Solar Plate Printmaking (or polymer etch) is a relatively new print process that enables images to be established onto metal plates by exposure to light using sunlight or an ultra violet light source.  The plates are developed by washing in water and can be printed as intaglio or relief prints.  Unlike traditional etching techniques, no acid etching is necessary and no toxic chemicals are used in the plate-making process.  This is a very versatile artistic medium which exploits drawing abilities, computer and graphic skills and gestural mark making.

Images are established onto pre-coated, light-sensitive metal plates by placing photographic acetates onto a plate and exposing it to sunlight or ultra-violet light.  Photocopies of artwork, photos or drawings on acetate film work best with good contrasting opaque blacks, and this can be achieved by applying ‘Posterize’ filter under Image-Adjust tool in Photoshop software.

Line drawings and drawings using oil-based crayons on True grain also work well. Alternatively, you can draw directly onto a solar plate that has been covered with opaque black printing ink.


Photographic Images – photographs of urban landscapes, rural idylls, portraits and text etc. can be scanned into a computer where they can be digitally manipulated to create unusual and quirky images or to heighten contrast & tone. The final image must be altered to the right size, 13.2 X 18.2 cm, (or 21 x 27.5 cms if using larger plates) and copied onto an acetate sheet (transparency) – use the correct acetate (transparency) for Inkjet printers if you are using your own Inkjet printer.


Process – The image on the acetate is then exposed onto the polymer-coated metal plate using a ‘contact frame’ and sunlight (or ultra-violet light source on cloudy days) to achieve an ‘intaglio’ plate. To create really dark aquatints a dot screen is exposed BEFORE exposing the image – this is called ‘Double Exposure’.

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Drawings – A favourite drawing can be either scanned into your computer and copied onto acetate (transparency) or photocopied – see above, or you can draw directly onto ink-covered plates.

Process – The image on the acetate is then exposed onto the polymer-coated metal plate using a ‘contact frame’ and sunlight (or ultra-violet light source on cloudy days) to achieve an ‘intaglio’ plate.

Found objects – like leaves, fabric, string, paper etc. can be placed on top of light-sensitive plates, placed in the ‘contact frame’ and this can then be exposed to the light.  This process can achieve interesting abstract relief plates and work well with a second different plate (double plate printing).

100_0940Gestural mark-making and drawing – To create ‘relief’ prints work straight onto a plate that has a layer of oil-based printing ink rolled across its surface. Once the ink covers the plate there is plenty of time available to work ‘into’ the ink.100_0949

The plate can then be left in the sun to react to the ultra violet rays.  Once the plates have been exposed to ultra-violet sunlight (in all of the methods) the loose polymers need to be rinsed off the plate – in effect this is ‘developing’ the plate – and achieved by merely washing the plates in lukewarm water.  This takes only a few minutes and is fully developed once the plate stops feeling ‘slimy’.


Remove the plates and blot away excess water then ‘light-harden’ by leaving in the sunlight for about 5 minutes or until the surface feels hard to the touch – I tend to leave the plates overnight to be sure that they have hardened.

Ink the ‘intaglio’ plates in the usual way for etchings, using oil-based inks, a scraper and ‘scrim’ cloth to wipe the plate clean. To ink ‘relief plates’ use a heavy roller to apply a thin layer of ink onto the raised surface of the plate.

Once your plates have been established you can get really creative by layering multiple plates, mixing intaglio with relief plates, using the Chine Collé process, offset plates, full colour separation, exposing one strongly contrasting image with another identical but blurred image, and many other effects which are limited only by your imagination.

This is a new technique which does challenge assumptions and its potential is waiting for the creative impulse of more artists.  One day Courses are taught by Sheila de Rosa and held at Studio 15, Akeman Business Park, Tring, Hertfordshire, UK.



MARLENE DUMAS: The Image as Burden

Marlene Dumas - Sigmund's wife Marlene Dumas - The White Disease Marlene Dumas - Martha - My Grandmother

You seldom see portrait paintings by contemporary artists these days and Dumas’ The Eyes of the Night Creatures are a rare treat.  They are so close cropped you are physically forced to concentrate just on the face, no clothes, no stage setting, no background and sometimes no features, just a head-shaped space with the odd feature added or subtracted.  “The isolating focus gives a certain grandeur to each image”.

Sometimes those features, like the eyes, have been smudged or the paint thinned to such an extent that you worry whether the sitter was quite all there; ‘The Jewish Girl’ has large round, questioning eyes surrounded by white sclera, and there is an expression that hints at something, hysteria, paranoia, what?  There is a tiny worm of sky blue on the mouth teasingly taking the eye down to the shaded lower portion of her face and the set of her mouth.  Is the artist conveying something here that can’t be spoken about?

Sometimes Dumas smuggles in a bruise or smudge of random colour, on the forehead and running down the nose, as in Martha – Sigmund’s Wife, evoking powerful abstract expressionist emotions.  Occasionally there is a face that powerfully confronts you by withdrawing from you, like Martha – My Grandmother.  This painting is all blue, the eponymous grandmother so enigmatic that you want more, but those eyes are blank beneath those half-closed lids.  She is private and secret but the expression is benign and peaceful.  And why was this one painting hung so much higher than its neighbour, Sigmund’s wife?

The Baby is an almost perfectly detailed which has nothing added or removed, but Emily seems to have smashed her mouth somehow and blood oozes from under her bottom lip.  The painting, The White Disease is so bland, so bluey white that I am intrigued, drawn in by what is being conveyed here.  It is haunting and dignified, one of my favourites.  You could describe Marlene Dumas’ portraits as stark, but that would be to ignore the immense impact and ethereal beauty that confront you when you walk into the exhibition space at the Tate Modern.

Throughout this excellent exhibition I could feel the personality of the artist becoming more present as I followed her works through the rooms. I wanted to know more about her, she was an ephemeral presence that I needed to pin down.

Her way of painting can appear rhetorical: those vague attenuations around the neck that make you wonder what happened to the rest of this poor person; those coloured auras that seem to emanate from certain faces; those seeping blurs that allow for extraordinary ambiguities in a face – seeing or sightless, unconscious or dead? Shapely masks – chalk white, pale blue, tinged with fading pink or magenta – are superimposed on heads for an immediate sense of misfit or detachment.

As John Berger asserts “perhaps one needs to be a painter rather than a scholar to perceive it clearly” and in that same way these portraits spoke to me directly and I felt an empathy for the person who had executed these “magnificent and powerful” works (Waldemar Januszczak).

In Rejects, we are faced with botched and buckled faces in black and white paint, eyes skewed, noses bashed, heads broken and awkward. The features are out of register, out of whack, sometimes a replacement face has been added to the one below – the eyes and mouth cut out like a burn mask – to keep on trying for something better. “The images are delicate yet damaged, by life, it seems, as much art” (Laura Cumming).  Time spent examining these faces reveals a many-layered complexity redolent of the implications implied by the title and provenance of these drawings.

Having made that contact with the artist through her art, I was happy to discover that she is modest, uncertain and humble.  “Dumas doesn’t simply accept compliments as her due; it’s clear that they still have the power to thrill, and on receiving a genuine one she radiates graciousness, relief and a kind of simmering excitement” (Rachel Cooke), but I was not surprised to discover that she is also gregarious and full of energy, you can read that in her work.

This is an impressive show about human frailty and could not have been accomplished by a super-ego.  Dumas can handle scale from the very big to the miniature (the Amy Winehouse picture is small but very powerful). She has her own instantly recognizable style which I envy and crave to copy. Technically she’s a virtuoso – she really can draw and paint. She takes risks, every painting seems to be a new beginning, she dares to fail (Becket’s lovely phrase) yet the overall quality of her work is incredibly high.  Her ambition cannot be faulted.

Obviously there are things in this exhibition that don’t work for me like Great Britain and Against the Wall (with the exception of Mindblocks which I loved), but isn’t that what we demand of our artists, that they should, above all, always pushing themselves to try new and innovative ways forward?  Unfortunately I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with Januszczak when he says that this exhibition should have been called ‘How to be Old-Fashioned in a Contemporary Way’ and is a clumsy attempt by deep and ancient human emotions to express themselves with fiddly and ill-fitting conceptual methods.  This is where I humbly suggest that you need to be a practitioner yourself to appreciate exactly what she has achieved in her works and just how accomplished she is, and what a joy they impart.  Marlene Dumas is a breath of fresh air and her work combines both conceptual acuity and visual pleasure which, I submit, is what the visual arts are all about.



Last weekend I organised a little pre-Christmas gathering at my studio.  Five other artists joined me in displaying their works on my walls and we invited friends and fans to come and look at the work whilst enjoying a glass of mulled wine, some mince pies and convivial conversation.


Barry Gowers, Terry Sadler, David Reed Elliot, Julie Boyce and Nyree Kavanagh all displayed work.  It was great to get together before the panic of Christmas and look forward to a creative year ahead.  Here are some pictures of the studio and some of the work on display (thank you Barry for the photos).

Sheila_show_Dec_2014_4 Sheila_show_Dec_2014_3 Sheila_show_Dec_2014_1



States of Contradiction 1 – Conviction

Free Standing Lead Glass Sculpture

approx 60 x 45 cms

My work is often concerned with the relationship between two opposites.  In States of Contradiction 1 – 3 three screen-printed and slumped glass works weave text and image in a warp and weft of what is said and what is done in war.

 This work was produced as the culmination of a residency in 2002/04 at The University of Hertfordshire organised through the Artist’s Access to Art Colleges Scheme (AA2A) and Funded by ACE & CHEAD

 This work was selected for exhibition at the 2004 Greenbelt Festival ‘Freedom/Bound’ at Cheltenham Racecourse.

  States of Contradiction 1 - Justice

States of Contradiction 2 – Justice

Free Standing Lead Glass Sculpture

approx 60 x 45 cms

States of Contradiction 3  States of Contradiction 3

Lead Glass Wall hanging

60 x 45 cms

 This work is concerned with ‘prisoners of war’ who are bound and confined, without due process of law and in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

The weaving of the horizontal text and vertical images symbolise the dichotomy between two opposites and highlights the disparity between sentiments expressed within the American Constitution and the practice of holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba



Last year I completed a commission for The Falcon Hotel in Rutland.  It’s a very old 16th century coaching inn situated in the centre of the historical market town of Uppingham, just four miles from the shores of Rutland Water in the heart of the natural splendours of Rutland.

The owners had some very old photographs of the Inn through many of its incarnations which were in a bad condition.  He was interested and proud of the history of the building and wanted to preserve some of its history and celebrate it on the walls of the Hotel.

03     06      07     08

Falcon Coach Photo-001       OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This project required a lot of renovation work using Photoshop software and took a lot of time to restore the picture, often pixel by pixel.  As you will see from the original photos many had deteriorated or had been folded or stored badly; and some were just not up to the correct quality for my photo-etching technique.  Below are some of the many stages needed to improve the image (eleven changes in total).

Falcon Coach Photo -003     Falcon Coach Photo - 3rd changes     Falcon Coach Photo - 6th changes    Falcon Coach Photo - 9th changes

A first meeting was held at the Hotel and the changes were approved.  I could then go ahead and create my plates.

The photographs were printed onto OHP film in the right size, black & white and with good contrast, sometimes it was necessary to posterise the images using a Photoshop Filter.

The acetates were positioned in close contact with the Solar Plates and exposed to ultra violet light which were then developed and light hardened.  Once they were dry the edges and corners were bevelled so as not to cut the paper when passing through the printing press.

panelled fireplace 4b reading by the fire -6th change The Falcon  OUTDOORS X-001 The Falcon manipulated The Falcon courtyard from back 3

Each plate was then inked-up with oil-based Intaglio printing ink and passed through the press with the dampened 300 gsm Cotton Rag paper.  Once through the press the paper was stored flat under pressure in order to dry. A final visit was arranged for me to present the owner with the finished prints which now hang in the hotel entrance.


The framed works displayed in The Falcon Hotel   100_5154


FdR - even better print


Recently I have been working on a new commission.  I provide a service for clients who want an artwork that encapsulates key parts of the character of a loved-one, as a personal momento or as a gift.

We discuss and sift through a staggeringly large array of photos, certificates, maps, crests, coats-of-arms or items specifically poignant to the person being represented – for instance, in this latest commission there were betting slips, recipes and postcard messages to be considered.

selection of books 3            100_5672            Alien registration 8

Some of the ephemera used to build up a picture of a client 

The job of choosing the items to be represented is very important.  It is vital to choose what is relevant and sentimental, whilst balancing that against the more artistic aspects of these documents.  Handwriting works well, as does linear artefacts like crests and coats-of-arms but a jumble of disparate bits and pieces will detract from the visual success of the finished piece.

For this commission I chose a good photo of the subject (of the print) that was of high quality and had good contrast of light and shade, to be the base image.  For the second image I cropped and altered the faces from a stack of photos depicting loved ones covering four generations of this family.  These faces were then arranged as a grid that would be printed over the darker base image.

  photos pixilate Many phils

 The third plate was to carry most of the various additional ephemera provided by my client.   I started by arranging things into some order and scanning in a pile of the birth and marriage certificates.  Then I picked out bits of meaningful written messages and dates.

Nonno's details of birth cert    FdR passport - inverted Certs pixe

A further third meeting with the client resolved what to include and what to exclude from the third plate, the things that would carry the real emotional punch – looking through past commissions it was agreed to include some crests and appropriate ones were chosen.

Once the content of each plate was agreed it was necessary to create an image onto acetate (OHP) film in the right size, black & white and with good contrast, often posterised using a Photoshop Filter – this is important for the Solar Plate process.

PhotoChronological compilation1FdR certificates

 Plate One                          Plate Two                        Plate Three

The acetates were positioned in close contact with the Solar Plates and exposed to ultra violet light.  The plates then needed to be developed and light hardened.  Once they were dry the edges and corners were bevelled so as not to cut the paper when passing through the printing press.

Each plate was then inked-up with oil-based Intaglio printing ink; the first plate was passed through the press with the dampened 300 gsm Cotton Rag paper.  Once through the press the first plate was removed and the second plate – inked in gold – was put in its place.  Then the second was removed and the third – inked in silver – replaced the previous two.  In this way three images were printed one on top of the other creating a three-plate layered etching.

Nonna-1   FdR3   Doms - Best version   Final Print   Marjellen

Some Finished Prints

Please contact me on if you would like to commission a print,


Hello Sheila,

Just to let you know, the commission was a great success and both mum and dad loved the works. It turned out we had used one of dad’s favourite pictures of mum, and when we handed it over (Saturday evening as Sunday was going to be a busy day), mum realised that the image had been taken exactly 40 years ago, probably to the minute, as the photo was taken 2 days after the wedding at an evening drinks do arranged by my nana! Very strange! Another strange thing was that mum said she used to sign her name very much in the style in which you titled the pieces!

Mum and dad seemed keen on framing it and hanging it in the sitting room so it’s definitely going up soon! Mum liked the idea of a black box frame, so quite similar to what we thought. Thank you so much for all your efforts. We all love the work very much.

Karyn & Jules


Hand drawn Solar Plate etchings

Each print 13 x 18 cms


 These prints were created using a Solar Plate print technique.   The seaweed was first drawn by hand onto tracing paper using drawing ink.  This image was then exposed onto the photo-polymer coated plates and exposed to ultra violet light.Once light-hardened the plates were bevelled and then inked up in both intaglio and relief printing methods and layered one on top the other.  The final prints were finally passed through the printing press and the image transferred onto 100% cotton rag paper together with a deep embossed pattern.


 Fucus vesiculosus is known by the common name bladder wrack and is found on the coasts of the North Sea, the western Baltic Sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is also known by the common names black tang, rockweed, bladder fucus, sea oak, black tany, cut weed, dyers fucus, red fucus, and rock wrack.

It was the original source of iodine, discovered in 1811, and was used extensively to treat goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland related to iodine deficiency.