“How could I print from that?”
Was the question I asked myself when I found this fragment of an old fibreglass roof. In this post I will show you the answer!

It has the fibre glass strands as well as some layers of plywood which were glued under it, and also some smooth resin from the top surface. Lovely!

However, it is much too rough to ink up as intaglio just as it is, so some preparation for printing is needed.

a piece of old fibreglass roof

“Can I take it home?”
After spotting your fascinating texture and deciding the it has potential for printing, the next question might be; can I take it home?

Old barn doors with cracked paint really need to stay put, if you want to print from these textures relief roller printing or taking rubbings is something to try.

“Should I print in relief or intaglio?”
It can be fairly straightforward to take relief prints or rubbings from textures in situ, or from portable ones in the studio, but intaglio printing is a different kettle of fish.

Relief prints from found materials tend to be quite loose and lively, with a strong graphic element, whereas intaglio prints are more complex with layers of detail and differing tonal qualities within the print.

rubbings next to a gravestone

Selecting your texture

To make an intaglio print directly from a found texture it must go through the press, so it needs to be flat, ideally a few millimetres thick, and have a fairly uniform thickness

Many interesting textures found lying around are suitable to go through the press, but most have a surface that needs some attention before it can be inked.

This piece of old roof is strong and thin and will withstand the pressure of the press. However inking it up just as it was found would be impossible as the surface texture is so rough. 

fibreglass close up

How rough is too rough?

Often the materials are quite rough, the texture may be crumbly, flaky, very coarse, or full of cracks.

If the surface is very rough, when you ink it as intaglio it will hold lots of ink, and your print can be impossibly dark and inky.  The details of the texture will not show and the image will be mainly blobby ink with a few gaps. If it has deep holes and crevices the ink will sit in these and squidge out in the press.

I have tried intaglio printing from various found materials with some success, and quite a lot of failures. The fun is in the challenge of working out how to  ‘tame’ a surface and making it printable. 

The answer to this problem is….


Gesso is such a versatile medium; in the previous post I described how to use gesso to make texture, in this one we are using it to smooth texture out.

Gesso is like a thick white paint, made from a binder, (animal glue / acrylic medium) mixed with chalk. Traditionally it is used for preparing surfaces for painting, applied in several layers which are all sanded smooth.

How does gesso help prepare the surface for intaglio printing?

1. It fills deep holes
Because it contains fillers like chalk it has a substantial body and fills holes and cracks.

2. It smooths out sharp edges
Unlike some acrylic mediums which are quite rubbery, and peel off when you sandpaper them, it sets hard and can be sanded to help smooth out sharp points. (see previous post)

 3. It reinforces the surface
It makes fragile materials stronger and better able to withstand the rigours of inking and printing.

Preparing your found material for intaglio printing

Give it a clean
I just brushed it to remove loose pieces and dust.  If your material is very flaky you could give it a coat of pva before you start, to help glue it all together.

First gesso layer
Add a good coat of gesso, The gesso will sit in the bottom of the texture, helping to reduce the depth of the holes. It will also help to bind in any loose bits on the surface. It may look as if you are obliterating the texture, but don’t panic! The gesso will shrink as it dries and your texture will be revealed.

wet gesso painted on the found material

Smooth the surface with sandpaper 

Let the gesso dry, then sand paper it to smooth out the top and help reveal the textures. You can be quite firm with the sanding – the gesso is pretty strong.

The textures are now evened out, some of the deeper holes are filled and sharp or pointy bits on the top surface are slightly flattened, providing a place for the ink to sit.

In this example the loosse fibres round the edge are stiffened and strengthened by being glued together.

Some of the brush strokes in the gesso will often show on the finished plate. I like this effect as it starts to look like a painting, and reveals some of the process behind making hte plate.

gesso dried and sanded smooth on the found material

Lighten the surface
Gesso is quite rough, it has a ‘tooth’ which will print in a medium tone, regardless of any textures. I want the top layer to be smooth enough to wipe the ink off, giving a good contrast with the ink in the indentations.

To achieve this I gave it a coat of diluted pva which acts like a varnish, making the surface smooth without affecting the texture of the material. 

Seal the surface
As the plate is now covered in pva which can re-wet in the press and stick to the printing paper I recommend sealing it with shellac. This shouldn’t affect the texture or tone but will protect the pva on the plate and prevent it becoming sticky when it gets wet.

found material sealed and ready to print intaglio

Ready to ink up
My routine when getting to know a new plate is to make 3 prints; a blind embossed image, then a relief image, then an intaglio print.

Blind embossing
A blind embossed print is a good way to start – this squeezes everything together in the press, and checks for any sticky bits on the plate. An un-inked impression on the soft printing paper can also be very beautiful, especially if the textures are deep and distinct.

the plate on the press ready to print

Relief printing
I generally do a relief print before inking the plate as intaglio. This gives an impression of the top surface of the textured plate.

Rolling a roller over the surface gives a preview of what is going to happen later….

Inking the plate as intaglio in one colour and then doing a relief roll in a contrasting colour is when things really start to get interesting

relief print from found fibreglass roof texture

Intaglio printing
Now we are getting deeper into the textures of the plate. Loosen the ink by mixing in a bit of plate oil, and brush it onto the plate making sure to fill all the areas of the surface. Just stick to a single dark colour to get the idea of the whole surface – you can play around with more colour later…..

Use a rag to rub the ink in to the surface of the plate, and also remove excess ink. Then polish the top surface with newspaper, followed by  tissue paper. The smoothing effect of the pva on the plate will help you wipe the top surface fairly clean of ink.

Have a look at the post on inking an intaglio plate for more details of this. 

an intaglio print from the found material plate

Review the plate and the test prints
Check the prints and the plate; decide if you want to make any adjustments. Maybe some areas are still too deep? Some bits may not be well attached…. the process is dynamic and your plate will change and evolve as you print it.

detail showing intaglio inked plate

Keep experimenting
Continue to experiment with different colours, and combinations of intaglio and relief rolls.

These plates from found materials are experimental and you can’t predict what will happen, so take some time to get to know it. The plate will improve as you print it, and you will become more familiar with its character.

That is all part of the fun of this experimental approach.

found plate printed in both intaglio and relief

Keep exploring

Experimental printmakers find interesting textures everywhere, and many exciting new projects have started with the question ‘How could I print from that?’ I hope that using gesso and sandpaper will help extend the range of found materials you can print from.

Challenging yourself to print from unusual objects will help you develop new skills and approaches to your printmaking. It enables you to look differently at familiar things; printing can transform all sorts of surfaces, revealing new worlds of glorious colour and texture.