Etching and differential inking
Etching and differential inking
Post in process – to be updated as I go along
Etching is traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal.
As a method of printmaking, it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints. It was used by Rembrandt with differential inking to get very varied chiaroscuro effects.
Etching is done on metal plates that differ both in durability and ease/speed of etching. The type of metal used for the plate impacts the number of prints the plate will produce. The firm pressure of the printing press slowly rubs out the finer details of the image with every pass-through.
The plate needs first to be cleaned to be clear from marks and finger prints. With Whiting.
Preparing the plate
The plate is covered with a waxy ground that is resistant to acid. The nature of the ground affects the type of line, possibilities for tonal additions and inking. There are a number of distinct methods.
This gives a sharp and defined line with tone achieved either through different types of cross-hatching and/or differential wiping of the plate.
Hard ground can be applied in two ways.
Solid hard ground comes in a hard waxy block. To apply hard ground of this variety, the plate to be etched is placed upon a hot-plate (set at 70 degrees C), a kind of metal worktop that is heated up. The plate heats up and the ground is applied by hand, melting onto the plate as it is applied. The ground is spread over the plate as evenly as possible using a roller. Once applied the etching plate is removed from the hot-plate and allowed to cool which hardens the ground.
Liquid hard ground comes in a can and is applied with a brush upon the plate to be etched. Exposed to air the hard ground will harden. Some printmakers use oil/tar based as hard ground, although often bitumen is used to protect steel plates from rust and copper plates from ageing.
The design is then drawn (in reverse) with an etching-needle or échoppe where want a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The échoppe, a tool with a slanted oval section, is also used for “swelling” lines. An “echoppe” point can be made from an ordinary tempered steel etching needle, by grinding the point back on a carborundum stone, at a 45–60 degree angle. The “echoppe” works on the same principle that makes a fountain pen’s line more attractive than a ballpoint’s: The slight swelling variation caused by the natural movement of the hand “warms up” the line, and although hardly noticeable in any individual line, has a very attractive overall effect on the finished plate. It can be drawn with in the same way as an ordinary needle.
The work on the plate can also be added to by repeating the whole process; this creates an etching which exists in more than one state.
Gives a softer line with more variation in thickness, where tone can also be achieved through cross-hatching and shading as in ink drawing, and differential inking.
This uses a special softer ground. The artist places a piece of paper (or cloth etc. in modern uses) over the ground and draws on it. The print resembles a drawing.
Soft ground also comes in liquid form and is allowed to dry but it does not dry hard like hard ground and is impressionable. After the soft ground has dried the printmaker may apply materials such as leaves, objects, hand prints and so on which will penetrate the soft ground and expose the plate underneath.
After the ground has hardened the artist “smokes” the plate, classically with 3 beeswax tapers, applying the flame to the plate to darken the ground and make it easier to see what parts of the plate are exposed. Smoking not only darkens the plate but adds a small amount of wax. Afterwards the artist uses a sharp tool to scratch into the ground, exposing the metal.
Aquatint uses acid-resistant resin to achieve tonal effects.
Particulate resin is evenly distributed on the plate using a special box. Resin is hazardous to health and it is important not to inhale.
The plate is then heated to form a screen ground of uniform, but less than perfect, density.
After etching, any exposed surface will result in a roughened (i.e., darkened) surface. Areas that are to be light in the final print are protected by varnishing between acid baths. Successive turns of varnishing and placing the plate in acid create areas of tone difficult or impossible to achieve by drawing through a wax ground.
This gives a more painterly line.
Designs in a syrupy solution of sugar or Camp Coffee are painted onto the metal surface prior to it being coated in a liquid etching ground or ‘stop out’ varnish. When later the plate is placed in hot water the sugar dissolves and lifts off leaving the image. The plate can then be etched.
Relief etching was invented by William Blake in about 1788, and he has been almost the only artist to use it in its original form. However, from 1880–1950 a photo-mechanical (“line-block”) variant was the dominant form of commercial printing for images. A similar process to etching, but printed as a relief print, so it is the “white” background areas which are exposed to the acid, and the areas to print “black” which are covered with ground. Blake’s exact technique remains controversial. He used the technique to print texts and images together, writing the text and drawing lines with an acid-resistant medium.
Invented in 2006 and yields an image like that of a charcoal drawing:
The plate is then completely submerged in a bath of acid technically called the mordant (French for “biting”) or etchant, or has acid washed over it. Ferric chloride may be used for etching copper or zinc plates, whereas nitric acid may be used for etching zinc or steel plates.
During the etching process the printmaker uses a bird feather or similar item to wave away bubbles and detritus produced by the dissolving process, from the surface of the plate, or the plate may be periodically lifted from the acid bath. If a bubble is allowed to remain on the plate then it will stop the acid biting into the plate where the bubble touches it. Zinc produces more bubbles much more rapidly than copper and steel and some artists use this to produce interesting round bubble-like circles within their prints for a Milky Way effect.
The detritus is powdery dissolved metal that fills the etched grooves and can also block the acid from biting evenly into the exposed plate surfaces. Another way to remove detritus from a plate is to place the plate to be etched face down within the acid upon plasticine balls or marbles, although the drawback of this technique is the exposure to bubbles and the inability to remove them readily.
For aquatinting a printmaker will often use a test strip of metal about a centimetre to three centimetres wide. The strip will be dipped into the acid for a specific number of minutes or seconds. The metal strip will then be removed and the acid washed off with water. Part of the strip will be covered in ground and then the strip is redipped into the acid and the process repeated. The ground will then be removed from the strip and the strip inked up and printed. This will show the printmaker the different degrees or depths of the etch, and therefore the strength of the ink color, based upon how long the plate is left in the acid.
A mixture of nitric acid and/or gum arabic and/or rosin and/or water (or almost never – saliva) is applied to certain areas of the plate with a brush, dripped, spattered or painted onto a metal surface giving interesting results. The plate may be aquatinted for this purpose or exposed directly to the acid.
Cleaning the plate
The plate is removed from the acid and washed over with water to remove the acid. The remaining ground is removed with a solvent such as turpentine. Turpentine is often removed from the plate using methylated spirits since turpentine is greasy and can affect the application of ink and the printing of the plate.
Foul-bite or “over-biting” is common in etching, and is the effect of minuscule amounts of acid leaking through the ground to create minor pitting and burning on the surface. This incidental roughening may be removed by smoothing and polishing the surface, but artists often leave faux-bite, or deliberately court it by handling the plate roughly, because it is viewed as a desirable mark of the process.
The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines.
A piece of matte board, a plastic “card”, or a wad of cloth is often used to push the ink into the incised lines.
The surface is wiped clean with a piece of stiff fabric known as tarlatan and then wiped with newsprint paper; some printmakers prefer to use the blade part of their hand or palm at the base of their thumb. You may also use a folded piece of organza silk to do the final wipe.
If copper or zinc plates are used, then the plate surface is left very clean and therefore white in the print. If steel plate is used, then the plate’s natural tooth gives the print a grey background similar to the effects of aquatinting. As a result, steel plates do not need aquatinting as gradual exposure of the plate via successive dips into acid will produce the same result.
Differential inking eg Rembrandt
The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together with a sheet of paper (often moistened to soften it).
The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print. The process can be repeated many times; typically several hundred impressions (copies) could be printed before the plate shows much sign of wear.
Printing the plate is done by covering the surface with printing ink, then rubbing the ink off the surface with tarlatan cloth or newsprint, leaving ink in the roughened areas and lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate, and both are run through a printing press; the pressure forces the paper into contact with the ink, transferring the image (c.f., chine-collé).
Growing concerns about the health effects of acids and solvents led to the development of less toxic etching methods in the late 20th century. An early innovation was the use of floor wax as a hard ground for coating the plate. Others, such as printmakers Mark Zaffron and Keith Howard, developed systems using acrylic polymers as a ground and ferric chloride for etching. The polymers are removed with sodium carbonate (washing soda) solution, rather than solvents. When used for etching, ferric chloride does not produce a corrosive gas, as acids do, thus eliminating another danger of traditional etching.
The traditional aquatint, which uses either powdered rosin or enamel spray paint, is replaced with an airbrush application of the acrylic polymer hard ground. Again, no solvents are needed beyond the soda ash solution, though a ventilation hood is needed due to acrylic particulates from the air brush spray.
The traditional soft ground, requiring solvents for removal from the plate, is replaced with water-based relief printing ink. The ink receives impressions like traditional soft ground, resists the ferric chloride etchant, yet can be cleaned up with warm water and either soda ash solution or ammonia.
Anodic etching has been used in industrial processes for over a century. The etching power is a source of direct current. The item to be etched (anode) is connected to its positive pole. A receiver plate (cathode) is connected to its negative pole. Both, spaced slightly apart, are immersed in a suitable aqueous solution of a suitable electrolyte. The current pushes the metal out from the anode into solution and deposits it as metal on the cathode. Shortly before 1990, two groups working independently developed different ways of applying it to creating intaglio printing plates.
In the patented Electroetch system, invented by Marion and Omri Behr, in contrast to certain nontoxic etching methods, an etched plate can be reworked as often as the artist desires.The system uses voltages below 2 volts which exposes the uneven metal crystals in the etched areas resulting in superior ink retention and printed image appearance of quality equivalent to traditional acid methods. With polarity reversed the low voltage provides a simpler method of making mezzotint plates as well as the “steel facing”copper plates.
Some of the earliest printmaking workshops experimenting with, developing and promoting nontoxic techniques include Grafisk Eksperimentarium, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Edinburgh Printmakers, in Scotland, and New Grounds Print Workshop, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Light sensitive polymer plates allow for photorealistic etchings. A photo-sensitive coating is applied to the plate by either the plate supplier or the artist. Light is projected onto the plate as a negative image to expose it. Photopolymer plates are either washed in hot water or under other chemicals according to the plate manufacturers’ instructions. Areas of the photo-etch image may be stopped-out before etching to exclude them from the final image on the plate, or removed or lightened by scraping and burnishing once the plate has been etched. Once the photo-etching process is complete, the plate can be worked further as a normal intaglio plate, using drypoint, further etching, engraving, etc. The final result is an intaglio plate which is printed like any other.
Etching by goldsmiths and other metal-workers in order to decorate metal items such as guns, armour, cups and plates has been known in Europe since the Middle Ages at least, and may go back to antiquity.
The process as applied to printmaking is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470–1536) of Augsburg, Germany.
The switch to copper plates was probably made in Italy, and thereafter etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular medium for artists in printmaking. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving where the difficult technique for using the burin requires special skill in metalworking, the basic technique for creating the image on the plate in etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing. On the other hand, the handling of the ground and acid need skill and experience, and are not without health and safety risks, as well as the risk of a ruined plate.
Jacques Callot (1592–1635) from Nancy in Lorraine (now part of France) made important technical advances in etching technique. He developed the échoppe, a type of etching-needle with a slanting oval section at the end, which enabled etchers to create a swelling line, as engravers were able to do.
Callot also appears to have been responsible for an improved, harder, recipe for the etching ground, using lute-makers’ varnish rather than a wax-based formula. This enabled lines to be more deeply bitten, prolonging the life of the plate in printing, and also greatly reducing the risk of “foul-biting”, where acid gets through the ground to the plate where it is not intended to, producing spots or blotches on the image. Previously the risk of foul-biting had always been at the back of an etcher’s mind, preventing too much time on a single plate that risked being ruined in the biting process. Now etchers could do the highly detailed work that was previously the monopoly of engravers, and Callot made full use of the new possibilities.
Callot also made more extensive and sophisticated use of multiple “stoppings-out” than previous etchers had done. This is the technique of letting the acid bite lightly over the whole plate, then stopping-out those parts of the work which the artist wishes to keep light in tone by covering them with ground before bathing the plate in acid again. He achieved unprecedented subtlety in effects of distance and light and shade by careful control of this process. Most of his prints were relatively small—up to about six inches or 15 cm on their longest dimension, but packed with detail.
One of his followers, the Parisian Abraham Bosse, spread Callot’s innovations all over Europe with the first published manual of etching, which was translated into Italian, Dutch, German and English.
The 17th century was the great age of etching:
Etching revival in the 19th and early 20th century
Le Sommeil c 1885 Courtesy of British Museum
Degas (1834-1917) took up monotype printing in 1874-75. Degas found monotype gave him greater freedom to improvise and be spontaneous than drawing on paper allowed. It was ideal for capturing secret and intimate scenes, such as women engaged in their toilet or in brothel scenes. He was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and was interested in the ways shapes and lines can be organised on paper to indicate figures in movement. From 1870s he started to have problems with his eyesight, so he was more sensitive to light/dark contrasts and created dramatic chiaroscuro effects.
He was introduced to the process by his friend the amateur etcher Vicomte Ludovic Napoléon Lepic (1839-1889). Lepic enjoyed experimenting tonal wiping (l’eau forte mobile or variable etching) to create many variations on a basic landscape composition. He used one etched plate and wiped off this plate, and also ‘retroussage’, a way of adding ink to previously wiped plates to produce much richer tones on the prints.
Degas adopted this ‘dark-field’ method. He covered the entire surface of the printing plate in oily, slow-drying ink and then removed it as necessary to create the image. He scratched and brushed it, wiped it with a rag and manipulated it with his fingers to create the composition, before fixing it by printing it onto paper. He worked and reworked his plates, wiping off and adding ink with rags, fingers and brushes. Later he began to draw on the plate with Indian ink, often diluting it with turpentine and working directly on the plate with a paintbrush.
Degas usually printed two impressions of each monotype subject, one strong, the other weak. He would keep untouched the first impressions (this is a first impression), but he would rework the second with pastel or gouache.
In his lifetime he produced more than 250 subjects and 400 separate impressions in monotype, far exceeding his etchings or lithographs. He used ghost prints as a basis for pastels. Between 1876-1881 nearly 70% of his works in colour were monoprints enhanced with pastel, sometimes drawing with them, sometimes wetting them for watercolour effects to give different moods, and to add and take away figures.
Degas Creative Commons site for paintings only.
website: http://www.hockneypictures.com – NB strict copyright
Hockney is particularly interested in the process of seeing.
Photoshop is Boring
Lost Secrets of the old masters
David Hockney, OM CH RA (born 9 July 1937) is an English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. Born with synesthesia, he sees synesthetic colours in response to musical stimuli. This does not show up in his painting or photography artwork, but is a common underlying principle in his designs for stage sets for ballet and opera—where he bases background colours and lighting on the colours he sees while listening to the piece’s music.
Hockney was born in Bradford, England, on 9 July 1937 to Laura and Kenneth Hockney (a conscientious objector in the Second World War), the fourth of five children. He was educated at Wellington Primary School, Bradford Grammar School. Between 1953 and 1957 he studied at Bradford School of Art, then the Royal College of Art in London, where he met R. B. Kitaj. While there, Hockney said he felt at home and took pride in his work.
At the Royal College of Art, Hockney featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries—alongside Peter Blake—that announced the arrival of British Pop art. He was associated with the movement, but his early works display expressionist elements, similar to some works by Francis Bacon. He often sought ways of reintegrating a personal subject-matter into his art. He began tentatively by copying fragments of poems on to his paintings, encouraging a close scrutiny of the surface and creating a specific identity for the painted marks through the alliance of word and image. These cryptic messages soon gave way to open declarations in a series of paintings produced in 1960–61 on the theme of homosexual love.
When the RCA said it would not let him graduate in 1962, Hockney drew the sketch The Diploma in protest. He had refused to write an essay required for the final examination, saying he should be assessed solely on his artworks. Recognising his talent and growing reputation, the RCA changed its regulations and awarded the diploma.
In June 2007, Hockney’s largest painting, Bigger Trees Near Warter, which measures 15 feet by 40 feet, was hung in the Royal Academy’s largest gallery in its annual Summer Exhibition. This work “is a monumental-scale view of a coppice in Hockney’s native Yorkshire, between Bridlington and York. It was painted on 50 individual canvases, mostly working in situ, over five weeks last winter.” In 2008, he donated it to the Tate Gallery in London, saying: “I thought if I’m going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good. It’s going to be here for a while. I don’t want to give things I’m not too proud of … I thought this was a good painting because it’s of England … it seems like a good thing to do.”
Hockney was commissioned to design the cover and pages for the December 1985 issue of the French edition of Vogue. Consistent with his interest in cubism and admiration for Pablo Picasso, Hockney chose to paint Celia Birtwell (who appears in several of his works) from different views, as if the eye had scanned her face diagonally.
Photographs do not see space. We see space. Without vanishing points
In the early 1980s, Hockney began to produce photo collages, which he called “joiners”, first using Polaroid prints and subsequently 35mm, commercially-processed color prints. Using Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject, Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. An early photomontage was of his mother. Because the photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, one of Hockney’s major aims—discussing the way human vision works. Some pieces are landscapes, such as Pearblossom Highway #2, others portraits, such as Kasmin 1982, and My Mother, Bolton Abbey, 1982.
Creation of the “joiners” occurred accidentally. He noticed in the late sixties that photographers were using cameras with wide-angle lenses. He did not like these photographs because they looked somewhat distorted. While working on a painting of a living room and terrace in Los Angeles, he took Polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. On looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative, as if the viewer moved through the room. He began to work more with photography after this discovery and stopped painting for a while to exclusively pursue this new technique. Frustrated with the limitations of photography and its ‘one eyed’ approach, however, he returned to painting.
In December 1985, Hockney used the Quantel Paintbox, a computer program that allowed the artist to sketch directly onto the screen. Using the program was similar to drawing on the PET film for prints, with which he had much experience. The resulting work was featured in a BBC series that profiled a number of artists.
Since 2009, Hockney has painted hundreds of portraits, still lifes and landscapes using the Brushes iPhone and iPad application, often sending them to his friends. His show Fleurs fraîches (Fresh flowers) was held at La Fondation Pierre Bergé in Paris. A Fresh-Flowers exhibit opened in 2011 at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, featuring more than 100 of his drawings on 25 iPads and 20 iPods. In late 2011, Hockney revisited California to paint Yosemite National Park on his iPad. For the season 2012–2013 in the Vienna State Opera he designed, on his iPad, a large scale picture (176 sqm) as part of the exhibition series Safety Curtain, conceived by museum in progress.
Hockney painted portraits at different periods in his career. From 1968, and for the next few years he painted friends, lovers, and relatives just under lifesize and in pictures that depicted good likenesses of his subjects. Hockney’s own presence is often implied, since the lines of perspective converge to suggest the artist’s point of view. Hockney has repeatedly returned to the same subjects – his parents, artist Mo McDermott (Mo McDermott, 1976), various writers he has known, fashion designers Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark (Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970–71), curator Henry Geldzahler, art dealer Nicholas Wilder, George Lawson and his ballet dancer lover, Wayne Sleep.
Hockney is openly gay, and unlike Andy Warhol, whom he befriended, he openly explored the nature of gay love in his portraiture. Sometimes, as in We Two Boys Together Clinging(1961), named after a poem by Walt Whitman, the works refer to his love for men. Already in 1963, he painted two men together in the painting Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, one showering while the other washes his back. In summer 1966, while teaching at UCLA he met Peter Schlesinger, an art student who posed for paintings and drawings.
David Hockney’s portraits in crayon, ink, water colour and paint show an amazing sensitivity in treatment and line.
In October 2006 National Portrait Gallery in London organized one of the largest ever displays of Hockney’s portraiture work, including 150 paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks, and photocollages from over five decades. The collection ranged from his earliest self-portraits to work he completed in 2005. Hockney assisted in displaying the works and the exhibition, which ran until January 2007, was one of the gallery’s most successful.
From 21 January 2012 to 9 April 2012, the Royal Academy presented A Bigger Picture, which included more than 150 works, many of which take entire walls in the gallery’s brightly lit rooms. The exhibition is dedicated to landscapes, especially trees and tree tunnels. Works include oil paintings and watercolours inspired by his native Yorkshire. Around 50 drawings were created on an iPad and printed on paper. Hockney said, in a 2012 interview, “It’s about big things. You can make paintings bigger. We’re also making photographs bigger, videos bigger, all to do with drawing.” The exhibition moved to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain from 15 May to 30 September, and from there to the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, between 27 October 2012 and 3 February 2013.
Video of exhibition
Hockney produced many lithographs and etchings – mostly of a mischievous nature or portraits.
‘Hockney, Printmaker’, curated by Richard Lloyd, International Head of Prints at Christie’s, was the first major exhibition to focus on Hockney’s prolific career as a printmaker. The exhibition ran from 5 February 2014 to 11 May 2014 at Dulwich Picture Gallery before going on tour to The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. It featured his series ‘The Rake’s Progress’ and ??.
Telegraph Review of Dulwich exhibition
Hockney moved to Los Angeles in 1964, returned to London in 1968, and from 1973 to 1975 lived in Paris. He moved to Los Angeles in 1978, at first renting the canyon house he lived in and later bought the property and expanded it to include his studio. He also owned a 1,643-square-foot beach house at 21039 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, which he sold in 1999 for around $1.5 million.