A return to etching

Photograph of two prints showing medlar fruits being hand tinted. The prints have black outlines and are coloured in greens and browns. A brush sits atop the nearest print
Skewed photograph of copper plate and a black ink etched line print showing ripening medlar fruits closely packed together
A proof of ‘medlars’ and the copper plate

I last tried etching at art school, and it felt like alchemy back then. I made a sketch of the rooftops visible out of the large windows of the top floor studio of the Victorian building the art school called home. Under the tutor’s direction this became a line etching and later gained some aquatint tones. Extreme caution was observed around acids and rosin boxes, in the print room off the main studio I’d barely been in before.

The print wasn’t great, but I do wish I still had one of them. A memory of how velvety the tint was has stayed with me.

Sadly I never got to do any more intaglio as I moved in the direction of graphic design from that point, and that was becoming increasingly digital.

Safer, modern processes and chemicals have not replaced the traditional ones, but they do offer a much better alternative for revisiting intaglio in the small studio. So I equipped myself with Edinburgh etch chemicals, tools, plates and some modest safety gear to get started again.

Hard ground line etching

Baldwin’s Ink Ground is amazing stuff, I was quickly able to prepare a copper plate by rolling a thin layer on and baking it in the oven for short time. I then began a modest line design of medlar fruits set out on a window ledge to ripen. I underestimated just how fine a line could be achieved, so the results were not as ambitious as they could have been, but they were educative non the less.

Close cropped photograph of a black ink etched line print showing ripening medlar fruits closely packed together
A proof of the ‘medlar’s plate in it’s early line-etched state

I briefly improved the design with drypoint, but keen to try other techniques involving the roller again I didn’t pursue this. The burrs raised by the drypoint tool would have damaged the roller on applying more ground.

Sugar lift aquatint

This was equally easy and really satisfying. Freshly rolled ground is treated with a dusting of fine icing sugar before baking, very carefully washed and then etched to produce a fine, somewhat velvety surface. I managed to get a gentle tint to the medlars image in just five minutes.

Burnishing – mezzotint style

Having placed a fine tone over the whole plate I used a burnishing tool to restore highlights. This worked a treat and gave me really exciting scope for tonal control when I start to work on better pieces.

Hand tinting

Photograph of two prints showing medlar fruits being hand tinted. The prints have black outlines and are coloured in greens and browns. A brush sits atop the nearest print
Hand tinting ‘Medlars’

Next I tried hand tinting – with gouache rather than watercolour – which I don’t think is ideal. I’ll be using a watercolour box for this in future, balancing the opacity with dilution was tricky with gouache – which is otherwise a go-to medium for me. I wasn’t too concerned will colour accuracy so much as working with the line tones so the results aren’t final.

If I learned anything from this it was the importance of considering tints as part of the design process, and to balance tones as far as possible in the etch so that tinting is it’s most effective when simply applied in straightforward washes. The temptation to paint the surface with tones was strong.

Soft ground etching

Finally, I used the ground unbaked and applied pencil marks over a sheet of paper to impress the marks into the ground surface. It worked a treat, I was really surprised by the softness of the line. Etching all the prior marks and seeing the before and after states gives you a sense of what you can expect from the etch. So for these marks on some scrap copper I did not bother to etch them.

Doing it all

It’s been a fun week or so revisiting these techniques, and learning new skills along the way. Being able to design, inscribe and etch safely – without toxic fumes – opens up many new opportunities. But there are some limitations I think, particularly in the difference between rosin and other tint processes which will mean adapting or finding new ways to create those effects. Nevertheless there’s much to be pleased about and I look forward to adding line, tone and tint to my design process.

‘But let the months go round’ limited edition reduction print now available

Photograph of a reduction lino print showing a wintry scene of a Lancashire Hall amidst trees and dry stone walls.

I’m delighted to be offering this framed reduction lino print for sale online after it debuted at Liverpool Print Fair in late April. This is my first reduction lino print at scale and was both rewarding and challenging to complete.

The subject is a stone built farmhouse, Hammerton Hall in Lancashire. The title is derived from William Cowper’s poem ‘The Task (The Winter walk at Noon)’.

But let the months go round, a few short months,
And all shall be restor’d. These naked shoots,
Barren as lances, among which the wind
Makes wintry music, sighing as it goes,
Shall put their graceful foliage on again,
And, more aspiring, and with ampler spread,
Shall boast new charms, and more than they have lost

William Cowper
small black and white lanscape print of an old Lancashire hall of three gables against a dark sky

This piece began last year with a small scale study linocut in black and white, in order to examine both the architecture and help develop a tone for the final piece. It was clear from this that the sky would form a significant part of the work.

Next I drew out the larger composition directly onto lino from reversed sketches, inking in some tones in blue and black to help establish the mood of the piece.

Photo showing a lino design being inked onto a block. A small ceramic mixing palette and ink bottle can be seen, and the artist's hand holds a paint brush
Inking the design onto lino

The first cut was to take out the lightest tones, the off-white paper serving this purpose. The white areas of the window frames, cloud edges, some metallic and reflecting items in the scene were cut first, and the first ink layer was the lightest warm sky colour.

From there the rest of the sky was developed before moving on to the hall and it’s gardens, walls and trees.

The fellside was added separately before the final layers of the trees, shrubs grasses and dry stone walls were cut.

Photograph of an in-progress reduction lino print showing a wintry scene of a Lancashire Hall amidst trees and dry stone walls.
Pulling an intermediate layer of ‘But the months go round’

The final stages were to add the greens to the foreground, some trees and shrubs and intermittently among the dry stone walls, and the very last addition were a number of layers from a separate block for the foreground branches through which the more distant scene is viewed.

‘But let the months go round’ is available in a limited edition of 12 prints. The first of these can be found in the Print Shop framed in a gilt-effect solid wood frame with a custom mount.

Photograph of a reduction lino print showing a wintry scene of a Lancashire Hall amidst trees and dry stone walls.
The completed print

New limited edition & digital prints available

Photograph of a garden linocut print in green and black on highly textured paper. The view shows a stone-built tower surrounded by trees and shrubs on the edge of a walled garden

Following Liverpool Print Fair last weekend I’m now adding all the new limited edition hand-made linocuts, wood engravings and digital prints I’ve been working on recently.

Lindeth Tower Garden

Photograph of a garden linocut print in green and black on highly textured paper. The view shows a stone-built tower surrounded by trees and shrubs on the edge of a walled garden
Lindeth Tower Garden, Silverdale. 2-colour reduction lino print on 100% cotton rag paper

This was a fun exercise in brevity and abstraction – taking a complex view of a walled-garden with many kinds of trees and shrubs – as well as a Victorian folly – and reducing it to a limited palette on a small scale.

Printed on 100% cotton rag Khadi paper made for much variation.

The edition is limited to 15 prints and is available now in the Print Shop.

Avebury Cove

Wood engraving

Photograph of a small wood engraving in black and white showing megaliths in a landscape. One of the megaliths depicted is being magnified with a hand held glass
Close up through a magnifying glass of the Avebury Cove wood engraving

I was long overdue depicting one of my favourite ancient sites. This is a view of the Cove at Avebury – a complex within a complex. Carved in lemonwood and around 6cm wide, this is now available in an edition of 50.

Find this in the Print Shop.

Dorothea

linocut from the Invisible Cities series

Photograph of a design for a black and white lino print showing a Saffron flower and a hand holding a large gemstone in which is depicted the towers and spires of a long-remembered city
The design in process for Dorothea – limited edition lino print from the ‘Invisible Cities’ series

This is the first of the cities from Italo Calvino’s novel that I chose to try and describe.

Dorothea is a city precious in the memory of those who pass through it, and I wanted to capture something of how those memories are carried back into the wild.

The edition is limited to 20 prints.

Find this in the Print Shop.

Sophronia I

digital print from the Invisible Cities series

Photo of a digital print of A4 size being held in the hands of the artist. Limited colour image of a city skyline in sharp relief, tall industrial building and houses appear side by side with massive chess pieces

The second city in my series, this was created digitally following plain old pencil sketching. Sophronia is a city with an interesting custom of separating along surprising lines. A reduction woodcut of this subject will also soon be available online.

Sophronia I digital print in the Print Shop

Still to come

There’s still some new limited editions – more from the Invisible Cities and a short edition of my homage to 1980s handheld gaming, which will be added to the shop over the next week or two.

Christmas despatch 2022

To be sure of despatch in time for a Christmas delivery, please order before midnight on Wednesday December 14th, and I will make sure your order is sent Royal Mail First Class on or before the last First Class posting day, Friday the 16th December.

Orders placed after Wednesday 14th December 2022 will be sent by standard, normally Second Class delivery and are not likely to be will your for Christmas. Processing times may also be longer after the 14th.

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