My career began in 1974, I learned by doing. Northeastern Iowa is a visually stimulating place, and, living there, I drew the things around me. The places that I drew became the subjects of my etchings. It became more than drawing places, however. My survival was determined by what I made. Evolving from looking at places came seeing. Seeing meant that from daily observation and translation through drawing, I developed the skill of looking at the world in terms of two-dimensional design. Ideas are of great importance, and, as an artist, being able to communicate those ideas is of the greatest importance. This is something that I have attempted throughout my career. Looking is something that I was born with. Seeing, and communicating what is seen, is something that has been learned.
Welo was born in 1951 and grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota on the iron range. He studied art and biology while a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Determined to work professionally as an artist, he decided to focus on etching, and, after graduating from Luther in 1974 began his art career. Welo’s studio is located in an old Opera House in a small community in southern Wisconsin..
Welo’s etchings are made on copper plates, although other metals may be used as well. A thin protective coating is applied to the plate. This is called the ground. A stylus-like tool (usually made of steel) with a sharp point is used to draw through the ground, exposing the metal beneath. When the plate is placed in an acid bath, a reaction occurs. The exposed metal is eaten away by the acid. Wherever a line was scratched through the ground, a groove is created. After a period of time in the acid, the plate is removed and the ground is cleaned off with a solvent. The plate is now ready for printing and is covered with a heavy, black ink. The ink is wiped off of the plate’s surface, leaving ink only in the etched areas beneath the surface of the plate. The inked plate is laid on the bed of the etching press with a dampened sheet of paper laid on top. When the wheel of the press is turned, the plate and paper move between large steel rollers. A great amount of pressure from the steel rollers forces the paper into the contours of the plate, where the ink is transferred to the paper.
Much of etching is a studio process. The etching press is made of steel and is quite heavy. Also, the chemicals require a great deal of care in handling. One of the beauties of the medium, however, is that the copper plates that I use are fairly portable. I am able to take them into the field and work directly from the location. I love to do this. The chemistry that occurs in translating something from three dimensions onto the flat copper etching plate is like no other. There is a bond that occurs between mind, hand, and place. It is a magical union.