Thursday, 14 April 2011

Non-toxic etching

Weekend before last, I was fortunate to be able to attend an etching master class at Red Hot Press taught by Andrew Baldwin, etcher extraordinaire and non-toxic printmaking evangelist.

The weekend started on Friday evening with Andrew giving a talk about how he’d got into printmaking and why he’s particularly keen to make it as non-toxic as possible. Having come from a family of commercial printers, Andrew feels that printing is in his blood. It was his interest in art however which led him to apply for a job as a print room technician at Aberystwyth University where he has taught for the last twenty years or so. It was there that he first discovered (and was smitten with) etching.

Problems with the etching bath ventilation system and his father’s health problems following a life time in the printing trade lead Andrew to start thinking about the hazards of printmaking, in particular etching; he told us horror stories about dissolving tooth enamel and exploding fingers. There are a myriad of dangers in the print room – arsenic, mercury and lead in traditional etching grounds which can be absorbed through the skin, vapours and gases given off by solvents and mordants which can cause all kinds of lung and central nervous system problems.

To avoid as many health hazards as possible, Andrew has researched and/or reinvented virtually every substance used by etchers, from degreasing solutions to aquatints, from stopping out to etching grounds. It’s his new ground, Baldwin’s Intaglio Ground (BIG) which is the real news however; a ground which can be used as hard, soft and liquid and which is completely non-toxic. Check out his video here.

Over the course of the weekend workshop, Andrew showed us as many of his non-toxic techniques as he was able to pack into two days; intense information upload! Topics covered include plate preparation, using hard and soft grounds, stopping out techniques using BIG and Copydex, sand paper aquatints, poor man’s mezzotint, blue guitar process, icing sugar aquatints, instant coffee sugar lift, etching mordants and how they work, spit bite, plate registration techniques, double drop printing… We even managed to fit in some etching of our own! We each made a three-plate sandpaper aquatint. I think it was his mission to tell us everything there is to know about etching!

Although there was quite a lot of basic information given, it filled in a few gaps for me, and I learnt new stuff too. I’m particularly keen to try printing some of my portraits double drop as I’ve been thinking about how to get some colour into my work for a while. For those who aren’t familiar with the technique, this provides a way of bringing some subtle colour to the work by printing the same plate twice on the same piece of paper but in two different colours. The best registration in the world is never going to be perfect and it’s the interplay of the two colours very slightly misregistered which give the image its quality. Now I’m looking forward to some solid studio time so I can apply some of this new knowledge to my own work.

Image: Andrew Baldwin
Punch Drunk
Etching and aquatint

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