Silk Aquatint, Part One

Readers who have been following this blog for a while now may vaguely remember that I took a class on etching and aquatint at BCA about a year ago. It was an exciting time, as I felt I had found a printing technique that would let me synthesize my love of detail with abstraction. As much as I enjoy etching, however, the toxicity of the process has always bothered me, so I've been seeking out alternative methods. Marbling has been one manifestation. Silk aquatint, a variation on the collagraph, has been another.

Developed during the second half of the 20th century, silk aquatint is considered a nontoxic, inexpensive alternative to aquatint proper. Several artists, such as Julio Valdez and  Kathy Caraccio, have specialized in this technique, and they can tell you far more about it than I can. It intrigued me enough to try it though, so I'll take you through my adventure. Today I'll tell you how I prepared the plate. Basically what you do is take a plate, cover it in fabric, and paint it black (cue Rolling Stones song here).

The first thing you do is find yourself a printing plate. I used plexiglas because it's what I had on hand, but there are pother materials you can use, though cardboard isn't recommended. Next, you need some fabric. I used the polyester mesh you find in silkscreens, but apparently real silk works quite nicely.

When you have your plate, sand it a little first. This gives it a bit of tooth, which will help the fabric adhere to it.

Once you've sanded, wipe off all the dust. Really, clean it very thoroughly. Next, take some cheap black paint, thin it to the consistency of light cream, and paint the plate with it. Let that dry, then take your mesh fabric, lay it on top of the plate at a slight angle (to prevent unraveling later on when you trim it), and cover that with black paint too. Trim off the excess fabric.

Now it's time to paint your image. This time you want to use white acrylic paint of high quality. Basically you're working in reverse Whereas in etching you add more lines to create shadows, here you're creating highlights, because your plate is black from the onset. This takes time and patience, as you have to thin out your white paint with an acrylic medium, typically about 1 part paint to 5 parts medium.

Here's my plate, which is based on an older sketch. It took me about two weeks; each evening I worked on it for a couple of hours. 

I wanted to revisit collagraphy, hence why I added the seedlings, aluminium foil, and mesh (lower right hand corner; you can't really see it here). I used a variety of brushes to create different textures, but regardless of my tools, it took a lot of patience to make this.

Stay tuned next week, when we give this plate a whirl!