Printmaking 1 Part1 Research Point – Backdrawing

We were asked to find some printmaking artists who use back drawing. I was already aware that Degas had used trace monotype in the 1890’s transferring his drawings by tracing them onto thin transparent paper but initially I found it hard to find other artists using this technique.  I googled the term ‘back drawing’ but didn’t come up with much until I did a search with ‘trace monotype’ which led me to Paul Klee and Paul Gauguin who both experimented with this technique, combining drawing and printmaking. 

Paul Gauguin is recognised as one of the first artists to develop the ‘trace monotype’ technique when he was living in Tahiti, with limited printing facilities in the late 1800’s.  

The British Museum website quotes him saying,

‘First you roll out printer’s ink on a sheet of peer of any sort; then lay a second sheet on top of it and draw whatever pleases you. The harder and thinner your pencil 9as well as your paper), the finer will be the resulting line.’

I shall heed this advice about thin pencil and thin paper when I practice back drawing further run the next project. Looking at some of Gauguin’s work, i can appreciate the thin lines used and the way tone ink is picked up irregularly to pleasing effect.

In my research I found this video about Gauguin’s work which was very interesting.

Paul Klee later used similar techniques to transfer preliminary drawings to another piece of paper in the 1920’s. 

The Tate website quotes Jurgen Glaesemer describing Klee’s technique:

‘He painted thin Japanese paper with black oil paint, and when the paint was sufficiently dry, he placed a sheet like a tracing paper under the drawing and traced the contours of the drawing through with a metal needle. As a result the paper below showed not only the outline of the drawing in a new way, but also the deliberately distributed patches and structures of the oil paint made by the rubbing or the placing of the hand during the tracing process’. 

I am interested that the paint was left to dry. I may try leaving my ink to dry a little before the back drawing and see if this prevents too much ink around the drawing being transferred.

I am looking forward to visiting the Paul Klee exhibition at the Tate Modern.

I then did a search on Pinterest and found a number of contemporary artists who use the technique, which is also referred to as ‘Transfer Drawing’.  I examined lots of work by various artists to try to decide on which techniques they used but found this quite hard. It is often easy, however, to spot back drawing as the effect is quite sketchy and there is usually traces of patchy ink around the main lines of the drawing and is part of the pleasing effect of back drawing. 

I was particularly interested in and inspired by the work of the following artists: Eva Isaksen, Richard Downes, Michela Sorrentino and Barbara Rae who all embrace the back drawing technique in their work to fabulous effect.

Eva Isaksen

I really love Eva Isaaksen’s work. She uses a variety of thin papers which she draws and prints on and then cuts up, layers and sticks down, creating multi-layered, collaged works of art. She prints using a variety of techniques, including using fabrics, yarns, seeds etc to create texture. Some of her printed papers show evidence of back drawing. Through this technique, she is able to add layers of varied and detailed mark making in black ink, which add contrast and interest to the other colourful layers. It is inspiring to see the results of combining a lot of different techniques to create one final piece through layering. i plan to refer to some of this work when working on my abstract final piece for the next project.

Richard Downes

Richard Downes work reminds me a little of Gauguin’s figure drawings. Downes uses back drawing to depict figures and relationships. He adds different layers in different colours, including some detailed mark-making. The smudgy marks left by the ink around the drawings give a weathered, aged effect which adds to the primitive/naive look of his prints. This technique gives a completely different style to his work that his other works which have bold lines and clear, clean areas of colour. I shall to refer to his work as inspiration for my final monotype of figures.

Michela Sorrentino

I discovered the work of Sorrentino when researching artists who use paper cuts. Sorrentino has worked in a range of media and styles and she also uses back drawing to create intricately patterned monotypes, with lots of varied mark-making. Her work is similar in style to some of that of Isaksen but she tends to just work in black and white

Barbara Rae 

Barbara Rae works in a range of style and using different techniques but I was interested in some of her mixed media work where she had used a variety of materials, including photos, text, stamps and also evidence of what looks like back drawing, though I can’t be sure.  The lines are thick and there are smudgy areas of black ink outside the drawings. this work is, however, another interesting example of work that combines a number of techniques to good effect.

I found this research interesting and inspiring. I have taught young primary school-aged children back-drawing techniques as it is easy, quick and effective. One of the favourites was to cover a piece of paper with wax crayon stripes and then draw a picture on the back of the paper to transfer the multi coloured layer to a piece of card. The children used to love the surprise when they turned the paper over to see their drawing in multicolour. I have the same feeling anticipating the next project!



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