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I drew these on copper plates using hard-ground etching, soft-ground etching and aquatint techniques.

The picture/plate size is 63 x 90 cm.

They were and still are – since 2003 – printed in Himmelblau Printmaking Studio, usually by the master printer Marko Lampisuo, Tampere, Finland.

                                                         etching_jussilehtonen3x65p.jpg      etching_juliaandriina65px.jpg

(an extract from)
The Charm of Printmaking

Unlike in regular drawing, in etching it is hard to see what one is doing while drawing. One makes faintly visible scratches on the copper plate with one's nose against it, or depending on the technique in some other way that forces one to be physically close to the image and struggle with it, without knowing what the result will look like, or even what the line one is currently drawing will look like. Paradoxically enough, exactly because of this ignorance the maker can absorb him/herself in the work. Therefore s/he is freer when engraving the plate than a draughtsman is at his/her paper or a painter at his/her canvas. Only the proofs will show the printmaker what s/he has done. Only they show the image s/he has drawn in its actual colours and right way around. Thanks to the distance the technique of printmaking allows its maker, the proofs are a shock to the maker. When one makes prints, one is at time same time gloriously within it and utterly out of it at the same time.

My favourite aspect of printmaking is the line. I am currently trying to make a series that can hold a candle to Francis Goya’s series of 84 parts Los Caprichos (1799). I have been staring at the paintings and prints of Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel (1883–1970), Adolf Wölfli, Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) and Max Beckmann – as well as those by countless equally good but the less-well known artists, such as Franz Radziwill (1895–1983), Karl Hubbuch (1891–1979), Franz Lenk (1898–1968), Christian Schad (1894–1982) and Georg Scholz (1890–1945) since I was a teenager. There is a certain unintentional German emphasis in this, which is hard for me to explain. More important than their nationality for me is that these idols and inspirations of mine were all primarily line drawers. Their lines are angular, toilsome, taut, convulsive or cramping, like a slash of a knife. Printmaking, especially woodcuts and metal engraving, are suitable for this use of the line, because the plate offers resistance to the drawer: it is harder to make a groove on a copper plate than it is to draw a line on paper with a brush or a pen.

One can attempt to scratch the subject precisely and meticulously onto a plate in spite of the stylus not obeying one’s hand, the needle slipping on the slippery copper and the wooden plate splitting unexpectedly. The image bears lines that slip here and there and outlines that have been drawn again and again, none of them the right one but they all form a stuttering human choir together, insecure, vague and therefore so very true. This appeals to people whose concept of the normal state of existence and its ideal form emphasises tensions and irreconciled conflicts. If the line is meant to embody the pressure of existence, violent conflicts, the inescapable and wound-like separateness of the subject and being human primarily as experiencing pain and friction, then the resistance of a polished metal plate or crooked wooden plate is a great joy to the draughtsman.

There are other ways of reacting to the difficulty of making a line, like pruning off unnecessary lines for example, by refining the expression so that it consists of few but thought-provoking strokes. The figures in Emil Hansen Nolde’s (1867–1956) and Edward Munch’s (1863–1944) woodcuts have been condensed into simple but powerful characters.

On the other hand, drawing a line does not have to be difficult in printmaking. It can be even more fluent than drawing the same line on drawing paper or canvas. It was a great revelation to me when I understood that some techniques of etching and engraving allow the stylus or brush to glide more agilely than a canvas or drawing paper does.

For line etching a copper plate is first varnished for drawing on it. If wanted, the varnished surface can be made even more sensitive to the artist’s touch than paper is to the drawer’s touch or canvas to the painter’s. In hard-ground etching one can draw lines on the copper plate. The lines are more precise and agile than what one can draw on paper with the finest of nibs. In soft-ground etching a thin paper is stretched on the varnished copper plate, and one draws on the paper with a pencil. The soft layer of varnish underneath the paper registers the drawer’s touch even more sensitively than drawing paper – the soft-ground is like oversensitive paper that makes even those lines visible which could not be perceivable if they were drawn on paper.

The Charm of Printmaking is a chapter in the essay Toolbox,
included in the written part of my doctoral thesis:
Darkness Visible – Essays on Art, Philosophy and Politics

(2005, English version 2007).

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PAINTING (+ drawing, printmaking & installation art)