Friday 17 February 2017

On aquatinting

Under this blog's 'and any other matters that take our fancy' remit, here's a transcription of the lovely section on the artist Norman Ackroyd from last week's Countryfile:
ELLIE HARRISON: For those looking to the landscape for inspiration, winter can be one of the most striking times of the year.  
NORMAN ACKROYD: This is nice, here. Where you've just got a sparkle on the top of the lake. That is good.  
ELLIE HARRISONNorman Ackroyd is one of Britain's most celebrated artists. He uses an unusual process called aquatinting, a pre-photographic technique that etches with acid on copper. We caught up with him on his home turf of Yorkshire, as he made the most of a rather grey day.   
NORMAN ACKROYDI sometimes think you're of the soil that you're brought up in. It's something very elemental. I worked in America for a while. I woke up one morning in New York and I thought, "I've got to get back to the British Isles. That's what I want to do things about." I want to go and really explore MY country.
When you start to stare at this, it just looks grey. But you suddenly realise the colours start to come out. Wonderful, subtle greens and browns. And the silvers. To me, it's like a rainbow. It's as bright as a rainbow. 
This hill is called Hood Hill. There's no real plan. I just go where impulse takes me. I don't have a, kind of, huge life project. I just find myself in places like this, and I want to put over the essence of it. It's important that one knows the history of a place, because it's not just a line of trees. We get into the last outposts of the Roman invasion here, and this was a Roman site. And you imagine the Roman legionaries then, who got posted back to Italy, to a much warmer climate and they think, "God, what we... I was in North Yorkshire!" And remember the times, especially the winters, they spent here.  
This is really nice on the copper. Just take one pace to your right, and keep holding the mirror there. Right, that's it, it opens it up a bit. That's good, thank you. When we print off this plate, it will print the other way around to what I'm drawing it, so it has to be drawn in reverse. This is a great etching image, it really is. This is going to make a nice little plate, I think. 
I do my printing in a big warehouse right in the middle of London, and I live above it, so if I want to do something at three in the morning I can just walk down the steps and get on. It's good as soon as you get back from a trip to go right in on it, when your hands are still cold. You know? And that way, I hope to get the freshness of what it feels like with the rain falling. 
Aquatint is an etching process. It's a way of laying a thin film of resin on a plate, almost like a fall of snow. And when you melt it, it crystallises like the surface of sandpaper. And you can have a fine grain and a coarse grain, and those grains resist the acid, but the acid gets in between them, and so it etches a tone on the plate.  
What you want is the bones, the skeleton of the image, done on the spot. There's something in that original first drawing, straight onto the copper, that has a magic that you never get by repeating yourself. It's the first fine careless rapture. I don't want to do any more to that. There's nothing mysterious about it. It's all very simple, really, once you've got the logic of it! 

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