Etching: not quite Rembrandt
For Maggie’s birthday a month ago, I produced a couple of print works. As a card, I made a linocut of some windswept trees that she loved in New Zealand. And, as a present, an etching copied from one of a morepork cut into bamboo (a technique I’d like to try when I have the time, materials and cutting tools I’m no longer attached to!).
While at Leicester Print Workshop doing the etching, I begged Nicola to help me fix a plate that I’d covered in hard ground but which was very patchy. I stripped the ground from it, cleaned it and Nicola showed me how to apply the ground properly. It still wasn’t properly covered, no matter how much we tried to rub more ground in, so I stripped that back again. While I was washing the plate I realised what I’d been doing wrong (out of sight of Nicola, I must add, or she would have spotted it). To ensure all the Cif was cleaned from the plate after degreasing, I’d wiped the plate with my hands while it was under the running water. Even with the water flowing and my hands scrubbed, I was still putting grease onto the plate – doh!
So, with the plate properly degreased, the ground went on easily and well. Amazing the results you can get when you do a job properly.
Anyway, I’d taken the plate home intending to work on another etching but was side-tracked by gallery work. I only got around to doing the drawing last week. I had looked through an online listing of Rembrandt prints and like one of three cottages, so printed out a reversed copy scaled to A5 size (the size of the plate). This is the original:
I figured that using carbon paper to transfer the image would be futile as the hard ground is very dark. However I’d heard about some stuff that did the same job in white and eventually found it on Amazon: Tracedown paper. It did a great job of letting me trace the outline of the image onto the plate with very little pressure, so not damaging the grounds. And it was brilliantly white, so much that I wasn’t sure I’d see where I’d drawn through the grounds – turned out not to be a problem though.
The other goody I’d bagged from Amazon was to help hold the plate still. I’d actually planned on buying this stuff to help with linocut work, so I didn’t need a bench hook (which I thought Maggie might object to my using in the kitchen and which I had found less than wholly useful). It was a non-slip material designed to go under rugs to stop them slipping across polished floors: Non slip safety mat. It proved very useful in working on the etching plate. I was able to use both hands to hold the etching needle for fine control (well, for any control; my hands shiver and twitch on any delicate work) and the plate stayed in place. And, unlike with the bench hook, I could place the work at any angle.
So, I cut the image and really enjoyed doing so. The intricate work was fun, if difficult. Using two hands worked well, only a couple of trembles added unwanted bits to the image. I’m also just noticing how very detailed the image is above. The laser jet copy I used to copy the stroke marks was woefully inadequate. I’m not excusing my woeful technique, only that working from a poor copy exacerbates the problems. Something else to consider next time. I’ll have to have my laptop or iPad next to my workspace in future.
Another gadget I found useful was an illuminated magnifier (bit like this but with a massively heavy baseplate rather than clamp). It was only moderately useful though. I found that it was difficult to get my hands between the glass and the work and shifting my head put stuff out of focus. I’ll probably get used to it but, this time, found it easier to take my glasses off and have my head almost resting on my hands :).
With all that done, I took the plate into LPW last Thursday for printing. Serena was in on that day and she helped me find stuff and get things ready. She was working on some large scale prints celebrating the 25th anniversary of the workshop. I was really chuffed when, later on, Sarah Kirby came in and began printing up one of her linocuts next to me. I loved her work first time I saw it in there and it was great seeing her work and chatting to her. The precision of her linocutting work is really highlighted when you see the piece of lino itself.
So, to the results. I printed only on proof paper using black ink and, for the first impression, wiped back completely. I knew it’d look better with ink left smudged on the plate but wanted one impression with the lines clear.
and, with smudges left on:
The cottages are indistinct and the foliage lines could be better. Still, not bad for my third etching. I’ll get there.
I wanted to go in and prepare another plate but the two I still have left are badly marked. The little circle on my images, middle left, is the result of a water stain (as Serena explained to me) caused by letting the plates dry too slowly after degreasing. The two plates I have left are very stained. I may save them for some collagraph work.
That’s it for now. More when I can get time to do more work.