Another variation is back-drawing. This is where a design is impressed on the back of the paper, often with a pencil, after it has been laid over an inked printing plate. The result is a soft drawing where it is possible to achieve a considerable amount of detail.
I decided to create a positive and negative masked two colour print of the palm tree. I then lifted the paper, cleaned and re-inked the plate with black ink. Re-registering the paper I then used a positive mask to draw round the shape of the tree and then added smaller palms in silhouette to give an impression of distance as a back drawing.
The result of the back drawing showed a light print of the black ink in places. The outline of the tree was strong although, the silhouettes were a little subdued. I did not notice straight away, however, that the large palm tree back drawing was the reverse of the print. I had forgotten that the positive mask I drew around should have been turned over to match the print. Although, I must say, in retrospect I quite like the balance it gives the shape on the finished print. This is something to be aware of and remember if this method is repeated. It was a happy accident in this case though.
I tried again just using a fresh sheet of paper and black ink on the plate. The larger tree was again drawn from the outline of the positive mask, with a little detail added to the leaves and trunk. The smaller trees were drawn free hand with a few birds in flight for good measure. I kept this as a simple line drawing to see what the effect of the single ink colour would be.
I quite like this result as there is some random texture from the solidly inked plate that softens the outline made with a sharp pencil. I decided to leave this as is – less is more this time.
Back-drawing from Life
Now you are familiar with the back-drawing technique, try working on the spot by taking a prepared plate with you.
As it was, yet again, pouring with rain outside (not to mention sleet and hail stones) I decided to work from inside looking out of the French doors in to the garden. My apple tree must be the most drawn tree ever!
Going freehand with this one, I thought I would use textural marks as well as outline drawn in pencil.
Very disappointed when I lifted the paper! I admit I got a little carried away with the inks on this one. I tried to place the ink colours roughly in position all in one go. Consequently there is a gap in the middle and the free rollering has made it difficult to see the drawing. I’ll put that one down to experience!
In my second attempt, I moved the view along a little bit to the other side of the apple tree which was slightly less chaotic, yet still had some interesting textures.
This time I decided to follow the advice in the brief ie working with lighter inks first. I inked the printing plate with yellow, laid the print paper down and drew the previous design onto the paper. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of this stage. It did work but was a little indistinct because of the colour. I wiped the plate and laid down some red. I re-registered the paper and traced over the original drawing for the foreground objects. Lifting the print, I thought it was worth re-drawing everything with varying pressures. This worked really nicely and I like the way the main objects are strong and the background is more faint as it should be. I also like the areas where unintentional pressure on the red ink has given the impression of extra foliage and leaves on the tree.
I thought I would try again on different paper from white cartridge and made a looser drawing on newsprint to see what the thinner paper would produce.
I actually re-used the print plate from the previous back drawing but replaced the print paper with the newsprint. The yellow ink has been lost in the previous print so just the red has printed. It is difficult to see in the photograph but in reality the previous back drawing may just be seen. With re-using the plate and using the thinner paper, the line is much finer and less deep in colour.
What is the quality of the line you have printed?
As noted above.
Can you think of ways in which this method might be used for sketching or making spontaneous drawings?
I would think that this may be great as an under-drawing or painting to continue to be worked into – particular with pastel, either oil or chalk. I understand that Degas used a similar method as a base for many of his pastel paintings. I’m not sure I would necessarily think of this first to make spontaneous drawings due to the preparation required, however, it may be a great way of taking an image further into the unexpected.
Try another print of this type without re-inking your printing plate. Did you notice any change in the quality of the line?
See last print above.