The technique of etching dates back to the fifteenth century and is a very labor intensive process. Because it requires time and perseverance to master this art form, it is not pursued by many artists,but to the fine art collector, etching is one medium which can be appreciated for its aesthetic appearance as well as the centuries-old process used to create it.
Catherine begins every etching with a rough pencil sketch of the image she will ultimately create as an etching. In an effort to keep the etching spontaneous, her initial pencil sketch will be used merely as a guide for placement of certain objects as she draws them onto the copper plate. Once Catherine establishes a concept and size for her etching, she prepares the plate for the lengthy, labor intensive process ahead.
The etching process begins with a highly polished sheet of copper. Catherine bevels the edges of the plate with a file to prevent the plate from cutting through the paper when it is later subjected to the high pressure of the etching press. A very thin coating of an acid resistant substance known as "ground" is applied to the surface of the plate and left to dry. The plate is then suspended upside down and the flame of a candle is run along the plate surface until the ground melts and the black candle smoke permeates it. This will give the plate a satin black finish which will enable the artist to see the image as she draws on the copper. Catherine draws with a very sharp sewing needle which produces an extremely fine line and ultimately, a highly detailed work of art. Depending on the size of the plate, it may take months to complete the drawing process.
After Catherine completes her drawing, she immerses the plate in an acid mixture known as Dutch Mordant (French for "biting") which is a combination of hydrochloric acid and potassium chlorate. The acid bath further defines Catherine's drawn image by eating away or biting the exposed copper while preserving the fine detail. A feather is used to agitate the acid, removing any copper sediment resting in the bitten grooves of the plate. Varying the length of biting time creates tonal effects in the etching ranging from dark to light - the longer the plate remains in the acid the darker the printed work of art will be. However, as the copper bites it weakens the acid solution, and the biting activity slows down. Therefore, the artist's eye and expertise must serve to determine how long the plate should remain in the acid.
Once the artist decides the plate is sufficiently bitten, the ground is removed from the plate and the etching can be pulled, meaning the artist's image is transferred from the plate to the paper. First, the artist spreads ink over the entire plate and then begins the task of removing excess ink from the plate surface with 'scrim' ~ a starched cheesecloth formed into a pad that the artist drags over the plate surface in circular motions which will remove ink from the surface but not the bitten grooves. In the final wiping stage, the artist hand wipes the surface until it is thoroughly cleaned. The wiped plate is placed on the bed of the etching press and covered with a sheet of heavy 100% rag fine art etchingpaper that has been soaked in water for a couple of hours and blotted until damp.
As the bed moves through the rollers of the press, extreme pressure forces the paper into the grooves of the plate transferring the artis's etched image. Several felt blankets placed on top of the paper and plate will help absorb the extreme pressure of the steel rollers. Now, all of Catherine’s efforts will be realized as she pulls the blankets and paper away from the plate - the reward for the weeks or months spent creating the etching finally culminate in seeing the piece of art she originally envisioned in her mind.After it has dried, Catherine enhances the etching by hand tinting each one individually with watercolor, giving the added dimension and quality of an original piece of art. Finally, hand signing and numbering indicate her final approval of the finished artwork.
©Catherine Colsher 2014