Etching Adventures: Part 1

Well, my etching class is finally underway, and I'm excited to share with you the things I'll be learning and making. Every Monday then, I'm going to tell you what I did in each class, and of course show pictures.

Last Wednesday we began preparing our first etching plates. Before class, we were asked to go through our sketchbooks and find an image or idea we'd like to use. After perusing my various books, I settled on this prehistoric skull I'd sketched at the Field Museum last summer, when I was visiting friends in Chicago.

This guy is a distant relative of the modern day giraffe.

At the beginning of class we received our first plate, which measures 4.5'' x 6''. Traditionally etching is done on copper, but given the cost of it nowadays, we're using zinc plates.

The first thing we had to do was file down the sharp edges of the plate to prevent it from ripping holes into the paper during printing. This takes quite bit of manual work, but the rounded, beveled edges that you end up with are worth the effort.

My plate after some rigorous filing.

After we had finished filing our plates, we had to clean and degrease them with a special powder known as whiting (calcium carbonate). Once we'd finished rinsing them we put them on a heating plate to dry.

The newsprint allows you to grab the plate without singing your fingers on hot metal.

Once the plates were dry, but still warm, we applied the hard ground, which you paint on with a brush and allow to dry overnight. This is the surface you draw into while making your plate, and it's got a wonderfully soft and buttery texture. It also protects the plate during the acid bath process.

Freshly coated plate. Hard ground has a strong odor reminiscent of turpentine.
By the time we'd all finished coating our plates it was time to end class for the night. I left mine at the studio to dry, but I went back over the weekend to pick it up so that I can get going on the drawing.

Stay tuned next week, when we dive into the acid bath! (Pun absolutely and positively intended)