Printmaking with mica — an experience in highlights

I should have been a sculptor. I am always trying to coax more depth out of a flat piece of paper. This is especially true when I am working on topography. In real life, tiny reflections of light glint off water, ice or metal surfaces to give us clues about depth.
Painters and mixed media artists have it easy. Add some white, or something metallic. Glue on a mirror! Scrape off some paint to expose the white paper beneath. Certainly I can save some white paper, but it never has quite the same effect.
Topography inspired by the Himalayas. Are these mountains surrounded by water, or maybe a tropical coral?
The white highlights are actually white mica on the teal layer of ink.
After my many trials with gold leaf, a new strategy was suggested in a post by fellow printmaker Annie Bissett. She was using rice paste printed from a block to secure powdered mica. Traditional Japanese printmakers often use powdered mica to create highlights, and I was enchanted by the possibilities.  So I ordered white, gold and silver powdered mica from McClain’s.

Clockwise from upper left: gold, silver & white mica, all medium coarseness.

My previous efforts had used either sizing or glue to adhere gold leaf to paper — applied with either a brush or a needle-tipped squeeze bottle. This was very time consuming and inexact. I wanted to exploit the preciseness of my printmaking layers — where there was either wet ink — or not.

I decided to see if the mica would stick to the wet ink, and if I could print on top of it. In the linocut above, after printing the third layer of ink (it looks teal) I quickly brushed on white mica with a soft make-up style brush. The mica seemed to only stick to places that had wet ink. After this dried, I printed the last layer (a deep purple blue) that covered part of the mica. Even after some blowing and gentle wiping, a modest amount of the mica can still be seen.

Now the question is how I use the mica to enhance the design, and not look like the flocked wrapping paper that leaves a mess under the Christmas tree. I’m using it in my first two linocuts in my new series, Beloved, and I’m excited about the results. Stay tuned…

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