Yesterday I etched and printed my first plate at home! In school we used nitric acid to etch copper but since I don’t have proper ventilation for the dangerous nitric, I chose to use a non-fumey ferric chloride to etch with. Ferric chloride is not an acid, but a corrosive salt!
It still says "Danger" though!
Nitric acid would easily etch a plate in just a few minutes. The ferric chloride took a full TWO HOURS to properly bite the plate. It may go quicker next time, I read that ferric chloride has to be “broken in”.
Gloves are good
I am just using a glass 13×9 baking dish for my etching tray. I may upgrade to something larger in the future.
Removing the ground with paint thinner
I am hoping to eventually add an aquatint to the background of this piece but I am still waiting for my lump rosin to come in the mail, and I haven’t purchased an electric griddle to heat the plate. I am happy with how it is turning out so far, though!
The new plate is ready to etch! She is a Dryad with Dogwood blossoms. The piece is untitled so far.
My printmaking studio is 75% completed. I did more test prints this weekend on plates I etched in college.
Inking a plate
I’m still experimenting with pressure settings on my press, how much burnt plate oil to mix with my inks, and getting used to using tarlatan fabric to wipe plates again.
Inked plate after wiping
I’ve brightened up my basement studio space with some posters of famous etchings by Albrecht Durer and Francisco Goya for inspiration.
I still need to obtain an electric griddle to heat my plates on so I can try using a soft or hard ball ground for etching. I’m using liquid ground for right now. I also need some sort of large flat glass container to etch in! Other than that I’ve got basically everything I need to start out with.
Inked plate on press is ready to go
I titled this long skinny Celtic piece “Finders Keepers” because I found this copper plate in a drawer at the printmaking studio I used in college, and since no one claimed it I was allowed to keep it and use it for etching. It was so exciting! Copper is pretty expensive for a poor college student!
I thought this copy of Finders Keepers turned out very well with the new press.
Last but not least- I printed Alchemy again in blue. I was able to thin the ink this time with the burnt plate oil, so the faint aquatint which was not apparent the first time I printed it came through much better this time.
Alchemy in blue
Hopefully I will be ready to etch my NEW plate this weekend!
I’ve had a couple of questions in the comments, so I thought I would address them where everyone could see!
About the press-
The press I have is the Blick Econo Etch Model II. It has a maximum print size of 9.5″x18″. I’ve read good reviews of it on other printmaking blogs, and it comes with a 2 year warranty. At first I was worried it would be a bit too little, but since I mainly intend to do smallish intaglios, I’m sure it will suit me nicely.
All of my other etching supplies have come from Daniel Smith Artist Materials out of Seattle at the recommendation of my old Printmaking professor. The inks I ordered from them are actually made in Seattle! I intend to source my copper plates from a local sheet metal dealer, but for right now I am working with a couple of leftover blank plates from when I was still in school. As far as etching itself goes, I’m going to use Ferric Chloride instead of the Nitric Acid we used in school. It takes longer to bite the plate but doesn’t require a vent hood to remove dangerous fumes. No fumes, hurray!
About my block printing-
I don’t actually carve traditional linoleum blocks anymore. The material I’ve been using is called different things wherever you buy it, but it is very soft and easy to work with! The only drawback is it is also very fragile. I’ve mistakenly damaged my blocks with my fingernails before. My process for printing these blocks is to roll out some water based block printing ink (or in some cases paint the block with the ink). Then I carefully press a dry piece of paper on top of the ink, and very carefully rub the paper into the block with my fingertips. This takes some practice but works fine with even the cheaper papers. (No Arches or Rives necessary.)
Random side note-
I know there are probably lots of other artists in the same boat I was- dying to make prints again but no access to equipment! It will probably never happen but I would LOVE to start a group like the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative in my area. We could have printmaking classes and workshops, access to studio space and a university quality press for local artists, and even a gallery to hang our own printmaking art shows and sell our work! Anyway it is a pipe dream, but wouldn’t it be nice?!
This weekend I finally tested my new press! To be honest, I was pretty nervous. I haven’t done this in a LONG time and have never used this type of press before.
Cats like to "help" with printmaking
I started with a 5″x7″ plate I etched in college.
Inking the plate
Inking the plate was exciting!
I couldn’t believe it! It worked on the very first try! I had no idea where to set the pressure on the roller. It may have been too tight. My plate didn’t warp but the edges of the plate bit the paper pretty deep. I might be able to back off slightly oh the pressure next time.
I guess it is appropriate that the very first plate I printed with my new press was about Alchemy. I always thought the printmaking process resembled Alchemy…the artist like an Alchemist- seeking to transmute the acid, paper, inks, and all the chemicals into something more than the sum of their parts. There is a mythology and almost spiritual aspect to being a Printmaker.
For me, the process of creating any new print starts with a sketch. This apple tree print started with a sketch, which I then had to modify to fit the exact size of the block I had. Most of the time I start with an outline of the dimensions of the block already laid out for me.
Sketching is fun! I don’t really enjoy the carving part. For one thing there is no way to correct any mistakes you make. The only thing you can do is try to work them into the design.
Finally getting to print the block once it is carved is fun, too. Experimenting with different color combinations is one of the joys of printmaking.
I am particularly fond of how this one turned out.
It became clear pretty early on when I was studying for my art degree that if I wanted to make a living doing art I would either have to teach or learn computer programs and become a graphic artist. I started out as a studio art major, taking classes like drawing, painting, an printmaking. Once I decided I didn’t want to teach, I started taking classes in computer graphics, but continued to take a few studio classes here and there when my schedule allowed it. I ended up declaring an Illustration emphasis on my art degree, and was lucky enough to secure a job as a Graphic Artist pretty quickly after graduation. Like most recent college graduates, the next few years of my life were dedicated to building a life for myself. I worked and generally enjoyed not being in school anymore. About 5 years after graduation I decided I really missed printmaking. Unfortunately most printmaking techniques require a lot of special equipment. The printmaking studio at the university I attended was very well equipped. I definitely took it for granted while I was in college! I was never very fond of the process of making linoleum block prints, but they are one of the few printmaking processes that do not require a printmaking press, so I decided to try my hand at them just to get back into printmaking in whatever form possible.
Linoleum block printing is very much like wood block printing. It is a type of relief print, which means when you carve away at the block, the protruding surface leftover is what actually gets printed. The same is true of a rubber stamp.
I started printing my blocks onto blank greeting cards. They also work well in small frames.
Block print greeting cards are for sale in my Etsy store!