Saturday, 14 July 2012


I don't know whether I mentioned that for a time I championed the concept of original printmaking. I specialized in the making of intaglio (etching, drypoint, mezzotint, engraving and aquatint) prints, had my own press and studio, produced more than a hundred intaglio printing plates, and after working with the various materials involved in the process for some 25 years was rewarded with a permanent cough. Yes, making art can be hazardous to your health.   

Intaglio printmaking is a very challenging means of making original prints. It requires a great deal of planning and preparation without guarantee that the end result will be as envisioned in your sketches and tonal drawing. As to why then are artists attracted to making intaglio prints? Perhaps, it’s the idea of employing techniques dating back to the late Renaissance. Perhaps, it’s the idea of making multiple originals in the face of the many present  day artists who have surrendered to a photo-mechanical  means to produce multiple copies of their paintings and drawings. For my own part I found it somewhat rewarding to make multiple originals much as was done by the likes of Rembrandt. I also felt good knowing that those that purchase my intaglio prints were getting the real thing, real art, a print that, although a part of an edition, is very unique.  Being human I was unable to create two prints that were identical, similar in appearance perhaps, but still, different. For this reason, intaglio prints, not unlike woodcuts, linocuts and lithographic prints, are referred to as multiple originals.

NOVEMBER DAWN: The idea for the print “November Dawn” came from a childhood memory of going hunting with my great uncle Joe and my dad early one morning in November.  We’d left home before dawn arriving at what is now Awenda Provincial Park located near to Penetanguishene, Ontario on the shore of Georgian Bay. My father made what they referred to as “bush tea” using a large tin can to heat water over an open fire. When the water came to a boil my dad threw in a handful of tea leaves and some sugar and then allowed the tea to steep and cool a bit before we drank it. With the dawn we hid out on the shore and watched and waited for the bay ducks to come close to, or fly over the shore. I don’t recall whether we shot any ducks. I do recall that it was bloody cold and that I almost froze to death while we lay there on the shore waiting for the ducks to get close enough for a shot. I suppose that I can be excused for not remembering. I was about 9 – 10 years old at that time and, as I write this, I’m  seventy years old. Time has a way of dulling memories.

Now, we all work differently, but no doubt my fellow printmakers will agree there really is no easy way when it comes to intaglio, especially etching and aquatint. I’ll try to explain just how I used to go about creating an intaglio print: - 

STEP ONE: First of all there is the “idea”. You know, the inspiration, something you’ve seen, wanted to see, and you convince yourself that, perhaps, just perhaps, someone else would enjoy seeing the picture that hides in your head, as well. So, convinced that the effort will be worthwhile you begin the process (some call it the creative process) of coaxing the image from inside your head onto a piece of paper. A rough sketch is made followed by many more rough sketches until a final image begins to take place. Then, there’s the research and a final, detailed, drawing is made……in reverse of how the print will appear. The drawing must be done in detail, and must be monochromatic as it will provide a tonal reference for the aquatinting process.

Original Drawing

STEP TWO: The plate is prepared by cutting it to the right size, beveling the edges, degreasing, then coating it with asphaltum, which when dry will act as an acid resistant ground allowing only the bared surfaces to be etched. Once dry a tracing of the detailed drawing is placed on the plate and the principal elements are transferred to the plate. A needle is then used to scratch a line drawing onto the plate.

Transfer Tracing of Original Drawing

STEP THREE: Once the drawing has been transferred to the plate it is immersed into a nitric acid bath and left for several minutes, sufficient time to allow the acid to bite, or etch, the line drawing into the plate. The plate is then removed from the acid bath. The asphaltum, or acid resistant ground, is the removed with varsol, or paint thinners, and the plate is cleaned of all residue.

STEP FOUR: The plate is now prepared for the aquatinting process which when inked and printed will produce the tonal effect. Powdered resin is dusted onto the plate and the plated is evenly heated until the particles of resin melt and adhere to the plate. The plate is allowed to cool. Once cool lacquer is painted onto those areas that are to remain white. The plate is then returned to the acid bath, but this time for no more than 30 seconds, or so. The plate is then removed from the acid bath and washed clean of acid. Once dry more lacquer is applied exposing areas of the plate to a further etch lasting less than a minute. This goes on until the etching/aquatinting process is completed. 

STEP FIVE: The etching/aquatinting process finished the plate can be inked and a final state proof can be pulled. It’s at this point that the artist can step back and either breathe a sigh of relief realizing that all of the hard work has paid off, or, as it happens in some cases, adjust to the fact that despite the hard work compromise is the order of the day. There are so many variables in the process, right down to the temperature of the acid bath, That it’s rare to have a plate etched perfectly.

STEP SIX: I decided  with this print, entitled “November Dawn (Canvasback Ducks)” to take the finished print one step further from monochromatic to colour. I introduced colour with a roller to a second (blank) plate of the same size and over-printed the original print. The colour was for effect. 

November Dawn (Canvasback Ducks)        Open Edition  Ernest Somers

Friday, 13 July 2012


July 11, 2012: Can’t sleep. Up at 4:30 am this morning. Made myself a cup of coffee and went outside to enjoy the twilight. Not a cloud in the sky. It’s cool despite a promised day-time high of 30C. Off in the eastern sky Mars and Saturn are shining brightly. High overhead a glint of light reveals the International Space Station orbiting our lonely blue planet. As the sun begins it’s climb over the horizon the world seems to suddenly awaken. A solitary Robin claiming its territory with song Is joined by other Robins. I make a note to myself that the Robins are singing later in the morning. “It won’t be long now”, I think to myself, "before they’ll be heading south”. Summer seems to be slip-sliding away. The Robins are joined in song  by Chipping and Song Sparrows. A Cardinal, and cooing Mourning Doves add to the symphony of song . Seagulls circle high up in the twilight. A Common Loon calls as it passes by on its way to some distant lake. A car races noisily down the street. Someone is off to work, or perhaps some emergency considering the time of day. The lights in the neighbor’s house across the street are turned on. The world is waking up. It’s time to start my day.

I mentioned that perhaps the most wonderful thing about my years spent making art was travelling here and there making sketches and exploring nature. Back in 1999 between exhibitions we went for a drive.

September 11, 1999: At approximately 6:30 am we finished packing the van, checked and rechecked the front door to make certain that it was locked, then headed north on Hwy 400. We were on the road again with our destination being Waterton Lake National Park, Alberta, with stop overs in Cypress Hills and Grasslands Provincial Parks located in Saskatchewan. My notes read:-

A long first day. About 7 hours to Saulte St Marie. Rain dogged us all the way to Sudbury. It had been years since we drove through Superior Provincial Park. Many changes along the approach – more motels. We stopped at Montreal Harbor to sketch at the lower power dam. Incredible scenery here. We must stop here on the way home to paint. Arrived at Wawa around 5:00 pm. Changes here, as well. Several new motels along the approach. When we last visited about 10 years ago there were only two motels outside of Wawa. Now, there’s a half dozen. Stayed the night. Left the following morning at around 6:30 am for Dryden. It began to rain almost immediately. Sandy drove in terror from Marathon to Nipigon. I slept afraid to stay awake. It’s a wonder that we had brakes left. Between the rain, heavy at times, and trucks travelling too fast, together with steep hills, it was a bit of a nightmare. Arrived in Dryden at around 5:00 pm. Another long day.

It takes almost three days to travel from central Ontario to the Manitoba border. It takes another couple of days to get to Cypress Hills Provincial Park and another long day to reach Waterton Lake National Park. It’s only by driving that you come to really appreciate that Canada is a very large country.

We arrived at Waterton on September 18th where we spent several days. Hiking in the mountains was an incredible experience partly because of all of the rumors about grizzly and black bears, not to mention the stories about cougars. On hiking trails it was important to remain alert and to talk loud to let the bears, if there were any on the trail ahead, to know of your coming. Bad news, apparently, to surprise a bear. Cougars, well that was another thing. There were reports of them coming into town in the night and making off with dogs and cats. Of course, we never saw a grizzly, or cougar, but we did see a number of black bears, albeit at a distance. 

We, or I should say I, did have an experience with a wild creature. It occurred while we were hiking on a trail in the foothills. There was a terrific wind, almost gale force, blowing down off the mountains. The trail meandered through long grasses through groves of Aspen trees. We’d hiked for a distance and were tiring, so I decided that before heading back I’d hike on ahead to see if there were sketching possibilities thinking that perhaps we could return the following day. As it was, after hiking on ahead for 15 minutes, or so, with little change in the landscape, and the best sketching possibilities seeming back where I’d come, I decided to turn around and go back. I turned, and as I did, out of the corner of my eye, I caught some movement in the tall grass only a matter of some 10 - 15 meters away. My first thoughts were that It was a bear causing me to come to a halt full stride. My heart raced, and for an instance I truly believed that I was in real trouble. Then, up came a head out of the grasses. It was a large, lone, wolf.  Seemingly as much surprised as I was, it looked directly at me. We locked eyes for what seemed minutes, but was really only a few seconds. I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Then, no doubt satisfied that I was no threat, turned on its heels and disappeared into the long grasses. More than a little bit rattled I hurried back to Sandy and we retreated down the trail to a clearing with a view where I made a sketch while Sandy kept watch for………..

Waterton Lake  Watercolour Sketch 1999

Waterton Lake  Watercolour Sketch 1999

Mountain Landscape - Waterton Lake  National Park   Watercolour Sketch 1999

Mountain Landscape -Waterton Lake  National Park   Watercolour Sketch 1999

Quick Pencil Sketch  Red Rock Canyon 1999

Field Watercolour Sketch  Cypress Hills Saskatchewan 1999

Field Watercolour Sketch  Cypress Hills Saskatchewan 1999

Field Watercolour Sketch  Cypress Hills Saskatchewan 1999

Montreal River, Superior Provincial Park, Ontario  Watercolour Sketch 1999

Montreal River, Superior Provincial Park, Ontario   Watercolour Painting

Saturday, 7 July 2012


 A sketch is a sketch, is a sketch. It’s an idea, a thought. Expressed the sketch represents possibility. Unexpressed it is lost.

Sketching, or drawing, from nature teaches one to see. A photograph deals with reflected light that more often than not records shadow filled with mystery. A sketch made while exposed to the elements is remembered forever. A photograph becomes but a blurred memory, a jumble of thoughts difficult to pull together.

The downside of sketching from nature is the elements, rain, snow, heat and cold. Then, there are the critters and creatures. Over the years we’ve had our run in with many critters and creatures from biting insects to moose and bears. The upside is we’ve used the excuse to sketch as a reason to travel. We’ve been privileged to travel throughout Canada and the American Southwest in the name of art. Thinking backwards I’ve come to believe that having been able to travel to sketch was, perhaps, the most wonderful thing to come out of 30 odd years of working at becoming an artist. As for my sketches they're all very precious. Good, bad, or indifferent, each one a memory with a story to tell. 

June 21, 1998: A wonderful day sketching in Algonquin Provincial Park. -
It was a beautiful day in the Park albeit very warm. The temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius. When we arrived at Opeongo Lake I debated, because it was so hot, whether I would sketch or not. Having driven so far I decided that I must do at least one sketch. I chose a place in the shade. One sketch led to another and despite the heat, black flies, and Whiteface wasps that continued to land on my sketches and the ants that crawled up my pant legs I persisted. Later these sketches would help to complete a large painting, as well as to serve to help me to vividly remember my day of sketching at Opeongo Lake.

Opeongo Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park   Pen & Ink Sketch 1998

Opeongo Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park   Watercolour Sketch 1998

Opeongo Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park   Watercolour Sketch 1998

Opeongo Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park   Watercolour Painting 1999

October 1999 - Six Mile Lake Sketches - David Milne

Midland, Ontario, is known as the gateway to the 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay and in years gone by was frequented by the likes of Franz Johnson and A.Y. Jackson, founding members of the famous Canadian Group of Seven painters. Another artist, David Milne, a contemporary of the Group of Seven, isolated himself at Six Mile Lake located at the northeast corner of Simcoe County near to Midland. I was a mere boy when these artists were active. It was not until mid career as an artist that I discovered these famous painters. They inspired me with their accomplishments and tenacity. I’ve since visited many of the places where they stopped to paint and made my own sketches and paintings.

On a cold October day in 1999 I traveled up to Six Mile Lake. The lake was quiet. All the summer cottagers had long since departed. In David Milne’s time there were no cottages on the lake. He built a crude cabin and lived there in isolation plotting his destiny. He’d pick up supplies from Big Chute a few miles away then paddle his canoe up Little Go Home Bay to a small outlet and portage his canoe into Six Mile Lake. A small dam controls the water to the outlet these days. While I sketched I tried to envision Milne paddling alone in his canoe stocked with provisions

Six Mile Lake - View from the control dam.  Watercolour Sketch 1999

Milne's Portage - Pencil Sketch 1999

Milne's Portage - Watercolour Sketch 1999

Six Mile Lake Island  Watercolour Sketch 1999

Six Mile Lake Island - Watercolour Painting 2000

Six Mile Lake Island -  Graphite Drawing 1999

To be continued...........