intaglio: i promised i wouldn’t forget you

26 Jun

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I have had a hectic week all over the west end of this gorgeous country doing a lot of hard work. So without further ado, a long-awaited, image heavy, stuffed to the max with recent work, super detailed BLOG POST all about the printmaking portion of my recent trip… by the way, this is my 100th post! GO ME!For the first time since graduating with my BFA in printmaking in May 2010, I haven’t made any NEW etching plates. Sure I have printed, proofed & experimented with existing plates, but it wasn’t until this recent trip to Calgary, AB that I finally got back to my roots of printmaking: I made six new intaglio plates. I took some photos along the way, and am excited to share details about the process and a bit about Alberta Printmaker’s with you. For those of you who don’t know, intaglio means the grooves of the plate are being printed, as opposed to printing the surface of the plate like how relief is printed (think rubber stamps)! To create an image in intaglio etching, a plate of metal is coated with a protective waxy resist, then using an etching needle, I scratch lines into the resist everywhere I want a line to appear. Because I can’t erase if I make a mistake, I often transfer a simple graphite drawing to the plate to help guide me as I scratch away hundreds of tiny lines. Although a lot of printmaking is technically inclined, the actual drawing/scratching portion is one of the most important parts of the process. It doesn’t matter how you good you are at using the chemicals, or in the inking and printing process if you can’t draw a good image first and foremost, you won’t make a good print. So, with that in mind, I always take a lot of care in ensuring my drawings are good before moving onto any of the other steps. Scratching through the resist with the etching needle is similar to using a ball point pen; for the most part you can’t really correct a mistake; I am always very careful of where I am scratching because each line with it’s thickness, quality, direction and length dictates how the image will ultimately look.Once all of the drawings are finished, the backs must also be coated with a resist or they will accidentally etch. Here are my plates ready & lined up outside (backs & fronts). With the back protected and the image ready, the plate is immersed into a bath of nitric acid: this is where the ETCHING occurs. Every line that I have scratched is exposed metal, so those areas begin a corrosive reaction with the acid, while everywhere unscratched remains protected by the waxy resist. Because this process is very dangerous and toxic it is done in a ventilated area while safety equipment is worn and used.The image is now dictated by a process of timing the plate while it is in the acid: The grooves created in the plate hold the ink, and thus determine how the image prints. Therefore, the longer I let the plate etch in the acid, the deeper the grooves will be, the more ink they will hold and the darker it will look in the finished print. If I want lighter lines, I etch it for less time so that the grooves are shallower, hold less ink and thus appear lighter. The smooth, resist-protected surface areas of the metal plate, get rubbed clean, thus holding no ink, and therefore appearing white in the finished print.  After the line etch process, I sometimes do a few proof prints to see where I’m at, and then go back to work on the plates. The next step involves adding ‘aquatint,’ a fancy term for adding greys/various tones to etchings. The plate is wiped clean, free of any ink or resist. It is then evenly airbrushed or sprayed with a waxy coating, that ends up covering the whole plate with a speckly dot pattern. This way I end up with little speckled areas all over that are protected, and little speckled areas all over that aren’t protected and will etch. The technique from here on out is fairly painterly… When explaining this part, I often refer to batiking if you are familiar with that textile dying technique that moves from lightest to darkest… So before I put the plate back in the acid with it’s new airbrushed spray, I must first use the waxy resist and paint out all of the areas I want to keep pure white. This protects them to make sure they stay smooth. Afterwards the metal plate is placed in the acid for just seconds, then is removed. The lightest grey areas are then protected by painting on a resist. The plate is returned to the acid for another series of seconds, then removed. The mid greys are then protected with painted resist, so on and so forth for as many tones as you like, until you end up etching for the final time with ONLY the black areas uncovered by resist.Once I’m finished etching, I am ready to print, so all of the resist must be cleaned off.THEN, all of the edges must be beveled with a file so that they are all at 45 degree angles. This is so that the paper, blankets and press bed don’t get damaged in the printing stage; the metal plate it is forced through a press that exudes thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch, SO, that tiny little 45 degree angle is such an important step to ensure the press roller can run over the plate properly without damaging the plate, paper, blankets, roller or press bed. To print, the metal plate is placed on a warm surface (called a hot plate) and black oil based ink is smeared all over it in many directions to ensure that the grooves fill properly. Then using tarlatan, the surface is gently and evenly wiped clean. The plate is then moved to the press bed, and a piece of damp rag paper is placed over top. All intaglio paper must be soaked in water before hand so that is can withstand the roller’s pressure and the embossment of the metal plate. The felt blankets are placed over the paper, and the press cranks the plate and paper through. The high intensity pressure of the roller, forces the ink out of those small grooves and up onto the paper, while the plate outline is also embossed into the paper (as it stretches to accomodate the thickness of the metal plate). First the blankets are lifted, and then the paper can be peeled off the top of the plate, thus revealing a finished intaglio print! These six new images are the first SQUARE plates I’ve made in probably 4 or 5 years. For the most part I often use a jewler’s handsaw to SHAPE my plates, which ends up giving me a very unique embossment in my finished prints (instead of just a square). However, this set of images is meant to be a collection of traditional portraits with that square-shaped, shoulders up, cropped in, window type of view. So for this particular project, there was no need to do any extra cutting or filing. The image below shows a proof of just the line etched plate, and then a proof of the plates after being aquatinted.Here is a closer shot of the Northern Hawk Owl. The first print is the initial line proof, the second print is after aquatint has been added to the plate and then on the right is the actual plate. This one has to be my favorite of the entire group. The eyes turned out just right, plus the reference image comes from my amazing uncle Cleve Wershler. I am so happy with the way my plates turned out, and very thankful for the darling Christie (the director of A/P) who is always so accommodating to my traveling BULK etching road-trips in Alberta. Plus it is always awesome to be in a co-op studio meeting other lovely printmakers & artists. I will be editioning my plates at my home studio in 100 mile house, in a unique fashion that I perfected last summer while renting at Blackstar Studio & Gallery… so stay tuned to see the final prints once they’re pulled; they will be in my solo show in just a couple weeks!!! If you are fascinated with etchings now, be sure to visit my portfolio website to see more of my intaglio prints. Please do share what you think about etching, the process and my plates. I am always excited to hear people’s reaction to this very technical art-making technique that most people have never heard of. Or please let me know what you think of my plates so far, your comments and feedback are always welcome and encouraged!

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17 Responses to “intaglio: i promised i wouldn’t forget you”

  1. Jess @ Brown Paper Bunny 26/06/2011 at 17:03 #

    These are so incredible. You sure are one super-talented lady! With the owl prints it makes such a difference to their expressions whether you print them light or dark. The light one looks more surprised, like he is saying ‘Who, me?’ and the dark one is more ‘You talkin’ to me? Are YOU talking to me?’ ;)

  2. Meg 26/06/2011 at 19:11 #

    This is amazing! Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look.

    (I am glad I read Jess’s comment before asking about the bottom two prints – they really do look quite different, until you look closely at the details.)

  3. trickyTanya 26/06/2011 at 19:17 #

    whooow… impressive! the way you explained technique is perfect. I enjoyed reading every word, it’s like following an exciting story of a picture book, with an amazing end. The prints are superb

  4. anika 26/06/2011 at 19:25 #

    This brings back so many good memories. I can almost smell the asphaltum and soy bean oil… We never used hot plates to ink the etched plates, but it seems like it would have made it a lot easier to ink, and even to wipe up with the tarlatans (which I admit was my least favorite part of the whole process). I’m amazed by all the plates & prints you made, and I really enjoy seeing the line-only version next to the version with aquatint–the extra shading brings the animals alive. It’s been much longer than a year since I’ve done any printmaking, so it’s kinda fun to “live vicariously” through this post. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Chantal Vincent 26/06/2011 at 21:05 #

    Oh Jess they are wonderful!! Thanks for sharing your process.. I will be coming back to this page more than once for another look and read : )

  6. naturesmyfriend 26/06/2011 at 21:10 #

    Thanks so much for the comments ladies. I agree the plates really change after the aquatint is added – really helps to “bring the animals to life” as anika said. I am happy to share the printmaking process, and glad that it also brings back memories for those who have printed in the past. Thank you for commenting – your feedback is always very appreciated.

  7. Jeannine | SaylorMade 26/06/2011 at 22:16 #

    Feeling very nostalgic for my college printmaking days. The smell of the ink, the sound of the press and the dirty old studio sinks. *sigh* Thanks for sharing this process. I LOVE seeing the process behind work and the tools used. Your prints look wonderful and effortless which is a testimony to your skill, because of course there is great effort. :-)

  8. kimi 26/06/2011 at 23:43 #

    Congratulations on your 100th post! You have been such a busy gal. I’m impressed by the detailed description of each step and the fact that you made so many plates. How long did it take to do all of these? They are BEAUTIFUL!! :D

  9. Michelle 27/06/2011 at 01:34 #

    These are great!

  10. Anna Jane Searle 27/06/2011 at 02:11 #

    You are so talented…..and I am so impressed. The sheer quality is just outstanding. I would buy all of these.

  11. harriet gray 27/06/2011 at 08:18 #

    aw i’ve aaaaaalways wanted to do this! they look so beautiful, well done you :)

  12. rhya 27/06/2011 at 08:58 #

    awesome etchings! love love love! also postal strike is almost up! mail again soon!

  13. eraser carver 28/06/2011 at 03:21 #

    What a wonderful post. Not having tried intaglio I found all the information here extremely fascinating and informative. Your etchings are absolutely beautiful. Thanks so much for posting about this.

  14. Kye Sangha 28/06/2011 at 11:02 #

    Every time I think I’ve reached saturation level on awe you then UP the ante & I find myself even more impressed than before. These are just …I am speechless. Jessica, you are one of a kind!

  15. naturesmyfriend 28/06/2011 at 11:03 #

    You guys are making me melt!!! thank you so much for all the kind words about the new plates and prints! Always happy to inform others of the intaglio printmaking process… if only I had a dollar for every time someone says “print what? ingly who?” when I tell them I’m a printmaker specializing in screenprint and intaglio. LOL it’s good to spread the word!

  16. AMY 29/06/2011 at 04:13 #

    This is a really good explanation of the process Jessica and your plates and prints look wonderful. Well done. Etching’s a magic process isn’t it. I was interested in what you said about aquatint (apart from referring to it as a “fancy term”). What do you use for this? I have only ever used resin dust in an aquatint box.

    Good luck with the show.

    • naturesmyfriend 29/06/2011 at 11:27 #

      Thank you amy – intaglio is my true passion. If only I had the space & the money to set up my own acid baths and press. However, there is something fun about being a printmaker in a co-op and it naturally becoming a community. Traditionally for aquatint, yes they use resin dust in an aquatint box but it is very toxic & you need a good respirator, ventilation, etc – The new alternative is to use a spray. So you can either use an airbrush system that would spray a liquid hard ground on, or (the real cheapo way that I use) is just spray paint! Black works well because you can see it well on a clean reflective plate. You just spray far away and very lightly to end up with a very light speckle pattern. HOPE THAT HELPS :D

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