NS: So, you’ve only got so many goes?
NR: Exactly. You can’t keep doing it over and over again, otherwise they cancel each other out. You’re putting these amounts of dust on, this resin dust that you melt on, and you can’t just keep putting it on, because if it’s going on in the same area it cancels out the last lot of biting [the process in which the acid reacts with the zinc] that took place. So, you have only got a limited time to do it.
NS: Do you ever work on anything that you think is going to be a success, but isn’t?
NR: Oh, all the time [laughs]. You get a little sense that it’s going well, and when you ink it up you start to know. Sometimes it doesn’t print well, but usually when I’m inking it up I can start to see if I’ve got good results.
NS: How did you come to etching to begin with?
NR: Well I went to art college and I did fine art. I only slowly made my way into printmaking, I was doing more painting, actually. [Then] I went to the Royal College to do printmaking there, so that cemented doing etching. Norman Ackroyd was one of my tutors. He’s an inspiration to me, an early tutor who was lovely, really encouraging. And he does spit-bite, similar to me, or I do it similar to him.
NS: What is spit-bite?
NR: Spit-bite is where I’m actually working with spit, and nitric acid. If I paint nitric acid onto the aquatinted plate, it will just go into a bubble. But if I put a little bit of spit into that I can paint with it, because it breaks the surface tension of the liquid. And I’m using swans’ feathers, [they] create really nice brushes. I find that a swan’s, or a duck’s, or a seagull’s feather, they’ve got lots of oil in them because they’re river birds or sea birds, so they’ve got protection from the acid. If I use an ordinary bird’s feather it won’t work properly, but a river bird or sea bird will be perfect. They can withstand nitric acid.
NS: I suppose a lot of these methods are well-established, but are you kind of making up your own techniques, too?
NR: Yes, I’ve definitely got some of my own processes and procedures, and secrets that I’m loath to let out. In terms of the sequence of them, I don’t think many people can execute these very easily, because there are a few little procedures that are quite tricky and that require quite a lot of training.