Thursday, 2 March 2017

Making an Etching Plate

Towards the end of last year I attended a course at bip-art in Brighton to further my skills in etching. I had completed a term of etching at university. Although enjoyable, the university term ended on deadline day with me holding a bandaged wrist above my head, a disposable glove taped on to keep the sterile-strips dry. 

Lessons learned:
1. Etching plates are sharp and slippery when soaped up with degreaser
2. One handed etching is almost twice as hard as two handed etching. 

The workshop at bip was taught by Ann d'Arcy Hughes: a human library of printmaking knowledge with a cavalier attitude towards white spirit and acid. The thing about printmaking seems to be that it's all about the preparation. The 'simple' plate took me three sessions to complete and that only included two proof prints taken. Luckily I have the means to take prints from my plates at the studio at Handprinted which is exactly what I did yesterday morning and acted as the catalyst to finally writing this post. 

I began with a zinc plate which I filed, scraped white-spirited, degreased and dried (do you see what I mean about the preparation?) I then applied a hard ground whilst the plate lay on the hot plate. Further along on the course, towards Christmas, these hot plates were used to gently warm mince pies. Do you now see how wonderful printmaking studios can be?

The fun part comes with smoking the plate. A flame is held beneath the plate and smoke is used to colour in the matte black to an almost pearl finish. This is the closest thing to alchemy you can get on a Thursday evening in Sussex. After the plate has cooled on a marble slab and the back is protected, you're ready to start your drawing. 

I eased my way in with a simple still life of the first thing I saw in front of me, drawn directly onto the plate with an etching needle. Into the acid bath for ten minutes, looked at and poked, another five minutes, more looking and poking and then a final ten before I was confident that an impression had been made. A swift wipe with a white spirit soaked rag and the plate was ready to print:

Successful but uninspiring. This needed more.

By now we are on to session two of the workshop and it was time to tackle aquatint. Aquatint is a powdered resin applied in what can only be described as a large cupboard with a rotating paddle. The plate is placed into the cupboard, the door closed and the paddle is cranked round and round to waft the powder into the air and left to settle on the plate. The resin is then melted onto the plate with a bunsen burner. This creates an all-over texture when the plate is placed into the acid. We use Stopout to mask areas from the acid, applied in stages between acid dips. The Stopout is gloopy and black is takes forever and a half to dry so get out your knitting in between stages.

 The first layer of Stopout masks the areas that will be white when printed. The surface will remain smooth and hold no ink.

The final layer of Stopout masks everything except the areas that will print the darkest. All the layers in between have created different tones as each has spent more and more time in the acid. This plate has four tones including the white.

When finished, the plate is cleaned with meths and is ready to print.

The below print was made yesterday morning using Akua Etching Inks. These inks are soy based and so are easier to print with outside of an etching studio - no hot plates are needed and the inks wash away with soap and water. The result is a somewhat moody pen pot with a clumsy painterly-ness that I quite enjoy. Not bad for the first etching made in four years.



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