Gum Portraits on BFK Rives: A Paper to Embrace

Peter J. Blackburn once again gives face time to the gum-printing virtues of unmodified BFK Rives. Give it a try?

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

So, here I am again, touting the amazing and bedazzling BFK Rives printmaking paper for gum prints. This time, I present you with five portraits printed in different styles on unaltered, unshrunk, right-out-of-the-package BFK Rives. If you missed my first article exploring gum bichromate printing on BFK Rives paper, you can get up to speed here.

BFK Rives Doesn’t Need Any Help, Thank You.

By unaltered, I mean that no supplemental sizing of any kind was added to the paper’s surface to prevent staining, among other things. I simply relied on the chemical additives already embedded in the paper by the manufacturer, who in this case is Arches (part of the F.I.L.A. Group).

I did not preshrink the paper before printing, even though four of the five prints used in this essay were rendered in two or more layers. These days, I implement a fast-drying technique (90 seconds or less) after each layer of washing. The key is to make sure the reverse side of the paper remains a bit damp. That prevents shrinking, which, in turn, permits accurate registration. And it speeds up the whole process significantly. My tri-color gum bichromate prints are finished in under two hours.

And right-out-of-the-package means exactly that. I just open the package, remove a sheet, and go to work!

Reports of Its Unsuitability are Greatly Exaggerated.

Below are five portraits in gum on BFK Rives. The last four were made from negatives pulled from some of my previous articles on In reprinting, I took the liberty to render the work in different styles using an assortment of techniques.

BFK Rives in Five Faces

Leo, 2024. Printed on tan BFK Rives, this single-layer image is created with a mixture of two gouaches: burnt umber and ultramarine. Most of my preliminary designs are usually produced in single layers, providing an expeditious trial print. Nevertheless, I sometimes enjoy the look of these simple, fun, and fast-produced gum prints just as they are!


Nickolas, 2024. This two-layer image gets its gritty, rugged appearance partly from the negative information and partly from the use of dry pigments. Notice that the white highlights on the face are bright and clean, as intended. I am very pleased with how BFK Rives handles dichromate-saturated pigments.


Christopher, 2024. Here is another two-layer gum print produced with a two-pigment gouache mixture. Utilizing paint instead of dry pigment helps render a smoother image.


Ashlen, 2024. Using three layers in a CMY progression, I created this impressional portrait on BFK Rives. This piece has been printed exactly as it appears in the negatives; I see no staining. I don’t ever print more than four layers in my work, but I imagine BFK Rives can handle five, six, or even more without supplemental sizing.


Dawn, 2024. My final image is a CMYK version on BFK Rives using water-soluble wax crayons ground into the gum arabic and dichromate mixture. This helps provide a finer-grained image. Yes, those white teeth are paper pure!


If you experience staining, muddy colors, and excessively low contrast, here’s some simple advice. Before you reach for that bottle of noxious chemical sizing, check the following: your negatives, your gum, your pigments, the ratio of your pigments, gum, and dichromate, and the humidity in your paper. Alter and adjust only one of those variants at a time, so you can discover who the real opponent is in your work.

Oh, and one more thing. While some gum printers manage to create wonderful prints with the ammonium version of dichromate, I believe the potassium selection is more amiable to this process.

BFK Rives. A Winning Choice!

I am thrilled to be using the beloved BFK Rives for gum bichromate prints. It’s a clear winner for most any gum print you want to make. The fact that this paper, along with many others, readily works without extra steps or preliminary bother helps artists produce pieces more quickly and spontaneously, capturing images “in the moment.”

Also read Peter’s article BFK Rives for Gum Printing? Seeing is Believing on the same topic.

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, is an artist who has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He has been represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas, since 2004. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written. Peter conducts occasional workshops and is available for small group or one-on-one instruction. Learn more.

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4 thoughts on “Gum Portraits on BFK Rives: A Paper to Embrace”

  1. Thank you for your comments and inquiry. Yes, my quick method for drying prints came about over time through printing hundreds of prints. At some point, I will write an article on this and other helpful ideas for streamlining gum printing. It is sufficient to say here that a gum print does not need to be, nor should it be completely dry if accurate registration is your desire. All the best, Selby!

  2. Very interesting approach, Peter. You talk about your rapid drying method but you do not explain what you do. Could you elucidate.

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