spacer An aquatint is an etching with tonal passages that resemble a wash. Goya's Los Caprichos and Los Desastres De La Guerra, created in the late 17th and early 18th century, were the first significant body of etchings to utilize aquatint. An aquatint employs acid resistant particles to create an irregular dot pattern on the plate. The acid resistant particles can be applied using spray paint, acrylic resistant ground sprayed with an air brush, or with rosin--applied with a rosin dust box or by hand--then fused to the plate prior to etching. A dust grain rosin aquatint imparts the most delicate, refined aquatint due to the minute scale of the ground rosin particles. Rosin, from the pitch of pine trees, is the same material used by a violinist. Rosin can be purchased in large amber colored chunks, and is ground with either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder to create the fine yellow powdery substance used in etching. rule Goya aquatint
  Aquatint underwent a renaissance in the 20th century due to master printers Aldo Crommelynck (in Paris, France), and Kathan Brown (in San Francisco, California). Crommelynck worked with Picasso to make extraordinary etchings, often employing aquatint. And in the latter part of the century Crommelynck worked with artists such as David Salle and Terry Winters, always imparting the aquatints with the earmark of the Crommelynck aquatint.
  Kathan Brown founded Crown Point Press in San Francisco in the early 1960's. The aquatints produced at CPP have an extraordinarily clear and refined quality. Artists Richard Diebenkorn and John Cage created large bodies of prints working with the master printers at CPP. Anish Kapoor's spit-bite aquatints are unrivaled. CPP master printers Pamela Paulson and Lothar Osterburg have founded their own presses and continue to produce etchings and photogravures employing remarkable aquatint technique.
Application of the Dust Grain Rosin Aquatint:    
1.  Turn the hot plate on so it has time to warm. Rosin melts at approximately 235 degrees.   Hot Plate 250 degrees for melting rosin
2.  Degrease the plate {see plate preparation: degreasing}, and dry the plate well.
3.  Place the plate on a piece of cardboard slightly larger that the plate itself. The cardboard makes it easy to remove the plate from the rosin box without disturbing the freshly applied dust.
Temporarily rest the plate and cardboard within easy reach of the rosin box.
4.  Check the rosin box to assure there is enough rosin to proceed with application, and to be certain no one has left a plate lingering in the rosin box.
5.  Latch the rosin box door firmly.
6.  Move the peg arm on the back of the box to permit the box to rotate freely.
7.  Rosin is sticky. Knocking on the box will loosen the rosin attached to the insides.
8.  Rotate the box to create a copious dust cloud. Continue knocking on the box while rotating it.
9.  Bring the box to rest at the bottom of the rotation and begin timing the wait interval immediately. Replace the peg arm at the back of the box while timing.
10.  Timing is critical in applying rosin to a plate. Determine the following:
  • the amount of time needed for larger rosin particles to fall following the creation of the cloud in the box chamber and prior to the insertion of the plate
  • the amount of time the plate needs to be left in the box to gather rosin
  Typically a number of sample tests are performed to determine rosin application time intervals. Try beginning by creating the cloud, waiting 30 seconds, inserting the plate in the box, then leaving the plate in the box for 60 seconds. If the application is too dense, increase the time prior to inserting the plate to 60 seconds. Continue to experiment with various intervals of waiting to insert the plate and leaving the plate in the box to achieve optimal rosin coverage.
11.  Following the wait interval, carefully open the door on the rosin box, insert the plate, (support the plate on the cardboard template as you insert it in the box and then gently rest it on the dowel rods in the box). Close the door gently and just hold shut as you begin the timing of the in the box interval. Insert plate into rosin box
12.  CAREFULLY open the door on the rosin box. Gently lift the cardboard template supporting the etching plate and remove the plate from the box without hitting the door opening or anything that could cause a clump of rosin to land on the plate as you remove it.
13.  Set the plate aside then close and latch the door on the rosin box. Sweep up any rosin that may have escaped from the box and deposit it in the trash.
14.  Place a sheet of newspaper on the hot plate and set the focus for the binocular microscope for the viewing of your rosin application and to observe the fusing on the rosin.
15.  Rosin is pale yellow prior to fusing, and turns transparent when it reaches melting temperature. Ideally rosin fused to the etching plate should resemble water beading on a freshly waxed car. Rosin not adequately adhered will come off the plate when etching. Rosin over melted spreads and clumps together creating a coarse aquatint.
16.  Allow the plate to cool.
17.  Block out any areas of the plate you wish to preserve as is prior to etching the aquatint areas. Allow the ground to dry.
Tips Regarding Dot Coverage and Etching of an Aquatint:    
  aquatint with good rosin coverage
 1.  A 50% coverage of whatever material used for creating the dot pattern is ideal. The advantage of a rosin aquatint is the refined quality of the aquatint due to the minute size of the rosin dust particle. Too dense coverage with rosin. When fused, the rosin particles will melt together and largely prevent the plate from etching.
2.  An inadequate application of dot particles cannot hold up under acid exposure. When etched the aquatint will have pit areas larger than the land areas. When printed the aquatint will look weak due to inadequate tooth for holding ink.
3.  This plate has an inadequate application of rosin, but was over melted to spread the rosin particles. Notice the clumping together of particles to create larger land areas. The etched pit areas contain large voids without adequate tooth.
4.  An aquatint with equal distribution of rosin (land areas) and open plate (pit areas) creates adequate tooth for holding on to ink and creating tonal passages. The tone of the etched area is controlled by the length of time the plate is etched.
5.  A brief exposure to the acid will yield a light tone. A longer acid exposure will yield a darker tone. However, there is a point, when the plate left too long in the acid, will loose it's tone instead of getting darker. This is due to the under biting of the protected land areas of the aquatint during long exposures. Uneven muddy tones are the result of over exposing the aquatint to the acid.
6.  Aquatint tonal values are achieved by doubling exposure time in the acid. When etching a test exposure plate begin with 15 seconds, remove it from the acid bath, rise well, block out a small strip then repeat this process adding 30 seconds, + 1 minute, + 2 minutes, + 4 minutes, etc.
7.  When the etching of the aquatint is complete:   aquatint burnished to create highlights
NOTE:  Like drypoint, a plate etched with aquatint should be handled carefully. Do not scrub or abrade the aquatint when cleaning the plate as this could reduce the plate's tooth and weaken the print.

Aquatint tones can be highlighted by burnishing. the tones in the plate to the right where created by initially etching the entire plate so it would carry a black tone, then carefully burnishing the land areas of the plate, reducing the tooth and thereby creating a range of tones. To remove the aquatint on heavily aquatinted areas shave the area with the scraper first, then polish it with the burnisher afterwards.

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Intaglio - a Studio Manual, was created with support from the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence - Small Grant Program.
This electronic intaglio studio manual was authored by Holly Morrison for the students at the VCU School of the Arts.

©Holly Morrison, all rights reserved