I love etching. I don’t know why it appeals to me so much as it requires a lot of precision and cleanliness, and I am one of the most haphazard and messy people in the print room. I am always amazed to see students, dressed in spotless white tops and immaculate jeans, working on their plates and somehow managing to keep even their hands clean – whereas I have ruined most of my clothes and am resigned to having to work alongside them in a black-, orange, or red-streaked T shirt. Their prints are placed beautifully in the centre of the paper, parallel with the sides. Mine are usually at an angle.
Last weekend, however, I was in the print room alone for the first time in ages and got myself set up properly, with a bin close at hand, gloves, ruler, sharpie, for marking out a template, spare cloths, scrim and tissue paper. I had it all to hand, and it paid off. I produced ten perfect prints, with clean edges, perfectly placed on the paper.
I have been working with coffee lift, which consists of instant coffee mixed with a little water then painted onto an aluminium plate. The plate is then covered in etching ground, baked, and allowed to sit for 24 hours before being etched in a 50: 50 mixture of salt and copper sulphate diluted in water. I learnt last week that the stronger the mix, the finer the etch, because the solution eats into the lines more accurately and deeper than a slower, weaker etch. The ground lifts off where the coffee has been applied, so it is possible to get quite a painterly effect. A tonal range can be achieved by masking out areas, either with a stop out ground, or, as I prefer, a speedier, but less accurate and simpler method is to rinse and dry the plate at intervals as you go along, and stick parcel tape over the areas you want to keep a bit lighter.