John Costin Master Printmaker

hello I'm Joanna welcome to arts edition primetime John custon who creates hand tinted carpet engravings of Florida's birds and flowers no doubt about it John Costin has a way with birds intrigued by the flying feathered creatures all his life the Tampa based artist has devoted nearly 30 years to developing the techniques that allow him to create life-sized detailed edgings of the birds of South Florida the etching process is an incredibly involved one but for Costin it's a natural progression of his interest and talents all my life I've been doing graphic art I've always had an interest in drawing and graphics an etching was a way of combining not only graphics but painting and engineering and a lot of different skills that I already had it was also challenging because there wasn't I didn't see anybody else out there doing something like that so I felt that like a lot of the techniques that I use are things that I've developed on my own through experimentation sort of like the mad scientist working in the studio and trying this and that Costin begins by researching to decide on the bird he wants to portray and to find out more about it his upstairs library holds some 500 bird books then he ventures out into the wilds to take photos of birds which he studies to memorise details when he's ready to draw he puts the photos away the process is the same whether he's working on a bird or his newer series of orchids I want to be influenced a lot by the photographs I think part of what I'm after is they're not photographic you know and I'll do sketches of how I want to pose this bird and then after I decide on the poses posture or how its standing and how it's looking then I'll refer back to the photographs for a lot of the detail work it's its feather patterns the textures scale of the legs of the feed after the sketch comes a watercolor then the tough part begins as costume transfers his vision to the copper plates he'll use for the etching the first step is to coat the plate with a soft ground a liquid so sensitive it will pick up a fingerprint after the ground has dried he'll tape down the plate and position his drawing over it to transfer it it's a process he calls Zen drawing since he has to keep his hand elevated and draw mostly by field I have to think about how much pressure I'm using because you know I could use a medium and a hard pressure and visually it might look the same on a piece of paper but when I'm removing that ground it would remove more which would give me a different kind of line and it's etched in the plate Costin will also draw directly on a plate using a variety of tools that give him different textural effects one of my little hobbies is going around to flea markets finding these kind of things that I think that would I could utilize somewhere down the road creating textures and in my plates after the etching is completed it's time for the acid bath which eats into the plate everywhere that the copper has been exposed Costin puts bits of wax on the corners of the plate to keep it from touching the bottom of the tank he also has to be careful about not trapping air bubbles under the plate as they will leave white spots where the acid never reached timing is variable as the acid works faster when it's warmer as Costin removes the plate from the acid he rinses them with water and checks the etching if satisfied he removes the wax and also the content paper on the reverse that had kept the acid from eating through the back of the plate the next step is inking Costin transfers the ink to the plate and spreads it using a piece of cardboard then he takes tartan a stiff cheesecloth like material and works the ink over the surface and into the edging grooves this looks easy but I have to control how much pressure I'm using and I'm also having to think about the direction of how I'm rotating this cloth some of that after a while it becomes intuitive I don't even think about it anymore until you get to that stage you have to constantly think about it what I'm doing now is trying to wipe off the roll heavy areas of ink but do it in such a way where it gives it somewhat of an even tone on the surface of the plate and as I wipe more of this off he's less and less pressure for his large prints Costin reinforces the plates with a thin layer of stainless steel that allows them to endure the 5,000 pounds of pressure his press exerts he also creates more than one plate in order to get the rich colors he's after colors were important and traditionally in the past with mother Stardust when I say past I'm talking about 19th century they would make basically one play to black a white plate and then the artists are a series of staff would work and they would hand color each one they tend to look kind of flat and what I try to do is really layer the color on there so it gives the the image much more depth the multiple plates complicate the process as the paper stretches with each printing to compensate Costin has to make each plate a little larger and line it up exactly to avoid getting a 3d effect when the registration is off as a result each pressing carries a certain amount of anxiety even the humidity and the studio would affect the paper stretch and which in turn would affect the registration and people that are knowledgeable about printmaking when they see me working and aware that they're just like in awe of it that I do that you know that actually etch my plates and elongate the image so that which makes up for the registration when the final print emerges it's beautiful but it's still not done Costin and his crew add final touches of color to the most delicate areas by hand although others help in all steps of the process Costin makes sure to add his personal touch all along the way one of my pieces before they go out the door I reworked them and use my aesthetic judgment and touch him up and fine-tune them because the quality of the pieces are important to me although costume likes to experiment with different subject matter and varying sizes his pride and joy is the book of 20 life-sized edgings of South Florida Birds on which he has been working for the last several years the books are being done in a limited edition of 150 with an additional 100 prints of each bird so far he has completed 15 birds and secured collectors for 140 of the books the 100 additional prints of each bird allow Costin to keep his work affordable an aspect that is very important to him I like the idea of doing an edition where I have many of these same pieces I still consider raw originals because they're all hidden her hand pulled but they're within a price range that a lot of different folks have access to it like Audubon before him John Costin is using his artistic talents to preserve the beauty and history of South Florida birds by making his incredibly complex art affordable he is ensuring that a wider circle of people come to know and care about these exquisite creatures best of all his prints are so stunningly detailed that just looking at them makes your heart take flight for art's edition primetime on Janina Bertolo that's our show for tonight I hope you've enjoyed it we've enjoyed bringing it to you for arts edition prime time I'm Joel Val you

One Reply to “John Costin Master Printmaker”

  1. HEC-TV is a non profit arts and education television station based in St. Louis, Missouri. As part of our media sponsorship of this year's Saint Louis Art Fair, we are interviewing every artist in the fair, and John Costing is one of them. Would there be a way to use some of your video for broll in his interview? If you have any questions, feel free to email us at [email protected] Thanks!

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