This month I am doing a series of blog posts on etching processes. There are several different ways of etching, and I’m going to go through four of them. The techniques I’m going to explain are hard ground, soft ground, aquatint, and drypoint. I’m also going to go through the printing process.
I’m starting off with Hard Ground etching. I etch with copper and ferric acid, as that was what I was taught with. The first step in any etching process is to prepare the copper plate. First you bevel the edges of the plate with a metal file. The edges of the copper plate are sharp, so you bevel them so they don’t damage your paper or the printing blankets. Next step in prepping your plate is applying a backing to the back of the plate, so the copper is protected from the acid. I use the plastic lining that you put in kitchen drawers, with the adhesive on one side. The last step in preparing your plate is to degrease it. At Dundarave we use soy sauce to degrease the copper plate. You put a few drops of soy sauce on your plate and rub it around with your finger. Then rinse it off with water. The water should run in sheets, and not bead up. If it beads up, your plate is not degreased properly. Degreasing removes any oil on the plate surface, and prepares the surface for accepting grounds. Below is a picture of the backing being applied to the plate.
Grounds are what you apply to the plate to resist the acid from eating away at the plate. Hard ground is one type of ground that resists the acid. I use the liquid hard ground, it is also available in ball form. Once my plate is degreased and dry, I apply the hard ground with a brush. I brush it on in one direction first, then in the opposite direction second. I do two coats just to be sure I cover the copper. I don’t know if two coats is necessary, but it makes me feel better. As long as you don’t see any shiny copper showing through, the hard ground should be good.
Once the hard ground is dry, you can start drawing into it. I transfer my drawing using white transfer paper. Once the drawing is transferred onto the plate, I trace over my lines with an etching tool (I forgot to take a picture of it). It’s basically a metal scribe with a sharp point on each end. It scratches away the hard ground, leaving the shiny copper exposed. All the lines you scratch into the hard ground will etch and be black in the final print.
Once you have drawn all your lines, it’s time to etch! At Dundarave we prepare the acid booth by putting the ferric acid in one tray, and water in the other tray. The water tray stops the acid from continuing to etch your plate.
Etching is all about time. The longer you etch your plate, the darker your marks will be. For the hard ground for this plate, I etched 10 minutes first. Then I covered up the areas I wanted to be lighter with hard ground, and etched again for another 10 minutes (equals 20 minutes total etch time). When you take your plate out of the ferric acid, you put it in the water tray to rinse off the acid and stop the etching process. Below is a picture of preparing for the second etch, covering up the skyline lines.
Once all your etching is done, you remove the hard ground with varsol. You can check your etch by lightly scraping a dental tool along the lines, and feel if it has etched properly. It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but this is my plate once all my hard ground lines have etched.
After you have removed all the hard ground from your plate, you can proceed with more etching methods (aquatint, drypoint), or print your plate to see what it looks like. Usually you “proof” your plate several times in the process, to see what it looks like, because you don’t know how your plate will print until you print it. With this plate, I continued with aquatint, and then proofed it to see what I got.
Thanks for reading! I don’t know if that all made sense, as etching is a fairly complicated process, and best understood by actually doing it. But that is a taste of some of the process involved. Next week I will go through aquatint, which is used to apply tonal values.
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