Clibbon Gallery The technique of etching

The "original" of each etching is a copper plate whose lines and tones are etched in baths of strong acid through coverings of etching ground, a paint-like substance. The artist uses a simple needle tool to lightly scratch the drawn lines through the etching ground. When the needle drawing is completed, the entire plate is immersed in the acid bath for a few hours to "etch" the lines.

The plate is cleaned to prepare for aquatints. Areas of the plate are blocked out with an acid-resist and then misted with spray from an airbrush. In the misted areas, the action of the acid creates tones. With lines and tonal areas from the aquatint, an image in depth can be created. Textures can also be sprayed on through masks (like lace), and areas can be deeply bitten to hold a lower layer of ink. A complex plate may take weeks or months to complete.

From a hand-mixed palette of oil-based colors, the finished plate is selectively inked, using cardboard chips to guide the colors home. The plate is then carefully wiped with tarlatan (stiff cheesecloth) and newsprint, gradually removing the surface ink layer by layer until only the essential colors remain. Great care is taken to leave as much moist ink on the plate as possible.

On the flat bed of an etching press, moist printing paper is laid over the freshly-inked plate. The high pressure of the press acts to squeeze the ink onto the paper, embossing the image in reverse. When the full edition of etchings is hand-printed, the plate is cancelled so that no further impressions can be made.

Dolphin border

"One of the great things about the etched image is the level of detail possible. It seems that in some areas of a heavily-textured etching, the closer you look the more you can see. Patterns sprayed on through masks, applied with natural objects like leaves, splattered with paint or airbrushed for shadows can become transformed into deep and fascinating detail with an "old-world" look.