Printmaking: Misadventures in Copper Etching

After I started my first printmaking class, I fell head over heels for relief printmaking. I loved carving linoleum, loved the end results, loved everything about it. Me + printmaking = ♥

And then came etching. To start, I had to go to three stores to find copper plates. The plates were expensive! Then, the etching process began, and oh my, was it messy! It’s a long process. First the plate is coated with hard ground, and an image is scratched into the hard ground with a sharp tool. Then the plate is dipped into ferric chloride so that lines are etched into the plate. Each dip takes 25 to 40 minutes. The hard ground needs to be cleaned off before you can ink up the plate. The inking process is very, very messy for newbies. Still, I pressed on…


This is my image after a second dip into the ferric chloride. Pure line drawings have never been my favorite, and etching felt very close to that. Mysterious scratches appeared out of nowhere. It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t completely control the outcome of this process. I didn’t especially like this image because it looked too messy. I thought about starting over, but ended up deciding to just accept it and finish so that I could move on to the next project. I prepped the plate for one last dip in the ferric chloride…


… and then forgot the plate in ferric chloride when I left class for the day. Yikes! Luckily the lab monitor of open studio found the plate and pulled it out three hours later, or the copper may have dissolved entirely by the time the next class was in session two days later. This is what the plate looked like after I cleaned it up.


And this is the printed image after my little mishap. I do like the dark areas, but everything else is a total mess. I was very embarrassed to have made a mistake like this, but I’m guessing I’m not the only newbie printmaker to have ever done this. I’m hoping this will the only lesson I’ll ever need, and that I’ll never forget to set a timer again. And because the universe must want me to try to like etching, I have to make another plate for this project. On to take two…

Comments 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *