I have been learning the art of etching (a very traditional way of printmaking) over the past several years and am coming to find my way, slowly. I write about the technique here because it is one of those art forms which I will probably always be drawn to. I love small etchings, in little frames with lovely inked areas of color and delicate lines. Most of the famous artists whose work I love to look at have found their way to etching. Richard Diebenkorn, one of my favorites, made many beautiful etchings, many of them at Crown Point Press, a legendary printmaking studio in San Francisco. I will likely not become an etching expert (an "etch-pert?) because there are lots of other forms of printmaking that I prefer--monotype, collograph, and relief printing. Less process, more spontaneity. But I am enamored with the etching results and find I am really enjoying the review class/open work session I am enrolled in right now at my local art center.
Etching is, in it's most commonly known form, a copper or other metal plate that has been incised with a drawing or ink painting, using line and built up tonal areas using crosshatching, oil paint, or even photos burned into the copper. The plate is then dipped into an acid bath(and later dipped again for darker tones) as the acid bites away at the copper( the word "etching" means "to eat" in Dutch) , leaving a series of deep grooves and carved away areas. Later, these "bitten" marks will hold ink and appear as a positive image when printed on paper using a printing press. The areas that are to remain untouched by ink are protected with a material that is acid resistant. This material is called "ground" and can be made of asphalt, rosin (from the sap of a tree) or wax among other substances. There are many steps to etching and one must be mindful of the amount of time the plate is left in the acid bath, the way one rubs ink on the plate before printing, and the order and time one leaves the plate in subsequent acid bath dips to make darker areas.
After my first class in this process I swore I would never do etching again. It was complicated and I couldn't understand my own notes scrawled in my notebook. Even now after a couple more classes I consistently forget the order of things, and which liquids are used to take off ground and clean plates. It's not an intuitive process for me but I am drawn to it anyway! I have made a few little pieces I like and see improvement in my process and technical abilities. I think as an artist one of the most pleasurable things is to learn how things are made, the Magical Secrets of the story behind the works of art we know and love. Then, even if that technique or medium doesn't become our favored medium, we have gained a deeper knowledge about the work we enjoy. Maybe later we'll become the "etch-pert"....ya never know!