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Training in Safe Etching Techniques

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About the project

Printmaking is always evolving – responding to modern materials and approaches – and SPW always strives to review and develop the techniques and practices around printmaking.

Since our inception, Swansea Print Workshop has pursued the holy grail of etchers – to find safer alternatives which incorporate ease of use with the same level of creative opportunities as the traditional materials.

In 2013 as part of our Dylan Thomas Dialogues project, we offered two one-day workshops to contributing artists (emerging and experienced printmakers) with Andrew Baldwin, a printmaker who has developed etching techniques using vegetable-based grounds (product name: BIG).

The feedback from the workshops was excellent. Andrew Baldwin was an inspirational tutor and all the artists realized the great potential in this method for both beginners and experienced artists.

This was an exciting development for SPW because there has been a confusing multiplicity of etching grounds available. Some of these offered good creative outcomes but had disadvantages around environmental impact; others were safer but had limited applications.

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How BIG fits in with SPW’s ethos

The BIG techniques offer more opportunities for spontaneity without being involved in over-elaborate processing which can cause barriers to inexperienced users as well as those who lack confidence when the outcomes are not consistent.

We have over the years looked closely to Edinburgh Printmakers who have led much of the international research on safer etching and adopted their recommendations for SPW. Edinburgh Printmakers are now using BIG, Andrew Baldwin’s materials and techniques and, following the workshops with Baldwin, SPW was confident that this was an appropriate investment for a long-term intaglio platform.

Traditional intaglio techniques contain many hazardous materials and we have discouraged their use in our membership. However, the safer methods we’ve been able to offer to date have been complicated and given inconsistent results. This has resulted in a lack of take-up of the technique in the first place, a high dissatisfaction level in those that have attempted the technique and frustration in those who have continued to work with this technique.

Printmaking offers unique opportunities for mark making. We feel that these safer techniques are particularly supportive of autographic approaches which will build on our support of drawing particularly in respect of drawing into printmaking.

About Andrew Baldwin and ‘BIG’ Etching Grounds

In 2002 Andrew Baldwin, a practicing printmaker, developed and produced an innovative etching ground as part of a drive to reduce some of the more hazardous processes in printmaking; this he demonstrated to huge acclaim at the International Printmaking Impact Conference in Bristol and more recently at Impact Dundee. Andrew Baldwin is now based at Trefeglwys Printmakers in Mid-Wales. (

The following extract is from the website of Trefeglwys Printmakers:

There are many alternatives to the traditional etching ground on the market many of which advertise themselves as the safer alternative. This may be the case but from my experience this is often to the detriment of quality and practicality. This common problem has put many printmakers off from trying alternatives, preferring to stay with the reliable time honored system. Did you know that a traditional etching ground contains arsenic, lead, mercury to name but a few toxic elements which can not only be breathed in through your air ways but also absorbed through your skin. With ‘Big’ I feel I have not only provided a non toxic alternative but also a ground which is far more versatile. Because the main constituent is an ink it allows the artist printmaker to experiment with many different effects on their etching plate. Techniques ranging from soft and hard ground, photo etching, marbling, relief etching, sandpaper aquatints and coffee lift are but a few which can be explored. Big has been used at the School of Art University of Aberystwyth since 2002 and has been adopted in many other private and educational print workshops around the world.

Long-term impact

We feel that the BIG grounds with their wide range of applications and consistent results will transform user’s perception and engagement in this accessible and flexible technique. We believe that is a vital development in printmaking and for the profile and integrity of Swansea Print Workshop as a centre of excellence in printmaking.

Programme of Activities

The project will offer an artist talk by Andrew Baldwin, a series of introductory and masterclass workshops suitable for experienced printmakers and those new to printmaking. There will also be opportunities to work in the Studio alongside Andrew Baldwin and for members to work together in a Peer Support Studio day. 

2 day Introductory Workshop Sat/Sun 14 & 15 June (FULL) or Mon/Tues 7 & 8 July (FULL) 10 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

£100 Non-member, £90 Ordinary Member, £80 Full/Keyholder member

This course is designed for those who are new to etching. Many people associate etching with fine delicate lines. Although this is a popular approach, it is by no means the only way to create a print with the etching process.

In this course you will have the opportunity to work using two different metals, copper and aluminium. Using the copper, you will be shown how, by impressing different items into a wet etching ground you can build an image with amazing detail. Whether you use feathers, leaves, aluminium foil or bubble wrap you can use your imagination to create a print. With the aluminium plate you have the opportunity to use the etching needle to draw your lines and then add tone to your print. Once you have finished etching both plates you can explore the many variations to a print using a combinations of colours.

You should bring with you:

  • Items for soft ground impression, such as feathers, dry leaves or other vegetation, textiles or papers with a texture and anything else you think may give an interesting texture to your print.
  • Preliminary drawings that you could use for drawing up a plate.
  • Camera to take pictures of demonstrations for personal reference. 

2 Day Masterclass Workshop

Mon/Tues 16 & 17 June (FULL) or Sat/Sun 5 & 6 July (TWO PLACES AVAILABLE)10 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

£135 Non-member, £120 Ordinary member, £105 Full/Keyholder member

This course explores two projects with aluminium and copper.

The copper will be devoted to an alternative mezzotint process. You will be shown how using the ‘Poor Man’s Mezzotint’ process you can make beautiful tonal prints working from dark to light. You will be shown how to prepare a plate using emery paper to create your alternative mezzotint. To save time, plates will have been prepared for you, allowing more time for you to create your image.

With the aluminium you will be shown how, using a coffee lift, you can make dramatic prints employing spit bite for more natural gradation of tone. Once your plates have been etched you will be shown how to double drop your plates to explore the many colour variations that are possible with your plates.

You should bring with you:

  • A scraper burnisher if you have one, but not essential as they will be provided
  • Some good soft brushes for applying spit bite
  • Some preliminary sketches suitable for the two techniques. (Take a look at examples of both spit bite and mezzotint, e.g. Norman Ackroyd, Martin Lewis).
  • Camera to take pictures of demonstrations for personal reference.

The masterclasses are suitable for printmakers with previous experience in etching or those who have taken part in an Introductory Workshop with Andrew Baldwin.

Supported Studio Day

Weds 18 June or Weds 9 July 10 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (PLACES AVAILABLE)

£25 Non-member, £20 Ordinary member, £18 Full/Keyholder member

An opportunity to work alongside Andrew Baldwin to print plates in a supported environment. Please also book for these Studio days to avoid disappointment. Additional materials used will be charged for.
Peer Support Studio Time 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

£5.00 for the day - available to Members Only

An opportunity to work in a relaxed and supportive environment alongside other members who are working with safe etching techniques. Share your experience and learn from each other. Tea and biscuits will be provided.

Please book early as we anticipate these workshops will be popular. Your booking will be confirmed only when full payment is received. Payment can be made by cheque, cash (at SPW) or by bank transfer. Please email or phone (leave a message) to book or for bank details. Fees for workshops include all materials required to participate, additional materials used will be charged for. Additional materials used in the Supported Studio Days and the Peer Support Studio Time will be charged for.  t: 01792 464418

This programme of workshops has been made possible by funding from the Arts Council of Wales through their Training Funds.

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