Acid Etching Printmaking
The acid etching printmaking process involves cutting a metal plate to the size of the required image. The plate is then covered in a coat of wax which is left to set. The image is then etched into the wax using a sharp instrument (my instrument of choice is a 6 inch nail!). Different depths and strokes are used to create different textures.
I tend to draw my image directly onto paper first. This makes it easier to fix mistakes. Once I am happy with my drawing I will then copy that drawing onto tracing paper. The drawing doesn’t need to have much texture at this stage just a basic outline.
I keep slipping this tracing over my plate as I am working so that I can use it as a guide while I am transferring the image to the plate.
As you can see here the etching plate now looks like a negative of the original drawing. It is also a mirror image of the original due to the technique being used but this will then reverse again when I print the image.
The wax coated plate is then submerged in acid for a precise amount of time. The acid burns into the plate where the wax has been scraped to form the image on the plate. The plate may be dipped in the acid multiple times for different durations. This makes it possible to obtain the precise depth and texture required.
The plate is then cleaned removing all the acid and remaining wax to reveal a plate that can now be used to produce multiple original prints. Up until this point everything has to be done in a specialist printing workshop that I have to travel to as I do not have the facilities at home for creating an acid etching plate. Once I have done a test print, however, I can print all further prints in my home studio.
The plate is then carefully covered with ink. I rub this into the image using a cloth and circular motions ensuring that I am pushing ink into the areas of the plate that have been etched away by the acid.
Once I have covered the whole plate in ink I use a clean cloth and again using circular motion I will rub off the majority of the ink on the plate leaving just a fine layer and ink that has managed to get into the grooves in the plate created where the acid burned into it.
Next I identify areas of the print that I want to remain white or a lighter shade (in this instance the cat’s eyes, tongue and nails) and I will run more ink off those areas to ensure that they remain a lighter shade than the rest of the image.
Finally the inked plate is placed against paper that has been soaking for some time. The two are then rolled through a printing press to produce the final print. During the process where ink has collected in the etched areas this will be pressed on to the paper to form the darker areas of the image. Where only thin layers of ink have been left these will appear lighter. The ‘reveal’ as you can see here where you see the final print as you peel it away from the etching plate is always an exciting moment.
The print is then surrounded by tissue paper to absorb remaining moisture. It is left for several days pressed between heavy objects. The tissue paper is changed several times over that period until the paper is completely dry and ready to wrap or frame for the customer. The plate can then be reinked to print again or cleaned thoroughly and stored until it is needed again.
Here you can see my final ‘Bathtime‘ acid etching in all its glory.