How Plates are Prepared for Etching

Tueeulala Falls

Tueeulala Falls, etching, ©2009, Julianne B Ricksecker


Last week I started preparing plates for a new series of etchings for the “7 Printmakers” exhibit in San Diego in October. I wondered as I worked how many non-etchers know what goes into preparing metal plates to create an original etching?

Milled plate surface

Milled plate surface

Etchings are original prints, printed on paper from a plate that was created by the artist, and inked and  printed by hand by the artist or a master printer.  See Intaglio Printmaking Technique for a little more information about etching the image and printing the plate.

Before the image-making work can even begin, there is work to prepare the plate for the process. I work on zinc, which is milled in such a way that the plate is smooth and flat, but it has a dull surface with a vague pattern from the milling. If inked and printed without any prep work, the plate would produce a uniform dirty grey tone.

Plate Preparation Supplies

Plate Preparation Supplies

In order to create a surface that will wipe clean for printing (remain white in the final print), it is necessary to polish the surface of the plate to nearly a mirror shine. I start by polishing the surface with a fine sandpaper, and then use progressively finer sanding films.  The last few polishes are done using very fine polishing compounds on a soft cloth.  #0000 steel wool is used to buff a nice shine.

Dull unpolished plate surface

Dull unpolished plate surface




The purpose of all this polishing is to create a very slick surface that will not hold ink when the plate is wiped for printing. It is important to create this surface before creating the image in the plate, as the act of polishing would alter the etched image. (Note the dull finish of the plate in the photo at left, and the mirror like shine in the photo at right.  The pencil is used here just to illustrate the reflectivity of the two plates.)

Reflective surface after polishing

Reflective surface after polishing



The second important step in plate preparation is beveling the plate to remove the sharp edges and corners so that the plate will go through the press without tearing the paper and the felt blankets.  Sometimes I (impatiently) skip this step until I am ready for proofing the plate, but it is safer to bevel the plate before the image is created!  A slip of the beveling tool could damage the image, I have learned to my dismay!


Unbeveled plate edge



I was taught to bevel etching plates using a metal file, but I get better results using an edging tool made for beveling plexiglass.  It allows me to shave the edges of the plate into a nice rounded bevel.  (Beveling tool is pictured at the bottom of the photo of supplies.)  The plate is clamped overhanging the edge of a table, and the tool is repeatedly scraped down the length of the plate until the desired bevel is achieved.


Beveled edge of etching plate

Beveled edge of etching plate



The scraping leaves scratch marks that can hold ink, so the bevel will need to be burnished and polished before edition printing. I usually wait until all of the etching of the plate is complete before finishing the beveled edge to a smooth shine.


Next time I will write more about how the design is etched into the plate.







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Miniature Monotypes

Debordieu Summer, Monotype

Debordieu Summer, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

I was recently accepted into an international miniature print exhibit to show a monotype image measuring 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ – a total of 4 square inches.  (That is smaller than a business card.)  The organizing group – The Center for Contemporary Printmaking – emailed me an invitation to send an additional 6 “variant or similar” monotypes to accompany the show.

Boardwalk, Monotype

Boardwalk, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

The juried piece will be included in the wall display, but they maintain binders of additional work by the selected artists for the duration of the exhibit to maximize sales opportunities.

Fence on the Dunes, Monotype

Fence on the Dunes, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker







My usual approach to monotype doesn’t include making similar or variant prints – so I did not have work already available to send – in fact this was the first time I had attempted a miniature monotype! Most of my monotypes are 11″ x 14″ or larger.

I thought about what inspired me to create the first miniature  monotype and decided to pursue that inspiration further to come up with additional imagery and energy for new work.  “On a theme” seemed a reasonable criterion.

Sea Wall, Monotype,

Sea Wall, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

The first miniature, “Sea Wall” was inspired by memories of the South Carolina beach on Debordieu Island that I had visited many summers with my mother.  Since Mom passed away last September, she has been on my mind frequently, and I was drawn to those beach memories in rememberance of how much she loved it there. The sea wall on the sand was something she and I had talked about and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the man-made structure next to the sand and the water.

Storm on Debordieu, Monotype

Storm on Debordieu, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

When planning the new pieces, it was May, the month of Mother’s Day and also the month that Mom would have turned 89 years old. I looked through my photos taken on trips back to visit her to find other images of the beach and the dunes on Debordieu Island that incorporated that element of something man-made juxtaposed with the wild beauty of the dunes and the sea.

Many of the resulting images were views from the homes we stayed in over the years when the family gathered in South Carolina to enjoy the beach, walks in the sand,  catching up on family news, and long nights of games and laughter.

Bench on the Dunes, Monotype

Bench on the Dunes, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker


It may be that South Carolinians would find these images of dunes and boardwalks rather mundane, but to this California girl, they seemed interesting and strangely beautiful, and imbued with memories of shared family time.


If you have the opportunity, visit the 9th International Mini Print Biennial at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Mathews Park, Norwalk, CT from June 2 – Sept. 1, 2013

Dune Grass, Monotype

Dune Grass, Monotype, 1.5″ x 2.5″, ©2013, Julianne B Ricksecker

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It’s Spring Again!

It’s spring again and I am totally thrilled to see the abundant flowering plants and shrubs in my own yard.  I haven’t made the trek to the desert this year – in a lean season for rain, there wildflower reports never tempted me out that way – but enjoying the flowers right here at home has been delightful.

California Poppies

California Poppies

It’s been especially good for California poppies, and I have relished them daily!







A number of years ago I decided that growing a lawn in Southern California was an absurd waste of time and water and having a “stone” landscape was not exciting in my view.  I changed to a native landscape that would thrive on low water and low maintenance.  yard flowersLittle did I know how much pleasure I would take in having these natives close by!  Here are a few recent snapshots of my little piece of paradise this spring.






Perhaps one day I will paint it, but for now, it inspires joy in my heart and fuels me through other projects.  IMG_2400

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Why I Love Making Monotypes

I have a confession to make.  I have a love-hate relationship with monotype.

Plexiglass plate for monotype

Plexiglass plate for monotype

I create monotypes  (one-of-a-kind prints) by painting on a blank sheet of plexiglass and transferring the image to paper using an etching press.

Usually I  think about the image for days or weeks before I start the process.  I do composition sketches – small black and white thumbnail sketches – to get a feeling for the layout and movement of the composition

Developing the image, adding color

Developing the image, adding color


When I am satisfied with the general composition, I may take a sketchpad or a sheet of butcher paper and do a rough sketch of the composition in full size.  This can be laid on the table under the plexiglass as a rough guide for the development of the composition in oil paint.

Nevada Fall, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Nevada Fall, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker


If I want a solid field of color as for a cloudless sky, I mix the color and apply it to the plate with a roller.




Monotype plate, drawing white lines with a clay shaper

Monotype plate, drawing white lines with a clay shaper



I use rags and rubber “color shaper” or “clay shaper” tools to remove  color and create the line between color areas, or pick out highlights or linear patterns.


Monotype plate, lifting paint with paper towel

Monotype plate, lifting paint with paper towel


I use damp rag or paper towel to lift some of the  color, making it more transparent or creating texture or pattern. When the plate is printed, any part of the plate that is not covered in paint will appear stark white, since the paper will be untouched by paint.

I try to mix the major colors before I begin, in sufficient quantity to complete the monotype.  I do some color mixing on the palette as I work but I want to have the main colors mixed in advance with the appropriate amounts of extenders and retarders because those need to be mixed more by measure than by sight. It can be very difficult to estimate the transparency of the paint or it’s drying time if mixing “on the fly”!

Big Sur, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Big Sur, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

The retarder is particularly important, I have learned to my chagrin. When I make a monotype, I need to complete the print in 4-6 hours – depending on the heat and humidity.  If I work too long, it is likely that the paper will stick to the plate, instead of the paint transferring to the paper.  Sometimes this occurs in just a small area, tearing a hole right through the image.  Quite a disappointment after working on the print all day! This is when I “hate” monotype!

“Big Sur”, pictured at right, was just such a disappointment on the first and second attempts.  Third time was the charm for this monotype!

Fishhook Cactus, monotype plate, ready to print

Fishhook Cactus, monotype plate, ready to print

I develop the image, using water to thin the color and even sometimes pool water on the surface of the plate and drop color into it.  Because the plate will be rolled through an etching press to transfer the image onto paper, it is necessary to let the pooled water dry before printing! The application of paint must be thin enough that it does not “squirt” or blot when rolling through the press.  It takes a little practice to get the right film of paint to achieve the color density desired, without causing the paint to run.

Fishhook Cactus, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Fishhook Cactus, printed monotype

When the monotype works well, it is a magical feeling. No matter how many monotypes I do, I cannot predict exactly what it will look like once it transfers to paper.  I can get an approximation of the final result by lifting the plexiglass plate, and turning it over to look through it to the white table, or at the skylight.  Neither of these views gives a perfect idea of the final print.  I don’t know the outcome until the paper and plate have been rolled through the press, the blankets are thrown back, and I peel the paper from the plate.  This is the magic moment! This is when I love montoype!

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Spring on the Desert

Wildflowers, Culp Valley, oil pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

Wildflowers, Culp Valley, oil pastel

I love visiting the Anza Borrego desert in the spring.  In some years the flowers are incredibly dense on the desert floor and in other years, they are sparse and require great attention to detail to spot them.

Desert flowers show up in my work, sometimes focused on individual plants, and sometimes in a landscape celebrating the riot of color splashed across the desert.



Fish Hook in Blossom, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Fish Hook in Blossom, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker


In either case, I enjoy “revisiting’ spring color throughout the rest of the year by creating art from photos taken on a springtime hike. This is especially satisfying if I missed my usual spring trek to the desert!

2012 was such a year, so recently I pulled out photos of last year’s visit to Desert Gardens and Coyote Canyon.  On the particular day we went. There were abundant lupine blooming, and frequently this summer I have been remembering several views of them.

Lupine, Coyote Canyon, soft pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

Lupine, Coyote Canyon, soft pastel


Here is a soft pastel of “Lupine in Coyote Canyon” which is  displayed at the University Club of Phoenix from September 7 – November 11.



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Silk Collagraph “Mezzotint”

Over the years I have explored many original printmaking processes including monotype (one-of-a-kind prints), etching, viscosity printing, drypoint and collagraph. Each has its unique charms and challenges!

One interesting example of a collagraph process was done to resemble a mezzotint. Mezzotint is a metal plate that has been scored and roughed up so deeply that, when inked, it will print a solid, velvety black.  The image is developed by scraping the rough surface and burnishing it to create lighter areas in all that darkness.

La Jolla Coast, collagraph, Julianne Ricksecker

La Jolla Coast, collagraph, Julianne Ricksecker

Collagraph is a plate that is a collage of almost any materials, glued to a plate, sealed with acrylic and then inked and printed.  The textures of the glued materials hold ink and are visible in the final print.

I wanted to explore the possibility of using fabric on a collagraph plate to create rich darks similar to those seen in a mezzotint.  I had recently stretched a very fine nylon fabric on frames for serigraphy (or screen printing). I thought that might be too fine a mesh, so I found another similar fabric that was a little coarser in texture.  I covered a piece of mat board entirely with the fabric, gluing it down with acrylic gesso.  To develop the image, I painted layers of acrylic gesso and acrylic mediums to fill up the mesh of the fabric, working from dark to light.

Healing and Peace in Midnight Abide, silk collagraph by Julianne Ricksecker

Healing and Peace in Midnight Abide, silk collagraph by Julianne Ricksecker

Where I wanted the image to print grey or white, I used more layers of acrylic. As a final touch, I used gloss and matte mediums to control how white the lightest area would wipe.

The resulting print, “Healing and Peace in Midnight Abide”, has the same rich blacks as would be found in a mezzotint.  A mezzotint afficionado might notice that the light areas have different characteristics than a mezzotint, though the overall effect of an image emerging out of darkness is similar.


El Capitan, silk collagraph by Julianne Ricksecker

El Capitan, silk collagraph by Julianne Ricksecker


Another print, made with the same fabric as that used for screen printing, is shown in “El Capitan”. In this collagraph, the emphasis was on using the acrylic medium to create a very tactile textured surface to evoke the weather- and glacier-sculpted ediface of El Capitan and neighboring cliffs.

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Painterly Printmaking

From the earliest age, I was interested in portraying the world visually. Writing assignments in grammar school were always elaborately illustrated. As a young college student, I applied for a semester abroad program in France so that I could visit the Louvre. I vividly remember the exhilaration of experiencing so many paintings in the original that I had only seen as book or poster reproductions until then.

La Jolla Tide Pools, oil pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

La Jolla Tide Pools, oil pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

Although my early inspiration to be an artist was mostly from oil paintings, I have never really enjoyed painting in oil!  At least not oil on canvas!

My favorite subject matter is realistic landscape in a variety of media.  Some pieces are worked in direct methods, such as watercolor or pastel, but my original prints are indirect, created first on plates, which are then inked and transferred to paper on an etching press. My creative process involves experiencing a place, hiking and taking photographs and making sketches. Then I return to the studio to create the final work.

Rag wiping an intaglio plate for printing

Rag wiping an intaglio plate for printing

When etching plates are inked and wiped, it is a messy business!  The tacky oil-based ink gets all over my gloved hands and then ends up all over the back of the printmaking plate.  After the etching is printed and the plate is lifted from the press bed, sometimes there is ink left on the surface of the bed.  This accidental transfer of ink sometimes suggests an image, in the same way that you might see images in clouds.

Rodney, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Rodney, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

The image can be manipulated with rags and brushes, even additions of more ink, and then printed onto paper, creating a one-of-a-kind print known as a monotype.

After playing with this accidental residue of ink to create spontaneous monotypes a few times, I began to explore the possibilities of monotype for it’s own sake, using a blank plexiglass plate and a planned approach.  Initially I used oil paint to create these images, but found the transparent colors I desired required too much oil and thinner to be viable for printing on paper.  About this time, oil paint appeared in art stores in a water-soluble form. The paper is normally damp when passing through etching press, so the new oils seemed like a perfect solution for monotype.

With a little experimentation, I found this new paint to be a very satisfying and versatile medium for my landscape work.

St Mary River, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

St Mary River, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Because the ink is water soluble, it can be thinned with water for very transparent washes. This seemed ideally matched to my fascination with imagery of water and waterfalls.

There are many ways that artists approach monotype printmaking, sometimes called “painterly printmakng”. Think about Degas’ ballerinas (monotype, sometimes with the addition of pastel) or Henri Matisse’s white lines on a rich black field, or Georges Rouault’s loose, fluid brushwork as in “Clown with Monkey”.

Cascade Falls, Tetons, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

My approach is to use a full palette to develop a realistic landscape. Through the use of additive mediums, I can emphasize the brush stoke or minimize it to create soft passages of color.  I may use rollers to apply a solid field of color, or rubber tipped sticks or very fine brushes to remove color.  I may also press paper towels or bits of lace into the paint to remove color in a textured patterns.

The resulting images truly live up to the name “painterly print”.

My original prints and paintings have been exhibited in Regional, National and International competitions. I was awarded the 2nd Place Award for my miniature prints in the 8th Biennial International Mini-Print competition at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Connecticut in 2011. My work is regularly on exhibit in the greater San Diego area.

Moose Falls, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Moose Falls, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

I have been invited to present my work in a solo exhibition in Phoenix, Arizona from September 7 to November 11, 2012 at the University Club of Phoenix.  If you are in the area, I hope you can join me!

Artist Reception
September 7 from 5:30 – 7:30.
Hors D’oeuvres – No Host-Bar
Please RSVP to
(602) 254-5408

University Club of Phoenix

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Choosing a Medium to Work In

I am often asked why I choose a particular medium when creating new work.  It’s an interesting question for an artist who works in many media instead of specializing in only one.  There are actually a number of answers to the question, often influenced by what exhibitions I am getting ready for.

One answer is: I may need work in specific media for an upcoming exhibition.  Another answer is, the image has been in my mind a while and a way to treat it in a certain medium suggests itself.  Or, I may find myself longing to work in a certain medium just because I haven’t used it in a while.

After the Rain, Oil Pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

After the Rain, Oil Pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

Sometimes, I know immediately when I see something inspiring which medium I prefer for the image. “After the Rain” is an example – I knew as soon as I saw this rain-drenched rose  that I wanted to paint it in oil pastel. I wanted to work through the challenge of painting the water droplets on the petals and the stems.

I usually have a number of images that I am mulling over, knowing I want to portray a certain scene or a particular flower but not knowing which technique I want to use.  It may come to me, while thinking about what imagery to create for an all-print exhibition, that a specific image will lend itself nicely to treatment in etching.  During this process I may consider another image and decide on a different medium for that composition – and postpone that work for a while.

In this way, I often have several images in mind, including possible technical treatments, while I am working on another piece. Some pieces stay in this mulling mode for months or even years before they are finally realized.

Timelines, etching by Julianne Ricksecker

Monotype presents itself as an attractive option when I am preparing for an exhibition of original print techniques and I am running short on time to come up with the requisite number of new pieces. Under the deadline pressure, I may cast around in my group of potential images for one or several that would work well in monotype. Monotype is also the medium that demands the most spontaneity, so it becomes an appealing option after completion of several etchings with long, meticulous plate development processes, such as “Timelines” (above) which took three and a half months to complete.

Illilouette Falls, Monotype

Illilouette Falls, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Monotypes are one-of-a-kind prints. I use water-soluble oil-based paint on a blank sheet of plexiglass.  Once I begin to paint, I need to print within 4 – 6 hours.  This forces me into a totally different working mindset from any other medium that I use. There is always the possibility that the days’ work will be lost – not every monotype is successful on first attempt. Some go on to become mixed media work, by enhancing the print with pastel, color pencil or watercolor.  For others, I repeat the experiment until the monotype idea is fully realized.

Some of the joy of creating in different media is that they handle differently, and I feel like I am always learning.  Working in one medium, I feel inspired with an idea of how to use a different medium in a new way.

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Sketchbook Lost


Cactus skeleton sketch

Sketch from hike in Anza Borrego

For many years, I had a sketchbook with me all of the time. If I had a moment, I was sketching. Taking visual notes of anything and everything. Laundry baskets. Children sleeping on the floor at a folk festival. People in a meeting. House plants. People in restaurants. The puppy. The dog. The dog and the kids. The tree in the back yard. The mailbox across the street from the flute teacher’s house. Animals in the zoo.


Coyote Canyon, etching, black and white proof

Coyote Canyon, etching, black and white proof

Coyote Canyon, etching by Julianne Ricksecker

Coyote Canyon, etching by Julianne Ricksecker


Many of these sketches have found their way into pieces of art over the years, either as the whole subject, or as a snippet incorporated into a larger image.



thistle sketch with notes

thistle sketch with notes

Sketchbooks also serve as a place to make verbal notes – thoughts on my first view of Grand Canyon. Notes about colors or atmospheric impression of a place. Ideas for new work or a new way to use techniques.  These notes are relatively few as this book is not intended to be a written journal, but they sometimes capture something about the inspiration for a new piece.

When I went to work full-time in alternate career, I stopped carrying a sketchbook everywhere with me – it wasn’t appropriate.  While I continued to make art on the weekends, gradually, I found I only carried a sketchbook on vacations, or on special occasions, like on a hike in the mountains.  I still referred back to old sketchbooks regularly when working in the studio, but it was no longer a daily habit to carry it around, open it up, and draw.  Whereas I used to fill up several sketchbooks a year, I was now carrying the same book for years on end.

Thistle, etching by Julianne Ricksecker

Thistle, etching by Julianne Ricksecker

Last summer, during a trip to the East Coast, I remember using my sketchbook on the plane and tucking it into the seat pocket. After returning home, a few weeks went by before I looked for it and I could not find it anywhere. I have never lost a sketchbook before! I did an exhaustive search over a two-week period without success. I could not remember seeing it after that plane ride.  I felt like I had lost a friend. I finally reported it lost to the airline, but by this time, I didn’t have much hope. I resigned myself to the loss and put my contact information in the front of a brand new sketchbook.

Imagine my joy when it turned up unexpectedly last week! It was here all along, inside a re-usable shopping bag in the garage.  Welcome back.

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Blogging – Time to Play!

It has taken me a long time to decide that blogging is something I should be doing as an artist!   Now that the page is built on my website, and I am looking at the blank page, my feelings are a little like they were, years ago, when construction was complete on my studio and I sat in the new room for the first time with no more excuses for not beginning new work.

Lots of questions go through my mind: will I have enough interesting things to say that people will want to read my blog?  Will anything I have to say matter to anyone but me?  Will my inspiration desert me after a day, a week, a month?

In those days, I had some experience with showing and selling art, so there was at least some historical evidence to support the idea that I deserved this wonderful new work space, and that I could sustain production of art to justify the expense.  I have no such historical evidence with creating blog posts!

Cuyamaca Sycamore, Watercolor

Cuyamaca Sycamore, Watercolor, © 2012 by Julianne Ricksecker

Since that time, I have produced hundreds of pieces of art, many of them winning prizes in local, regional and even international art competition. I suspect the “blank page” syndrome that is still occasionally difficult to overcome in the creation of new art may be similar in the creation of new blogs.  Perhaps I will overcome it in much the same way:

Go in to the studio (or WordPress) and play today.  No one has to see what I am doing unless I decide to let them.  Learn from each attempt, even if I don’t end up with a piece worth signing and showing to the world. One day, I will feel more confident that what I have to say about my art and other topics will interest a few people. Until then, I can play with words and see where it leads!

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