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Aquatint is a method of etching designed to imitate the tones of water colours and wash drawings. Although known in Europe in the 17th century, the process appears to have been abandoned until rediscovered by Jean Baptiste Le Prince in 1768. Technically it was difficult to execute. P.P. Burdett introduced the technique to England in 1771.  Its primary use was for reproducing landscapes and, by extension, for naval, military and sporting subjects where action could be contained in a landscape or seascape. Because the aquatint process provides an extension to the etching principle it is sometimes referred to as painting in acid, providing a transparent tone to emulate the subtle tonal qualities of watercolor.

Aquatint etchings were traditionally printed in sepia and then black ink. The copper plate is covered with a powdered resin, or wax mixed with emery ground (the same ground we see on the surface of a nail file). The plate is then immersed in acid which is repelled by the resin, or wax, but bites the spaces in between the emery ground, so forming a granular texture. (Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne's suburb of Fitzroy, still offers an Aquatint cabinet for its visiting artists to use.) White areas are retained by painting on stopping-out varnish which prevents those areas from being bitten by the acid. The delicacy of the process resulted in less images being taken off the plate in an effort to maintain definition.



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