What is Aquatint and How to Use It in Printmaking
Aquatint is a printmaking technique that produces tonal effects by using acid to eat into the printing plate creating sunken areas which hold the ink. It is a variant of etching that can create areas of tone rather than lines, giving the prints a resemblance to watercolour or wash drawings. Aquatint can be used in combination with etching, engraving, or other techniques to achieve a variety of effects.
History of Aquatint
The technique of aquatint was first developed in the 17th century, but it was not widely used until the late 18th century, when it became popular among illustrators and artists. One of the most famous users of aquatint was Francisco Goya, who created many prints using this technique, such as his series Los Caprichos and The Disasters of War. He is considered the greatest master of aquatint, as he explored its textural and expressive possibilities.
In the 19th century, aquatint was also used by artists such as Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, who experimented with different methods and colours. In the 20th century, aquatint was revived by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Rouault, who used it to create bold and expressive prints. Aquatint is still used by contemporary printmakers who employ various tools and materials to create diverse effects.
How to Make an Aquatint Print
The basic process of making an aquatint print involves the following steps:
- Prepare a copper or zinc plate by polishing and degreasing it.
- Cover the plate with a thin layer of powdered resin (such as rosin) and heat it gently until the resin melts and adheres to the plate. This creates a porous surface that will resist the acid.
- Draw your design on the plate with a needle or a wax pencil. The areas that you want to keep white should be covered with an acid-resistant varnish or stop-out.
- Expose the plate to an acid bath for a short time. The acid will bite into the plate around the resin grains, creating tiny pits that will hold the ink. The longer you expose the plate, the darker the tone will be.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for different areas of the plate, using different strengths of acid or different exposure times to create different tones. You can also scrape or burnish some areas to lighten them.
- Clean the plate and remove the resin and varnish. The plate is now ready for printing.
- Ink the plate by rubbing ink into the pits and wiping off the excess from the surface. Place a damp paper on top of the plate and run it through a printing press under high pressure. The paper will pick up the ink from the pits, creating a tonal print.
You can also use multiple plates with different colours or combine aquatint with other techniques to create more complex prints.
Benefits of Aquatint
Aquatint is a versatile technique that can produce a wide range of tonal values, from delicate shades to rich contrasts. It can also create various textures and moods, from soft and subtle to dramatic and expressive. Aquatint can be used to create realistic or abstract images, depending on your style and preference. Aquatint prints are also durable and can last for a long time if stored properly.
Challenges of Aquatint
Aquatint is a challenging technique that requires skill and practice to master. It involves working with hazardous materials such as acid and resin, which can be harmful if not handled carefully. It also requires precise control over the exposure time and acid strength, as well as careful wiping and printing of the plate. Aquatint plates are also prone to wear and tear, and cannot be reworked easily once etched.
Aquatint is a printmaking technique that can create beautiful tonal effects by using acid to etch into a metal plate covered with resin. It has been used by many artists throughout history