What is an Etching?
A metal plate (usually copper or zinc) is coated with an acid-resistant
ground made of beeswax and resins. The artist draws an image on the
prepared plate with a sharp implement, removing part of the ground
and exposing the metal. The plate is then immersed in acid, which
bites etches the exposed metal (drawing). The longer
the plate remains in the acid, the deeper the lines. Variations of
line thickness are possible with several acid baths; fine or light
lines are stopped-out before each subsequent bath to prevent them
from further etching. (Other techniques such as aquatint, soft-ground,
and lift-grounds can be used separately to add tones and textures.)
After the metal has been sufficiently eaten away (etched), the plate
is removed from the acid and cleaned and is ready to be inked. Stiff
ink is applied to the entire plate and the excess wiped off, leaving
ink only in the etched lines or roughened tonal areas. Large plates
require one or more hours to ink and wipe.
In printing the image, the inked plate is placed face up on the printing
press bed, then damp paper laid over the plate. As plate and paper
ride through the rollers of the press, tremendous pressure forces
the paper into the inked grooves, transferring the image (in reverse)
to the sheet. (If desired, the plate can be left uninked before printing,
resulting in a blind embossment, a raised image the color
of the paper.)
The plate must be inked and wiped each time before it is printed.
It has been hand-etched, hand-inked, hand-wiped, and hand-pulled through
the pressmaking each print a true original. Prints can then
also be hand-colored.
An etching is an intaglio (in-táll-yo), below the surface.
All linear etchings aquatints, any techniques which are bitten
into the surface by acid are intaglios, as well as engravings
and drypoints (which do not employ acid treatment). The intaglio art
form is one of the oldest, dating to the sugar aquatints of Picasso,
the etchings of Whistler, the drypoints of Rembrandt, the engravings
on knights armor, clear back to the incised images on Paleolithic
[Illustration: "Alaska Cedar" — click image for large version]
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