What is a Silk Aquatint?
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 Printmaking – 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. Then you adhered an 8×10 section of screen door mesh to the painted surface. Now you have a screen mesh on a black 8×10 plate.
Imagine applying black printmaking ink to cover all the mesh, and then wiped the mesh with tarlatan, intaglio style, like you would for an etching.
After wiping the surface of the screened plate, 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. In silk aquatint, that’s what you’re doing to make the plate, but with silk screen mesh instead of screen door mesh.
On a micro-level, each strand in the silk mesh is protecting a square reservoir that will hold ink. (see below)
Block the Reservoirs with White Acrylic Paint!
The magic happens when you adjust which reservoirs in the mesh are empty and ready for black printmaking ink, and which are already occupied with various levels of white acrylic paint (see image above).
If you paint a solid white circle with acrylic paint mixed with acrylic gloss medium in the middle of your black screened plate, you’re filling the wells between the strands of mesh.
Now, when you ink the plate with black printmaking ink, and wipe it intaglio style, all of the ink on your white circle wipes away, because 1) there are no deep areas on the 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.
So, if you printed this inked and wiped plate, you’d have a black, solid field, with a bright white circle in the middle of your paper.
Can you visualize that? See what I mean? Totally Cool!
What You See is What You Get
When you ink, wipe and print the white circle plate, you get a clean white dot 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” inside the screen’s mesh, you 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!
Silk Aquatint Printmaking Experiments
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. (Printmaker Sue Brown has written a manual on silk aquatint here.)
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 in the ratios described in the photo below 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 the black acrylic paint under the silkscreen mesh was dry, I put a drawing on the silk with a white colored pencil, and then painted in layers of white acrylic.
I used 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 – how to make a silk aquatint! I hope you’re intrigued enough to give it a go.
If you’d like to read more about this printmaking process, and the supplies you’ll need, here is another post about making a silk aquatint print.
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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Actually, it goes the other way. Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact… It turns out that choices lead to habits. Habits become talents. Talents are labeled gifts. You’re not born this way, you get this way.Seth Godin