Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Fascinating Process of Aquatint and the Art of Mimi Hegler

The Fascinating Process of Aquatint and the Art of Mimi Hegler
by Susan Murphy 
     I first came to know Mimi Hegler about 25 years ago when I was a new member of the Olney area artist community. She was also painting in watercolor at that time and we met and saw each other's work at local art events over the years. I got to know her better more recently when, at the suggestion of her sister Donna Moeller, she joined my watercolor class here at ARThouse. I was surprised because Mimi certainly doesn't need to take my classes! But we have a very interesting and vibrant group of people meeting for watercolor classes here and several very accomplished artists come to be part of that group and gain inspiration from each other.
     Mimi is not only a superb watercolorist, but also expert in creating fascinating etchings and aquatints, especially in miniature. We are featuring her art on a dedicated wall space during July and August, as part of our annual student show, and we held a very well-attended reception for her on July 14th.   Some of her best watercolors will be on display, as well as her fabulous aquatint etchings (see samples an brief biography in left sidebar). You would really take pleasure in seeing this work in person, if you are in the area and able to stop by!
     You may not know what the aquatint process is all about, and we would like to explain it a little bit here. Also, at her show we have samples of aquatint plates and some of the materials used to make these special colored etchings (a type of "original print"). What follows is an explanation of the process in Mimi's own words:

Mimi Hegler at her printing press in Ashton, Maryland
    "An original print is a fine art process that produces multiples. In no sense is an original print a copy or a reproduction. Each print is, in itself, an original-created and hand-pulled by the artist.
     An aquatint is created by etching sections, rather than lines, of a plate in order to create areas of uniform tone. An aquatint is prepared by applying resin or a similar ground to a metal [copper or zinc] plate, which is then heated, thus adhering the ground to the metal. This gives a roughness or grain to the plate which adds texture to the image. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath, which bites or etches the plate and creates areas which will hold the ink. The design is created with gradations of tone achieved through repeated acid baths combined with varnish used to stop out areas of lighter tone. Aquatint is an intaglio process, so prints made in this manner will have a platemark.  Aquatinting, with its areas of tone, was often used to duplicate the feel of a watercolor. Some etching was frequently used in an aquatint print to create linear elements in the image. Aquatints were invented by Jean Baptiste Le Prince around 1768, and became especially popular among British printmakers in the first part of the nineteenth century.
     My work begins with an idea, then proceeds to many sketches to work out composition and values. Planning is essential in creating aquatints. When I'm satisfied with all aspects of the drawing, I transfer it to an aquatinted zinc plate. Now the work begins of carefully layering in each value with stopout and then dipping in acid. After multiple layers and dips, the plate is ready to print. I ink yellow onto the plate and slowly and carefully wipe off where it doesn't belong. Using my Conrad press the plate is printed on wet paper, then cleaned and re-inked and printed successively with red and blue. The result is a unique original print which cannot be exactly duplicated, though I try very hard to make each one in my small edition as close as possible.

Mimi holding an aquatint plate and the resulting printed image

     My first exposure to the art of the miniature was about 17 years ago when I joined a local printmaking studio, whose members were busy creating amazing tiny etchings and aquatints for the shows of the MPSGS [link to Miniature Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers Society] of Washington, DC. I was determined to try my hand at this demanding medium.
   Creating art has always been important to me and I previously had "expressed" myself in oil and watercolor painting. Printmaking was a new endeavor, and a fine printmaker and painter, Genevieve Roberts, was my teacher and mentor. Through her encouragement, I was finally able to create these tiny gems.
   Understanding the concept of the "small" or the spirit of miniature is difficult at first. It should have a delicate quality not reproducible as a large work, yet be a tiny "force" with strong composition and design. A good miniature should stand on its own and possess all the ability to entice and enrapture the viewer equally as well as any large artwork of good quality.
   A lifelong love for the natural world dictates most of my subject matter, whether miniature or larger works-landscape scenes, horses and other animals, flowers, fruit and vegetables and, occasionally, children.
   I am fortunate to belong to several miniature societies including Miniature Artists of America, Miniature Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers Society of Washington, DC, The Cider Painters, and the Miniature Art Society of Florida. Working directly on the annual shows of the MPSGS gives me access to the work of best miniaturests in the world. How's that for inspiration!"  

--Mimi Hegler   

Here are some samples of Mimi's miniature aquatints.  Each are only $110 with a white mat and measure about 8x10" matted.  The first seven images themselves are only 3x4"!  The last three are about 8x10".  Aren't these amazing!?  Please tell me what you think by commenting below.   --Sue