Etching with the Sun

img_3727.JPGThe last time I tried etching was during the Carter Administration, and technology has come a long way since then in the printmaking field. Today I tried solarplate etching for the first time, using one of my rainforest drawings. It wasn’t a total success but these things apparently take some trial and error. Here’s how it works: you have a metal plate with a polymer coating that’s sensitive to light. Place black lines over the polymer, using a transparent film with your artwork printed on it. Expose to the sun for, depending on how bright a day it is, a couple of minutes to many minutes. The polymer exposed to light hardens, and the polymer shielded from the light beneath the black lines stays soft and washes away with plain water and a soft brush. The washed-away lines are little furrows where the ink sits until it gets run through a press along with a piece of paper. Simple- you can try this at home, no need for acid baths or asphaltum grounds. Just the plate, the drawing and the sun.

Etching pressThe one thing you can’t do at home is print the plate, unless your home is equipped with a press. I don’t have a press. The printmaking room of the OU art department does, and I was kindly invited by my friend, artist Micheal Wilson, and Professor Curtis Jones to show and speak about my work to the class. And I got to be the guinea pig for the demo on etching. I’ve never been so happy to be a rodent or whatever the hell a guinea pig is.

Fallen Tree, PanamaOla Fincke’s study site on Barro Colorado Island, Panama; a fallen log with standing water in which a giant damselfly lays her eggs. 

When you use the sun to make etchings, ideally you should do it on a sunny day. Today it snowed. All day. UV light will penetrate a snowstorm but it takes a much longer exposure to make a solarplate etching. Not only did we have to stand outside in the wind and snow and wait for this thing to etch, but we had to stand outside in the wind and snow for what seemed like an eternity. I’m sorry to tell you I forgot to bring the camera out there with me, because it was by far the funniest part of the day. The solarplate wasn’t the only thing being exposed to the elements. Artists must suffer for their art, but not generally not from hypothermia.

inking the plateAlthough today’s attempts didn’t result in a perfect plate, we’ll try it again. Maybe on a nicer day. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and a new process is a learning curve. I can’t wait for next time. Just hope it’s a little warmer.First proof, etching

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