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Non-toxic printing in Europe                                

by Elisa Angelina

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Ever since its beginnings engraving has had a negative
and dangerous impact both on the environment and
on artists owing to its use of toxic chemicals and
materials. Chalcography, lithography and serigraphy are
the techniques that use the most polluting elements and their
processes remained the same since well into the 20th century.

Non-toxic engraving arose during the 80’s, with the first additions
of water acrylics and developed fully during the 90’s with the
goal of eliminating as far as possible all the varnishes, dissolvent,
resins and fumes which are toxic to the engravers.
Personalities such as Keith Howard or Friedhard Kiekeben
are considered to be the fathers of non-toxic printing and the
inspiration of Henrik Bøegh, creator of Grafisk Eksperimentarium,
subject of this article.

Henrik Bøegh, born in Copenhagen, specialist in black and white
photography, created his own non-toxic atelier in 1997, naming it
Grafisk Eksperimentarium. His goal was to teach and spread this
practice throughout Europe, especially in non-English speaking
countries such as Spain, France or Eastern European countries.

His connection with non-toxic printing started at the beginning of
the 90’s thanks to the associate lecturer of the Danish Fine Arts
Royal Academy, Eli Poinsaing, who introduced him to the use of
photopolymer plates or solar plates, as well as use of vegetable
oils to clean plates.

Once his interest in these new work methods was awakened
he discovered the research undertaken by Keith Howard in
Canada, where he had created a non-toxic print shop and
was experimenting with photopolymers and acrylic varnishes.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Friedhard Kiekeben had
created Edinburgh Printmakers where he replaced classic
techniques with non-toxic ones.

Bøegh had the chance to attend
various workshops in both places and then created his studio,
firstly in Copenhagen and then in Granada.

Now Henrik Bøegh is one of the main promoters of nontoxic
engraving in Europe. His prolific activity is focused on
spreading these techniques throughout Denmark, where
Keith Howard or Friedhard Kiekeben are considered to be the fathers
of non-toxic printing and the inspiration of Henrik Bøegh,
creator of Grafisk Eksperimentarium.

Many artists have followed his steps, converting
to non-toxic printing and setting up their own studios along
the same lines. Since starting out in 1995 he has received
economic and educational support from both the Danish
Culture Ministry and the Environment Ministry, who have
contributed to spreading awareness of workshops and new
ideas proposed by Bøegh to printer associations, not only in
Denmark but also in Sweden and Norway.

This way he became the master of non-toxic printing
throughout Scandinavia, publishing for the first time his
manual covering these

techniques in 1996 in Danish and later in English, French and

Bøegh’s activity is divided between his two studios and homes
in Copenhagen and Capileira in Granada. The courses and
workshops given in his home town focus on small groups of
professional photographers who he teaches about alternative
photoengraving and photographic processes. Special attention
is paid to offering advanced courses for creating negatives and
positives necessary for successful photography.

His connection to Spain started in 2003 when he came to give
a conference on “Non-toxic printmaking” in Barcelona, alongside
the already mentioned Friedhard Kiekeben. This conference took
place in the University of Barcelona over three days, under the
management of Eva Figueres, pioneer in the introduction of nontoxic
printmaking in Spain:

It was attended by printmakers and
representatives of the country’s main universities. The Spanish
version of his manual “Non-toxic intaglio step by step” was
translated by Juan Carlos Ramos Guadix, lecturer in Printing
and Engraving at the University of Granada, resonating with that
conference cycle.

In addition, in 2004 he set up a model studio of what would be
an ideal non-toxic studio, linked to a workshop being developed
in Cuenca University’s Fine Arts Faculty. During 2005, Bøegh
continued to give classes and talks in cultural centres and
universities throughout Spain, especially Mallorca’s Pilar and
Joan Miró Foundation, Malaga’s Taller Gravura and Andorra’s
Centre Cultural La Llacuna, the Juan Lara Pringtshop in Madrid,
and the already mentioned Barcelona University and Cuenca

Its success lies on its international character which sets it apart from other
centres with a more local target audience.

                            samples of student work made during the summer workshops

His studio in Granada is located in an over 500-year old Moorish
house in Capileira in the Alpujarras, with views of Sierra Nevada,
where up to eight students stay together for a week. Those
courses take place from July to October so students can enjoy
eating and having classes in the garden or getting to know the
surrounding areas.

These intensive workshops revolve around the
use of the acrylic printing system which includes Hard Grounds,
Soft Grounds, Spray-on Aquatint, Lift Ground and Direct Wash.
The photopolymer techniques include: Wash techniques, spitbite
techniques, different uses of photocopies for etchings,
digitally generated stencils, photopolymer gravure and genuine
photogravure (etched with photopolymer film used as resist).

Combinations of both systems are also taught and how to create
a perfect positive for photoengraving with Photoshop. At the end
of the 7-day workshop students leave with the necessary skills to
apply these concepts and to experiment freely with them.
The profile of these workshop participants is usually that of
professional artists or school or university teachers.

Presence of

both is basic for the establishment of the practice of non-toxic
printing given that although studios and fine arts centres have the
necessary ventilation and equipment to use traditional engraving
techniques without harm, students when working alone will
probably not be able to count on the necessary means to have
work spaces with these conditions. By teaching this theoretical,
practical, sustainable and less toxic printing system, future artists
are ensured the possibility of opting to work in a less harmful
atmosphere while polluting the environment less.

Grafisk Ekspermentarium has grown over the years. Its success
lies on its international character which sets it apart from other
centres with a more local target; here participants have the
chance to enhance their networking and culture. Another aspect
to highlight is its economic Independence given that this centre is
self-financing in part thanks to its shop selling non-toxic products
and equipment and which benefits from the expert advice of
Henrik Bøegh himself.


Elisa Angelina Antunes

Coordinadora E Grabado y Edición

Madrid Area, Spain
Fine Art
  1. G&E Grabado y Edición,
  2. Fundación Ankaria
  1. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
  1. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Universidad Complutense y Universidad Autónoma de Madrid