Monday, July 6, 2009

Scraping and Burnishing copper plates

If a line has been etched into a sheet of copper, it will always be a permanent line, unless it is scraped and burnished away. This is like erasing the copper. With the use of a sharp metal scraper (normally these are 3 sided metal tools with a wooden handle, although they can also be a metal handle with a flat metal scraper on the one end, and an etching needle on the other end). The scraper, as the name suggests, will scrape away at the copper, taking away lines and areas that are either too dark, or areas that you just want to change up a bit. The burnisher (normally curved, smooth metal with the wooden handle on one end) will smooth out any areas of the copper by burnishing it (rubbing the burnisher over any lines). Simple methods, just takes a bit of elbow grease and patience to get your desired results.

Etching: Sugar Lift Resist and Recipe

This is similiar to gouache resist if you have ever tried it. Instead of painting with white gouache onto paper, one paints with a mixture made from syrup, black poster paint and liquid detergent (recipe given below) onto a sheet of cleaned copper. Take an ordinary paint brush, dip into the syrup mixture, paint on copper, then wait for it to dry. Once dry, paint a thin layer of hard ground over the top. Wait for the hard ground to dry, then place the plate of copper in warm water. The sugar mixture (with the help of the detergent) should then "lift" off the plate, exposing the copper beneath it. You can rub the hard ground covered plate in the water gently with your fingers to help the lift along. Once all the sugar mixture has lifted off the plate, take the copper plate out the water, wait for it to dry. When dry you can then either put a layer of aquatint over the top of the exposed copper (for a sugar lift aquatint) and then place it in acid. Or you can place the plate directly into the copper. Some open biting wll occur, but this will add to the effect if you so wish.

Sugar Lift Recipe
10 parts syrup (1 part sugar to 5 parts water, boiled to a syrup)
3 parts black poster paint
3 parts liquid detergent
(gum arabic is optional)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Aquatint is used to achieve tones and textures. The copper plate is covered with a porous ground (using small dots of acid-resist). This allows the plate to etch except where you prevent it by stopping out with varnish. By stopping out at various stages during the biting, a variety of tones can be achieved from the lightest of greys through to the deepest black.
Source: Etching, Alan Smith
The best method to use in class, (as we experimented with an older airbrush, but did not achieve best results) is to use the spray paint method:
  • place the plate at an angle in the acid room
  • shake the aerosol well
  • work with the spray can between 2in to 6in from the plate, moving in straight lines from left to right
  • an even covering, allowing about 50% of the metal plate to show in between the dots works well (the more you cover the lighter the tone, the less you cover more copper will be exposed and then the copper will print darker).
  • You can spray, etch, block out more objects with hard ground, etch again, etc.
  • The areas that are blocked out the earliest will print the lightest, and the more you put the plate in the copper, the darker those areas will etch.

Soft Ground Etching: Important Tips and Tricks

Personally I find it always easier achieving a clean and precise line by drawing directly into hard ground. If you wish to achieve a softer line, as well as textural elements, it is useful using soft ground instead of hard. The soft acid resist should also be painted evenly over the copper plate. It can be painted a bit thicker than you would with hard ground.

Tips for pressing objects into soft ground:

If objects are pressed into soft ground, they will remove part of the ground because it stays soft. Paint the soft ground a little thicker than you would hard ground. You can press textures by hand, or use the press (use soft, flat objects that won't damage the press):
  • Place the soft, flat object on top of the soft ground.
  • Take one of the blankets off the press (to reduce the pressure).
  • Place your plate with the soft ground and textural 2d object on top of the metal bed
  • cover with newsprint (to protect the blanket)
  • cover with the blanket and pass through the press.

Tips for drawing into soft ground:

When drawing into soft ground, best results are achieved if you place a piece of paper over the soft ground plate and then draw onto the paper, the ground will stick to the paper when you peel it off. This removes some of the ground and lets the acid etch your drawing into the plate. If the ground or paper is thicker or thinner, the line will be softer (thicker paper) or harder (thinner paper). Do remember though your drawing will appear in reverse so try and use mylar paper and put the reverse of the drawing onto the copper before drawing onto the copper.

  • Put the copper plate onto a firm flat surface.
  • Make a paper window mount and tape it down over the copper plate.
  • Place your drawing under the mount, on top of the soft ground.
  • Tape the papers down to prevent movement.
  • An advantage of using this method, is that it allows you to draw directly onto the paper, and when the paper is lifted, the ground will be removed. The line will not be as thin and precise as when drawing direcltly into hard ground (of course this is what you may want to achieve).
  • Also by making a window mount and placing your drawing under the mount, you start your drawing, then etch the copper, let the copper dry, do more drawing, etch it again, etc. The lines that are were in the acid for longer should be darker and heavier.
  • Very interesting lines can be achieved using this method.

Hard Ground Etching

Hard ground is an acid-resistant wax that is put evenly all over the copper plate. Place the copper plate on a flat surface covered with newspaper. With a square paint brush coated in liquid hard ground, paint the ground on the copper evenly and thinly from left to right, top to bottoem. If any bubble occur, just try and blow them out, or give a touch up with a thin brush after the ground has dried (approx. 20min). An etching needle is used to draw through the ground, exposing the copper that will be etched. Draw lightly and loosely (as with a pencil), thereby only removing the ground and not scratching into the plate as you would with an engraving. Anything can really be used to remove the wax ground - pencil, roulette wheel, wire brush, paint brush with varsol on, etc. When the plate is put into the acid bath only the parts of the plate that have had the ground removed will etch. The areas will then trap the ink and print as a positive mark.