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Etching - Drawing On The Plate

[Etching]  [Dry-Point (pointe-seche)]  [Preparing The Plate For Acid]  [Drawing On The Plate]  [Biting The Plate]  [Reworking Ground]  [Soft Ground]  [Aquatint]  [Mezzotint]  [A First Experiment In Etching] 

( Originally Published 1917 )

Every line of the drawing should be made, bearing in mind the effect of the acid and printing. Different acids bring different results. The technique is entirely different from pen or pencil drawings -the fewer lines for a given effect the better. Lalanne's rule for drawing is: "The breadth of the space between lines should be in proportion to the depth of biting." That is, for shallow biting keep the lines close together, and for deep biting wide apart. This rule allows for the action of the acid which bites sidewise as well as down. Etching is an interpretation of nature, and no attempt should be made to conceal the line which is the most vital fact of this medium.

The needle should be held as near upright as possible to get the best results. At first you will get the lines in the distance too far apart, because they will look closer than they really are on account of the shining of the copper on the black ground. Using a reading glass or placing a piece of tracing paper over the plate will show you the real state of the lines. Draw with evenness of pressure all over and with enough firmness to expose the copper. The temptation is strong to press lightly in the fainter parts. The copper may be exposed so that it shines through and yet enough of the ground will be left to prevent the acid from biting. To put on extra pressure in a place where deep biting is required will assist the result, but in general it is best to leave the values to the acid. Do not cross the lines at too acute an angle or you will find the acid has made a hole at the intersection. The more surface exposed in a given area the faster the nitric will bite. This should be considered in the stopping out or you will find some parts too deeply bitten.

A soft-haired brush should be used to brush off the particles of ground which come up from the needle. Temperature affects the work of the needle as cold hardens the ground. A single needle may be used or a number of different sizes, employing the finer for the distance. When drawing indoors place a screen of tracing paper stretched over a wooden frame at an angle of q.s in front of the window, and draw in the light which filters through. This makes the lines of gold on the black ground very plain. At night a light can be placed back of the screen.


Transfer Paper.-First a piece of black or red transfer paper is cut the size of the plate. Over this is stretched a tracing of the subject, face down if it is desirable that the print come as it is in nature. In any case all lettering must be done in the reverse or it will be wrong in the print. After the tracing is stretched in place and you have made sure that the vertical and horizontal lines correspond to the sides of the plate, you draw over the tracing with a hard pencil or blunt etching needle. In working out-of-doors, it is difficult to start directly on the plate without preliminary outlines. There are two ways of overcoming this. One is to place a transfer paper over the plate and stretch drawing or tracing paper over this. Make your outline drawing on this paper. Another method is to outline your subject on the ground with a small brush dipped in Chinese White.

The Gelatine Method is as follows: Scratch the outline drawing with the etching needle on a sheet of gelatine. Fill scratches with black lead. Put on plate face down and rub back of gelatine with burnisher.

Transferring through press.-Draw on tracing paper using a sharp B pencil. Dampen the paper by laying between moist blotters. Place on plate, pencil side down, and run through the press, first reducing the pressure. In working direct from nature if you sit with your back to the subject and draw what you see in a mirror, the result will be right in the print.

There is a question among etchers as to the importance of reversing. With Whistler the subject, as such, was secondary, and therefore he did not consider it at all necessary to bother about reversing his drawing on the plate. He was not producing illustrations of places, but works of art. Others care so little for this that they even letter correctly on the plate, thus allowing the lettering to come reversed in the print. A familiar building, such as Notre Dame in Paris, certainly looks odd when printed in reverse.

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