Studio Saturdays: Printmaking with found objects

Having a stash of printed papers and fabrics ready to go when the creative muse strikes is like having money in the bank. Instead of spending a lot of time making one background or pattern for an art journal page or collage, I just reach into my stash, and away I go.


Hand printed stash
Me and my new stash of prints

I love printing on a variety of things: vintage ledger and book pages, maps, bags and tags, fabric scraps, ribbons—you get the idea. Recently I spent just a few hours in my studio building up my supply. I challenged myself to use only acrylic paint and what I could find around the house to make prints.

Starting with the junk drawer, I found steel wool, a cotton clothesline, a wallpaper brush, some scallop shells, and pieces of non-skin carpet pad. In the kitchen I discovered dried beans, some pasta, jar lids, and an old potato masher. Next I grabbed a variety of papers, fabric scraps, and anything else lying around that I could print on. I had no idea how any of these things would work, but I knew I was going to have fun trying!

Printmaking supplies
Left, found objects for printing. Right, papers and fabric to print on.

I decided to make a couple of quick printing plates first. I cut two pieces of cardboard, one for the beans, and one for the clothesline. I glued the beans randomly and the clothesline in a spiral, both with quick-dry white glue (you can also use hot glue). When the glue dried on the clothesline I brushed on a coat of varnish so the paint wouldn’t saturate it too much (Quick tip: If you glue your materials right up to the edge of the cardboard, repeating the image will be easier.).

Printmaking plates
Printing plates made from beans, left, and clothesline.

Then the fun began. I dipped the wallpaper brush in acrylic paint and dragged it straight and in a swirl design across different papers. It made an appealing sketchy pattern. I dipped the carpet pad in paint and pressed it on the fabric tags. The pattern looked like watercolor dots. The steel wool, lightly dipped in paint, produced a great scratchy pattern (Quick tip: Tube and heavy-body acrylics are easier to print with because they dry more slowly that fluid acrylics.).

I brushed paint across the beans and pressed them to paper, but the results were meh—the pattern wasn’t distinct enough. I tried it again on plain muslin, this time pressing the fabric to the plate, slightly molding it around the beans, and I loved the cool abstract pattern that resulted. The potato masher produced a clean, modern image (Quick tip: Spread paint on palette paper, and use a palette knife to mix colors.). The clothesline spiral looked great and picked up the texture of the cording.

Found object printing
Clockwise, from top left: prints with steel wool, a potato masher, buttons, and beans.

Enthralled with the results so far, I looked for more things to print with, and found a crochet doily and some buttons. The buttons made fun patterned polka dots, but the doily was my favorite of the day. The print picked up so much detail, helped by the use of a printing baren, a small, flat, round hand press (A brayer works well, too.). I plan to add doily prints to a shirt, using fabric paint.

Crochet doily printmaking
Prints made from doilies were my favorite.

There were a couple of duds: The pasta was a bust, and the jar lids weren’t thrilling. The shells worked best when I pressed the paper to them, creating an attractive fan-shaped line pattern.

The entire process from start to finish took me four hours, including making the two printing plates. I now have enough papers and fabric pieces to last me a long time. So far I’ve used them for a notebook cover, flower embellishment, envelope, art journal pages, and more.

Hand printed papers
These will keep me busy for a while!

Hand printed papers

If you’ve never tried printing, I guarantee you’re in for a good time. There are a million ways to print, and the resources below are great guides to get you started, or to expand your repertoire. Why not invite some friends over for a printing party and have everyone bring different items to try? Dive in and have fun!

Cloth Paper ScissorsMay/June 2014 Art Lessons 2016: Volume 1 Printmaking + Mixed Media
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Download Issue


Print with Collage and Stitch Printmaking Unleashed The Mixed-Media Workshop Season 100
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