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Solar Plate Success

I've been reacquainting myself with solarplate etching recently, in preparation for teaching a 2-day workshop about the technique in a couple of weeks time. With some invaluable advice from my internet friend William Evertson, I got a great result yesterday on one of the plates.

A solarplate is a thin sheet of metal coated with a light sensitive photo-emulsion. When you place an image on a piece of acetate against the emulsion and place it in the sun, the dark parts of your image get exposed onto the plate. You then simply wash away the unexposed parts of the emulsion under warm tap water, leaving behind an etched image. What I realised in recent experiments is that I needed to make an aquatint on the plate first (basically, creating a 'tooth' on the plate that will ultimately hold more ink). So I made my own aquatint screen by printing out a dot matrix pattern on a piece of acetate, then exposing that against the plate first, followed by a piece of acetate with the image.

As soon as I had washed out the plate, I could tell I had a good result. This is what the inked up plate looked like:

And this is what the print that I pulled from it looked like:

What is exciting as a printmaker is how the solarplate picked up all the marks that I drew on the acetate (in Indian Ink and airbrush pigment), the thick, wide marks, and the thin spidery lines, plus some lighter brushstrokes made with thinner ink. The edges should be cleaner, but this is just a proof print.

Bill Evertson suggested I expose the image for 4 minutes, which was slightly longer than I had done before, so that was an essential part of it, too. There are some things you can't do with this technique that you can do with traditional intaglio -- for example, I can't go back in and work on this image with drypoint or a scraper -- but to retain that depth of dark tone on a thin plate, and to be able to ink and print multiple copies so easily, well, that's something that makes the switch from the old ways pretty worthwhile.


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