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Etching Art - An Ancient Process used by Etching Artists

by Grant Oxche
The Little Mediator
The Little Mediator
by Genevieve Rosochacki
Street in the Bokaap
Street in the Bokaap
by Rosemary Girardi

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Etching is a technique used in printmaking that dates back approximately five centuries. Artists use sheets of metal and acid in their work, of which the most commonly used metals are copper and zinc.

The etching artist uses a variety of methods to create the effect that he or she is trying to achieve. The acid is the component used to etch the plate to create an image on it. More complicated images require more time for the artist to create, and are therefore more expensive to purchase.

When an artist is starting a new etching art project, the first step is for him or her to put a coating of wax over the copper or zinc sheet they will be using. A steel etching needle is then used to draw the image through the wax and onto the metal sheet. Once the image has been carefully drawn, the metal sheet is placed in an acid bath for approximately two hours.

When the metal is exposed to acid, it works by breaking down the copper or zinc that has been exposed by the etching needle. The resulting image is full of grooves and different textures that add interest to the art. Etching can be used to make relatively simple pictures or in the hands of a highly-skilled craftsperson, the images can be full of detail that makes them come to life to the person viewing them.

To make a more detailed piece, the artist removes the piece of metal from its acid bath and reapplies the layer of wax. Once the wax is in place, he or she can add more lines and texture in the same way as they did in the first round. Again, the piece goes back into the acid for a couple of hours so that the lines are added to the picture. This process may be repeated as many times as the artist wishes until they are happy with the image.

Once the artist is satisfied with his or her design, the next step in the process of making an etching is to apply printing ink directly into the lines on the sheet of metal. The artist uses a stiff, clean cloth to wipe off the plate, which leaves ink in the lines and grooves on the metal. The next step in the process of making an etching is to place the metal plate inside a hand-operated printing press.

The heavy rollers in the printing press are used to make copies of the etching. The paper used in the process is dampened, and when is fed through the machine, the image is pressed onto it. The way that an art buyer can tell whether they are seeing a genuine fine art etching is to look for indentations on the paper. This method of printing etchings is simple, but very effective. To make multiple copies of the etching, the artist applies more ink to the metal plate and feeds another piece of paper through for each one.