New Adventures in Etching

This year has flown by… In my last term at Morley, I’ve spent my time exploring Etching, something completely new to me. Preparing plates is a much longer and more involved process than say, drypoint or collagraph. I spent a good few weeks producing the final plate, repeatedly stopping out different areas for the dips in the acid bath. I found the processes involved very similar in concept to black and white printing, with timings being key to the final print.

‘Etching was originally invented as a method for adding fine decoration to armour during the Middle Ages. Artists however, only began to use metal plates for printing in the Fifteenth century, with early experiments by such practitioners as Albrecht Durer, who executed work on iron plates. It was not until the seventeenth century in Italy with work by Andrea Mantegna and of greater note, in Holland that etching became a major artistic force. This was with the extraordinary experimental imagery of Hercules Seghers and more significantly with the etchings of Rembrandt, whose work in this medium is still unsurpassed, both for its linear delicacy and profound tonal depth.’

Brian McKenzie.

Two artists whose whose etchings I particularly admire are David Hockney and Paula Rego. Both are far more figurative than the work I have produced so far, but both artists’ work is invaluable as a resource to for someone who is just starting to investigate etching.

The first process I attempted was hard ground, a process resulting in hard lines with shading produced by cross hatching. I then moved on the creating a soft ground plate, a process that allows for softer and more impressionistic marks. For the third plate I produced this term, I started with a hard ground image to which I then added aquatint shading (with 4 different timings to create different depths of tone), and finally I attempted a process called spit-bite for the sky. It ended up being a bit darker and more brooding than I had originally planned, but each thing I have tried this term has been a first attempt!

I’m still not sure why my work this term has ended up being so doom laden and apocalyptic. The landscape I produced ended up being redolent of the work of Paul Nash  and other first world war artists, though the image originally evolved from sketches of thorns, trees and forests. Though not a process you can sit and do at the kitchen table, etching is definitely a process I want to explore further.

And I’m so pleased to be back in the print-room at Morley tomorrow, starting a short summer course looking at Photopolymer Gravure, another voyage into the unknown!



Hard ground line drawing
Hard ground with added aquatint shading
Final image with the spit-bite aquatint sky

All text and images © Jonathan Dredge.

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