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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

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DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue
Critics Page

Bill Jensen

Etching is a severe way to draw.

Bill Jenson, <em>Defiance</em>, 1996. Intaglio in 8 colors with spitbite and aquatint on Arches En Tout Cas paper, 36 1/4 x 42 3/4 inches. Courtesy ULAE.
Bill Jenson, Defiance, 1996. Intaglio in 8 colors with spitbite and aquatint on Arches En Tout Cas paper, 36 1/4 x 42 3/4 inches. Courtesy ULAE.

After my initial fear of etching was erased by the printer, John Lund, etching became as important in my work and in the same orbit as painting and drawing. If I made a change on the etching then changed the painting or drawing to follow, it worked. If I changed the painting or drawing one week and then went out and changed the etching, it worked. Etching was as integral to my discovery and clarifying of the images as any other of my mediums.

Each printer had their own unique way of working. They would introduce me to techniques that they thought were important to my image. That would get me into trouble to understand it and use it in my work. The next week I would push their knowledge, get them in trouble. Through this give and take we developed many interesting techniques.

The simplest technique we used was the “Niagara Etch.” It was just the act of my pouring Dutch acid directly on a plate that we had worked on for over a year. Bill and the etchers were in shock, but it finished the print.

I did not want to use plate tone, or “Smoky Wipes,” nor hand coloring on the etchings. Everything had to be in the copper. The very tight and beautiful aquatints the etchers love to use, to me gave a silk screen look to the etchings. I pushed the etchers for the coarsest and most open aquatints. That space in between the aquatint rosin let the five or eight or more color plates show through, producing a beautiful deep rich color much like an offset photo. To this day my color etchings are classified as hand colored.

Another time tusche was introduced into the etching process. The tusche was painted on an aquatinted copper plate and as it was being etched the tusche was rubbed. The rubbing slowly removed the tusche a little at a time. The result was a beautiful gradation of tone over the form.

The etchers and I became very good at all the various techniques to etch into the copper. We tried experimenting with substances that would attach to the surface of the plate to hold ink. We discovered a mixture of very fine carborundum and polyurethane varnish would hold on to an aquatinted plate. The result was a beautiful tone with very different gradations than normal aquatint. We could not use finger or tracing paper wipes because of lacerations and it also wore out cheese cloth very fast. We called it the “Stalagmite Aquatint.”

Another time, another printer named Bryan Berry used a sandblasting machine to remove paint from metal. He sandblasted one of my copper plates. The result was the “Volcano Aquatint.” A very beautiful deep rich tone caused by the pebble of sand hitting the copper creating a “volcano” like dent that had circular ridge and a valley all around to hold the ink. Very beautiful but extremely hard to remove. I took a small stainless steel butcher’s cleaver and attached a second handle to it, so that it became a great scraper and burnished that aquatint.

Working with all the printers at ULAE is one of my fondest memories. It was the art of etching that was all of our focus. The simpatico, the expansion of the medium, and the singularity of purpose was thrilling to be part of. I am forever grateful to Bill and everyone at ULAE. “Etching is a severe way to draw.”

Contributor

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen is an artist. He lives in New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues