An original Etching is a print that is hand pulled from a metal plate (copper or zinc) where the line has been bitten into the plate with acid which corrodes & eats into the metal. It is done by coating the plate with an acid resistant film (Hard Ground). Into this ground an image is drawn with a needle so that the metal is exposed underneath. The plate is then immersed in a bath of acid which erodes the exposed metal. When the desired depth has been obtained the ground is cleaned off so that prints can be taken from the plate.
Step 1: Coating The Plate With Hardground
The artist takes a metal plate (Zinc or Copper) and angles it at a 30 to 45 degree angle. A liquid Hard Ground consisting of asphaltium & beeswax is poured over the plate and allowed to flow down the plate until it is completely covered. The plate is then placed face up on a level surface to dry.
Step 2: Sketching The Design
Using a sharp needle like tool a design is sketched on the hardground surface. As the needle moves across the plate it removes the hard ground coat where it touches. The artist continues to sketch in this manner until the sketch is completed.
Step 3: Etching The Plate
The freshly sketched plate is now placed face up in a shallow tray filled with a deluted acid solution. As the plate is immerced in the acid tiny bubbles form along the exposed sketch lines. This indicates that the acid is etching the exposed metal. From time to time the bubbles are dusted away with a feather. This enables new bubbles to form and the metal is re- etched. This process is repeated several times until the metal is etched to the desired depth.
Step 4: Inking The Plate
Once the plate is etched the hard ground is removed with solvent and a thick black etching ink is rubbed into the etched lines. The excess ink is wiped off the surface of the plate with starched cheese cloth. A circular motion is used to remove most of the ink. Finally the highlights are brought out by wiping the top surface with a news print block.
Step 5: Printing The Plate
After the plate has been engraved & inked a print may be pulled from the surface. The plate is placed face up on an etching press bed, a piece of heavy rag paper is placed on the inked plate and finally a thick felt is placed on top of the plate & paper. This stack of plate ,paper & felt is then hand cranked between two large steel cylinders the top roller applies a great deal of pressure to the felt & paper forcing it against the plate. Once it has moved through the press the felt is removed and the paper is peeled away from the plate removing any ink that was left on the surface.
Step 6: Drying & Hand-Coloring The Print
Once the print is removed from the plate it is taped to a wood panel and left to dry for about twenty four hours. When the print is dry it may be Hand-Colored. Water color is applied to the image to bring out the design. This is done in much the same fashion as one would do a watercolor painting.
Step 7: Signing & Numbering The Print
After the artist has repeated steps 4&5 as many times as there are prints in the edition it is time to sign and number them. Each piece is numbered 1/50 , 2/50 etc. where 1 & 2 are the print numbers and 50 is the number of prints in the edition. Then a title is written followed by the artists signature. This is all done in pencil to indicate that it is hand signed.