Skip to main content

Etching with old copper plates

Since I merged two studios into one last year, I've gradually been going through crates of etched steel and copper plates that I've amassed over the years, unwrapping them from their protective layers, cleaning the rust-proof gel off them, and seeing if any of them can be reused. (When I first started to learn intaglio processes in the 90s, large sized copper plates could be had for about $10 each. Now they cost more than $50, because of the rapacious demand of the smartphone industry.)

The plate in the photo above is 12" x 14". I covered it with an acrylic resist called Z*Acryl, and drew the image with a drypoint needle. As I was drawing, I noticed that the line wasn't clean and straight, but slightly fuzzy. When I etched the plate in a tray of ferric chloride, I could tell that the lines were not going to be narrow and thin, which holds the ink in a more uniform way. My first proof of the plate after I'd cleaned off the resist, inked it, and printed it, looked like this:

Those white spots you can see, that seem to sit on top of the drawing, are caused by the etched lines being a little wider than they should, so that the ink spreads under the pressure of the press and fails to register a true, uniformly black impression. Thanks to many years of experience, I was able to make several adjustments and try again. I inked the plate, wiped it less than the first time, increased the pressure of the press, and padded the plate with lots more paper on top so that it would withstand the extra pressure. The next print looked like this:

Not bad. But the way the plate etched can be traced back to the acrylic resist (a problem that I've documented several times in the past). If I use the same resist again, I'll probably shorten the etching time, and add drypoint to beef up the drawing later.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…