FOCUS ON ETCHINGS
About etchings...
The etchings presented on this page are aqua-fortes, part of the large family of etchings and engravings. Their particularity comes from the use of acid to etch the plate, and the name is a remnant of the early engravers who called their acid aqua-fortes (or eau-forte). Amongst the first engravers, one immediately thinks of Durer, Rembrandt and the like who, back in the XVIIth century figured amongst the world's first printers.

Whilst rapidly superseded as a printing process, etchings have retained their artistic interest, and the methods described here remain practically unchanged since Durer's days.

Etchings are commonly done on copper plates, though aluminum, iron, plexiglass and many other supports are possible, each giving different results. It is the hollowed out portions of the plate which do the printing, so the first stage is to eat into the plate...


Step 1
I cover the copper plate with a dark varnish; this varnish protects the copper from the action of the acid.


Step 2
With a needle, I draw into the varnish, removing it as I go, and so exposing the copper underneath. NB. The finished drawing will be printed as a mirror image on the paper ! Also, I do not scratch into the copper...just take off the varnish.


Step 3
The drawing finished, the plate goes into an acid bath. The acid eats into the copper where I have removed the varnish. The length of time in the acid, and also it's temperature regulate the extent of the etching process. These procedures of varnishing, drawing and acid can be repeated several times to generate the final image. The varnish removed, the plate is etched.


Step 4
Inking is done with fingers. The plate is completely covered, then a long wiping process takes off the surplus. The idea is to remove all ink from the surface, leaving the ink in the etched grooves !


Step 5
Specially absorbent paper is humidified, then placed over the inked plate, and it's off to the press !


Step 6
The quality of the print depends on many factors: the quality of the original drawing naturally, but also the inking, the wiping, the pressure of the press, the temperature, the humidity and the degree of deterioration of the plate (copper is not a hard metal, and the etched grooves are squashed out a little with the considerable pressure of the press. This is why the first prints are often the clearest – and most sought after !)


Step 7
The number of prints is limited, each one is numbered, and at the end of the print run the plate is destroyed (here, a few gouges in the copper render the plate unusable)



A little trivia...
We often associate etchings and engravings with the colour sepia, thinking perhaps that they used to print like that in the old days. In fact, Rembrandt and his peers only had black ink...but often of poor quality. Over the centuries the black fades to sepia. Today's inks are much more stable, so I buy sepia in a tube to save time.


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