THE ETCHING PROCESS
Etching is an intaglio (silent “g”) printmaking technique. This technique was invented in the 15th century and is exactly the same process used today. The word intaglio is from the Latin “intagliare”, to engrave or incise aquatint, mezzotint, engraving and dry point are also intaglio prints.An etching is created by first coating the surface of a polished copper or zinc plate with an acid resistant material called a ground. There are two types of grounds, hard and soft. Both hard and soft grounds are a mixture of asphaltum and beeswax. Soft ground has more beeswax; hard ground has more asphaltum. The image is then drawn into this ground with a very sharp needle-like tool. The tool is used to scratch through the ground and reveal the plate underneath without actually scratching into the metal. The plate is then placed into a mild acid bath, hydrochloric acid for copper, nitric acid for zinc. The acid etches into the plate in those areas where the ground has been removed exposing the metal. The longer the plate is left exposed to the acid, the deeper the acid will etch, resulting in a darker line. Therefore lines exposed to the acid for 10 minutes will be light, while lines exposed to the acid for say an hour will be deeper, hold more ink and print very dark. The acid resistant ground is removed with mineral spirits once the etching process is finished. The plate is then inked by hand, placed on the bed of an etching press, covered with a piece of moistened 100% cotton paper and run through the press by hand. The extreme pressure of the presses rollers force the paper into the tiny ink filled lines and bond the ink to the paper creating the print. Each print is a unique work of art because the plate has to be re-inked by hand for each individual print in the edition.
Every printmaker has a unique mark that is embossed on each handmade print. The presence of this embossed mark on a print is your guarantee that the work is an original piece made by the artist.