Last time I wrote about preparing a zinc plate to begin the etching process – the work that needs to happen before image making even begins.
Today I’ll show how an image is etched into the plate. Since the etching literally occurs by soaking the metal plate in nitric acid (hence the term “etching’), the first order of business is to protect the plate from the acid. As my resist, I use a liquid ground made of asphaltum and wax, which dries hard and smooth.
I usually work out the composition in sketches first, and may make a full size drawing. The basic outlines of the drawing can be transferred to the plate using a transfer paper, similar to a dressmaker’s carbon.
The line drawing is done with a needle, scraping through the ground with the fine point. The idea is only to expose the metal plate to the acid, not to scratch the plate.
Whether using a transferred outline, or drawing freehand, the needle is used to draw lines and to create shaded areas using cross-hatched lines. The drawing is sensitive and delicate, using the transfer drawing as a general guide only.
When the drawing is satisfactory, the plate is soaked in nitric acid for 10 – 40 minutes, depending on the strength of the acid and how deep I desire the etched lines to be.
When the etching is complete, I clean the ground from the plate, and print a proof to check the etch so far.
I scrape ink over the plate, forcing the ink into the incised lines. Then I use rags to wipe ink from the surface of the plate until all the un-etched surfaces are clean.
Next I place the inked plate on the bed of the etching press. Damp paper is placed on the plate, and several layers of felt are laid down on top of the paper. This sandwich is rolled through the press, which has rollers above and below the press bed, squeezing the fibers of the paper into the incised lines on the plate.
When the paper is lifted from the plate, the image has been transferred to the paper. Note that the printed image is the reverse of the drawing. When designing an image of a well known landmark, I reverse the drawing so that the final image will be familiar to the viewer.
Next time, I will show how tones can be etched into the plate. I’ll add a cloudy sky, surf, and sand to the image.