A break from painting: printmaking part 2: aquatint

After sharing my experience with hard ground etching (see my previous post on the traditional line etching technique here), now is the time to share with you my introduction to the Aquatint technique, during my printmaking project with Hilary Daltry at Heatherley’s.

Aquatint is a type of etching technique developed at the end of the 18th century that produces a range of tones rather than lines. The different tones are created by exposing to acid different parts of a metal plate through a layer of melted granulated resin for different periods of time. You immerse the plate in the acid through successive stages so as to achieve a range of tones going from very light to very dark.

3 steps of varnish covering of the metal plate using the aquatint technique

The 3 pictures above show different steps of the Aquatint process. The dark brown areas you see are the layers of varnish I applied to protect different parts from the acid between each acid bath.

The sooner an area is covered by the protective varnish, the less it will be bitten by the acid, and therefore the less it will be recessed. Hence, the less it will retain ink, resulting in lighter tones on the print.

Conversely, the later an area is covered by varnish, the more it will be bitten by the acid throughout the acid baths, and therefore the more it will retain ink, resulting in darker tones on the print.

Metal plate etched with the aquatint technique
Metal plate etched with the aquatint technique 
(c) Clara Niniewski

Above is my finished metal plate – notice how the areas which were the first to be protected by the varnish remain smooth and shiny, while the areas I covered last have become bitten and dark. I must say, uncovering the plate as I was removing the varnish after the last acid bath was very exciting, as you cannot fully predict the result until that last stage.

See below the resulting prints!

Self-Portrait, aquatint on paper
(c) Clara Niniewski
Self-Portrait, aquatint on paper
(c) Clara Niniewski

A different version using brown ink:

self-portrait aquatint on paper with brown ink
Self-Portrait, aquatint on paper
(c) Clara Niniewski

Although more complex and laborious due to the successive steps of varnish covering and acid bathing, I found the aquatint technique very enjoyable and interesting for producing tonal works of a graphic quality. I found the technique particularly effective for recreating the scarf print.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this technique, let me know your comments or questions!

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