Nick Beason is a printmaker, creating both monotypes and etchings, and co-owner of the Gaucho Blue Fine Art Gallery in Peñasco, New Mexico. Peñasco is several villages up the High Road from Truchas. I asked him if he would tell us about his art and process. This is what he had to say.
By Nick Beason
I was first attracted to printmaking while hanging out at the Zeller 9 Gallery on the Fulham Road in London, situated (some would say fortuitously) opposite The Goat In Boots pub.
I first started printing in the mid 80s in England. After a set of etching classes at Winchester Art College, I was truly hooked.
Five years later, pursuit of an opportunity to live and work in the U.S.A brought me to the San Francisco Bay Area, and an intersection with the Pacific Arts League of Palo Alto (PALPA). It was there that I switched allegiance from etching to monotype printmaking.
The catalyst was artist Adele Seltzer, who studied and worked with the amazing Nathan Oliveira. I printed under Adele’s adroit direction and active encouragement both at PALPA and her studio in Portola Valley, CA.
For me the two major attractions of monotype printmaking are the spontaneity of the medium, and the unique translucency of a monotype that engenders a quality of light so different from other print styles or even a painting on paper. These contribute to a surface that is unlike any other art – truly a combination of printmaking, painting, and drawing media.
My move to northern New Mexico (first Taos, and then Llano de San Juan) came some time after my first, spellbinding visit in 1990.
I met Michael Vigil in Taos and enjoyed the opportunity so generously given to print at his studio (Graphic Impressions), and to absorb the qualities of Michael’s own inspiring art and palette, as well as that of his father Veloy, and brother Daniel.
In 2010 I switched back to etching, using copper rather than zinc or steel plates.
My current suite of hard edged prints bear a reflection of the political realities of living in the U.S.A. and northern New Mexico, where the sky, landscape, and especially the experiences and perspectives of the small, tough communities present a very strong source of inspiration. These works are in marked contrast to the art I have shown on the West Coast.
Monotype printmaking is the most painterly method of printmaking techniques, producing a one-of-a kind print. Since each image is unique and hand executed, the technique generally yields only one good impression from each prepared plate. Subsequent prints will invariably differ from the first, because of the inevitable variations in repainting and printing. Consequently a key characteristic is that no two prints are alike; although images can be similar, making editions is not possible – hence the prefix mono.
I use oil-based etching inks and “paint” (in both additive and subtractive modes) the image onto a plexi-glass plate which I prefer to use rather than zinc plates.
The plate is then run through an etching press. It may be re-run through the press to produce a ghost image, and the plate may be re-worked and re-printed so as to augment either the initial or the ghost print, and hence iterate towards the final, desired image.
The monotype’s painterly method enables and encourages the printer’s choice of direction, and the complete freedom of expression in the application of that method; structure, analysis of movement, and most importantly, pursuit of a very personal spirit and intuition.
Occasionally, so as to add visual embellishments I glue pieces of paper images, (either found or specifically printed), to a print during and/or after the printing process.
Chine-collé is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to any type of collage.
Chine-collé roughly translates from French, chine = tissue, and collé meaning glue or paste. “Chine” because the thin paper traditionally used in the process was imported to Europe from China, India and/or Japan.
Chine-collé is a special technique in printmaking in which the image is transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support in the printing process. One purpose is to allow the printmaker to print on a much more delicate surface, such as Japanese paper or linen, which pulls finer details off the plate. Another purpose is to provide a background colour behind the image that is different from the surrounding backing sheet.
Intaglio Printing is a printing process that uses an etched or engraved plate. The plate is smeared with ink and wiped clean, then the ink left in the recesses makes the print. Intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, drypoint, mezzotint, and aquatint.
Etching is an intaglio technique; initiated in the early sixteenth century to exploit the discovery that application of acid can incise an image into a metal plate.
Etching maybe regarded as a linear medium with the design and composition of the print created as a set of lines.
The classic approach is where a metal plate is covered with a thin layer of waxy, acid-resistant ground through which the printmaker scratches using a stylus/pointed etching needle, hence exposing areas of bare metal intended to define and delineate the design. The plate is then washed with or dipped in a bath of acid, (mordant or etchant) which “bites” into the exposed metal, echoing the artist’s original lines through the ground, but now sunk into the metal plate.
The longer the exposure of the plate to the acid, the deeper the bite, hence the stronger the line. Varying depths of line can be achieved by repeating the process of application of acid-resistant stop-out to desired areas of the plate and then re-biting.
Despite the seemingly convoluted process, etchings can appear as intuitively and spontaneously derived, however the technique can be used to emulate the rigour and formality of engraving.
Photogravure is the process of printing from an intaglio plate, etched according to a photographic image.
Photo-etching is a technique of using light sensitive plates enabling creation of photorealistic etchings.
Here’s the process I have used at Graphic Impressions:
The design and composition of the print is created by adhering one or more black and white negative images derived from photographs to a sheet of mylar which is then placed in a light box together with a plate to which has been applied a photo-sensitive layer.
Light is projected onto the plate as a negative image to expose it. The plate is washed and cleaned, and then placed in an acid bath (ferric chloride). The acid bites where light has passed through the negative hence hitting the photosensitive layer of the plate.
Once the photo-etching process is complete, the plate can be worked further as a normal intaglio plate – the final result being an intaglio plate which is printed like any other.
Types of metal plates (etching substrates)
Copper is the traditional and normally preferred metal for etching. Copper is capable of etching finer details, bites evenly, holding line and texture well in the acid bath, and does not distort the colour of the ink when wiped.
Zinc is cheaper than copper but does not bite as cleanly and alters some colours of ink.
Steel has a natural and rich aquatint and the line quality of steel is not as fine as that from copper, but is finer than zinc.
A brief list of (among multitudes) favorite and inspiring artists
Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Nathan Olivera, Juan Gris, Richard Diebenkorn, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Fritz Scholder, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, John Chamberlain, R.B. Kitaj, Antoni Tapies, Joseph Cornell, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebeaud, Henry Moore, David Nash, Larry Rivers, Jim Dine, Anthony Caro, Robert Motherwell, Paul Pletka, Tetsuya Noda, Masami Teraoka, Ukiyo-e artists – Kitagawa Utamaro, Taiso Yoshitoshi and Katsushika Hokusai.