TABLE OF CONTENTS
This is a basic discourse on the techniques of etching, emphasizing new developments. New materials and methods have helped to overcome many of the technical difficulties and complexities inherent in traditional etching technique. Expensive equipment has been replaced, where possible, with alternatives of cheaper materials which function as well or frequently better than the old. Through the use of some of these new materials and methods, a beginner can avoid the discouraging and trying period of mastering the technical manipulation of etching, and the professional can achieve the fluent ease and directness of expression which every creative artist seeks. New methods offer an opportunity for the modern artist to create a print in which the form, the content, and the technique have an integrated unity. Most of us agree that the artist of today should not attempt to imitate the art of the past, but in his subject matter, his methods of expression, and his materials should seek what is of today.
ON THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE GRAPHIC ARTS TO SOCIETY
The possession of "original" works of art is unfortunately-and mistakenly-considered a luxury. True, paintings and drawings are generally expensive to buy, in part because of their oneness, each picture being an original, the direct product of the artist's hands. One of the special attributes of the graphic arts, however, is their ability to produce multi-originals. The artist works on metal, stone, or wood. With chemicals and sharp implements he manipulates the face of the material, cutting into or chemically treating the surface. When the surface is inked and sent through a press, an impression on paper results. This is an original print. The number of impressions which can be made is relatively unlimited. The etching plate, the lithograph stone, or the block of wood is only the potential for the end result-the print. From these materials many prints can be pulled, and each is an original. The artist's work on metal, stone, or wood only comes to life as a picture when the print is made. Each print carries with it all the artist's intentions-as though he had taken pen or crayon and drawn the picture directly on the paper. A print differs drastically from a reproduction, and the two should not be confused. To get a reproduction, the artist's original picture is photographed, and the photograph is chemically and mechanically transferred to a plate. From the plate, prints are made on a power press. Inevitably, this break in the artist's direct control causes a loss in quality. Frequently the loss of quality may detract seriously from the artist's original intention. Both original prints and reproductions, however, are making important contributions to the democratization of art by making pictures available at lower cost through quantity production. This is particularly true of the graphic arts, which can offer multi-originals at low prices. The advantage of owning and living with original works of art as against reproductions is obvious. Symbolically speaking, it is like getting to know an artist in person as against seeing his photograph. For the artist, the graphic arts offer the possibility of enlarging their earnings through the sale of prints. There are many more people who can afford to buy a print than there are people who can afford to buy a painting or drawing. Aesthetically, the medium is challenging, stimulating, and, once conquered, richly satisfying.
AN OUTLINE OF THE ETCHING TECHNIQUES
This is a process by which lines are engraved into a metal plate with acid, then filled with ink, and the plate is printed on an etching press.
The plate is usually copper or zinc.
A dark, wax, acid-resistant ground is laid (poured, rolled, or dubbed) over the surface of the plate in a thin, even coat.
Lines are drawn through the ground Drawing with the etching needle with an etching needle. The needle does not cut the surface of the plate but only exposes it. Thus the entire surface of the plate is covered with acid-resistant ground, but wherever the needle is drawn across the plate the plate is exposed.
The plate is immersed in an acid bath (a tray filled with acid, usually nitric or mordant, mixed with water in the proportions needed for the kind of biting desired). The acid eats the exposed lines. Variations are achieved by removing the plate at intervals and covering the lines which have been bitten deeply enough with a stopping- out varnish. The longer the plate re- mains in the acid, the deeper the line. The ground is then cleaned off the plate.
Etching ink is then rolled over the face of the plate, which is usually warmed to make the ink flow easily. A ball of netting is used to wipe the ink off the face of the plate. Ink is left in the lines that have been etched.
The plate is placed face up on the bed of the press. Over it is placed a sheet of printing paper and over that two soft felt blankets. The plate is then rolled through the press, and the print is made.
Aquatint is the process by which
areas of tone are engraved into a
metal plate with acid. The plate is
covered with ink and printed on an
The Aquatint Ground
Powdered rosin is tied up in a sack
mode of silk. The sack is agitated or
shaken over the plate, and the rosin
dusts down on it. Various textures can
be obtained with fine or coarse rosin.
Heating the Ground
The plate is then heated, and the
dots of rosin become fixed into acid-
resistant dots of varnish.
Areas that are to be white are covered with stopping-out varnish. The
acid eats the plate around the dots of
rosin ground. The plate is removed
at intervals from the bath, and areas
that are bitten deeply enough are
covered with stop-out. The longer the
plate remains in the bath, the deeper
the blacks achieved.
When biting is finished the ground
is removed, and the plate is inked
and printed like an etching.
Aquatint is mostly used in cornbination with etched lines.
An aquatint resembles a water
color or wash drawing; an etching is
more like a pen-and-ink drawing, and
a lithograph often looks like a drawing in crayon or pencil.
This is the process of scratching
lines into a metal plate with a sharp
needle, filling the lines with ink, cind
printing the plate on an etching press.
the lines. Many lines drawn close to-
gether and crisscrossed will print as
The metal that is pushed up on each
side of the line is called the burr.
One of the major differences between
an etching and a dry point is that, be
cause of the burr, a dry-pointed line
holds the ink on both sides of-as
well as within-itself. This results in
a softer line. No acid is used.
Inking the Plate
Etching ink is rolled over the face
of the plate, and the ink is cleaned
off the plate with a wad of netting.
Ink is allowed to remain in the lines
and the burr.
The plate is then printed just like
an etching. The number of good prints
that can be pulled from a dry point
is limited by the wearing down of
the burr unless the plate is metal
Engraving is the process of cutting
lines into a metal plate with engraving tools, or burins, filling the lines
with ink, and printing the plate.
Various types of burins are used
to get different kinds of lines. Various shaped points give wider or deeper
lines. The point of the burin is pushed into the plate, completely removing a
thread of metal from the plate.
Inking and Printing
The plate is inked and printed like
an etching except that, in the case of
an etching, some ink is often left on
the plate to get a tone, while an engraved plate is wiped quite clean.
The engraved line is colder and
harder than either the etched or the
This is the process of roughening
the surface of the plate until the entire
surface, if inked, would print black,
and then smoothing it down to
achieve half tones and whites. It is
the opposite of etching. In mezzotint the artist works from black to
white instead of from white to block.
The tools used in the mezzotint
process are the rocker, the roulette
wheel, the scraper, the Furnisher, and
The rocker has a curved, serrated
edge with a thread small or large
according to the quality of texture required. The rocker is held with its
blade at right angles to the plate and
the curved edge rocked regularly over
the whole surface at many angles,
causing a uniformly indented surface
with a burr to each indentation. Many
artists use an aquatint ground bitten
lo a black as a base for mezzotinting.
The Roulette Wheel
This is a wheel with a number of
sharp points which is used to get much
the same results.
The scraper is a sharp, three-edged
fool used for cutting clown the points
on the roughened picite.
This is a smooth, round-edged tool
used to rub down the roughened plate.
This is an abrasive stick used to
grind the tones down. The polished
places on the plate print white or
When all the desired tones have
been achieved, the plate is inked and
then printed on an etching press.
Referenced from Modern Methods and Materials of Etching By Harry Sternberg