Etching: An Introduction
by Cassie Gareiss
Printmaking involves many processes. Each process in printmaking adds a different technique and skill to the artwork. Printmaking is a very old art form that not many artists do anymore due to the new programs and technology invented, but printmakers that do the printmaking processes well, are true artists and make a one of a kind piece that becomes very valuable. The process of etching is a well-used technique for printmakers and is very affective.
Etching is one of the oldest printmaking processes known. “The first etching on record was that of the Swiss artist, Urs Graf, who printed from iron plates” (ink 1). Etching was originated in the 1500s as a way to decorate the armor that soldiers would wear into battle. The first records of this technique are attributed to the Germans. These examples of armor are on display in the armory located in Madrid, Spain. Etching and printing in media did not begin to happen on a large scale until the early 1800s. This was during the beginning of the Business Age with new presses that rivaled the Gutenberg press invented in the 1400s. With the new presses, businesses and newspapers were able to much more effectively copy and print information. This process has since been modified and enhanced by being able to print much more in less time with even higher quality (The History of Etch Printing…). Once they found the new effective way to print the etchings, the artists created many prints that were demanded. “From the 19th century, when steel plates could print thousands of impressions, the publisher might make an announcement that the edition would, for example, consist of 100 proofs and 2,000 ordinary impressions” (Levis). Eventually making limited editions became the trend so the artists could make more money off of their etchings.
What many people like about etching is that it is one of the easiest printing processes. If people have the right tools and equipment they can easily create a masterpiece. It still takes a lot of time and it still involves some drawing skills, but once the etching is finished the printing part is a lot of times flawless. Getting the materials is probably the most expensive part of the project, but a lot of it is found at local art stores. “In pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground” (Printmaking-Techniques…). Some type of metal is needed, along with a waxy ground, and diluted acid.
The first step is to coat the type of metal that was purchased with the waxy ground. Make sure that the ground is spread evenly on the metal and that the metal cannot be seen through it. Once the waxy ground is dry “the artist then draws his design on the ground with a sharp needle, that cuts through the ground to the metal below” (“Printmaking Processes”). The artist does not have to press super hard to make an impression in the waxing ground so it is easy to create the drawing that you want pretty accurately.
The second step is to place the metal in an acid bath. “The acid eats the plate through the exposed lines; the more time the plate is left in the acid, the coarser the lines” (ink 1). During this step the artist has to make sure not to touch the acid with their bare hand. They need to use gloves and carefully touch the edges of the etching to determine how deep they want their lines to be. Once that is determined. The artist should take out the metal plate and run it under water.
The third step is to cover the plate and desired areas in some type of printmaking ink, preferably oil based. Once the ink is on the plate, the artist starts removing the ink on the surface so only the ink in the etching lines is showing. When the surface area is all clean the last step can now be done. The artist puts a damp piece of paper over the print and puts it through a cylinder press. Since the plate is metal it can be printed quite a few times until the artist gets their desired look.
This printing process is well liked by many and gives a unique artistic affect that other processes do not. It is not difficult to do as long as the right tools are available and the person has some drawing skill. Etching has been around for a long time and since it is so well liked, it will probably continue to be around for a while.
ink, inking the surface with typographic, and applying pressure with a press..
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