Review: Etching escapades in Edinburgh

Ever considered planning your holiday around printmaking? Etching enthusiast Elisabeth Boerwinkel shares her review of a summer printing course in Scotland’s capital.

Edinburgh Printmakers’ new quarters

The idea

With a big love for everything print related, and some time on my hands during the summer, I decided to take a printing course somewhere abroad. After asking around on Instagram, I found Edinburgh Printmakers and their extensive offer of summer courses. I’d done etching before and loved it, I lived in Edinburgh before and loved it, so I subscribed for a week-long course called: ‘A drawn and painterly approach to etching’.

Looking forward to a week on my own in a city I adore, my husband instantly became very envious and decided to join me and entertain our two year-old daughter while I was printing. Actually, we decided to make a four-week holiday out of it, driving over with the tent and bikes strapped to our car. Thus on 15th July I rung the bell of a newly renovated old factory in Edinburgh set to learn as much as possible about etching. I was ready.

An Edinburgh park
A ‘park’ in Edinburgh

The city

Edinburgh is – in my humble opinion – an amazing city. In some ways it feels a bit like Utrecht. It has around the same number of inhabitants and two universities, which you can feel everywhere in town. While it has (almost) no canals, it is very close to the sea, which you can see winking at you when you walk in town. Plus, it has some spectacular green spaces, like Arthur’s Seat (an actual mountain in the middle of town) and the Meadows (Lepelenburgpark on speed, including a free accessible golf course). There are loads of little galleries where you can buy work from illustrators and printmakers, and tons of nice places to eat or have a coffee.

There are four (!) presses on which you can print your plates

The studio

The Edinburgh Printmakers moved to their current location only this past May. They are situated in an old factory that used to make rubber, then silk, then beer. Then it stood abandoned for about twenty years, before it was completely renovated to host the printmakers, including a shop and a cafe. It even has a garden. On the top floor is the (open access) print studio with facilities for etching, lithography, screen printing, relief and digital printmaking (they do summer courses and weekend courses in all these fields).

It is an open space with the beams exposed, and it is strikingly professional. 

Edinburgh Printmakers aims to work with as little impact on the environment as possible, and experiment with different materials (sometimes inventing them!) to reach this goal. The studio works with a membership system, but since I don’t exactly live next door this is not too relevant to me (or you, I figure). 

Etching by Elisabeth Boerwinkel
Tiny aquatint etching, printed in blue ink during the course

The course

I was in a group with seven other students, varying from people building their portfolio for art school to pensioners. The course ran from Monday to Thursday, then on the Friday we could go in and finish the prints that we started during the week. 

Etching is both an art and a craft, and the course mainly focused on the technical side of the process; how to get an image on a plate, and how to make a print from that plate. Etching is a form of intaglio printing, which means that the printing is done from a plate in which the ink is below the surface of the plate, and sits in the marks you’ve made. Traditionally the metal plate is covered by a ground in which the image is drawn with a sharp tool. The plate is then placed in a bath with acid or mordant, where the acid etches the image into the plate where the ground has been removed. 

We learned how to use different methods to get an image on to a plate. Using both copper and zinc plates (and the acids to etch in them), we learned how to use hard and soft grounds, but also about more obscure ways of getting an image on a plate. I was surprised to learn that I could even etch a plate by painting on it with coffee!

Perfection, right?

I got really into aquatint, a technique that makes it possible to create tonal shading. If using black ink, this means you get different shades of grey on your image.

On the last days we explored different ways to ink and print the plates, including selective wiping, à la pouple inking, relief rolling and chine-colle collage. In the five days we had, I found it quite impossible to try out all of the different processes, so luckily we received an extensive hand-out with all the techniques explained step-by-step.

The experience

I would definitely recommend taking a course with Edinburgh Printmakers. All the staff are very knowledgeable and the print studio is very well-equipped. 

Although I’d already done  a course in etching, this one covered so much more about the etching process itself and different printing techniques. Everything is there for you to experiment with in the studio…

Sixteen colours of ink? Sure. 

Manual or mechanical presses? Both.

Relief printing on top of your etched plate? Why not! 

Three tree trunk etchings printed by Elisabeth Boerwinkel during her course at Edinburgh Printmakers
Etchings printed during the course

All these choices can be a bit overwhelming and I sometimes struggled with my time management; I wanted to try everything! It really made me want to chuck my job, move to Edinburgh and be a full time printmaker. I would say that is the only downside of this course is the fact that I was trained to print in this amazing studio where I now  can’t print, because it is in Scotland, and I am in Utrecht . It’s a bit of an anticlimax. 

If printmaking is your profession (or if you want to make it your profession) taking a summer course with Edinburgh Printmakers is definitely a good idea, since you will learn loads of different techniques from artists who use the techniques in their work. I would, however, make sure that whatever you learn is possible in a studio back home, so that you can also use the skills acquired and experiment with them after the course. 


Elisabeth Boerwinkel

Elisabeth Boerwinkel is a printmaking enthusiast and life-long lover of making stuff. Born and raised in Utrecht, she is currently exploring different ways of printing.

When she’s not making prints, Elisabeth works in Amsterdam fighting sexually transmitted infections.

Check out her work on Instagram @elisabeth_kunegonde

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