A Green Alternative to Printmaking – Day 110

Artwork: "Spreadsheet" by Dan Welden © Dan Welden

“Spreadsheet” by Dan Welden © Dan Welden, Used with Permission

Visual artists often work with toxic materials, sometimes sacrificing their health in the pursuit of their art. Here is one artist’s “green” alternative.

#110 – Taking the “toxic” out of making art.

Most of the visual artists I know are environmentally conscious. But if you were to enter most of their studios, you’d probably find a staggering amount of solvents, paints, acids and materials that are not only hazardous to the environment, but can also compromise the health of the artist who works with them on a daily basis.

Dan Welden is an artist and master printmaker who became an innovator in the alternative health and safety movement by developing a nontoxic printmaking technique called the Solarplate method in 1971. Welden completed his printmaking studies in Munich, Germany, using traditional methods with acids and solvents in working conditions that would be considered poor by today’s health standards. A self-described free thinker who’s not afraid of breaking rules or pushing boundaries, Welden started experimenting with Solarplates as a way to create the same results using an alternative technique.

Artwork: "Antarctic Thirst" by Dan Welden © Dan Welden.
“Antarctic Thirst” by Dan Welden © Dan Welden. Used with Permission.

“I didn’t necessarily do it to escape the older methods,” he said in a phone interview. “I just wanted to create something different, something unique. I’m always experimenting. I’ll often mix oil and water inks. Then he added with a laugh, “I’ve been known to eat roadkill.”

“Thinking outside the norm is where innovation happens,” he continued. “Most people never attempt such things as adding coconut to meatloaf, for example. I had a grandmother who encouraged creativity. We were composting in the 1940′s, before organic thinking was popular. I simply applied that ‘green’ creative thinking to my printmaking.”

Dan Welden's Solarplate (TM).
Dan Welden’s Solarplate (TM). Image © Dan Welden. Used with permission.

Welden’s Solarplates are created from a light-sensitized, steel-backed polymer that is exposed with U.V. light (the sun) and developed with ordinary tap water, eliminating the need for toxic grounds, acids or solvents. Depending on the materials used to create the transparency, prints can resemble woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, screen prints, or photogravure.

Another reason Welden created the Solarplate method was economics. “Working with a Solarplate is faster than traditional methods,” says Welden. “Its portability  provides a more pleasurable, spontaneous creative experience and texture can be easily incorporated into the process.”

And a beginner can learn the Solarplate method in a short period of time.

What was the reaction in the printing and art world to Dan Welden’s Solarplates? “There was alot of mistrust at first,” said Welden. “People sneered and said that the quality of the finished product can’t be that good”.

He soon proved them wrong when big-name artists started using Solarplates for their work. When the Solarplate intagilo prints of Eric Fischl were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian began writing about it, Welden’s method of “green” printmaking gained worldwide attention.

Dan Welden continues to inspire teachers, students and artists to make prints using safer and greener methods and he conducts Solarplate workshops all over the world, even on cruise ships.

“I guess that’s why I’m still healthy and alive,” he says. “So many of my colleagues who are my age now have serious health issues, or have passed on.”

I’ve definitely become smarter in recent years about the materials I choose to work with, and I’m sure there are printmakers everywhere who appreciate Welden’s contribution to their health and safety so they can continue to pursue their art.

And I’m personally inspired to try adding coconut to my meatloaf. Hold the roadkill.

SerenaK signature

Artwork: "Gopura" by Dan Welden © Dan Welden
“Gopura” by Dan Welden © Dan Welden, Used with Permission

Artist Credits for the images included in this post:

Spreadsheet
Dan Welden, New York
Solarplate relief and intaglio

Antarctic Thirst
Dan Welden, New York
Solarplate relief and intaglio

Gopura
Dan Welden, New York
Solarplate relief and intaglio

Dan Welden’s artwork can be viewed at: Dan Welden and information on his Solarplate printing method can be found at: Solarplate Etching


The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.
Click to view The 365 Days Project


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