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Preserve the Sizing in Fine Art Paper, and Repair Monotype Prints with Colored Pencils

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This is a post from Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.

a monotype portrait of an adolescent girl

Preserve the Sizing in Fine Art Paper

Have you ever soaked printmaking paper and discovered that the sizing in the paper flew the coop?

Absent or deteriorated sizing in printmaking paper can result in failed prints. In this post, we’ll talk about preserving the sizing in fine art paper.

The monotype in this post went off the tracks due to printmaking paper sizing gone bad. (If you’ve never made a monotype

Adding colored pencils can fix a dud monotype print, and bring it back to life. (See a previous post about using colored pencils on a full-color monotype print over here.)

a monotype portrait in process
Wiping light into the ink – an Akua Intaglio Ultramarine Blue ink monotype in process. Ink rolled out on a sheet of plexiglass.

Monotype Rebel

Side Note: This print wasn’t planned – it just erupted when I found 30 minutes open one evening. I think it’s important to grab those pockets of time, and run, without a plan, but with inspiration towards making something.

It would have been easy to fold a pile of freshly dried laundry instead. But this monotype print – rushed as it was – seemed rebellious and way more fun.

pulling a monotype print
I knew as soon as I soaked and blotted the paper that there were going to be problems. Note the color of the paper at the left margin by my hand; the lower half is dry, and the upper half is as soaked as a dipped towel. Some of the sizing in the paper is deteriorated.

What is Sizing in Printmaking Papers?

Printmaking papers have varied amounts of sizing – just like watercolor and drawing papers. Internal sizing is added during the manufacturing process. Gelatin or starches are added to the water and pulp mixture in the tub, before the paper is laid. External sizing is either sprayed on the sheets or rolls of paper, or coated on the surface via soaking in a gelatin bath. Some papers have both internal and external sizing.

Sizing is your friend. It’s a good thing to know about.

Without sizing, painting, or printing on unsized paper (also known as waterleaf) may result in color bleed.

Imagine painting watercolor on a paper towel. Wet pigments wander in all directions, and through the back of the sheet, soaking into the thirsty cotton or cellulose pulp.

Sizing prohibits or slows absorption. It also envelops and protects the natural elements in the paper, and makes the pulp’s fibers bond together, resulting in sturdier sheets. Read more about sizing on fine art papers over here.

We need sizing to control the placement of printmaking inks and water-based media. We want marks to stay where we lay them, and not escape to other parts of the paper.

Note: Many water-washup, oil-based printmaking inks *require* absorption to dry. (Akua and Caligo) So, if you use them, choose a printmaking paper with less sizing, like Arches 88. Avoid printing with these inks on sized watercolor papers or craft papers. Unless you’ve got weeks to wait for your inks to dry. :)

a paint brush laying against a apper towel with watercolor that has seeped from the brush and bloomed all over the paper towel in purple and blue
Watercolor on paper towel – lots of traveling pigments.

When Sizing in Printmaking Paper Goes Bad

Here’s how it happened. After tearing down a pile of Rives BFK Printmaking paper for a previous small-format project, I tucked the leftover sheets in a hanging wall file in my studio.

The papers peeking out of the wall file pocket were exposed to air for weeks or months or longer. The sheet of BFK Rives that I used for this monotype print was pulled from the lower file pocket, below.

As a result of air exposure, the paper had no sizing in the top half, and the sizing was still good in the bottom of the sheets, where it was covered by the envelope of the pocket.

Don't store your fine art papers in ope air wall pockets like this
Printmaking paper scraps in a hanging wall file in my studio. The tops of each sheet exposed to air over the winter deteriorated the sizing.

A piece of BFK Rives heavyweight printmaking paper after dipping it in water quickly. The sizing remains intact on the lower part of the sheet, but the water absorbs like a sponge on the top. The sizing is gone in the upper section of the paper where it was exposed to air.

Preserving your Paper’s Sizing

I wrote to the folks at Legion Paper about the air exposed sizing failure. They were interested enough to schedule a phone call from the company’s founder. I sent samples of the paper to their lab, at their request, and they promised to follow up with conclusions. I didn’t hear from them again.

So, the moral of the story is this: Protect your fine art papers. They don’t have to be sealed airtight (this might encourage mildew), but at least keep them in cello bags with one end open. (Read about adding wet media – like watercolor – to printmaking inks that may not dry permanently.)

Also, be mindful of aging paper. If you find a great deal on fine art paper at an estate sale, consider the age of the paper, and whether it was stored properly before you buy it. Getting a ream of Winsor Newton Watercolor paper milled in the early 1980s may not have a molecule of sizing left in it. That would have a profound effect on your art-making experience.

Note: I’m not a chemist, or a paper engineer, so I’m writing from experience rather than expert knowledge.

a monotype print portrait ruined by using the wrong paper
The next day. The paper and the ink is dry, but the lack of sizing and the over-saturation of water in the top half of the paper diluted the ink, and swallowed the details. The lower section of the paper still had sizing, so it was not soaking wet – just slightly damp after blotting. See the difference?

Back to the Monotype Repair

The next day, my half-diluted monotype was dry and ready for some colored pencil repair. The first step was to outline areas that would improve with altered shape, enhanced definition, or covering up altogether.

Colored pencil will completely cover printmaking ink, so you’re the Boss of your monotype. Change whatever you’d like. Go ahead.

fixing a bad monotype print with colored pencils
Outlining lost details, and filling in sections with colored pencil. Mapping the repairs.

Overlapping colored pencil layers on the monotype print to refine details and introduce color.

The finished monotype – Sprouting Grit (available in my Etsy Shop)

Monotype Print Before and After – Colored Pencil to the Rescue!

Monotype and Colored Pencil

I hope this mini-primer on sizing was helpful. And I also hope you’ll make a monotype print soon. On good paper. 😁

If you have any questions about this process, leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

Thanks for your visit, and I’ll see you in the next post.

Be adventurous,


P.S. I’m building an introduction to dark field monotype video course, and I’m really excited about it. Sign up to get an email when it’s open for enrollment right here.

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Read More About Monotype Prints

how to get more painting time into a tight schedule
Visit Six Tips to paint More Often to watch a free mini-course to help you find your way back to art-making.

The post Preserve the Sizing in Fine Art Paper, and Repair Monotype Prints with Colored Pencils appeared first on Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.


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