The WIP: Aquatint

Welcome to another segment of, The Work In Progress. Leaving areas with a tonal effect through Intaglio can be done a few ways, one of which includes, “Aquatint.”


As with any new method I find, I need to understand the technique and process. Aquatint was no exception. In a basic sense, aquatint requires a material on a plate to detract the etching acid, since what makes the tonal effects are the ridges that flow throughout the plate. This allows the burr to hold in ink, rather than a relief process that lays the ink out on a plane. The material that could be laid out on the plate includes salt, baby powder, rosin, etc. For this project, I’m using rosin (a substance collected from a tree).

The burr is mainly effected by two factors: the amount/density of rosin, and the amount of time in the mordant. I used a powder shaker to consistently sprinkle an even layer of rosin onto the plate. By putting the plate on a hotplate, the rosin slightly melts and binds to the metal so that it doesn’t wash away. I will be putting the plate in the acid multiple times, each time etching deeper and deeper. As you may have guessed, to get different tones you stop-out areas with ground for every round in the mordant.

Before the plate goes into the acid bath, I added a layer of ground to protect the brightest whites. This ground will be left on for the entirety of the etching process. For now, I want to add the next layer of tone by leaving the plate in the bath for fifteen minutes. After that time, I will stop-out parts where I believe the etched tone should not change, and so on and so forth. From the pictures above you can see the four tones I added: the highlight, two middle tones, and the darkest tone.

aquatint-test-webAbove, you can see the final edition for my test plate. Notably, there are sections that did not turn out the way I wanted. Thankfully there are ways around that problem. If you want more whites, you use a burnisher. If you want more darks, then you can re-etch in those parts, or other burr making techniques like drypoint. I mainly used the burnisher to bring out more of the piece, and to make it seem more realistic with the light source. I also used a scribe to add in drypoint marks on edges of the triangle and square to define the form a bit more.


After receiving practice from the “shapes plate,” I decided to create a more professional piece using the same method; this time the subject would be my distressed face. The obvious differences between the two subjects include more tones, shapes, and dimensions. From my sketch, I mapped out which parts would receive what amount of ink, and in essence, how long each section would be exposed to the acid. After about an hour of etching, I made my first proof.


Much like I imagined from working with the test aquatint, the first proof was far from perfect; however, it did look intriguing. I used a burnisher to smooth out the burr which created a lighter tone and a gradation. Some sections needed more ink, so I cross-hatched a drypoint in the neck, hair, and my signature. While this was the first time experimenting with etching my signature backwards, I would proof a relief section over it to make the lines white instead of black. After editing it a few times over, I finally printed a proof that I enjoyed as you can see above.

The aquatint process is challenging, but enjoyable and rewarding. It gives a unique texture and a tonal effect that can’t be beat. For my style, adding in areas of drypoint gives a nice unification and harmony between the two mediums. As this door closes, another one opens (hopefully towards another shot at one of my new favorite printmaking techniques: aquatint).

Please leave a comment below if you have any critiques or comments, or simply just LIKE and SHARE!

For more, visit Tristan’s Website

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