What is an Aquatint Etching

What is an Aquatint Etching?

Aquatint is a printmaking technique that produces a full tonal range and rich texture. This is not a photo mechanical process – the plates are individually hand drawn.

Starting with a copper plate, the artist applies rosin dust. The rosin dust is dropped and melted onto the plate creating a matrix of small dots. This gives the grainy texture you see in many of the prints. After the rosin has been applied, the artist begins to create the image. Using a fine watercolor brush and a stop-out medium called asphaltum, the artist begins to render the very whitest parts of the image first. After drawing this section, the copper plate is dipped into an acid bath and etched. Next, the areas that correspond to a slightly darker tone are drawn on the plate, and another dip in the acid bath to etch the plate. This sequence continues until the very darkest areas of the image are drawn in last. There are usually seven to nine times the plate is drawn on and etched to achieve the full range of lights to darks.

For color images, a separate plate is drawn for each color, up to four plates – a red, yellow, blue and black plate. The artist must determine how much color and where to draw to create the full spectrum of color in the print.

After the etching is completed, the rosin and asphaltum is cleaned off the plate (or plates) and they are ready to be printed. A paste-like ink is spread over the surface of the plate. It is then wiped off by hand until ink only remains in the etched areas. The inked plate is then placed onto the press bed, 100% rag paper is placed over it and they are run through the press. In the case of multiple pate prints (color), the plates are printed one after the other until a full color print is created. This process is repeated until the entire edition has been printed. At the end of this process, the artist takes a hard stylus and marks a large “X” through the image or drills a hole in the plate, thereby canceling the printing of any more images.