The Etching Process


Preparing the Plate

Etching plates are usually made out of copper or zinc, but can also be made of other materials like steel.

Determining the size of the artwork is the first step. I tend to cut one large sheet down, using a guillotine, into a variety of sizes for different prints.

The plate is then polished and degreased.


Applying Hard Ground

The plate is then placed onto a hotplate. This warms up the metal.

Alongside the plate, the hard-ground ball (from Charbonnel) is rolled directly onto the hotplate and melts.

A leather brayer is then used to evenly roll the ground onto the plate. This creates an acid resistant layer over the whole plate.


Smoking the Plate

The plate is then suspended in a custom-made rack, face down.

Using special candles called beeswax tapers the plate is flamed all over. This darkens the hard ground and provides more contrast when drawing into the plate.


Creating the Image

Using a fine needle, marks are made gently into the plate, scratching the hard ground away to expose the metal underneath.

There are several etching tools available, however I always use a plain needle as it allows me to work in the most detailed form.


Preparing for Etching

It can take weeks to finish my artwork, and during this time the plate may get scratched or worn.

To ensure only the artwork is exposed during etching, varnish is applied with a paintbrush to cover any patches, and to seal the edges.


Etching the Plate

The plate is then immersed in a bath containing
the etching solution

This usually contains corrosive materials so protective clothing and ventilation are used. There are less harmful materials that can be used instead of the traditionally used acid mixture.

The longer plate is left in the bath, the deeper the solution will 'bite' into the exposed artwork.
Timing is key.


Preparing for Printing

After the plate has completely etched, it is removed from the solution. I use a plant-based detergent to remove any remaining hard-ground.

The edges of the plate are then filed to leave a clean embossing into the paper when printed. The plate is then cleaned thoroughly.


Inking up the Plate

An oil-based etching ink is rolled onto a clean surface. Using a thick card, the ink is spread over the entire artwork, and pushed into the crevices.

Scrim is then used to remove excess ink from the surface of the plate.


Removing Excess Ink

It's important that only ink in the crevices of the artwork remains.

Using tissue paper, I carefully remove ink from the edges of the design. A traditional technique involving a chalked hand wiped across the surface of the plate removes the last excesses of ink.


Preparing the Paper

I often use Somerset Satin White 300gsm paper for my prints. But there are many papers available.

Paper should be torn to size before being printed. I use a ruler to hand-rip the edges of the paper to size.

Wetted paper provides a sharper image when printing, so it is soaked for 5-10 minutes in a water bath.


Setting up the Press

While the paper is soaking, the workspace is cleared and the press is set-up.

The blankets are laid over the bed of the press.
I usually use three thicknesses of felt blankets.

The pressure spindles are then tightened evenly on both sides to press the rollers together.


Drying the Paper

Once the paper has soaked, it's laid flat between towels or drying boards.

For large sheets of paper, a heavy rolling pin is used to squeeze excess water evenly out. The paper should be damp but not wet.


Positioning Plate

Registration marks are added to the print bed. This helps keep the plate and paper consistently aligned.

The plate is placed first, face-up. Then, with clean hands, the paper is laid over the plate within the registration marks.

A sheet of tissue paper is laid over the entire paper to absorb water, along with the blankets.


Winding the Press

The plate is then rolled through the press at a constant speed. You can feel the wheel become more resistant as the plate rolls through. This usually indicates the press is tightened enough.

The blankets and the tissue paper are then lifted off, and the printed image is carefully removed
by one corner.


Finishing Up

The print is then placed flat under drying boards. Multiple boards are stacked on top of one another when printing editions.

A heavy weight is used to maintain pressure on the drying prints. They normally dry for 3-5 days at least. This ensures they're totally dry and flat.

The prints are then signed and editioned with pencil.


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