Blog: ARTY FACTS | Printmaking Part I

Printmaking Part I - Etching

We are starting a new weekly blog 'Arty Facts' that gives insight and further information about the techniques and processes that our gallery artists use to create their work. We will also look at different art movements and artists over time who have influenced the work of the contemporary artists who exhibit at the gallery.

We begin with printmaking. We have a number of artist collections in the gallery that are made up of limited edition prints, however the processes used are varied; we want to explain the different ways in which the artwork is transferred (printed) to the paper or canvas.


Line Etching

Etching is a printing method where ink-receptive indentations are produced chemically. A polished copper or zinc plate is covered by an acid-resistant layer (such as wax or asphalt paint). The artist then draws or scores the etch resistant layer with an etching needle to create the picture/design. The plate is then put into the etching bath where acid soaks into the lines and bites into the plate - etching times and strength of acid influence the depth of the line indentations.

The plate is cleaned and then inked - the ink will settle into the lines. Next, the ink is cleaned from the rest of the plate (the ink remaining in the indentations) and the artist then presses a moistened sheet of paper onto the plate - the print is created. 

Jutta Votteler Aquatint Coloured Etching (using 3 copper-plates)


Aquatint is a variant of etching which produces multiple areas of tone ranging from black to white. Used in conjunction with line etching, it has been used both historically and currently to print in tones of one colour or in tones of different colours where multiple plates are used for each colour. It usually results in a granular appearance and has a visual similarity to watercolour.

After applying the acid-resist to areas to be kept white, rather than a needle being used (which would create the line), powdered rosin (granular resin) is applied instead which will create the tone. The rosin is adhered to the plate through controlled heating (where the grains are will remain white and the areas around will print black).The tonal variation is controlled by the level of exposure in the acid-bath over large areas.

It is a staged process, where further areas of the plate will be blocked off with the acid-resistant layer, the resin applied, then dipped into the acid bath for a particular amount of time. 


Salute con paline  Bernhard Vogel, Aquatint etching



This was the first tonal technique to be used in the 1600's and is similar to aquatint. The difference is that the tone is achieved through roughening the metal plate with a tool called a 'rocker' which creates very tiny dots in the surface. The plate is inked, then when the plate is wiped clean, the ink remains in the tiny pits of the plate ready for printing onto the paper.

The metal plate can then be smoothed and polished to create areas that will hold less ink and therefore enable lighter tonal areas to be printed.


Chart #9  Louisa Boyd, 2 plate copper etching         

As you can see, etching is one of the traditional printmaking processes that takes time, planning and practise to develop the technical skill required.

We have three artists from the gallery who create art with different mediums and processes which include etching works:

Jutta Votteler - view collection
Louisa Boyd - view collection
Bernhard Vogel - view collection

Please take a look at the clips below which show artist Louisa Boyd describing with visuals, the different stages of the etching process.



 More printmaking techniques next week!



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