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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Good Kind of Acid Wash

I went to my second Open Studio class yesterday and the technique of the night was etching. Oh, etching - the perfect combination of line drawing, detail, texture, and shadow. I finally know how to produce the ink effects I love so much in a repeatable format!

It might sound silly, but I actually felt a strange sadness while participating in the process because I kept thinking This is it... This is exactly the medium I've wanted to work in since I started to draw. Why have I never tried this before?

Unfortunately, in addition to learning the finer details of producing an etched print, I also learned how extremely labour intensive the process is. Zinc plates, waxy grounds, acids, solvents, giant presses! Not the kind of material a lady generally keeps around the house.

First, we polished our zinc plates and then coated the surface with a dark brown wax-type liquid called 'ground'. We had approximately thirty minutes to carve the actual image through the ground and into the metal, and, true to form, I picked something overly complex and had to rush my way through it. I used another one of T's old family photographs for inspiration because I knew I could quickly translate the black and white photo into a line drawing. With such limited time, I ended up making some hilarious omissions (check out the uncarved ears!), but I was happy to have at least etched out the main parts of the image.

Next, we placed the plates in an acid bath for 30 minutes to allow the exposed metal to be eaten away enough to burn the image into the zinc plate. This was about the point I realized that there was absolutely no way I could replicate this process at home. Sigh.

Once the acid had worked its magic, we cleaned off the ground and rubbed our prints with black ink, making sure to fill all of the lines completely before cleaning off the excess.

We used heavy, cottony paper to print the images (much like the type of paper used for letterpressing) making sure to soak the sheets in water for a few minutes before placing them over the plate to ensure that the paper had enough softness to press into the tiny lines of the etching. Then, we used a big, hand-turned press to create the prints. The pressure of the roller was so intense that the plate itself left a sizable bite in paper (making the printed image look as if had been placed behind a matte).

The image itself is more than a little flawed, but I love the resulting print. It has an amazing shadowy, aged feel and reminds me of an old daguerreotype. I'm going crazy dreaming up the types of prints that might be possible if I had, say, a few hours to work on an etching instead of just a few minutes.

Fortunately, Open Studio offers a separate 8 week course focused exclusively on etching and something tells me I might end up enrolled in this course at some point in 2010!

In the meantime, does anyone have an acid bath they'd mind lending me?

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