Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Etching 101!

One of my goals for the year was to learn a new printmaking technique, so I signed up for an Etching 101 class at The Ink Shop in Ithaca. The shop is fabulous and I wish it weren't fifty minutes away from my house or I would become a member (although 50 minutes isn't SO far, I guess). I took a class with Jenny Pope there a year and a half ago, and I that's were I developed my love of woodcuts. I was so excited to take another class-! It's always so inspiring to be around other people who love art and have a burning desire to make art; you almost get a high from it. I just love it.

There are so many types of etching- hard ground, soft ground, sugar ground, white ground, aquatint, etc etc- but in the first two classes I learned how to do soft-ground etching. This involves covering a copper plate with a soft ground liquid, carving a design through the ground, etching the plate with acid, then rolling it with ink and putting it through a printing press. That's the basics, but you also have little things you have to do like bevel the sides of the plate so it doesn't eat the press blankets, clean the plate with vinegar and salt, de-grease the plate with degreaser stuff, soak your paper in vats of water so it is soft, etc. Lots of steps and rather complicated. I kept my notebook close by and took notes (nerd-ish, I know).

I had a lot of grand ideas when I signed up for the class but told myself, "Jen, keep it simple. Do a little head study of a greyhound- no complicated landscapes or full-body dog portraits-!" Of course, my mind was percolating with ideas but I pounded out a drawing of Lucy -as simple as I could make it- and brought it to class. The photo above is my drawing with the new, shiny copper plates. Below is the etched copper plate on the left (after getting coated with ground, carved, spending a half-hour being "bit" in the acid tank, then inked and printed) with my finished etching proofs. Another unused plate is on the right.

Etching... okay... it is HARD. There are so many steps and so much can go wrong. I had "the perfect picture" in my head and my etching came out terrible. I was really disappointed with myself. I'm kind of embarrassed to post it but everything is always a learning experience, right? Here it is:

As you can see, Lucy is really faded... I didn't draw deep enough into the ground, so she came out faded and ghosty-looking. Everyone in class was really nice and made sweet comments about how it looks like a drawing by the Old Masters, but to me... all I can see is what I did wrong, and all the mistakes.
Ah well... two more classes, tomorrow and Thursday. Perhaps I will have better luck and my Lucy will come out a bit stronger and darker... we'll see I guess.


Amie Roman said...

I'm like you, Jen - I need instant success or I get despondent. Fear not: part of being a printmaker is developing not just the skills to do it right the first time, but to cleverly fix what didn't go right so that no one notices!

I think this is a great start to an excellent etching; anyone who does etching will be the first to tell you that you definitely don't have to expect the first proof to be perfection. Besides, it gives you great opportunity to explore all those other nifty techniques, too!

Keep posting - can't wait to see the next installment from your class.

Sarah said...

I am so happy you are taking another class...by the way, where I live people drive 50min. or more one way to work everyday...so it isn't that bad....plus it is Ithaca, you need more reasons to go there! :)
I think it looks great, pretty much 100 times better than anything I would have attempted! Don't be so hard on yourself,just remember you rock, I said so!

Jen said...

Amie- thanks! I hope to pick up my prints sometime this week (fingers crossed).

Sarah- I know, Ithaca isn't THAT far away and I need to take better advantage. I wish I could afford to live there but man... I've been looking and I can't even find a TRAILER for under $60,000. :oP