The Birth of Polymer Printmaking

Master printmaker Dan Welden is the originator of the Solarplate process, which allows printmakers to produce etchings without the use of acids or other dangerous chemicals. Asked what brought him to develop the process, he responded with this:

Lets see now…my own history/time line in relation to scientific and environmental awareness started when I was required to compost at the age of 3, when I could walk out to the pile of decaying vegetables and add the potato peels to it. As a teenager, my thinking turned into an “understanding of the importance of environmental issues.”  I began transplanting northern hemlock seedlings from more forested areas to open spaces, simply with the idea of beautifying the environment.  

My environmental awareness grew to a very practical, philosophical attitude, one that became more pivotal as time evolved. When I was a professor at SUNY Stony Brook, the art department had been purchasing 55-gallon drums of solvent each year. By educating the students about waste, we changed the amount to 5 gallons each year.

This act reflected my personal lifestyle of eliminating needless waste, and at the same time it created a safer setting for my students. I was working with some of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet, and I was witnessing sickness and death among my colleagues. I knew I had to develop healthier ways of working, by creating a safer environment.

Ironically, this process occurred during the 14 years I lived without running water and plumbing in my life. Perhaps through the sense of awareness and appreciation, I learned a frugal life style and how to conserve the things we have. Water from the sky or melting snow was a premium; hot water created by solar power or a wood stove was joyful to create.   

The philosophy continues to this day, still eating ‘road kill’ and recycling my own femur into a doorknob. My daily life reflects an earth-friendly environment. Living with solar electricity since the early days, designing radiant floor heating before it became popular, owning two successive electric vehicles, heating with passive solar and a Finnish soapstone stove are a few examples of my “green” living. Educating people with the science of today through artistic practices and exemplifying alternative life styles with both water and wind power are my current goals.   

It is with this sense of awareness and pioneering spirit that in 1970-71brought the gift of the polymer plate to the printmaking world…Solarplate.

The rest is history, in that many polymer plates have been tried with success and failure. The Solarplate is the only totally water soluble polymer plate being manufactured.   

Dan will be teaching a printmaking workshop at North Country Studio Workshops in January 2018. His workshop is currently full, but other workshops are still available. For details, click here.

Dan Welden in his Studio