Fake a mezzotint
I think of wet-and-dry carborundum paper as a fake mezzotint because it will create a beautiful velvety toned ground that is reminiscent of this traditional (highly involved and time consuming) technique.
If you want to make flat areas of strong even tone without waiting for glue to dry then this is the technique for you. If you use double sided tape it is almost instant.
Wet-and-dry sanding paper saves you a job
When using carborundum powder to make plates conventionally, artists paint glue on the plate and sprinkle powder onto it to create a rough surface that holds ink.
Wet-and-dry sanding paper is carborundum powder ready stuck onto a paper backing. This is strong, has a uniform even tone and is very cheap if you go to Poundland!
Different grades of grit
Wet-and-dry comes in different grades, (coarse, medium, fine) but there is not a great deal of difference between them when it comes to printing. The coarser ones will hold a bit more ink, and finer grades can be easier to ink up and wipe but all grades will print nice strong tones.
See the post ‘what is carborundum?’ for more information on different grades of grit.
Ordinary sandpaper is made from very coarse grit and is difficult to use for printmaking as it holds so much ink if you want to print it as intaglio.
However it can be fun to use in a relief print.
Cutting wet-and-dry paper
Caution; wet-and-dry is an abrasive and it will blunt cutting tools so don’t use your best scissors (or any scissors in fact). It is best to use a knife with disposable blades to cut it, and you can just break off the blunt one after you have finished.
The other option, for a more organic and spontaneous effect is to tear shapes from the paper.
Glueing wet-and-dry paper
Because the paper is treated to make it waterproof you need strong glue to stick it down; try pva wood glue, wide double sided tape or a contact adhesive like evo stick.
It is important to make sure all the edges are well stuck down or else ink creeps under and will splurge out in the press making a messy blobby mark on your print.
Once the glue is just dry run the plate through the press before you print it to make sure everything is well attached.
Work from dark to light
If you have covered your entire plate with wet-and-dry it will hold a lot of ink, and depending on which colours you use it can be very dark, so you will work from dark to light when making this plate.
The idea is to alter the gritty surface (which prints dark), to a progressively smoother surface that will shed ink as you wipe it, and therefore print in a lighter tone.
Aluminium tape for light areas
Self adhesive aluminium tape is brilliant for sticking over the wet-and-dry. If you run it through the press before printing it will mould itself into the texture of the rough paper underneath.
Increasing the number of layers of tape will make even lighter areas. You can also press into the soft aluminium with a drypoint tool to draw fine lines.
Tar Gel, a posh alternative to dribbly pva
The example above has tar gel dribbled on, this makes a lovely clear line which prints very light. It is easier and more manageable to apply than pva.
PVA for subtle 3d shapes
If you want to continue the fake mezzotint idea you can produce a soft fade from dark to light by painting on increasing layers of diluted pva.
The first layer will start to smooth the gritty surface and subsequent layers will each make it a bit smoother (producing a lighter tone).
The thinner you mix the pva the more subtle the effect will be.
It is a good idea to draw the areas you want to paint on the plate first and number them to keep track of the increasing coats of pva.
Creating specific areas of intense colour
There is no need to cover your whole plate with wet-and-dry; you can cut or tear shapes from the gritty paper and stick them onto the flat surface of your plate.
Make sure the edges are all well stuck down. There’s no need to seal it with shellac unless you have areas of pva glue exposed.
These patches will really hold the ink and provide strong contrasts and rich tones in your prints, especially if you also have areas of smooth texture which print in a light tone.
Inking up wet-and-dry sanding paper
Because the carborundum paper is rough it will hold lots of ink and therefore will be a strong colour, not necessarily dark though – e.g. if you use yellow it will be a strong yellow.
My advice is approach black ink with caution; everything can become very dark and heavy!
Loosen the ink with linseed oil (or whatever works with your ink) as it will be easier to apply and wipe off if it isn’t too stiff.
Once you have printed your plate a couple of times you will find the wiping gets easier. You can actually leave a lot of ink on the carborundum paper so don’t be too enthusiastic about wiping.
After you have completed the intaglio inking you can rub over the surface with a contrasting colour on a rag or paper. This will leave colour the top of the gritty particles giving an interesting effect of depth and vibrancy.
You can also try rolling over the surface as a relief print – this sometimes produces unexpected results….