Lots to learn

Etching. Hmm. Lovely stuff, but it’s no good having an etching press if conventional zinc plates and acetate plates are too expensive. School’s limited budget threatened to put etching out of reach for our students. However, this term we have decided to trial a roll of acetate (around 1mm thick) which is much cheaper and allegedly still offers a good result. That’s my queue for a little tentative exploration with drypoint etching. I’m a complete novice at drypoint, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

Here is an early experiment, which is far from perfection, but which taught me a whole heap of things, including:

  1. The transparent nature of the etching film means you can easily trace over a previous drawing (my sketch for last year’s Christmas card, in this case).
  2. Obviously the image is reversed when printed, so there’s a caveat to watch out for any lettering.
  3. The scratches I used for drawing were inconsistently deep, which gave a faded feel to some parts of the print. But, this could be useful in some circumstances.
  4. I used a diamond point to make the marks, but couldn’t easily see where the tip was due to the setting. This meant the drawing was really not accurate. Next time I will try a needle instead.
  5. I did not have any scrim/gimp for wiping off the plate once I’d rubbed it into the marks, so I used a scrap of linen. I don’t think it was ideal, and it took a bit much ink off in places. Also, it became clear that cleaning off in a direction perpendicular to the marks seems to help leave more ink where you want it.
  6. It’s good to dampen several sheets of paper at once, but I discovered that you should only blot them as you use them, otherwise they become too dry and don’t pick up the ink well.
  7. Caligo Safewash etching ink bleeds away from the scratched lines if the paper is a bit too wet. (But on the plus side, cleaning up is a doddle!)
  8. Remember to clean the edges of the plate, as well as the surface.
  9. I have no idea whether the pressure on the press was right or not. Perhaps when I’ve ironed out the other bugs this will become clear.
  10. I need a lot more practice, but this really has the potential to produce a nice result.

bird rose hip etching.jpeg

The good news is that I think this technique will work for our students, and offer them another (affordable) printing option to complement both their lino work and drawings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they produce.

8 thoughts on “Lots to learn

  1. Always delightful to see you experiment with so many different mediums! Glad to hear you found a way to keep etching going for students. Think I only tried this once in printmaking nearly a decade ago but it was fun to learn as a very different image making process. Hope traditions such as these doesn’t end up lost to futures generations simply due to budgetary restraints.

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    • Hello Angela! I hope you are well. The etching is great fun actually, as it’s so close to drawing. I’m sure I speak for the vast majority in art education when I say we will keep looking for ways to keep the wider art experience alive, despite shrinking budgets. Catch you soon… 🙂

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      • Hi Rebecca! It’s great to hear from you. Your passion to keep a variety of techniques alive is truly inspiring. This year I’ve been returning to pen and pencil having worked in digital for the last couple of years. Traditional is a completely different process where you have to plan and think about your overall image (ie. preserving white spaces for light etc.) So I think what you are doing for arts education is important and it seems you are finding creative ways to get around it. Having worked in university admin, I get budgetary restraints. It would be really sad to lose these traditions and limit the hands-on training which may fuel an entire creative practice. Anyhow, things have been well on my end. Hope your 2019 has been off to a great start 🙂

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      • I’m so glad to hear that things are going well for you at the moment Angela. Thanks for your encouragement – I think that there will always be room for digital and traditional methods to work alongside each other, bringing their own special qualities to bear. It’s about exploration, really, isn’t it? And at the end of the day, where there’s a will, there’s a way. 🙂

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  2. This is really effective! I know nothing about etching so your tips were like a glimpse into another world where I only have a vague grasp of the language – just enough to get the gist while sounding mystical 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nicola – I really enjoyed having a go at the drypoint etching. Simple and effective, and scratching the design is very akin to using a pencil. I’d definitely encourage you to have a go if you ever have the opportunity. 🙂

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