In the last post, I talked about creating aquatint tones using hard ground and paint markers to cover the plate and protect it from the acid. In another process, the acid can be painted directly on the plate to create subtle effects and soft edges.
The plate is covered in an aquatint ground (a ground of tiny speckles that will result in very small raised points of metal when etched. See How Tones Are Created in Etching for more detail on this ground.)
Next, any parts of the plate that need to be protected from the acid are covered in a solid acid-resistant ground, such as liquid hard ground. This appears coffee-colored in the above photo.
Now the fun begins. Using a weak solution of acid and an animal hair brush, the prepared plate is literally painted with acid. Acid can be stroked onto the plate, dripped onto it, or dripped into puddles of water that have been painted onto the plate.
Because the acid is weak and is depleted quickly in this process, areas that are to retain ink need to be painted over and over with the acid, until the etch is deep enough to hold the desired amount of ink. It is not possible to tell just
from looking at the plate exactly how deep the etch has become, so it is important to have a sense of how many times a given area has been painted with acid in order to gauge progress. The application of acid to the plate in this manner results in the plate appearing stained, but the varying color of the stain does not relate closely to the eventual tone in the print.
When the artist determines that the spit bite is deep enough, the plate is flushed with water, and dried. All of the grounds are removed, and the plate is inked, wiped, and printed to check on progress.
For this image, however, I chose to continue to develop tones for areas representing sand and surf. I used paint marker to protect the highlights in the waves.
Another technique I like is to draw over the aquatint ground with a china marker (grease pencil). This is another way to create subtle gradations of tone in the aquatint.
Finally the grounds are cleaned from the plate. The bare plate gives some idea of how the plate will print if you look at how light reflects from the surface. The spit bite areas are somewhat deceptive because of the irregular acid staining.
Next step is to ink and wipe the plate, and print it on the etching press to check progress. Here is a view of the press, which has rollers above and below the traveling bed. Note the felt blankets folded up out of the way, waiting for the plate and paper to be set upon the bed.
The plate is inked and the surface is wiped with rags. Now you can see more clearly how the acid has affected the plate, especially in the spit bite areas.
Damp paper is placed over the inked plate, and covered with soft felt blankets. The resulting sandwich is rolled through the press.
Felt blankets (3 layers) are lowered onto the press bed.
After rolling the bed between the rollers, the pressure pushes the paper fibers into the plate to transfer the ink to the paper. Note the plate marks visible from the back side of the paper after the plate has gone through the press.