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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aquatint Course at Maison Conti

4 days of absolute bliss....... yes..... total and utter being taken care of, studio all set up, only thinking about art kind of bliss!!! Spending time in Nancy's studio at www.maisonconti in beautiful French countryside, learning the not so easy craft of aquatinting an etching plate..... was absolute bliss..... Let me start from the beginning, and tell you about the most wonderful way to start my new year of work!
*My friend Janine and I arrived from a very wet Spain to Maison Conti, located in almost too picturesque Montmirail, France, clad in winter wonderland clothes..... just a pity that us 2 tropical birds did not have much of the same to bring..... but spending the next 4 days dressed like the Michelin men, did nothing to dampen what a super experience this was.
We arrived on the Monday for lunch, with a glass of wine, of course, my motto has always been to follow the drinking habits of the as not to upset them naturally..... ;o) and then a teeny weeny siesta, as we had had a 4 am start from Malaga airport. I stayed in the yellow room, with a huge double bed, a cloud of duvet and a wonderful view of the Christmas light adorned little plaza in front of the hotel.... complete with my own "wake up" call at 7 from the church bells......
Janine stayed in the green room, with a view of the castle... yep, Montmirail comes with a fairytale castle, and the most Hollywood bathroom, clawfooted tub, murals, ever seen, in the green room that is!! Never had a chance to investigate the castle bathrooms, next time maybe ;O)

Coming down the first evening to a huge crackling fire and a lovely dinner set the tone for what was to come. It was pretty immediately clear that Nancy and Rick, who own Maison Conti, knows how to make people feel welcome, at home, and as if in the company of long time friends!

*Day 1

started for me at the crack of dawn, with a wonderful brisk walk around the village..... yes, 8 degrees minus will do that for you, coming back to a super breakfast of freshly baked croissant from the Patisserie, and a lovely cup of coffee..... and then straight in to the studio! Nancy had taken us round the day before on a tour of the studio, the acid room and the print room.... all of it right there.... the studio looks like a living room, and just has the most congenial and creative feel to it.... I almost immediately went in to work mode.... cleaning copperplates was the first thing on the list.... Janine is hard at it in the photograph above.... we both came pretty prepared with our plates already backed etc...... I had this idea of broad geometrical shapes so as not to get so bogged down in detail..... my work is usually done on the principal of "fill every inch" and the thought was that I would just think about the tone that you can get with aquatint and not about the imagery...HA...... it became almost immediately clear... that the leopard does not change it's spots, you can't teach old dogs to do abstracts and whatever other sayings there are on this theme...... anyway..... we cleaned plates and got started on our first little ones.... the trial plates, immediately..... Rick, who is in charge of the technical department, showed us how the aquatint
box worked, how to get the exact right amount of aquatint....hmmm.... of course.... you want to know what aquatint is?? .... Stephen McMillan has written a great article explaining the process that you can read at Rick was so generous in sharing his knowledge, that we both got the amount of aquatint dust pretty much going already on the first day.... I had a small advantage in having tried it before in a very broad way, and had a good laugh with Nancy and Rick, telling them about the "more like frosting" quantities of aquatint dust I had applied to those earlier attempts!!
This is where a course, with a good teacher, is invaluable...... you cut right to the chase, no getting discouraged because it does not work.... no.... it's full steam ahead and the most joyful experience to learn something new, and both Nancy and Rick has that great quality of being sensitive to only talking technique.... I rarely like discussing my images, a bit weird that way.... but LOOOVE talking technique, and they both have so much knowledge, imparted so effortlessly, that already the first day I went to bed with a huge smile on my face, wondering if they would adopt me????
Oh, did I mention we had a wonderful lunch...... wonderful dinner, crackling fires..... nice wine.... super conversation...... well.... we did!!!
*Day 2
Again, waking up at dawn.... bless those church bells, and they take their church bells seriously in Montmirail, I can tell you, a wonderful walk around this small village (250 inhabitants), situated on a hill in the Perche region of France, about 45 minutes from Les Mans, in the most beautiful countryside, Nancy suggested some nice walks and of course, has great photos from some of them om her blog for you to have a look at.
I picked up the croissants and baguette... hmmm. and the pain au chocolat ... oh dear, well, my motto is, eat like the natives, so as not to upset them naturally... if this means 3 pain au chocolat a day, well, then that's my duty.... yes, absolutely, it's a duty!!!
Straight in to the studio with my coffee in one hand and above mentioned pain au chocolat in the other.... is there a better way to breakfast, spreading crumbs over your workplace, getting those gray cells to start humming, feeling all that creativity just flooding through you..... I am lucky in the respect that I can very quickly forget about everything else except work, makes me pretty boring company, but means that I am having a fantastic time..... so day 2 both Janine and I were already starting on much bigger copperplates and getting "real" images going, mine of course all geometric shapes... yes, geometry in the shape of fish etc...;O), I started out with doing a line etching on my plates this second day.... once that was done, I moved on to aquatinting the plate.... any problem... all you had to do was whisper "-Rickkkkkk" and right there was help....
how wonderful is that..... no furrows on foreheads at Maison Conti..... after the aquatint is laid on top of the line etching, you can see your "drawing" through the aquatint, so you start by
stopping out the areas you want to stay white, see photo above, when I say stopping out, you "paint" over your white shapes with a varnish so the acid can not get at the copper in those places, the varnish dries..... in the photo Janine is helping hers along with a hairdrier...
and the copperplate goes in the acid the first time, you go on to stopping out your lightest gray, and the copperplate goes back in the acid for the second time, you stop out your slightly darker gray and the plate goes in the acid the third time... yes, you are getting the below
I am immersing my copperplate into the ferric chloride acid bath.... you repeat this process right up to your darkest blacks..... it means the copperplate of an aquatint, can have been in the acid really an unlimited amount of times, but more normal... 6 - 8 times.... making it a time consuming process, whilst you are doing it, you actually have relatively little control over the
result as you normally don't remove the aquatint in between stopping out and acid, you could....if you wanted total control over what you do, you could apply the aquatint again and again to the plate.... I am not big in the patience department though, and have always absolutely loved the element of serendipity in printmaking..... actually, the whole process, I discovered is much like doing a reduction lino, at my website.... you can see printmaking movies I have made, explaining etching, lino reduction, inking a la poupee, and soon to come, aquatinting!!!, click on "printmaking movies"
Over the usual yummy lunch..... we talked about all kinds of things, Janine has an incredible amount of super stories from her travels etc..... Rick and Nancy have both led very interesting lives..... so the conversation was really something! fun, interesting..... thought provoking.... wow.... and it snowed, to Janine's delight.... being Scandinavian, I take a slightly more prosaic view of the snow business.... as in.... "what - that's why I moved to Spain/Singapore", but hey, it is pretty from inside a cosy house.......
Wonderful dinner with more fun conversation..... there is some serious cooking going on at Maison Conti, and nobody goes to bed hungry, let me tell you..... I know I sound like the newly appointed PR executive to , and I am.... on a totally voluntary basis.... this was only the second day... and I had already forgotten everything about every day business and worries in favour of thinking of what to eat, and what to put on my plate..... no no.... my copperplate, that is... I am not all belly I'd have you know!!
*Day 3
More of above...... the order of thinking about what to eat, and what to draw, changed slightly, depending on time of day..... as I had now drafted myself into making the patisserie run every morning..... feeling quite fearful that dear Rick would not get the quantity right (hehe) I was fast becoming the darling of the madame at the bakers..... trying my french (as in very limited) out everywhere, was also really good fun..... c'est tres froid (it's very cold) merci beaucoup (thank you very much) nest ce pas (is that right?!) handy for using in all kinds of situations.... usually with a cocking of the head...
In the evening, Janine and I invited Nancy and Rick to the local restaurant.... Le Ancienne Forge....I think...... hmm.... don't worry, when you go, there is only one.... so never mind what it is called... and had lovely thin crusted pizza made by the bubbly and very french owner ( not so strange, as she as a matter of fact is French!)
With a very content smile on our faces we walked round the corner, under the duvet, and to sleep!!
*Day 4
Our last day...... Both Janine and I managed to get a last plate in the aquatint box and acid..... and a lot of printing was also done, see photo above, Nancy and Janine using the etching press.
Nancy, has a lot of nice photos of the work we did, on her blog as I somehow managed to not get a single photo of any of the prints.... they will soon be for sale in my 2 etsy shops though and
We were invited to lunch up in Nancy and Ricks beautiful private apartment, what a view!!!
The rest of the afternoon was spent with a glass of champagne and my book, a little siesta, throw the stuff in the suitcase..... and down for a drink and a lovely meal in front of the fireplace, very en famille...... I don't think it is possible to really tell Rick and Nancy how much I enjoyed my time at their beautiful chambre d'ote..... having just been through a bad spell as well, with my best friend extremely ill.... it was like balm on my soul doing this course, right apart from that my aquatint box is almost built and ready, rosin is ordered from (your online shop for everything printmaking) and I know, that with this beginning, aquatint is now part of my work. I came, really wondering how to incorporate the technique into the kind of work I do, and left, wondering how I ever lived without it..... is that not what a good course should do???!!!.... well.... this one was better than a good course, because it came with so many other elements, and I feel very strongly that I will be back.... Nancy and I are talking about giving a course together...... if you are interested in France.... etching/aquatint and just having a fantastic time.... let us know at or

THANKS, Rick and Nancy, for a wonderful wonderful time!!!!


  1. WOW! That is all I can say. This sounds like the best vacation/work trip ever ever ever! I was swept away, and I must tell you, I have turned a lovely shade of green-envy. :) I'm so glad you got to go, what an amazing experience! xo Pam

  2. Lovely post, Marianne! I have just been on my first printmaking course, in rainy Northamptonshire, UK. I felt very well cared for and had a great time, but it wasn't quite as fancy as yours! So glad you enjoyed it and thank you for sharing your story with us lesser mortals ;-)
    I will go and look for your aquatints etc... Especially as you have been among the fabulous printmakers that inspired me to try this wonderful craft!

  3. guys..... it was soooo good..... and am I happy to hear that I would have turned you onto printmaking Lizzie :o) That's just lovely!!!!

  4. The only thing you didn't mention in this wonderful re-enactment of your time at Maison Conti is how much fun Rick and Nancy had! What a great way for US to start the year. I got so much energy from being with you Mariann!