The Sugarlift … 🍬🏋️‍♀️

The sugarlift, actually nothing to do with sweets, in fact my most complex print to date. To be precise a sugarlift aquatint print with drypoint too, for added pizazz! Step-by-step, here’s what went into this!

I started with a life drawing I’d made, and painted on to a zinc plate with a sugar solution – a mix of condensed milk and chinese ink!

Left = original drawing. Right = sugar painting

The metal plate was then totally covered with a uniform thin layer of blue lacquer. This means the metal plate is no longer exposed and the sugar solution is trapped under the lacquer. You can spot the traditional Spanish fans we use to help the lacquer dry faster!

Plate covered with lacquer

Once the plate is dry, it is time for the magic part of the sugar-lift technique. The plate is submerged in a pan of very hot water. With the heat, the black sugar solution dissolves and lifts away the blue lacquer painted over it.

This leaves a plate with the metal exposed in the shape of our painting, complete with all the feeling of the brushstrokes.

We can then use the aquatint technique on this exposed metal. This involves getting a fine layer of  (toxic) resin to settle evenly over the metal, then using heat to weld those resin particles to the metal plate. I don’t have photos of this part of the process for the plate, above, but I do have some images from a previous plate I prepared, which I’ll share below. When I was doing this with the above plate, obviously there would still be blue lacquer all over it.

The cardboard box has resin powder inside, puffed up using a air pump – a bit Heath Robinson, but it creates the fine mist. The plate is then placed inside, and the resin particles eventually settle, hopefully evenly, across the plate.

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Once the resin is settled on the plate, heat is used below, to bond the particles to the metal. The reason for doing this, is that later when we put the plate in an acid bath, the acid will be able to ‘eat away’ around these particles, creating an even printing surface.

So now I had a plate covered with an even layer of resin and I needed to decide how dark I wanted the aquatint areas of my print to be. You can see on the left the printscale we use to decide this.

I decided I wanted the body area to be a lighter tone than the background. I think I decided on a 2-minute dip in the acid bath for the body, then a further 4 minutes for the background. (Somewhere I have this written on a post-it note, so will try and confirm at a later point).

So first of all the plate was put into the acid bath, which went something like this … slow and murky, brushing away the oxide as the acid eats away at the exposed metal

I then realised I’d forgotten to add a layer of sticky-back plastic to the back of my plate, so added this belatedly after the first acid bath.

Plate after first acid bath

If you look carefully at the image above, you can see the exposed metal has darkened, this is where the acid has eaten away at the metal.

I then covered up the body area with a new layer of laquer, to prevent this area being further eroded by the acid. And again you can spot a traditional Spanish fan, used to help the lacquer dry faster!

Zone covered with lacquer

The plate was then put it in an acid bath for a further 4 minutes, to create a darker area on the right-hand-side of the plate.

And this is how the plate looked! Close-ups show the texture of the resin particles the acid has eaten around. I then used ethanol to clean off the lacquer, leaving a finished aquatint plate!

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So now it was time to run-off my first print from this metal plate.  You can see my first print from this plate, on the right, in the image below.
Left = Metal Plate; Mid = PVC Plate; Right = Print

But I wasn’t finished yet! I also wanted to but in the line around the body and the hair, as in my original drawing. To do this I had to prepare a second plate.

So with my print on paper still wet, and anchored under a large stone on the printing press, I slipped the metal plate out, and put a blank PVC plate in the exact place the metal plate had been. I then passed the paper print and the PVC plate back through the manual printing press, which transferred the image from my aquatint print onto the PVC plate. This is the plate you see in the middle of the image above.

Now I knew where the aquaprint image would be, and could add the hair and body using the drypoint technique.  Below you can see how I scratched these lines into the surface of the PVC plate

Left = original drawing; Right = drypoint PVC plate

Once I’d done this I now had two plates ready to print from, to create a complete image! Below you can see the two plates inked-up before printing

Left = metal plate; Right = PVC plate

And this was my first print from the two plates combined together

Pretty exciting to get a complete image and to finally be working with an image that justified some strong powerful colour! .. I did however decide that the hair needed a bit of tweaking, to balance it up with the line of the body.

Once I made that change on the plate, I printed golden and purple version, as well as a new bright orange version too. I can’t wait to see these three prints on display together soon!

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