How I Create My Etchings

My work begins outdoors as I search for a location that strikes an emotional response in me.

I may find it nearby in a place I see often or far away at the end of a journey.


Returning to my studio with sketches, I degrease and brush an acid-resistant ground onto a zinc plate. I then apply conte chalk to the back of my sketch, place it on the grounded plate and redraw, thereby transferring the sketch to the plate. Using a needle to draw through the ground, I add an abundance of details.

  I submerge the plate in a tray of nitric acid heated to 80 degrees Farenheit for 20-30 minutes to bite the image into the plate. I then draw finer details and etch again for 10-15 minutes. To proof the plate, I remove the ground, cover it with black etching ink and place it on my etching press with damp rag paper and etching blankets on top. I then hand-crank it through the press. This proof functions as a guide to the painting process of the aquatint technique and as the structure of the final work.

To do the aquatint, I grind the gum crystals into a very fine powder and place in a piece of cotton cloth. I then hit the cloth bundle, releasing a cloud of powder into the air over the degreased plate to get an even 60 percent coverage. Next I heat the underside of the plate with a torch, which allows the acid-resistant powder to melt and adhere to the plate. I'm careful, however, to leave the other 40 percent of surface area open for acid biting to create the tones of the aquatint. The plate is now ready for painting with an acid-resistant shellac.

  The first painting is of the white areas. The plate is then submerged in the same acid as before, but the timing is very short - 10 seconds. The second painting is of the very light gray areas, and the time in the acid is 20 seconds. I proceed with more paintings - a total of eight. As the time in the acid is increased, the areas not yet stopped-out are etched deeper and will hold more ink, thereby printing darker. As I am painting the very dark gray areas, I have only my memory to tell me where the whites and lighter grays will be, as there is no way to tell by looking at the plate.

After 2-3 months of work, the final step is cleaning off the varnish and melted powder of the aquatint ground, inking and pulling a proof. I use only archival (acid-free) paper and mats to insure longevity. All work is done by me. I use no assistants.

My detailed style using two drawings and eight stages of aquatint is complex, unique and anxiety-producing because the result is unknown until the work is finished. I would, however, have it no other way. For it's this complex process that gives me the quality I demand.


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