Exciting news! I have been selected as a finalist in the René Carcan International Grand Prize in Printmaking!
All finalists’ art is now posted in the René Carcan website for public voting. I would love to have your vote for the Public Prize!
When you follow this link, you will see my 4 pieces – you can click on each one to see it enlarged, and to vote for it by clicking “Like”. You may vote for more than one piece. This is like the “People’s Choice” awards we do at shows locally – it won’t influence the judges, but it would be quite an honor to receive. http://award.renecarcan.be/node/1897
Please share this with others, especially those who love original prints, and ask them to support my work in this simple way!
The selected finalists will exhibit at a museum in Brussels, the Bibliotheca Wittockiana, a museum dedicated to book arts, book binding and related disciplines. The show opens February 15th and closes May 15th of 2018.
In another round of jurying, a panel of experts will examine the actual prints to select a printmaker for the René Carcan International Grand Prix. There are also a 1st and 2nd Mention, as well as the René Carcan Public Prize, selected by a public vote. See all of the finalists’ work here:
If you have been following this blog, you have watched the development of a zinc plate though polishing, beveling, line drawing etch, tonal or aquatint etch, spit bite aquatint, and using paint markers and grease pencils as acid resist.
You have seen a number of proofs of the image along the way, called “Stage Proofs” – proving the plate at different stages of development.
The final stage of development is working out the color wipe. The plate could be printed with black ink only, resulting in shades of grey, or inked in all one color, such as sienna, for a monochromatic image of shades of that color.
I print in a technique called “a la poupee” – a French term literally translating as “by the dolly”. It means dabbing and wiping different colors on different parts of the plate.
Many of my etchings are done this way, where colors are applied to sections of the plate and wiped separately, then the all of the colors printed at once on the etching press.
It is possible to wipe a base color and then apply another color over the top of it for a blended effect, and to bring color from one area of the image into another area. I do a combination of these for most of my color wipes.
On MacKerricher Beach, I started with two blues, one that was mostly Payne’s grey for the cloudy sky, and another for the waves coming through the gap. The rocks and cliffs were all wiped with sienna, and the trees and bushes with Cascade Green. The resulting print was nice but didn’t quite “pop” for me, so I remixed the colors a little, but more importantly, added a fifth color, a darker brown.
In this version, the foreground rock is wiped with a dark brown after the cliffs and the haystack rock are wiped with sienna. Some of the dark brown is wiped over the sienna at the base of the cliffs and blended into the sand.
A new green mix was applied to the tree, and the dirty rag from wiping the tree was used to dab a little green onto the haystack rock, the top of the cliff, and the side of the foreground rock. Then a clean rag wipe over all completes the color wipe.
This color combination is satisfying, and the placement of the layered green and brown is just what I was looking for. Now the challenge will be to make the overwipe layer areas similar from one print to the next.
Great attention to detail will be necessary to match the bon a tirer with subsequent wipes. While I don’t expect them to be identical, it will be possible to wipe too much – leaving the image t0o pale – or to dab the colors onto a larger or smaller area, creating a different look which may not be as satisfying. These prints are usually destroyed, although if it is interesting in it’s own right, just different from the edition, it may survive as an “artists proof”.
In the last post, I talked about creating aquatint tones using hard ground and paint markers to cover the plate and protect it from the acid. In another process, the acid can be painted directly on the plate to create subtle effects and soft edges.
The plate is covered in an aquatint ground (a ground of tiny speckles that will result in very small raised points of metal when etched. See How Tones Are Created in Etching for more detail on this ground.)
Next, any parts of the plate that need to be protected from the acid are covered in a solid acid-resistant ground, such as liquid hard ground. This appears coffee-colored in the above photo.
Now the fun begins. Using a weak solution of acid and an animal hair brush, the prepared plate is literally painted with acid. Acid can be stroked onto the plate, dripped onto it, or dripped into puddles of water that have been painted onto the plate.
Because the acid is weak and is depleted quickly in this process, areas that are to retain ink need to be painted over and over with the acid, until the etch is deep enough to hold the desired amount of ink. It is not possible to tell just
from looking at the plate exactly how deep the etch has become, so it is important to have a sense of how many times a given area has been painted with acid in order to gauge progress. The application of acid to the plate in this manner results in the plate appearing stained, but the varying color of the stain does not relate closely to the eventual tone in the print.
When the artist determines that the spit bite is deep enough, the plate is flushed with water, and dried. All of the grounds are removed, and the plate is inked, wiped, and printed to check on progress.
For this image, however, I chose to continue to develop tones for areas representing sand and surf. I used paint marker to protect the highlights in the waves.
Another technique I like is to draw over the aquatint ground with a china marker (grease pencil). This is another way to create subtle gradations of tone in the aquatint.
Again, development of tones proceeds by soaking the plate in acid, then using paint marker and china marker to cover more of the plate and soaking in acid again.
Here you see continued development of tones for sand and waves. Eventually the areas still exposed to acid are very small.
Finally the grounds are cleaned from the plate. The bare plate gives some idea of how the plate will print if you look at how light reflects from the surface. The spit bite areas are somewhat deceptive because of the irregular acid staining.
Next step is to ink and wipe the plate, and print it on the etching press to check progress. Here is a view of the press, which has rollers above and below the traveling bed. Note the felt blankets folded up out of the way, waiting for the plate and paper to be set upon the bed.
The plate is inked and the surface is wiped with rags. Now you can see more clearly how the acid has affected the plate, especially in the spit bite areas.
Damp paper is placed over the inked plate, and covered with soft felt blankets. The resulting sandwich is rolled through the press.
Felt blankets (3 layers) are lowered onto the press bed.
After rolling the bed between the rollers, the pressure pushes the paper fibers into the plate to transfer the ink to the paper. Note the plate marks visible from the back side of the paper after the plate has gone through the press.
Here is the black and white proof (print) of the etched plate. The spit bite has produced a brooding grey sky of indistinct clouds.
The next process in developing this image will be mixing colors and proofing the plate in color.
If you have ever wondered how the fine tonal areas are created in an etching, here is an example of a modern method.
The idea is to create a speckled pattern of an acid resistant material on the plate so the acid can eat around the speckles, leaving tiny raised metal points. When ink is applied and then wiped with rags, the depth of the etch determines how much ink remains on the plate, and therefore, how dark the printed tones. In the example at left, the palest tones resulted from a 10 second dip in the acid, while the darkest areas soaked in the acid about 15 minutes.
So what is thus mysterious speckled resist? In modern times, we can use spray enamel paint for a quick and reliable method to cover the plate in a fine and even mist.
In the image at the left, you can see that the coverage of enamel is at 40% or so. Coverage in the range of 40% – 60% will work well.
Next, the same liquid wax and asphaltum ground that was used to cover the plate for the line etch is now painted on the plate to protect areas that will have no etched tone.
Sometimes very fine brushes are used to work delicate details.
When the areas of the plate that need to remain “white” are protected with ground (which looks coffee-colored in the photo), the plate is ready for an acid soak.
The plate will be bathed in the acid repeatedly to achieve a variety of tones. When the plate is removed from the acid, it is rinsed with water and dried. Then additional ground is placed on the plate to protect the tones just etched before it is returned to the acid to continue etching some areas to a deeper level. The longer the aquatint soaks in the acid, the darker the tone will print.
I could use the regular liquid hard ground for this purpose, but for complex tone development, I find it easier to visualize the tones I have already etched if I use paint markers in different colors to protect the plate for subsequent etches in the series.
I start with a general plan of how many times I will return the plate to the acid, and for how many seconds or minutes each acid bath will be. This plan comes from years of experience, a sense of how potent the acid bath is, and noting how warm the studio is. I keep notes of how long the plate has been in the acid as I progress, so that I can keep track of how long the still exposed areas have been etched in total. Many of my plates have 6 – 10 separate acid baths during this phase of development, and it is easy to forget just how many times the plate has soaked, and for how much time.
Finally, all of the enamel, hard ground and paint marker is removed from the plate, and the plate is inked and printed to check progress.
The acid has etched between the speckles of enamel, leaving a high point at each place where enamel adhered to the plate. When inked and wiped, the plate will hold ink between these high points. The more difference between the high points and the depth of the etch, the m
ore ink the plate will hold. If you look closely at an aquatint print, you will see the fine pattern of white spots from these high points of metal.
I could scrape or burnish some of the aquatint areas to give more subtle variations in the tone. Burnishing is like lightly erasing – is will make the aquatint print in a lighter tone.
Note that there are a few unintended marks in the “sky” area – this is where the hard ground was not thick enough and allowed the acid to seep through; this is known as “false bite”. If it does not work with the image, it will be scraped and burnished to clean up the area.
The next step will be to create a brooding sky with a technique called “spit bite”, and some sand in the foreground with surf tumbling up between the rocks. That will be for my next blog!
Last time I wrote about preparing a zinc plate to begin the etching process – the work that needs to happen before image making even begins.
Today I’ll show how an image is etched into the plate. Since the etching literally occurs by soaking the metal plate in nitric acid (hence the term “etching’), the first order of business is to protect the plate from the acid. As my resist, I use a liquid ground made of asphaltum and wax, which dries hard and smooth.
The line drawing is done with a needle, scraping through the ground with the fine point. The idea is only to expose the metal plate to the acid, not to scratch the plate.
Whether using a transferred outline, or drawing freehand, the needle is used to draw lines and to create shaded areas using cross-hatched lines. The drawing is sensitive and delicate, using the transfer drawing as a general guide only
When the drawing is satisfactory, the plate is soaked in nitric acid for 10 – 40 minutes, depending on the strength of the acid and how deep I desire the etched lines to be.
When the etching is complete, I clean the ground from the plate, and print a proof to check the etch so far.
I scrape ink over the plate, forcing the ink into the incised lines. Then I use rags to wipe ink from the surface of the plate until all the un-etched surfaces are clean.
Next I place the inked plate on the bed of the etching press. Damp paper is placed on the plate, and several layers of felt are laid down on top of the paper. This sandwich is rolled through the press, which has rollers above and below the press bed, squeezing the fibers of the paper into the incised lines on the plate.
When the paper is lifted from the plate, the image has been transferred to the paper. Note that the printed image is the reverse of the drawing. When designing an image of a well known landmark, I reverse the drawing so that the final image will be familiar to the viewer.
Next time, I will show how tones can be etched into the plate. I’ll add a cloudy sky, surf, and sand to the image.
Last week I started preparing plates for a new series of etchings for the “7 Printmakers” exhibit in San Diego in October. I wondered as I worked how many non-etchers know what goes into preparing metal plates to create an original etching?
Etchings are original prints, printed on paper from a plate that was created by the artist, and inked and printed by hand by the artist or a master printer. See Intaglio Printmaking Technique for a little more information about etching the image and printing the plate.
Before the image-making work can even begin, there is work to prepare the plate for the process. I work on zinc, which is milled in such a way that the plate is smooth and flat, but it has a dull surface with a vague pattern from the milling. If inked and printed without any prep work, the plate would produce a uniform dirty grey tone.
In order to create a surface that will wipe clean for printing (remain white in the final print), it is necessary to polish the surface of the plate to nearly a mirror shine. I start by polishing the surface with a fine sandpaper, and then use progressively finer sanding films. The last few polishes are done using very fine polishing compounds on a soft cloth. #0000 steel wool is used to buff a nice shine.
The purpose of all this polishing is to create a very slick surface that will not hold ink when the plate is wiped for printing. It is important to create this surface before creating the image in the plate, as the act of polishing would alter the etched image. (Note the dull finish of the plate in the photo at left, and the mirror like shine in the photo at right. The pencil is used here just to illustrate the reflectivity of the two plates.)
The second important step in plate preparation is beveling the plate to remove the sharp edges and corners so that the plate will go through the press without tearing the paper and the felt blankets. Sometimes I (impatiently) skip this step until I am ready for proofing the plate, but it is safer to bevel the plate before the image is created! A slip of the beveling tool could damage the image, I have learned to my dismay!
I was taught to bevel etching plates using a metal file, but I get better results using an edging tool made for beveling plexiglass. It allows me to shave the edges of the plate into a nice rounded bevel. (Beveling tool is pictured at the bottom of the photo of supplies.) The plate is clamped overhanging the edge of a table, and the tool is repeatedly scraped down the length of the plate until the desired bevel is achieved.
The scraping leaves scratch marks that can hold ink, so the bevel will need to be burnished and polished before edition printing. I usually wait until all of the etching of the plate is complete before finishing the beveled edge to a smooth shine.
Next time I will write more about how the design is etched into the plate.
I am often asked why I choose a particular medium when creating new work. It’s an interesting question for an artist who works in many media instead of specializing in only one. There are actually a number of answers to the question, often influenced by what exhibitions I am getting ready for.
One answer is: I may need work in specific media for an upcoming exhibition. Another answer is, the image has been in my mind a while and a way to treat it in a certain medium suggests itself. Or, I may find myself longing to work in a certain medium just because I haven’t used it in a while.
Sometimes, I know immediately when I see something inspiring which medium I prefer for the image. “After the Rain” is an example – I knew as soon as I saw this rain-drenched rose that I wanted to paint it in oil pastel. I wanted to work through the challenge of painting the water droplets on the petals and the stems.
I usually have a number of images that I am mulling over, knowing I want to portray a certain scene or a particular flower but not knowing which technique I want to use. It may come to me, while thinking about what imagery to create for an all-print exhibition, that a specific image will lend itself nicely to treatment in etching. During this process I may consider another image and decide on a different medium for that composition – and postpone that work for a while.
In this way, I often have several images in mind, including possible technical treatments, while I am working on another piece. Some pieces stay in this mulling mode for months or even years before they are finally realized.
Monotype presents itself as an attractive option when I am preparing for an exhibition of original print techniques and I am running short on time to come up with the requisite number of new pieces. Under the deadline pressure, I may cast around in my group of potential images for one or several that would work well in monotype. Monotype is also the medium that demands the most spontaneity, so it becomes an appealing option after completion of several etchings with long, meticulous plate development processes, such as “Timelines” (above) which took three and a half months to complete.
Monotypes are one-of-a-kind prints. I use water-soluble oil-based paint on a blank sheet of plexiglass. Once I begin to paint, I need to print within 4 – 6 hours. This forces me into a totally different working mindset from any other medium that I use. There is always the possibility that the days’ work will be lost – not every monotype is successful on first attempt. Some go on to become mixed media work, by enhancing the print with pastel, color pencil or watercolor. For others, I repeat the experiment until the monotype idea is fully realized.
Some of the joy of creating in different media is that they handle differently, and I feel like I am always learning. Working in one medium, I feel inspired with an idea of how to use a different medium in a new way.
For many years, I had a sketchbook with me all of the time. If I had a moment, I was sketching. Taking visual notes of anything and everything. Laundry baskets. Children sleeping on the floor at a folk festival. People in a meeting. House plants. People in restaurants. The puppy. The dog. The dog and the kids. The tree in the back yard. The mailbox across the street from the flute teacher’s house. Animals in the zoo.
Many of these sketches have found their way into pieces of art over the years, either as the whole subject, or as a snippet incorporated into a larger image.
Sketchbooks also serve as a place to make verbal notes – thoughts on my first view of Grand Canyon. Notes about colors or atmospheric impression of a place. Ideas for new work or a new way to use techniques. These notes are relatively few as this book is not intended to be a written journal, but they sometimes capture something about the inspiration for a new piece.
When I went to work full-time in alternate career, I stopped carrying a sketchbook everywhere with me – it wasn’t appropriate. While I continued to make art on the weekends, gradually, I found I only carried a sketchbook on vacations, or on special occasions, like on a hike in the mountains. I still referred back to old sketchbooks regularly when working in the studio, but it was no longer a daily habit to carry it around, open it up, and draw. Whereas I used to fill up several sketchbooks a year, I was now carrying the same book for years on end.
Last summer, during a trip to the East Coast, I remember using my sketchbook on the plane and tucking it into the seat pocket. After returning home, a few weeks went by before I looked for it and I could not find it anywhere. I have never lost a sketchbook before! I did an exhaustive search over a two-week period without success. I could not remember seeing it after that plane ride. I felt like I had lost a friend. I finally reported it lost to the airline, but by this time, I didn’t have much hope. I resigned myself to the loss and put my contact information in the front of a brand new sketchbook.
Imagine my joy when it turned up unexpectedly last week! It was here all along, inside a re-usable shopping bag in the garage. Welcome back.