Anne Gournay: Etching

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Posted 12th November 2018

Anne Gournay: Etching

Making the Lepidoptera series

Etching is one of the oldest and most traditional methods of producing prints. As the name suggests, the image is formed by using the chemical reaction of acids on copper or zinc to erode the surface of the plate. A simple example is the age old technique of hard ground, which involves covering the whole surface of the plate with a waxy, bituminous layer that resists the acid. The artist will then draw into the ground using a special needle, thus exposing the copper beneath.

When the plate is then submerged in a bath of acid, the acid will bite into the copper where it has been exposed and create the furrow which will hold the ink.

The copper or zinc plate is covered with a very thin layer of wax, which becomes hard after cooling down (it is called a hard ground). The artist draws on the wax with a needle, then dips the plate into acid, and the lines are etched into the plate. The hard ground is then removed, and the plate is ready to be aquatinted to create tones.

To aquatint the plate, a very thin layer of resin dust is sprinkled evenly onto the plate, then melted. This creates dots of hard resin. A varnish is then applied to areas which need to be protected from the acid; these areas will remain white. The artist works progressively, creating different areas and protecting some from the acid with varnish to create various depths of etching, hence various tones. The longer the plate is etched in the acid, the darker the tone. Careful planning is required.

In the print studio

The plate is inked up. It holds the ink differently depending on the depth of the etching.

Going through the press

The white paper (Fabriano) has been soaked. It is removed from the water and is prepared to have the right 'dampness'. Glue has been sprayed at the back of the Chiyogami paper. The plate is put on the press, the Chiyogami paper is carefully placed on top of the plate, then the Fabriano paper.

The press is rolled. With the pressure, the ink transfers from the press onto the damp paper, and the Chiyogami paper is stuck in the right place at the same time. This is called a 'chine-collé'.

The Chiyogami etchings

Each butterfly is individually cut out, printed and dried. They will all be mounted and arranged together according to their shape, pattern and colour.

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