A break from painting: discovering etching

Today I am writing about a very exciting project I had at Heatherley’s: a 3-week introduction to printmaking!
Tutored by Hilary Daltry, we began with etching, a traditional printmaking process by which a design is incised onto a metal plate and further bitten into with strong acid or mordant.
Different steps of my self-portrait etching on a zinc plate: incising lines onto the plate; plate after the inking process; after the acid has bitten into the lines; resulting first print on paper.

Images 1 and 2 above show how the design, a self-portrait, is created in intaglio (incised) using a needle on a zinc plate which was beforehand covered in hard ground.

For those of you who are not familiar with the etching process, hard ground is a coating (made of, among other things, beeswax) applied to the metal plate to protect it from the acid’s corrosion. 

The lines of the drawing, incised by the needle, are therefore no longer protected by the hard ground coating and are exposed to the acid when the plate is immersed in it, which makes those incised lines further recessed. This way, after the plate is cleaned from the acid and remaining hard ground coating and then covered with ink, the ink fills the recessed lines (Image 3).

Finally, when dampened paper is strongly pressed over the plate, the ink gets pulled out of the recessed lines and produces a print on the paper (Image 4).

Series of self-portraits, etching on zinc plate (artist proofs)
(c) Clara Niniewski

The inking process is a fascinating part in itself, as the type and colour of ink you use, and especially the way you apply ink then wipe the excess ink off the plate, greatly influences the resulting print: how dark or light it is, how delicate or strongly contrasted, etc.

After printing various proofs of the same plate, I decided to take the etching further and rework the design, incising more lines into the hair and jumper areas, which resulted in additional varied prints.

See the above collage for 7 different prints from the same initial plate!

Self-portrait, etching on zinc plate, Artist Proof
(c) Clara Niniewski

What I enjoyed most about the whole etching process was the endless variations of prints that could derive from one single plate.

After a first week spent discovering etching, we were then introduced to another printmaking technique – Aquatint!

But more on that later. Stay tunned!

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