I begin by making sketches of the landscape, mostly from life, and usually in pastels. I then simplify the shapes and explore the patterns until I am satisfied that the image can be developed into a print. I often use three zinc plates (one per colour) to make the finished etching. The technique I use is called ‘intaglio’, meaning below the surface of the metal. The ink is trapped in the etched area and the uncut part remains white.
I begin with the plate for the darkest colour, and using a method known as ‘sugar lift’, I paint directly on the plate with a sugar solution. I then pour varnish over the whole plate, wait for it to dry and immerse it in hot water, where the sugar dissolves and ‘lifts off’ to reveal the image as exposed areas of zinc.
Next, the plate goes into a bath of nitric acid, where the exposed metal is etched away to create the first part of the image. I then add tone or texture known as ‘aquatint’, where the exposed areas are sprinkled with a fine layer of rosin dust, and the plate is put back in the acid. The dust particles resist the bite of the acid, producing a range of tones as a series of tiny dots. The plates for the other colours follow the same procedure.
When I have made all three plates, the exciting stage of printing can begin. Each plate is inked-up with a different colour and passed through the press to transfer the ink to the dampened paper; building-up the final image in a series of overlapping layers. This is where I see the complete image for the very first time. Before this, it had only ever existed in my head.