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Analog art is the future for Seattle artist practicing a 15th century technique

Kim Van Someren is a University of Washington instructor who specializes in copper printmaking, an art form made famous by Rembrandt. #k5evening

SEATTLE — A Seattle artist is proving analog work still has great value in an increasingly digital world.

Kim Van Someren specializes in "intaglio," or copper printmaking – a technique made famous centuries ago by Rembrandt.

"Intaglio dates back to around the 15th century, and that's when really artists were thinking about how to record some of the things that they made,” Van Someren said. "This is something that will be forgotten if we don't continue to carry on this tradition."

The technique involves etching images onto copper plates and transferring them onto paper via ink and a printing press.

Van Someren's work has been shown around the country, and she also teaches copper printmaking at the University of Washington. It’s a multi-step, complicated process that begins with preparing a sheet of copper (known as a “plate") with acid-resistant material.

In Rembrandt’s time, artists used actual black asphalt to coat the plates, allowing them to draw into the surface with sharp needle-like tools.

Van Someren said the etching exercise is meditative, and she can work on a single plate for weeks.

"When I'm in my art making mode, it's a time for me to be quiet,” she said. "It's never rushed. I'm never thinking about grocery lists, I'm never thinking about what I'm going to do the next day. This is the one time when I get to really focus on the meaning of making."

The next step requires extra caution - the plate is submerged in acid, essentially rusting the metal to reveal the drawings.

It's then rinsed and washed with various compounds, gently dried, wiped with oil-based etching ink and buffed in very specific ways to wipe ink off the surface without removing it from the etchings.

Modern artists have designed ways to make intaglio safer than it once was, but each painstaking step is still an essential part of the art. Van Someren admits digital printmaking is far easier but said that’s not the point.

"There's also easier ways to make food, you know?” she said. “But it's the making of it, it's the enjoyment of it, it's understanding the failures of it, it's figuring it out, it's chemistry, it's timing, it's being perfect or not perfect. It's not about the finished product. Ever."

By the time she reaches the final step of running the plate through a printing press and transferring the image onto paper, a million things could have gone wrong. When everything goes right, it’s really something.

"This is the great part,” she said, looking at a finished print. "I like succeeding."

Van Someren also likes showing younger artists the value of taking their time, and risking failure.

"This is something that is incredibly different from Photoshop, Illustrator, Instagram, Facebook, all of those things - and it really allows them to experience something that I think is incredibly traditional,” she said.

Van Someren’s imagery surrounds architecture and is inspired by the idea that it can appear to be moving. Several of her pieces are being exhibited at the J. Rinehart Gallery in Seattle through October 7th, and she’s hosting an artist talk on September 23rd.

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