Last week I stepped well out of my comfort zone. As you’ll know if you’ve browsed this blog, I am a keen photographer. However, that’s really the limit of my artistic endeavor. I have no sense of myself as an artist and drawing, painting and other creative arts feel as foreign to me as foreign languages I can’t even name do! So what led me to sign up for a two day workshop on photo-etching at the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries? I think it was seeing some beautiful etchings for sale in the shop there and finding a leaflet advertising the course.
Well, whatever the reasons were, I signed up for it, and I thought I’d share a little bit of the experience with you so maybe you’ll be inspired to try something creative well out of your own comfort zone.
I took a few photos with me, but wasn’t at all sure what kind of photo was a good one for photo-etching. It turns out that the best prints are bitmapped ones that look very grainy or “dotty” when you look at them through a magnifying glass. Alfons, the workshop tutor, recommended I use one of my photos of rock carvings from Kilmartin. The first step was to lighten the image on a photocopier, then copy that image onto a transparency.
The copper plate to be etched is then prepared through a series of stages, involving applying a photosensitive polymer (like a thick oily bright blue paint) with a roller onto the prepared plate. The image on the transparency is then laid on the polymer-coated plate which is then exposed to UV light on a special machine (which looks like a giant photocopier!).
The exposed plate is then developed and etched through a series of soaks in different baths (there are several individual steps involved in this!), then the polymer is stripped off, and the plate polished to leave something like this …..
Then comes a VERY exciting part. The plate is inked, laid on dampened paper under woolen blankets in a printing press. A few turns of the big wheel to press the ink into the paper, and then it’s time to lift the blankets, and peel the paper off the plate to reveal the final print. (I can’t tell you just how thrilling it is to see the print emerge at the end of this process!)
It really did take a full two days to go from the photo to the print. There were nine of us in the workshop and the entire time felt fully engaged in the activity of making the print. I loved it.
I think I was very lucky to have such an enthusiastic, skilled and welcoming teacher as Alfons Bytautas from the Edinburgh Printmakers.
Not only has this workshop opened a new world to me, but I feel I’ve just discovered a part of myself I didn’t previously know existed! Seriously, you should try something creative, you’ve never done before.
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