mica allows the print underneath to show through and really gives the impression of a reflection.

This is a close-up of the print; the whole image is shown below.

For this one I gently brushed mica powder onto the print before the paper dried. A soft paintbrush is good for this. That was all it needed to stick to the paper.

This print was made as part of an exhibition about the North Yorkshire Moors, I have just added it to the shop on the website, so if you would like to buy it there are 5 available.

reflection collagraph print with mica
Mono print with mica

Pebble goddesses

These 2 characters are based on carved pebbles from the Jomon Culture in ancient Japan. The ‘goddess pebbles’ were found by the sea and I wanted to give the appearance of glittering sun on a sandy beach, where the two goddesses are enjoying themselves.

I made the background by painting a thin layer of pva over the dry print, then sprinkling coarse mica onto it. The surface is gritty and also sparkly, and as the mica is transparent the colour underneath shows through.

close up of coarse mica in a print
jewel beetles print with mica

Jewel beetles

This image is inspired by Indian fabric from the Dyehouse collection in Bradford. The fabric is made with beetle wings to create glitter; I imagined the beetles coming to life and escaping from the cloth.

Inkers Printmakers are currently doing a residency at The Dyehouse, this will culminate in an exhibition of all our prints in the gallery there in 2022.

This print is a mono print incorporating chine collee. The beetles wings are embellished with metal leaf, and their bodies glow softly with coloured mica.

I painted gilding size (Mixtion again) on the dry print and added mica with a soft brush.

beetle print using mica
Collagraph print with mica in an explosion book

Kingfisher explosion book

Adding mica to book pages works reallly well as the book is made to be handled and looked at from different angles, so the viewer really gets the benefit of the light bouncing off the pages.

See more about this explosion book in the blog post.

Some thoughts on using mica for printmaking

It is easy to get carried away and go over the top with the gorgeous glittering effects of coloured mica, I have tried to restrain myself and fit the use of mica with the subject of the print.

If you are using fine powdered mica it does get everywhere, so you will need to plan your activity and be organised with covering areas up to keep it where you want it.

I found it is best to add the mica as the last thing after the print is made. If you run it through the press the mica doesn’t show very much, (perhaps it gets squashed into the printing paper?) so it is best to let it float over the surface of your print, collecting and reflecting light.

I’d love to hear from you if you have used mica in your printmaking, or indeed if you have a go at it after reading this post; please leave a comment below.