Il Bisonte – Part 2

Datura Moon 2020, Etching, Sugar lift, Aquatint, Spit bite, Dry point

When all schools were declared closed on 11 March I had been determined to stay and use the “one month” lockdown to catch up on researching, sketching and carving new woodblocks – why not? the spring blossoms were starting to appear, the days were getting warmer and the wine shop on my street was still open so I decided to hunker down and see it through.

Despite my optimism, I couldn’t ignore the fact that things were getting much more tense, daily I saw police outside my window handing out fines to people without the correct paperwork and everyday something else would be closed – the park, then the cycleway. So on 19 March (my birthday!) when I heard that Il Bisonte would be closed for a further month and possibly longer I took it as my cue to get out, which became a mad dash to Rome to catch what turned out to be the last flight out which wouldn’t have been possible without the NZ embassy who helped me find the flight and send their private driver to collect me at 5am to deliver me safely to airport like in a Bond movie.

Now that I’m in quarantine, its a great time to reflect on everything I’ve learned so far at Il Bisonte and what I want to pursue further when all this madness has passed and I can return once again to that magical studio. As you can see from the print above, I’ve been trying to cram as many techniques as possible onto one plate, which resulted in:

Learning 1 – The more techniques you use on one plate the more difficult it is to ink and print. For this one I only used tartlan to gently clean the plate as the paper removed too much ink.

Learning 2 – Although I love the effect of aquatint, the whole toxic aspect stresses me out resulting in me having to re-do it too many times. The best tip has been to use spray paint (Montana black with soft cap) instead, which I know is still toxic, but feels more managable to me. You can also spray to achieve nice shading and a shadow effect, which would be harder with stop out and a brush.

Learning 3 – Sugar lift (used for the moon) is a very satisfying technique that I’m looking forward to exploring further. I Love the texture and how you can make the blacks darker by applying an aquatint. And the fact you’re just using sugar – how cool is that!?

Learning 4 – Patience is a much needed virtue for etching. I etched most my lines with a porcupine quill, taking about 4 hours to scratch in the image and then another 4 hours in the acid bath. After the first proof I thought I’d add some more of those lovely squiggly lines to build up some depth and scratched away for another 4 hours or so, and into a stronger acid for a shorter time. But because I hadn’t checked that the line had etched before removing the hard ground – none of those millions of littles lines had showed up. Big learning!

Learning 5 – Spit bite (used on the leaves) isn’t a technique for me, not only is it extremely toxic, but the shading is too soft for what I want to achieve. As my professoressa says it’s like a snail trail and not her cup of tea either.

Learning 6 – Drypoint is a great way to create some shading and darker tones to your plate, as well as blend some of the hard lines created by the etching. For me, it really enhanced the image.

The final learning, that applies to all my prints, is not to judge as soon as you print it. After spending close to 25 hours on this plate I pulled the print and immediately felt disappointed, which often happens with me and my work. I think its like when you spend all day preparing a meal, the last thing you want to do is eat it, its like you’ve spent so much time focusing on it you can see all its little imperfections. Some of my classmates said I needed to rework it and others thought I shouldn’t touch it at all. So, I put it away in my draw and a week later came back to it and now I absolutely love it! What do you think?

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