As part of my NY resolution (not really, I don’t make them, but I did have a vague feeling I wanted to Do Something Different) to be more creative/find other ways of being creative, I booked an “Introduction to Etching” weekend, at Edinburgh Printmakers. Never having done anything remotely similar, I had no idea what to expect (apart from acid baths and bits of metal) and I plunged into the decision with all the confidence of the Truly Ignorant. Had I known the extent of the process, the number of steps and stages, the tiniest part of which was actually coming up with the design/artwork, I probably would have hesitated. I am thankful that I was clueless as it was the most absorbing, inspiring, and mind-boggling creative activity I’ve undertaken since the photography degree! Probably more so, as I at least knew how to work a camera beforehand, whereas I knew nothing about copper, zinc, hard ground, soft ground, stopping out, acids, intaglio (is that a pasta?), aquatinting or texture imprinting prior to Saturday morning.
Not really knowing what kind of subjects or approaches would work best with the media, I took a few of my photos that I thought might work/be the easiest (!) to draw on metal. I also started drawing again, about three weeks before the course, so took a couple of those to work with. I hadn’t drawn in many years, was never brilliant at it anyway, so took myself off to an evening of drawing with Jake Spicer, at Cass Art, Islington, in preparation, which was great fun. It started me down the route of trying continuous line drawing, which freed me up from self-doubt/expectations of being rubbish, as the end results couldn’t possibly be terribly realistic.
So, armed with the photos and the line drawings I turned up at Edinburgh Printmakers on Saturday morning. Scarily, everyone else on the course had been to art school, most were working artists, one a retired art lecturer, and at least half had done etching before, though back when it was more toxic.
Nae bother! Everyone was really friendly, the tutor, Jess, was brilliant, and, although it would have been nice to walk away with a masterpiece to hang on the wall, the real objective was to understand the process(es) so I could go away and have a think about what to create which would work best as an etching.
That said, I was quite chuffed with the results.
The first plate of two was zinc, to which I applied hard ground, cooked in the oven, cooled then ‘drew’ the line drawing onto the plate with a scraper tool. It was then etched (i.e. dipped in acid), then could be used to make an artist’s proof.
This is the line drawing I used (Man on the Cardiff Train!).
The second was a copper plate, onto which I applied soft ground, and worked directly on that to create the line drawing from this photo.
Having etched the drawing into the plate, here’s the artist’s proof of this first stage.
(The horizontal lines were caused by a fellow course member shoving it off the newsprint it was resting on whilst I made a packing tape ‘tail’ for the plate, in order to suspend it in the acid bath. Whilst disappointed at the time, I actually quite like the accidental marks, particularly in the finished piece).
Buzzing with excitement after day one, I still had no idea what the textures and aquatinting processes would be like for day two. The zinc plate (with the man on the Cardiff train) was to be coated with soft ground, and textures chosen from an assortment of bubble wrap, wallpapers, ferns, feathers, netting, etc) to ‘colour in’ sections of the image. This was the bit that really turned the creative switch on in my head – the possibilities of this are endless and my fellow course members were creating some fantastic images using the textures as integral parts of the design. The person next to me had drawn a rural scene – a munro, a glen, some sheep, and used textures brilliantly to add in the grass, clouds, trees etc. Beats cross-hatching the entire plate! I had plenty of empty space in my design, but no real purpose for the textures, so went a bit abstract with mine! Hardened in the oven, etched and cleaned, the plate was ready for the printing press.
Here’s the final image for Man on the Cardiff Train.
The copper plate was used to demonstrate aquatinting, which sounds like you are applying colour by hand, but is actually much more complicated. Airbrushing acrylic particles evenly onto the plate, the design is then ‘zoned’ according to how light/dark you want the various areas and ‘stop out’ is used to mask off areas in order of light to dark (the longer the plate is in the acid, the darker the areas go, as it bites deeper into the plate and, therefore, carries more ink – the opposite of exposure in photography!). I used three steps in my aquatint of Marawa and this is the result.
Firstly, the copper plate itself.
and now the Big Reveal:
The course fee also includes three months’ membership for Edinburgh Printmakers and I can’t wait to go back and try something else. At the moment, I am thinking of creating a set of circus etchings using aquatint.
If anyone is thinking of doing a printmaking taster course (or even summer school), I can highly recommend Edinburgh Printmakers.