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. 

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