Ronaldo Norden brought along some of his work from over the years. From the top left corner moving clockwise: an aquatint of a seal

Lasqueti artist trying to keep art form alive

Ronaldo Norden uses printmaking techniques in his artwork

Ronaldo Norden said he likes to go back in time with his art.

Norden, whose work is displayed in Qualicum Art Supply and Gallery, likes to use intaglio printmaking techniques in his art such as dry point, engraving, aquatint, etching and embossing.

Intaglio printmaking is when an image is engraved into an object, and the sunken area of the engraving holds the ink.

“The term intaglio means any method of printmaking where there’s pressure involved. It’s one of those really obscure types of printmaking. It’s a very old technique and produces a really fine look,” Norden said.

“It’s a form of art that I’m trying to keep alive, that’s all. Everybody knows what a painting is, or everybody knows what a drawing is and — reasonably — how those are done whereas with printmaking, it’s kind of like it’s out there.”

Norden, who lives on Lasqueti Island, said printmaking is about a 500-year-old technique.

“A lot of times I sort of feel like atavistic in a way. I prefer, in some situations to go back in time and so with this fine-line etching and engraving which is a very old technique — it’s one of the first methods of printing in European history — I really felt I had to keep that tradition going and to make beauty at the same time.”

Norden added that it’s not a technique for everyone, but for people who like to work in detail.

“It’s a bit of a chemical, chemistry thing. It’s not artistic, it’s more keeping an eye on the etching process timing — keeping the timing right — and just learning a method that works,” Norden said.

He said for a lot of people they love doing the fine detail work, but sometimes it’s too difficult to go through the step-by-step process.

Norden said to create an etching, first cut out a plate — copper can be used for a plate — then file it down and clean it really well with ammonia and chalk. Once all of that has dried, Norden said to paint a thin layer of wax over the paint and let it dry. Then with a fine-point tip, start etching an image.

From there the plate is dipped in acid and then ink is applied to the engraved plate. Then a damp piece of paper, which Norden said should be soaked in fresh water for a good hour, is laid on top of the plate and run through a press under extreme pressure.

“I’m the first to admit that the first few times people make a mistake, or they let the acid bite too strongly, and that’s very disappointing. You have to kind of be patient with this kind of stuff,” Norden said. “I’ve always felt that with art-making in general, any form of art, you will always have mistakes but that’s how you learn. In a lot of cases, the mistake you can employ in the design, you can turn it to your advantage.”

Sometimes, Norden said he will take old plate and try a new colour arrangement as a way to experiment.

He said people consider printmaking an art form.

“That’s sort of a little unknown corner in printmaking that a lot of people don’t realize is that in the printmaking process there’s lots of room for exploration. It’s not just printing with black ink,” said Norden, adding that sometimes he tries using a bit of blue or green to change the look of the piece.

Norden said he once did a trade show at BC Place in Vancouver, and spectators were in awe of the printmaking technique.

“People responded to the images and about how the impression took place then it became magic. It did,” Norden said. “Because it’s that whole hands-on thing, preparing the paper, preparing the plate and preparing the ink, so that part of it is kind of a craft.”

He said most people love anything handmade.

“We’re in the technological age where things happen so quickly, but I think humans will always retain that sense of awe of it being sort of magic.”

Norden, who is originally from Chicago, moved to Canada in 1972.

He then lived on Galiano Island for a while, and worked with a woman in Victoria to produce and sell images of the Empress Hotel.

“I started looking at various gallery and gift store situations in Victoria and realizing that I could provide, possibly, some image from nature for the galleries in Victoria who cater to tourists visiting Victoria and Vancouver Island.”

Norden said he discovered that a lot of tourists wanted something more personal to take home with them.

“A lot of people want something more than a photograph or a brochure, they want something handmade and something small that will fit in their suitcase,” Norden said, adding that during that time it allowed him to discover and develop printmaking techniques because up to that point he was just doing line etchings.

“She kind of opened the door for me as far as developing techniques and different focal lengths, like distance or close up.”

Norden said that people who collect art need to know that it’s going to last a long time.

“So for a lot of people, it’s the detail that becomes very intimate for people and especially if it’s a miniature etching or a miniature engraving, then people like go back to Saskatchewan or go back to New York City with their miniature etching of the Empress Hotel. It’s a very intimate reminder of their holiday more so than a postcard.”

Now living on Lasqueti Island since 1998, Norden said he finds the ocean and forests intriguing and he tries to record things of nature around him because “that’s very important on an artistic level.”

“When we get involved in the doing and the labour of it, we kind of lose sense of the aesthetic, the beauty, the appreciation of it,” Norden said. “Part of it, for me, is the doing of it, and also to share it, but making something in the studio is kind of an artistic engagement. A lot of times it’s the making of the image besides selling it, so in most cases the artist will make it for themselves first and then they’ll try and market it.”

Norden’s work will be displayed and up for sale in Qualicum Art Supply and Gallery (206 First Ave. W) until June.

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