Friday, March 13, 2015

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.

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