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From the Studio

I was at the Art Institute of Chicago last Thursday, taking students around a few exhibitions, including the great Picasso show. The centerpiece of the Picasso exhibition, at least for me, is the section devoted to complete sets of his prints from the twenties and thirties -- the Vollard Suite, the etchings based on Ovid's "Metamorphoses," and Balzac's "Le Chef d'Ouevre Inconnu." There's nothing like intaglio printmaking for the variety of lines and marks and the range of tones you can make. So over the weeked I got together some materials in my studio and did something I haven't done in ten years: an etching and aquatint intaglio print.

I started with a steel plate, upon which I painted a 'coal circle' (see previous posts) design using a sugarlift solution. My recipe for sugarlift, by the way: 2 parts corn syrup, 2 parts washing up liquid, one part india ink. The washing up liquid causes the line to smear and break up, and it also captures the brush marks very well:

When the drawing was dry, I covered the whole plate with a thin layer of hard ground. After that was dry, I immersed the plate in a tray of warm water. The sugar lift solution then starts to dissolve, helped along by gently brushing the marks.

I drew some smaller shapes into the hardground on the edges of the plate, using a sharp etching needle. And I drew over the circles in oil pastel, another form of resist that will break down in varying stages when it's etched, in order to produce a variety of tones:

For good measure, I aquatinted the entire plate using an acrylic based resist and a spray bottle (normally I would use an airbrush, but this isn't currently available to me). The spray leaves a dot pattern over the exposed areas, which ensures even, dark tones once the plate is etched:

I placed the steel plate in a tray of ferric chloride, a slow-biting mordant (it's not an acid, really), for about thirty minutes. I washed the ferric chloride off under the tap, cleaned off the various resists, and this is how the plate looked:

It's actually not the result I expected, but it's still good. I thought that the circles would print much darker, or that the spaces between the etched and unetched areas might be smaller. I think that it came out like it did for a few reasons: I could have etched it for longer in the ferric chloride; the spray from the bottle produced drops that were a little too big; and despite my fears that the acrylic and oil pastel resists would break down too quickly, they in fact worked too well. All information that a printmaker stores up for future prints.

I took two proofs from this plate, one of which came out in a very satisfactory way. I might do another round of sugarlift and aquatint on it, and some drypoint. Final note: I forgot how much time this all takes! Including all the drying and waiting time (during which I worked on other things), this plate took ten hours to get to the stage where I could take a print from it. 


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