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Watercolor Intaglio

Pamela Conway Caruso Shares Her Techniques and Methods of Working with Watercolor Intaglio


Pen and ink with watercolor wash has always been my favorite way to draw/paint. Perhaps because of my background as a scientific illustrator, medical artist, technical illustrator, and graphic designer, I have always felt most comfortable working with details and "stipple" technique.

When computers with illustration and design software became the method for producing graphic design and advertising illustrations, I had no interest in keyboard/mouse/stylus art and I became a "Design Dinosaur" ... not completely by choice!

With a New Year's resolution to pursue hands-on art, I took a "refresher" Printmaking course at the New Orleans School of Glassworks & Printmaking Studio in January 1998. The six-week etching course began with an introduction to intaglio tools and a drypoint on copper plate assignment. I was immediately "hooked" on the medium and, in fact, never even wanted to proceed to etching processes. Although, I did give etching and aquatint a try, the chemicals and time delays didn't interest me. I wanted to explore drypoint and engraving and tried working on other surfaces, too, such as zinc and Plexiglas plates.

At first, my drypoint prints were handcolored, usually with watercolor pencils that I would blend with a wet brush. Then, I tried a la poupe and chine colle as a means of incorporating color. One day, frustrated that I couldn't get to the studio to print and anxious to try my new drypoint on Plexiglas plate, I began to "color" the drypoint with watercolor pencils. I could immediately see the opportunities to apply multiple colors with one pass through the press! The watercolor pencils and intaglio techniques combined with my fine line artwork were compatible!

Printing methods for intaglio are the same for drypoint, etching, aquatint, engraving and mezzotint. Ink must be applied to the plate in such a way that the incised or etched recessed lines of the plate are filled with ink. The surface of the plate must be wiped without removing the ink from the recessed, inked areas.


I have developed an intaglio process that uses watercolor pencils instead of traditional etching inks to color the recessed lines. The plate is "inked" by coloring the recessed areas with watercolor pencils. Small particles of the watercolor pencils are shaved off in this process and many remain on the surface of the plate. These may be removed from the surface of the plate before printing by gently tapping the edge of the plate to dislodge them or by blowing the particles away. If the shaved particles or "crumbs" are allowed to remain on the plate surface, unique "stippled" and/or blended effects are produced in the print.

Since printmaking paper must be soaked or at least moistened to be more receptive of the pressure which forces the paper into the recessed lines of the plate, the watercolor pencils "dissolve" and the image transfer to paper is as delicate or bold as the drypoint lines and or textures.

Crab Grass

The distinct advantages of this process are:

  1. The plate can be cleaned after printing with a soft moist cloth or by placing the plate under running water. No chemicals are needed for clean up.
  2. The "ghost" or remaining color on the plate can be reworked for a monoprint series.
  3. Numerous colors can be applied and/or blended, resulting in a multicolored print with only one pass through the press.
  4. The watercolor pencil "crumbs" produce a unique effect, offering depth and/or texture with a clarity of colors that I could not achieve with the traditional inking process.
  5. The technique works on other plate surfaces, including coppers and zinc. The Plexiglas plate, of course, allows placement of the drawing under the plate so the image can be "traced" with drypoint and/or engraving tools, eliminating the need for transfer of image to plate.
  6. The plate can also be printed with etching inks.

My favorite paper is Stonehenge. The smoother surface is more compatible with my fine line work and produces a sharp stippled image, too.

Although I have attempted this process using three brands of watercolor pencils ( B F Hirm Cretacolor, Rexel Derwent and Staedtler Karat Aquarelle ), so far only Staedtler Aquarelle has produced a print with vibrant and smoothly blended colors.


About the Author
A native of New Orleans with a BS in Advertising Design, Pamela Conway Caruso's disillusionment with computer-generated art sparked an interest in printmaking. A variety of printmaking techniques are evident in Pamela's current body of work: intaglio, photo-laser-lithographic monoprints and monoprints & monotypes. Her work is exhibited in many galleries including the New Orleans School of Glassworks & Printmaking Studio where she often conducts demonstrations, classes and workshops in the drypoint intaglio and botanical monoprint techniques. The Whelan Press and Daniel Smith hand cleaner are two of Pamela's favorite Daniel Smith items. She is currently using Daniel Smith duochrome watercolors for some experimental monotypes, using the printing pin.