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Etching - Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings Art Dictionary

Etching is an Intaglio method of printing in which the ink-retaining grooves in the plate are produced by the actual biting of acid on the plate.

In line etching, the plate is covered with an acid resister and line and dots are drawn through this with the needle. When the plate is placed in acid the drawn dots or lines are incised in the plate by the acid. The longer the immersion, the deeper the incision and the darker the eventual print of the line.

In aquatint the plate is sprinkled with acid resisting particles of resin, which adhere to the plate when it is heated. The part of the plate bitten by the acid is made up of the channels between the resin patches. Visually because the particles and the bitten areas are so small, this creates a uniform dark area. By varying the length of time of biting the aquatint areas, darks of various tones may be obtained.

In sugar lift, aquatint is used to obtain broad effects such as brushstrokes. A thick, sugar syrup, darkened with dye or pigment, is brushed over an aquatint plate. When the syrup is dry, an acid-resistant clear varnish is washed over the whole plate. The plate is then immersed in warm water and this dissolves the sugar syrup which lifts the clear varnish above it. The brushstroke is then exposed and may be etched.

In soft ground, a fatty ground is used. It never dries and lifts off the plate with great ease. Irregularly surfaced objects lift off the soft ground exposing the pattern of the object to the acid.

In relief or embossed etching, parts of the plate are bitten very deeply or sometimes right through. The moist paper on which these are printed is then pushed deeply in to these bitten areas and stands out sharply from the surface of the print. This effect is often used without ink so that what is created is a kind of paper relief sculpture.

It should be noted that in all etching some plate surface has to be left. Hence, however dark in tone an area may seem, it is in fact filled with minute whitenesses from the plate surface. As this corresponds to the presence of light in natural shadows and tones, etching has always attracted artists who are interested in the ambiguities of light and the richness of shadows, such as Rembrandt and Goya.

All hard materials which can stand the press pressure can be used for etching. Normally however zinc alloys and copper are the metals used, the former with dilutions of nitric acid and water, the latter with hydrochloric acid solutions.

Etching by goldsmiths and other metal-workers in order to decorate metal items such as guns, armour, cups and plates has been known in Europe since the Middle Ages at least, and may go back to antiquity. The elaborate decoration of armour, in Germany anyway, was an art probably imported from Italy around the end of the 15th century - little earlier than the birth of etching as a printmaking technique. The process as applied to printmaking is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470-1536) of Augsburg, Germany. The switch to copper plates was probably made in Italy, and thereafter etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular medium for artists in printmaking. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving which requires special skill in metalworking, etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing.

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