Friday, July 2, 2010

Etchings - Types of Grounds and the Marks they Produce

Etching is a form of intaglio printing. Intagliare means "to cut" in Italian. Many people use the term "etching" to describe any intaglio method, but that is very inaccurate because etchings are the only form of intaglio printing that use acid and, most of the time, a variety of grounds.The printed marks the etching plate makes depend on the type of ground used.  The purpose of this post is to show the marks made by some of the more common grounds used with etching.

The sample above (Leaves) is an example of a soft ground etching. Soft ground etchings produce texture. The ground, which is a thick greasy consistency, never dries on the plate so you have to be careful how you handle the plate or your fingerprints will become part of the final image! 

The example to the right (Garden Friend) is a basic hard ground etching. The ground dries to a thin black film then fine lines can be scraped out with an etching needle (or thick lines can be made with a scraper).  Now I will confess that many of my plates utilize several types of grounds and techniques but I am trying to show you the best example of the ground being discussed.  The mottled area in "Garden Friend" is a lift and some of the tone in "Leaves and Pods" is aquatint. I will show other examples of these methods.


I am showing "Birds" (above) as an specific example of two types of ground: Aquatint, which produced the tone in the background of the etching and Sugar Lift, which produced the large grayish-white patches at the bottom of the etching. Another technique that can be shown on this piece is the use of stop-our varnish, which was applied to the one bird whose wing has very white spots as well as some of the very white areas on the bricks in the background. The stop out prevents the acid from touching these areas of the plate so they will remain white after the ink is wiped during the inking process.

I was commissioned by the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Print and Picture Collection  to make this etching and I thank them for letting me use it as an example on this post. 

In addition to the types of grounds used, the marks are also altered by further manipulation of the plate with a variety of tools such as scrapers and burnishers. How the plate is inked also plays a major role in how the final etching looks. I will cover more aspects of etching and intaglio printing in the future. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Material Pleasures (or, the thrill of indulging in an art supply purchase)

Art Materials.  We gaze at the colors, shapes, and textures of the materials and tools and dream of the possibilities.  But we rarely indulge ourselves past what is absolutely essential for the project at hand.

I happen to live in a city that has several art supply retailers, one of which is a mega store – The Dick Blick. Walking around Blick’s can make you giddy, and very poor if you are not careful.  It is easy to be seduced by the dizzying array of merchandise, and dream about life in the studio if I only owned a complete set of such and such inks or whatever it is that looks tempting.  But being the “frugal” (cheap) person that I am, I usually just shop my list and leave (quickly).

A supply I have always loved is caran d’ache watercolor pencils.  I have spent my whole life as an artist buying only two or three pencils at a time, gradually building a set.  Recently, I started to use these pencils again regularly and made mental notes of the colors that needed to be replaced.   Then one day, something wonderful happened…..

In the mail came the offer of all offers….the 40% off one item discount. FORTY PERCENT!!!!!  Even I can figure out that it almost half off!  Well, I am a full time artist, over fifty, and now have a forty percent off coupon. I think they are three good reasons to say the hell with it, I am going to get something I would normally not buy.  So off I went to Blick’s and purchased a full set of caran d’ache watercolors pencils, less 40%.

Will this be something I do again? Probably not because if you do something like this too often, it no longer is special. But I think at least once every artist should have the thrill of buying that one special thing they have always drooled over.

I love just looking at the pencils with the colors all lined up.  Someday very soon I will use them. But for now, I just want to look at them brand new, and digest that they are not on the shelf at Blicks. They are mine.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bird Etching - Using Museum Study Collections to Inform your Art

Spirit Rising
Many artists, and people in general, do not realize that museum collections are often available to them. I am not talking about what is exhibited, I am talking about what is NOT on exhibit. Of course, each institution has its own protocol, so it is important to contact the curator to find out what rules apply to visiting that particular collection. A few years ago, I became deeply interested in birds so I contacted the curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia to ask if I could draw from the specimens. Not only did the curator say yes, but he gave me a wonderful tour of the collection, showed me how they prepare specimens, and (most importantly)showed me how to handle the specimens. I spent one day a week for an entire summer there, and have visited off and on since. Though I mostly drew in a sketchbook, I also took an etching plate with me once and started a plate of a male robin. Being able to hold the birds and look at them close up provided me with a whole different experience than observing from afar.

In addition, I have also visited the print collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Many of these institutions are very happy to help, so long as you are respectful of their rules and have a real plan for what you want to accomplish. Of course, afterwards, it is important to follow up with a thank you.