Intaglio Printmaking: My History

I spent this morning working in the printshop etching 4 plates at the same time. It’s been interesting for me to think about my development as a printmaker. Printmaking is the one area of expertise in which I have never completed a formal degree, and yet in many ways I think that the majority of my work that I think is the most successful has been in printmaking. My relationship with the intaglio process has also been sporadic and random, although at this point I am starting to feel like I am truly using the medium to its fullest potential. I am teaching Intaglio I at the Art Institute of Boston this semester, and I am realizing more and more that I had to teach intaglio printmaking in order to finally learn it. Seems like a complete contradiction, but it could not be more true.

The first time I worked with intaglio printmaking was during the Wintersession semester of my freshman year at RISD. The instructor was a graduate student who was not very comprehensive about the medium, and not particularly useful in terms of answering questions. I have this memory burned in my head of asking her a technical question one time, with her response being “I don’t know”. Period. She didn’t even offer to look it up and get back to me later. As a professor now, I am compulsive about offering to look up answers to questions I can’t answer on the spot. I completed the course with a fractured understanding of the medium, as well as a highly limited concept of the vast range of potential the medium had to offer me. I knew that I liked the intaglio medium; but it felt like one of those times where you’re working on a painting and you know it’s not finished, yet you have no clue about what needs to change to make the painting better. It wasn’t until I took intaglio printmaking during my second year of graduate school that I revisited the medium with a new found sense of intiative and curiousity. Through multiple experiments during this time I developed a new understanding of what the medium could provide me with. What has been most interesting and exciting is that in the process of preparing to teach the Intaglio I couse, I have learned more alternative methods and new techniques from the other faculty who work in the printshop at AIB. I’m convinced that this learning process is an ongoing one, and I’m looking forward to picking up new approaches in the coming years.

I can certainly attribute this new series of sugarlift plates that I’m working on to the Intaglio I course I’m teaching. The first time I was introduced to the sugarlift technique at RISD I distinctly remember thinking to myself “why would I ever want to use this technique?” This is partially because the demonstration given by the instructor was vague and uncomprehensive, but probably also because I couldn’t get myself to grasp the technique conceptually and understand what it had to offer. I worked really hard in graduate school to get a grip on the sugarlift technique.

A sugarlift from the Digging Series, completed during my graduate study.

At graduate school, we had a masterclass with Maurice Payne, who has worked creating prints with David Hockney, and that experience definitely clarified things for me. When it came time for me to prepare to teach the sugarlift technique I realized how similar the painterly process of the sugarlift was to the ink drawings that I was creating a few months ago. It seemed natural to segway into the sugarlift technique as a progression from the ink drawings. The approach was similar in terms of the application of the ink on the plate, yet the process and results were so vastly different.

I’ve been painting the images on plates at home and processing them in the printshop. This makes for pretty tedious, intensive labor when I’m in the printshop etching, but it’s getting me quicker results. It was hard for me to leave the printshop today; I had just processed all 4 plates and they were ready to be proofed.

“Maurice Payne” by David Hockney, 1971

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