© 2019 Anja Percival

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To read about the techniques I use, please scroll down the page.
Artist's statement

I am a printmaker, and I am fascinated by the different atmospheres that light creates in our environment. 

During my time living in Denmark, I was hugely inspired by my foreign surroundings. My work became influenced by the more ‘urban’ scenery within which I lived. After a relocation back to Durham at the end of 2009, I’m still very interested in depicting urban spaces that are infiltrated by different qualities of light.

 

My colour palette is relatively subdued… I feel that strong colour would detract the attention from the subtle tonal variations within my imagery. I frequently focus on spaces that do not include the human figure… as movement would interfere with the stillness of the composition. My choice of subject matter is usually quite ordinary (e.g. the inside of my own home, or the scenery I pass daily on the way the work) but it’s the effect that light has within these spaces that captures my attention. Infiltrating transient sunshine can suddenly transform a space, filling it with energy and highlighting surface form and texture. I find it really interesting to see light changing the unremarkable to the remarkable, revealing a whole new level of visual stimuli. 

I specialise in copperplate etching, using wax resist on aquatint. My etchings are all hand-drawn, I do not use any photographic or digital techniques. The etchings are created by working directly onto the copper plate with a wax pencil. I rarely start with line, but instead focus on the highlights within an image, using techniques that build on the areas that will remain light, instead of building up the image with dark line and shading. Then during the printing process, I apply ink to the plate in quite a painterly fashion - ‘à la poupée’ - that allows me to vary density and colour in such a way as to exaggerate the effect of the etched image. This ink is then later transferred to paper by extreme pressure in an etching press.

Techniques

There are many different grounds (coatings to protect the metal), mark-making techniques and plate preparations that can create different qualities of line, tone and texture on the metal's surface. For example, one way to produce sharp lines is to use hard ground; the surface of the metal (usually zinc, copper or steel) is first coated with a waxy layer ('resist' or 'ground') and then the image is scratched by hand into this surface. The 'drawing' process removes the ground to expose the metal below. So when the plate is immersed in acid, the drawing is permanently 'etched' or eaten into the exposed flat metal surface to produce roughened areas, or grooves, which later hold on to the ink during the printing stage. 

An alternative approach is to start from the opposite end; to focus on the white areas of an image, rather than on the black lines. If just the highlights of an image are marked/protected onto a plate using small areas of ground, then when the plate is immersed in acid, the rest of the surface is etched, except these protected polished points. 

The artworks I create are fine art prints, or more specifically, etchings. Although the term 'print' implies that a photographic process is involved, this is not the case here.

 

The techniques outlined below describe processes used by printmakers, not printers; this distinction is important, as etchings are not necessarily 'carbon copies' as many people mistakenly believe. 

The traditional etching process produces imagery using acid erosion on metal. Areas of metal that are exposed to (and corroded by) acid are roughened, and so during subsequent printing, these etched areas can grip printing ink more than areas which were shielded from the acid (and so remain smooth), and this ink is then later transferred to paper by the application of extreme pressure in an etching press.

Successive applications of ground covering more and more of the plate, interspersed with more etching, create different grades of roughness to the plate… as the more times exposed metal is dipped into the acid, the rougher it goes, and so the more ink it will hold, to produce darker areas within the resulting image.

I frequently work with wax pencils for this technique, to block off areas of the plate.

Wax pencils are in theory very resistant to acid, however in practice the layer of wax contains numerous tiny holes, due to the texture of the pencil on the copper. Therefore once an area I'm working on is 'finished' I cover it with an extra layer of 'stop-out' varnish, which makes sure that no more acid will touch the plate in these particular areas... this is the brown varnish that is visible on the etching plates below, along with the white wax pencil.

The colour prints that I produce are all slightly different, as I apply ink to the plate in much the same way as one would paint a canvas. So printmaking in this selective way allows for much variation in colour and distribution of ink across the paper; for this reason no two colour prints are the same. Even black and white prints are by no means simple copies; each print is individually hand produced, and there are a finite number of prints taken from each plate. This is partly restricted by the perishability of the metal plate's surface caused by successive runs though the printing press, but also by my wish to keep each image relatively original, and precious.