Drawing with caulk : printing via letterpress

WE ALWAYS LIKE WORKING WITH TECHNIQUES THAT HAVE SOME LACK-OF-CONTROL BUILT INTO THEM. I had been thinking for a while about alternative ways to do large-scale drawings without having to resort to the expense of large plates, woodcuts, etc. In our Tour de Lead Graffiti posters we’ve often printed from bicycle chains so I was thinking about ways you could get a line drawing that was cheap and pretty easy to do. I suspect the better you can draw the more you might be able to use this technique.

I first tried this test (shown above) in 2015. I needed our 4th piece for this year’s requirements for APA (Amalgamated Printers Association), so I printed it up with a description of the process.

The image below shows the caulk drawing (about 5″ wide) on the left and the resulting print on the right.

Over the following year the caulk had dried a bit and perhaps has been beat up, being moved around a couple of dozen times. You can see on the left that part of the caulk at the top has broken away. The print on the right shows it with about half of it broken away. I don’t think this would have happened if I had printed it soon after doing the drawing.

Materials :

  • a tube of caulk (different types may produce different results)

  • caulk gun (and it may be worth buying a good one so you have more control, even through you'll probably still lack control)

  • 0.75″ plywood base (MDF would work also)

  • pane of 0.25″ plate glass (the larger your image the more critical that thickness is so that it stays perfectly flat)

  • WD40 to keep the the caulk from sticking to the glass

  • 4 pieces of large, new metal type (and accurate to the 0.918" height)

The Process:

The metal type, placed at the corners and just outside plywood base, acts as “glass bearers” to flatten the caulk to 0.918″. We did this on our imposing stone to make sure we were as flat and accurate to the 0.918" as possible. We took almost no care in set up to get the results you see here.

You need to take notice of the gap between the surface of the base and the bottom of the glass. You are going to have to put enough caulk to reach between them.

You need to think ahead to the type of line quality you want.

Wider, heavier lines require more caulk. You may want the caulk to spread or you might want thinner and more delicate lines, so trimming the tip on the tube of caulk may be critically important. The trick is to balance the thickness of packing under the base and the bead thickness of the caulk (most often pretty difficult to control) to achieve the desired line width when placing the glass on top of the drawing.

We sprayed some WD40 on the glass as a release agent. Let the caulk dry thoroughly before separating from the glass.

You can see from the print that the caulk tends to sag a bit in the middle of a line. I think it provides more dimension to the line. A day or so after I had done the original test the caulk was dried but softer and we might have gotten a more solid line. At the point of taking the photo above it had been approximately a year of drying (the caulk was a brick). There was a slight sag to the centers of the lines as all of the liquid in the caulk was gone.  I got more texture in the centers of the lines now than I did right after starting this test within a day or two of laying the caulk down. The caulkness wasn't quite so obvious. The caulk looks a little more like stone here.

Worth noting that using different caulks changes the dynamics of the drawing. You might need a caulk that dries hard, but stays at least a bit soft like like bathroom caulk, I don’t think these drawings would last for years. I don’t remember the kind of caulk I used with this test. It was probably something that was laying around. Worth considering that a different base material may make the drawing last longer. 

It could be interesting to do a kind of reverse reduction print, where you add elements to the drawing and reprint. You could even remove some of the lines so as to not overprint the next color. 

Good luck if you try this. We would love for you to include "Lead Graffiti" in any descriptions of the process and would love to have photos of both your process and the results.