Thursday, May 25, 2017

Etchings in process

I am starting a series of prints of hands, holding and helping. It is my quiet way of encouraging kindness, understanding and simple humanity.

After the giant wood cut I last posted I decided this time to do some small scale etchings. I began by cutting down a zinc plate to the 4.5x6 inch format I wanted. I then coated the surface of the plate with Hard Ground, a material that seals the metal. I transferred my drawing onto the dark surface of the Hard Ground, leaving the outlines of areas I wanted to break the image into. I then used a Whistler's Needle to scratch lines through the hard ground, revealing the plate below. I have varied the density of my lines according to the map I have created for myself in my key drawing. The density of the lines will create different values.

When I was satisfied with both drawings I placed the plates in a vat of nitric acid. The acid eats away the metal only where my lines have exposed plate. The longer the plate is in the acid, the deeper the grooves beneath  my lines become.

When I was pleased with the depth of the grooves in my plates I removed them from the acid and removed the Hard Ground. I proofed the plate in order to see how the image turned out and check if there are things I want to change. I'm sorry I didn't take photos of the printing process, but I draw sticky ink across the surface of the plate, making sure that it is worked into the groves that the acid has eaten away. I then wipe the upper surface of the plate clean, place it on the bed of a press, place paper over the plate and crank the press. The bed of the press moves under a large cylinder that applies an even pressure across the plate and the paper on top of it, and the ink transfers to the paper.

I printed several proofs to see how the plates behaved and to get to know them. I spent time looking at the images and felt that I was off to a good start, but wanted to enrich the line work and refine the drawings a bit. So I again coated the plate with hard ground.

Looking at my proofs at the areas I wanted to further develop, I once again drew into the Ground to expose the plate.

The shine of the metal shows where I am enriching the line work.

The Whistlers Needle is a twisted length of metal that comes to a point on either end.

Here you can see the plates next to the proofs. Notice that they are the mirror  reverse of one another.  You can understand why if you envision that the print is a result of having been placed face down on top of the inked plate. Imagine the photo above folding in the middle and the 2 images come together like pages in a book.

Because plates are always backwards from the printed image, and printmakers are constantly working on plates to achieve an end product that a will be the reverse of what they see I'm pretty sure we are the least likely pool of people to ever suffer from Alzheimer's. We spend countless hours doing remarkable mental gymnastics keeping our synapses limber!

I touch up the edges of the plates to protect them from the acid. And they get another half hour  bath in the acid.

This time when I proof the plates I am satisfied with the drawings. However, I am not done. I plan to put a middle value behind the hands in order to create more depth. I will not use lines, but do an aquatint that will create an overall tone. I will protect the drawings by coating them with hard ground and then sprinkle rosin across the surface of the plate. I will then heat the plate so that the rosin melts into small dots stuck to the plate. When I again put the plate in the acid the open areas will etch all around the little dots of rosin and the surface will become pitted. The longer I leave it in the acid the rougher the plate will become, creating a deeper and deeper value as it will hold more ink.

That step will not happen until fall when I again have access to the magnificent print studio Vinita Vgood has created at Golden West College. 

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