Normally at this point I’d either be adding an aquatint to the existing etching plate, or creating one of two additional plates to use for color printing.  Both of those will yet come in Parts Four and Five, but first I’ve taken a little detour to add a Soft Ground to the plate.

In Part 1 I applied a Hard Ground to the plate and drew an image through it.  A Soft Ground performs the same function, but, as the name suggests, it stays soft and pliable.  I can still draw in it, but now I can also press textured objects into the ground, leaving a pattern that can be etched.

I want to use the soft ground to create a foliage texture on the tree.  First, I select some textured papers and cut them up into bits to make leaf-like shapes.

Next, I arrange the bits of paper on the plate, to get a rough idea of how they might work.

Then I slide the paper bits off to one side and use a Sharpie marker to block out areas that I want to protect from all etching.  I don’t do this at all on the lower half of the plate because I am not going to press anything into the soft ground there.

Now the plate needs to be coated with the soft ground.  Like the hard ground, the traditional soft ground was made from beeswax and tar, and needed solvents for removal.  It has been replaced by water-based relief printing ink, which can be cleaned up with ammonia or, if ammonia is too strong-smelling, soda ash solution.

I’m going to use a brayer to roll the ink onto the plate, just as I would if I were inking up a wood- or linocut for relief printing.

Once the plate is coated, I move it to the press bed and lay the textured bits of paper on top.

I lay wax paper and several layers of newsprint on top before covering with the press blankets.  Then I crank the whole sandwich through the press at the same pressure I would use to print.  At the other end I move the blankets back and peel off the wax paper (which usually has a lovely little relief image on it).

Then I peel off the bits of paper and discover a surprisingly pleasing result.

Now I need to set aside the plate and let the soft ground cure overnight.  (If I etched it now, too much of the ground would dissolve in the etching tank).  The next day I returned to the studio and etched the plate for half an hour.  After being removed from the tank and cleaned, the plate looks like this:

I inked up the plate and printed it.  This is the result:

Coming up next:  Aquatint and then creating color plates.

(But first, I need to journey to Crested Butte, CO, for an art festival)

Making of an Etching, Pt. 3 (Softground) | 2011 | Techniques | Tags: , | Comments (3)

3 Responses to “Making of an Etching, Pt. 3 (Softground)”

  1. astrid says:

    thank you so much for being so helpful and inspiring. i cant wait to see more!

  2. elizabeth wooley says:

    I just saw your show in Denver at Metro Frame Works.
    The playful yet complex images were delightful. I like the scale of the universe you have created. I do a little etching and aquatint but am now inspired to try a multiple plate approach.
    Thank you.