Etching is a printmaking process that dates back 500 years. The etching process involves sheets of metal, usually made of copper or zinc, and acid used to etch the print onto the metal. The artist can use complicated methods to create different effects, but always relies on acid to etch the plate. The more complicated the etching, the more time consuming.
To begin an etching, you must first coat a blank copper plate with wax. Using a steel etching needle, draw your intended picture through the wax and onto the metal. Once you have drawn your picture, the metal will be submerged into a bath of acid and left for about two hours. The acid will eat away at the copper that has been exposed by the needle to leave grooves, marks and textures in the metal.
The plate is then taken out of the acid bath and the wax is cleaned off. The result will be a shiny, copper plate with the image etched onto it. This can be repeated again and again by rewaxing the plate. By rewaxing, you can add layers or more complicated images onto the original drawing, and then put it back into the acid bath once you are happy with the image you have. The next stage of the etching process is to apply printing ink into the lines of the plate. Once the plate is wiped again with a stiff cloth, it will leave ink in the lines and grooves. The inked plate is then placed in a hand-printing press with two heavy rollers. Damp paper is placed on top of the plate and squeezed through the rollers using great pressure.
When the paper is carefully peeled off, the image will be printed onto it. You can always tell a genuine etching because the edges of the plate will leave an indentation on the paper. If you want to make another print, you simply put more ink onto the plate, wipe it off and then put it back through the rollers with another piece of paper. The end result is the simplest form of etching.
There are more complicated ways to create more intricate etchings by using a number of different plates and colours. There is also a process to add different tones to the etching that involves adding resin dust to the plate and heating it. The result looks like fine sandpaper, and you simply varnish the plate wherever you don’t want this texture. When you put it in the acid bath, the acid will eat away at the resin dust to give a texture that holds the ink. The longer you leave it in the acid, the darker the tones will be.