Archives for category: Etching

Mixed media on collaged paper patchwork 46cm x 46cm

Knowingly Ironic Nostalgic Dresser


An afternoon away from the hurly burly of school and being head of year eight. Relatively peaceful. I worked on two plates. One the still life that I printed last week of the Day of the Dead classroom and other bits and pieces. I put another layer of ground on it to rework it further. I also dipped the self portrait print that I had worked on in the classroom when the pupils had been working on their self portraits in their sketchbooks.

I had this brilliant idea to use up a lot of paint and the large card that is under a table at the back of the art room. We were all going to do a self portrait project based on Gormley and Quinn and drawing round ourselves and so on. The idea was that the outline was drawn directly from the body rather than being a depiction in the way that Gormley’s things are directly from him. That was my link anyway in formulating the idea. I thought of Klein and death masks and all sorts as I developed the idea. The first groups on Monday were under enthusiastic though and I gave up the presentation after the yawning and gazing out of the window got on my nerves and we drew a self portrait in our books instead. On Tuesday and Wednesday the groups were more positive and they quite enjoyed themselves with the large scale work and the message will have got round to the Monday groups, probably. Anyway, when the first groups were working in their sketchbooks I modelled concentration and observation and drew out a self portrait on a plate I had ready in the cupboard.

In the workshop I dipped it for a relatively restrained 50 minutes and printed from that. The result is OK – sketchy and relatively under worked compared to most of them. I intend to leave it at that and move on to another one.

Self portrait etching drawn from life Monday 4th October in school.

Looking through the sketchbook I can see that the Whiteread show has had an effect. I was varnishing some collagraphs and ended up varnishing some pages in the book and using scraps of spoilt paper as collage. I found some isometric paper on the desk and started using it to draw on as does Whiteread. I drew some improbable structures in idle moments, enjoying the puzzle like way they come together if you can keep using the isometric framework logically. I could see that the drawings might appeal to the sort of kid who is interested in drawing a s technical thing. I can remember being fascinated by the wonder of perspective and spending hours drawing street scenes and girders coming towards me and rockets going away from me and all that. I was always interested in the minutiae of learning to draw and illusionism is part of being ‘good at drawing’. When you are a kid is it much more? There is a sub-section of ‘being good at cartoons’ I guess. As I drew these improbable forms I realised they looked a lot like the drawings I did some years ago as part of a project based on plugs. All these things looping around and coming back to earlier ideas and connecting to the work of other artists and to learning to draw. I can see these insignificant drawings having these connections to learning to draw, inspired by Whiteread to pick up this isometric paper, linking back to an earlier body of work about plugs which I did with pupils and in my own work, and these link to Whiteread’s switch drawings which I had been unaware of. Complicated. And easily forgotten.
And in a couple of weeks I will have moved on to another mild obsession and these pages stained with the influence of Whiteread will be forgotten. It seems difficult to concentrate on anything for any length of time. This seems to be a feature of the work and the research. I have always been a bit like that any way. Discursive would be kind. Easily distracted more like it. This has helped me be a decent art teacher as my interests and influences are quite wide and I am technically versatile. But the downside is that my work flits about from one idea to another. This isn’t helped by the way it is produced within and around a timetable of hours, fitted into broken up days. We don’t let the kids get really focussed on something for a day or two and we don’t allow ourselves to either as we live these oddly fragmented days. I am beginning to realise that the project is an in depth look at work produced in fragments and I am beginning to see that the work can be left as fragments, left as unfinished ideas or partly done. The big self portrait painting I did as part of the Clemente week hasn’t been touched now for a fortnight or so. The last thing I did was put a bit of shellac into an eye. I don’t think it is going to get any further than it is and I think that is OK. It is what it is. I think that if I go over it or work on it more then I will be working on it with a feeling and interest which has moved on to something else.

An afternoon spent in the print workshop devoted to the study and meaning of the edges of etchings.

I mainly like etchings, as much as I like them at all, because they are the remnant of a natural process of acid acting on metal, resisted by some sort of ground. If one wants to get all alchemical about it all then it is possible to be with all the talk of Dutch mordant and tree resin and bitumen and so on. I don’t find that particularly attractive myself, mainly due to the health threatening nature of many of the ingredients. However, the interest lies on the making of an image through the control of a natural chemical process of acids acting on metals. For me the nature of this process needs to be seen in the image so for me the edges of the plate are left as they are after the dipping and biting. This leaves them with a nice raggedy edge. I file them down before I start the process so I don’t cut myself on the metal but once it comes out of the acid I leave them as they are. I wipe them off when I print but the prints end up with a bit of a rough frame of ink from this bitten edge. This partly arises because of the way we back the plates with parcel tape rather than painting on a backing and using an edging paint to protect the edge which we could do. Apparently the real way to finish an etching is to ground down the edge to a 45 degree angle and then polish it with 600 grade wet and dry paper.

Nobody has looked at my beautifully framed etchings and said OMG, look at the edges on that and, as I say, I have reasons for leaving them. What I don’t like about etching is that some of it is about an etiquette of making and selling prints and less about the process as a way of making an art work. I enjoy the Chapman brothers playful attitude to the making of etchings using this fairly quaint process because it is a quaint process. I realised, however that, if I am to be able to say that I have learnt to etch then I need to be able to have the choice of making a well groomed print so I asked Ernst to show me how.

The filing and sanding is tedious but my first prints were disappointingly similar to my previous efforts. I had only done half of the process it would appear and Ernst showed me how to wipe off the edges properly and use the French chalk to seal the edge. This resulted in a more conventional and acceptable result though, to my eye, not necessarily better.

I know it drives Ernst up the pole that I don’t really want to be a fine printer and seem happy to bumble about at a level of relative lack of refinement. I seem happiest for the prints to be a form of drawing more than anything else and I am interested in them at that level. In some ways though, the prints have become less of an expanded form than my work before. I used to be happiest mono-printing  and using that sort of mark making in paintings and with other media. Now these prints have shrunk to tiny eight by ten inch squares of intense combat with the process.

Well, I can do an edge properly now anyway. Whether I will or not I am not sure.


My usual edge showing the acid bitten inked edge of the plate.


The edge of the plate after clipping, filing down and then sanding. Edge wiped with a cloth and French chalk to seal the edge.

Botanical etching with obscuring layer of cross hatching.

Botanical etching with obscuring layer of cross hatching.

I spent Friday morning in the print workshop and pretty much wrecked the prints with an unnecessary layer of mark making on both. I wasn’t a very happy bunny by the end of it. The plate with the four botanical images on had a pentimenti on the flower head which was getting on my nerves. I should have blocked it out but I didn’t and it was a bit too much; not a very stylish bit of pentimenti. I wanted to tone it down and the writing too so I put on a layer of crosshatching which just mucked it up entirely- you can’t see the rather wonderful backward writing anymore and you can still see the pentimenti so that was a disaster.

I quite like the idea and the idea has evolved in the etching so I might rework it from scratch and without the cross hatching and with more coherent words.

The other print worked to a degree. I reworked the flower head and left it in the acid for a long time and that emphasised the image and obscured some of the writing more. The flower head is inverted, Baselitz style. It isn’t great though.

So, I have to ask myself how much this has been a worthwhile exercise. I have developed these two ideas through the process of etching. The layering of the mark making comes out of the process of putting a ground on, marking, printing, regrounding the plate and making more marks. I haven’t entirely controlled the process as well as I have with the  straighter drawing ones which I much prefer. I could prepare them more with Photoshop and so on, prepare the writing and so on. Though that works against the process leading to the idea. I could redo them as paintings or watercolours or monotypes.

The writing on the images is trying to get the voice of the artist, researcher and teacher into the work. And the idea of the images is to make work that directly relates to the (current) research question. These are supposed to be demonstrations, learning pieces. I am trying to learn about something so that I could teach it.

Some things have come out of these two pieces – the layering and the use of text. They could be laser cut prints like the cards I made. How the laser cutter would deal with a layered image might be interesting.

Second botanical plant image. Layers of abstract image made with Lascaux acrylic ground painted on and then car paint aqua tint with Dom. Further layers of writing and drawing through traditional grounds at NUCA.

What I tend to want to do is to be able to use a process so that I can improvise with it and have the process lead to ideas. I get frustrated if I can’t get the process to do that and if I feel that the process is dictating to me. I find the etching process quite awkward in itself which is interesting. It is slow and cumbersome and some of the etiquette is quite annoying.

Over the weekend I went over the Intaglio book and thought about what I was doing wrong. I also looked at the Edinburgh Printmakers website which has a nice easy guide to ‘safe’ printmaking, or at least safer.  The attraction is that this water based set of processes both makes etching much simpler as it just becomes about grounds and stopping out and also opens it out into something much more complex as the range of things you can use as grounds and stops is broadened out considerably.

One of the reasons why this has been quite difficult for me, I think, is because, as an art teacher, I have tended to learn new processes in a relatively simple, classroom friendly form. We can’t do a lot of welding but I can knock you up and nice Anthony Caro in heavy card board with a low melt glue gun. With etching I have learnt it in a fully professional workshop with all the facilities and safety gear and I have to re-invent it for doing it in the shed or classroom once all this is over. If it is to remain part of my practice anyway. Being able to make this sort of work in the shed would be different anyway. Having the process in your possession is different to driving twenty five miles to the art college, over caffinating myself in the many cafes near the art college and then driving home again. Talking to David and working with Dom this summer has made me think differently about it and I am looking for a way to take more control over the process.

I also started a large acrylic image based on the ideas developed in the etchings yesterday. I prepared a surface with a blue similar to the Lascaux ground that I used on the plates and painted on the Penck like image that I had thrown on to the copper plate at the summer school as a first layer. Today I have started to put the words on in similar blues.

Abstract layer based on the layer of mark making on the etching plate started at the summer school.

Do I want the writing to be legible? Or do I want it to be semi-legible? Or not at all legible? Just a sign of writing being there as a visual thing? What is the point of writing being there if it isn’t legible? A sort of mumbling.

The idea is that the thing will look like a page of notes from a learning journal in some way.

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Back in the etching studio again. Very quiet and peaceful and an entire art college printing studio to myself. Can’t be bad. Two plates on the go today. I worked on them last Thursday in here and I am trying to finish them off today. The two prints are left over from the summer school. Both are plates that Dom gave me, one a squareish one and the other more of a vertical rectangle. On both I have put on traditional resin grounds and worked through these again. One has been done twice and the rectangle is on it’s third ground, this last time with a motif from the old botany books that I have been using. These should be the last dip and they will be done. I have experimented with writing on the plates. One has lots of little, pretty obscure messages on from the summer school, Grayson Perry style with logos and so on and the other one has handwriting on. I also want to do something like ‘Another nice etching’ by the Chapmans. We’ll see how that turns out.

Last week I had another go on the laser cutter and this time much more successfully. I had trimmed down the image in Illustrator so that it was simpler and we reduced the size of the result by about 25% so that 24 fitted on the A1 card. The result took just over two minutes to do for each card and so the whole sheet only took 45 minutes or so. This meant that the individual card had less invested in it, as it were, so I am more likely to post them on, which was the intention – a postal art piece. I think this is the way to go; using the machine to make a ‘print’ type object rather than a plate. There is some exploring of the raster idea and the possibility of making a lino cut with the machine which I should explore further next year. The way the machine etches type is impressive and a lot easier that my trying to write backwards on an etching plate. There are photo etching options I could no doubt try out.

I gave David Page one of the tiles yesterday and he was intrigued by the effect. We discussed his adventures with liquid grounds and copper plates. He had made a very fine little ‘hunter in the snow’ etching on a tiny and very ancient press. This NUCA print studio is so well equipped for traditional techniques that the idea of doing etching in the shed takes a bit of thinking about.

David Page in his studio


Having survived the Belstead MA summer schools I have a complicated and probably over ambitious day in the NUCA print workshop planned. I have two plates to work on. One of them is the plate I made with Dom Theobald last week during Innovative Printmaking. We used a Lascaux water based etching ground which I used to paint on an image and then we dipped it in ferric before Dom gave it a couple of goes with the car paint aqua tint method. The result was OK but only a rather vague image. My intention has been to clean the plate and reground it traditionally to work over it again with some writing. Then finish off with another image drawn from the week in another layer. So far though it has taken most of the morning to get the blue stuff off the back of the plate as I have had to go and buy some Cif and a scourer to do it. I am about to reground it. The other plate is in the acid. This one has a thin layer of the blue stuff on and I have scratched an image through it based on the botanical images I found in the old books in the library room I was working in for part of the week. I am giving that a very deep bite to see what it does and will then probably reground it. The works is based on the learning journal work that I did at the summer school. This is finishing off the project really. This afternoon I am with David and the laser cutter to try to make a multiple where the object that comes out is the print – a probject, prinject or objint perhaps?

9.25 pm

A reasonably successful day. The laser prints more or less went to plan bar some fiddling about to make the thing only engrave the lines once rather than twice. The results are fine and pleasingly uniform. I ended up with ten and a couple of trials so an edition of ten. I did intend to post them out but they look a bit good for that and have taken more time than I thought. Back with a slightly simplified effort on Thursday to have another go at ‘printing’ another ten of Belstead Variation II. The etching plates I worked on between the laser cutting moved on. The one on the plate with the thin layer of acrylic ground etched quite well though it was difficult to get the ground off. It took half a bottle of Cif to do it. There must be a better way. The other plate I worked at lunchtime (to the bemusement of my bench mate) and redipped for an hour or so. I also printed the large plate with the shoes on but failed to get a successful print at all. Either over rubbed the aquatint or under rubbed, couldn’t get it right.

Had an interesting conversation with Sonya about the laser cutter. She was disappointed with the speed and power of the thing which restricts the usability of it and she pointed out that it had been bought mainly for textiles to flatten the nap of velvet more than anything else, which it is good at.

In the print workshop for the afternoon once more. Craft learnt in a month of Thursdays. Two plates on the go, the big one with shoes on it, which is supposed to be an ironic reference to an art room standby, and a smaller one, 8×10 inches, of small art objects in a Morandiesque still life. The large one has been aquatinted by Ernst and I am going to dip it in a minute and the smaller one is in the acid for a nice long steep.

I have dipped the small one twice and managed to pull a proof. It looks OK. Big scratch across it which I hadn’t noticed during the drawing phase. I don’t invite these but it goes with the plates being seconds and in being carried back and forth in a bag, sometimes on a bike. The damage reminds me of tin types and other photographic damage. There is a photographic link to the etchings. The size is a photo half plate for one.

Things went well until I managed to get a blob of ink on the blanket of the big press. a cardinal sin in the print workshop so my name’s mud at the moment. Easy done, blob on the apron, lean on the roller to put the blankets on the print and then transfer it to blanket. Bugger. Sorry Ernst.

Still life in a Morandiesque manner. Small art objects from a shelf.