What is a Silk Aquatint?
Silk aquatint is a variation of a printmaking method – Aquatint. The traditional version uses an acid bath, a metal plate, a blow torch and some pretty caustic materials. This “silk” version is a home-studio, no-acid, Do-it-Yourself aquatint using plexiglass as a plate, synthetic silk and acrylic paint. By most accounts, this alternative was invented by Massachusetts maritime painter and printmaker Donald Stoltenberg (1927-2016)
Silk Aquatint Print – Wait, What??
The premise of a silk aquatint – on a larger scale – is this: pretend you took an 8×10 sheet of plexiglass, and you painted one side black, and then attached an 8×10 section of screen door material to the painted surface. If you squeegeed the screened-side with black printmaking ink, and then wiped all the ink off with tarlatan, like you would for an etching, you’d still have enough ink huddled in the tiny square spaces between the strands of the screen to print a solid, black 8×10 square if you squeezed the plate against paper on a press. On a micro-level, each strand is protecting a square well that will hold ink. (see below)
Fill the Well with Cement!
The magic happens when you adjust which squares are empty and ready for ink, and which squares are full of something that blocks ink accumulation. If you paint a solid white circle in the middle of your screened plate, using a mix of white acrylic paint and gloss medium, you’re ostensibly filling the wells between the strands of screen. Now, when you ink the plate again, and wipe it intaglio style, all of the ink on your white circle wipes away, because 1) there are no deep areas on your screen for the ink to settle into, since you filled them with white paint, and 2) the white paint is now slippery with the addition of the gloss medium, so the ink can’t cling, and it wipes away completely. Can you visualize that? See what I mean? Totally Cool!
So, What Do You Get?
When you ink, wipe and print this version of the plate, you get a clean white circle on a black 8×10 rectangle. By varying the layers, thickness and brush application of the white acrylic to the screen – adjusting the depth of the “well”, you can create subtle halftones and gradations in the print. And for folks that find imagining the finished product on a traditional etching or engraving challenging – this method is WYSIWYG: What you See is What you Get. The plate looks just like the print (see the print being pulled near the bottom of this post as an example), albeit in reverse. Intrigued yet? I knew you would be excited to try it!
Printmaking Experiments in the Art Studio
After making a few silk aquatints, I mixed two different consistencies of gloss medium and white acrylic paint to control variations in tone in the printmaking process. In previous tests, I used a 50/50 blend of gloss medium and acrylic paint, and the result was a little too thick and viscous for finer details. Thinning it this way gave me better control of layering and feathered edges.
The beginnings of this Print
The base of this silk aquatint plate is a sheet of standard plexiglass with polyester silk adhered to the surface with thinned black acrylic paint. After it was dry, I put a drawing on the silk, and then painted in layers of white (a mixture of gloss medium varnish and white acrylic paint) in all the areas I wanted to block the weave of the silk. Areas where the weave of the silk are not painted will print dark. You can think of painting the plate as a process of “painting the light”. 💡
Make a Silk Aquatint! Go on, Now – You’ve GOT This!
So, there you have it – a silk aquatint! I hope you’re intrigued enough to give it a go. If you’ve made one, and you have any tips, tricks, ideas or cautions, please leave them in the comments, because you know – we get better at art together. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by today and I’ll see you in the next post!
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