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Antique Aquatints

SoPossibly the most complicated and time consuming of the print making techniques.
The aqua of the name is slightly misleading, in that it does not refer to water but probably
to aquafortis which is nitric acid, for the prints are acid-etched and not as they
are sometimes referred to as 'aquatint engravings'. The introduction of this technique
was an attempt to emulate the soft tones of a watercolour, for which they are sometimes mistaken.

Antique Aquatint Prints Technique

Introduced to Britain by P.P. Burdett in 1771 aquatints were initially used to produce naval,
military and sporting subjects. A copper plate is covered with a powdered resin which is fused by heat,
the plate is then immersed in acid which is repelled by the resin but which bites the spaces
in between forming a granular texture. In 'biting' the plate the light areas were treated first and then
the plate was removed from the acid bath, washed in water and the area required to
remain light (i.e. the sky) was stopped out with acid resistant varnish.

The aquatinter worked from light to dark, the final biting being the darkest areas of the print.
The tonal quality was revealed at the printing stage, with the lightly bitten
areas carrying small amounts of ink,while the deeply bitten areas carried larger ink deposits and printed darker.
The printing commenced with the cleaning of the plate, which was then inked with a roller.
The surplus ink was removed leaving the remaining ink in the acid cut line or groove, a piece of lightly
dampened paper was placed on the plate and then both were fed through
a hand operated roller and the ink was absorbed onto the paper.

Aquatint Prints

This magnified image of an aquatint
illustrates the finished 'granular' texture.

 

Antique aquatint prints - technique explained.

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