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A story of an etching / straight from the studio #4

Updated: Feb 6

I thought I'd share a bit of the process of developing an etching - not the technical process of acid baths and presses, but more the compositional steps. The etching in question is not necessarily finished, but below is where it's at right now - one of the cool things about etching is that you can always develop things further, make new marks on the plate, use different ink or paper, or add another layer altogether.

This piece started with a drawing of a statue I saw at the Petit Palais in Paris, "Cain and Abel" by Alexandre Falguière, 1876. I loved visceral quality of the roughly finished figures. It could be an image of drunken or childhood brotherly love, but for the grip an Abel's hair, a sign of the permanence of his unconscious state.

In a subsequent drawing I tried to bring out a more childlike quality to the figures, putting them into a setting of a midsummer fair or festival. I worked on A2 paper with water-soluble crayon. This is much larger than the eventual etching; I do this quite a lot with preparatory drawings - it allows me to draw more freely.

Ok so now for the etching. I decided to start with a soft-ground layer - this is a good way to get a pencil drawing-like quality. I've kept it fairly simple here but you can still see a lovely range of tones and marks. When creating the plate, you would usually mirror the image left-to-right, so it prints onto the paper with the same orientation as the original. I forget to do this about half the time, including in this case. We're probably conditioned by the way we read text to read an image forward or backwards, so it probably effects the narrative suggestions of the image. In this case, I quite like the printed version so it's all good.

This is the first print with intense black ink. The main lines are very strong (stronger than I intended - which means I left the plate etching in the acid a bit too long). But there are lots of nice fainter marks and degradation (which I don't mind). It is pretty striking, but lacks much tonal subtlety and depth.

This is usually where I'd bring in some aquatint, possibly on the same plate, or on a different one (which could then be printed a different colour). But I decided to try something a bit different with this one, which was to ink up the plate as usual for etching, and then paint ink directly onto it to generate a monoprint layer that would be printed at the same time (similar to the more standard method of doing a rollover on your etching).

This is not necessarily adivsable generally - brushing on oily ink is going to disturb the ink in the etched lines a bit, and maybe draw some out during printing . But here, the lines are so strong anyway, that this might not be a bad thing. Here is the first attempt and maybe fifth attempt. As I went on I adjusted the colours a bit and used more concentrated black ink for the lines - with the washing out effect of the monoprint, they need it.

I'll go back to this in a few days, and may indeed introduce some aquatint, or try different colour combinations, or who knows what.

Other news

I've been selected for the Royal Society of British Artists Rising Stars (40 artists under 35) show in May - more details to follow. I'll also be doing Cambridge Open Studios in July, and will try and do a little pop-up show between now and then - will send details once I have them.

Straight from the Studio

We have loads of work up at St Barnabas Press right now - you can come in 10-5 Tuesday-Saturday, or let me know if you'd like to visit some other time. I have a few Mill Road at Night paintings up - please let me know if you're interested, prices on here are gallery commission-free!

  1. FUN PARK, 20x25cm, oil on linen mounted on board, £395

  2. HOPE, 45x60cm, oil on canvas, £1150

  3. Carlos’s Regulars #2, 20x25cm, oil on linen mounted on board, £395

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