Sugar aquatint

12 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Sugar aquatint by Maureen Booth

Sugar aquatint (sugar lift, lift ground process, aquatint de sucre, Dutch: suikeraquatint, suikerets) is a “reservage” illustration technique that belongs to the intaglio-etching printmaking family. It is considered a variation on the sugar etch.

Technique description
A sugar aquatint is made as follows. The first step is to apply the illustration with a thick layer of liftground to a clean etch plate, which is usually done with a thick brush. This liftground has to be able to soak off the etching ground which will be applied afterwards. For that reason, the liftground has to satisfy the following conditions:
1) It needs to be chemically neutral in relation to the metal
2) It should be easy to treat with a pen or a brush
3) It needs to color powerfully to be able to see the illustration
4) It should dry quickly
5) It should dissolve easily in water.
The lifting ground therefore consists of pigment (for example chalk or Indian ink), “hechtmiddel” (glycerine, soap or gum arabic), and a “soak off substance” (sugar or syrup). This “soak off substance” soaks off the etch ground from the plate because it swells and dissolves by absorbing water . Both the “soak off substance” and the “hechtmiddel” make sure that the liftground does not fully dry, resulting in the varnish layer staying porous so that water still can come through.
When the liftground containing the illustration has dried, the next step is to put a thin acid resistant varnish layer on the plate. One normally uses a soft brush for this. The plate is then immersed in lukewarm water, making the sugar swell and dissolve so that the etch ground soaks off on the areas where the liftground is applied, making the sugar drawing visible. This process can be accelerated by the use of vinegar or carefully wiping with a cloth or brush.
The following step is to apply the aquatint ground (or a vernis-mou ground) to the plate. However, it is also possible to first add the aquatint ground before applying the liftground, because the combination of resin on the varnish layer could create gaps. The final step is make an etch in the aquatint ground. Dutch bath or iron chloride are mostly used for this. From this stage on, the sugar aquatint is treated like a traditional aquatint.
The sugar aquatint and the traditional aquatint are quite similar. Both have the same structure and edition, and consist of grey tones. It also possible to create tone nuances, for example by not completely degreasing the plate – resulting in the lift ground contracting irregularly, by alternately etching deep or less deep, or by polishing to obtain lighter shades.
The sugar aquatint differs however from the traditional aquatint in that the illustration does not result from covering the surfaces round it – as with the aquatint – but by removing the etching ground on the places where the lifting ground is applied.

Description of the instruments, machines and chemicals used for aquatint
Etch plate, varnish, Dutch bath / iron chloride, powdered resin or asphalt, brush, lukewarm water, chalk/Indian ink, glycerine/soap/gum arabic, sugar/syrup.Inventor
There is no concrete inventor of this technique, but research has shown that the Dutch painter and “graphicus” Hercules Seghers used the sugar aquatint in the 17th century.

History of the use of aquatint
Even though H. Seghers already used the sugar aquatint in the 17th century, it was not before 1866 that Lalanne shortly mentioned this technique in his Gravure à l’eau-forte. Hereafter the sugar aquatint was used more frequently, especially by engravers of fashion illustrations. Also Picasso and S.W. Hayter experimented with the sugar aquatint. Contrary to the traditional aquatint, the sugar aquatint is still a very popular technique nowadays. Well-known artists using the aquatint are: Hercules Seghers, Picasso, S.W. Hayer and Willem van Leusden.

Related techniques
Related to the aquatint are the sugar etch, aquatint.

Van der Linden, F. De grafische technieken. De Bilt, 1979.

Poortenaar, J. Van prenten en platen: de grafische technieken in voorbeelden, afbeeldingen en beschrijving. Deventer: Klüwer, 1966.

By: Eva Veenendaal


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