Backroads Newsletter
Words inspired by the backroads of America About the Backroads Press Biography
This explanation is for those not familiar with the technical aspects of printmaking or specifically the etching process. I will explain the types of printmaking and take you through the process of preparing an etched plate and producing an original print such as I have exhibited on this web site.

The basic premise of printmaking is transferring an inked image from a board, stone, plastic or metal plate to paper. There are many forms of printmaking, beginning as far back and as simple as pressing a hand with pigment on it to the wall of the cave.

Relief Printing, such as linoleum block or woodblock printing, is the process of carving away portions of a block, rolling ink on the remaining high portions and pressing paper onto the block to pick up the ink.
Serigraph Printing (or Silkscreen Printing) is characterized by blocking portions of a porous screen and pressing ink through the screen onto the paper.

Lithography is a process of drawing on a flat stone with a greasy crayon or pencil. The stone is then wet and inked. The ink adheres to only the drawn lines and transfers to the printing paper. There are many forms of lithographic printing categorized as commercial offset printing resulting in mechanical reproductions, not considered original prints.

The process that has intrigued and consumed me is called Etching, in the Intaglio family of printing processes. “Intaglio”, pronounced “in-TAL-yo”, loosely means “incised into the plate”. Any of the processes that create indentions or grooves in a metal or plastic plate which are then filled with ink and transferred to paper can be called an intaglio print. The processes include engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, aquatint, etching and combinations of the processes. Many of the great artists, such as Rembrandt, Durer and Goya, also produced significant work in intaglio prints. I grew up surrounded by the works of the Prairie Printmakers produced in the 1930’s and 40’s. You might say that my art influences came from artists such as Arthur W. Hall, Birger Sandzen, Lloyd Foltz and Charles Capps. The Regionalist art that the Prairie Printmakers produced and promoted has had a strong nostalgic effect on me and has directed me back to the traditional forms of regionalist intaglio printmaking, an art style I refer to as Regionalist Etchings.

The etching process I use at Backroads Press begins with polishing the face of a 16 GA. copper plate and beveling the edges so that they don’t cut the paper during the press run. Once the copper plate is prepared, cleaned and degreased, a coating of hard ground, a waxy tar coating, is applied, allowed to harden and the creative process begins. Any sharp pointed tool can be used to scratch into the hard ground coating, creating a drawing of scratches in the coating which expose the copper surface. The plate is then submerged in a solution called Edinburgh Etch. The Edinburgh Etch solution is considered a non-toxic substitute for the traditional acid etching solutions and consists of Ferric Chloride in solution with the addition of Citric Acid. The etching solution, basically a corrosive salt solution, eats into the exposed copper in the scratched lines of the plate creating etched lines in the plate. Using controlled etching times it is possible to vary the depth and thus the darkness of linework on the finished plate. The lines to be darker are etched longer and lighter lines are etched less by stopping out, or covering, the lines in sequential order of light to dark and returning the plate to the etching solution. Once the desired etching depth is reached, the plate is removed from the solution and the hard ground cleaned off. At this point, a proof print is usually pulled to check on the state of the etching. Additional darks can then be added, if necessary, using the drypoint technique of drawing directly into the copper with a diamond or steel stylus, creating a line with furrows on each side which collect additional ink.

The printing process begins with the etched plate warmed on a hot-plate and etching ink applied and pressed into the grooves and lines of the plate. Excess ink is wiped from the face of the plate using stiff tarlatan cloth and newsprint, leaving ink in the indentions and only an ink film on the face of the plate. Printing paper that has been soaked and blotted is placed over the inked plate and both are run through the press under great pressure. The pressure forces the damp paper into the grooves of the plate, picking up the ink and creating a reverse image of the lines in the plate. One of the characteristics of intaglio prints is the plate mark, or plate indention created at the edge of the plate due to the paper being pressed over the plate. Each print is individually created by inking the plate and running the plate and paper through the press. While artists strive for each print to be identical, there will be minute differences from one to the next, thus creating a series of original prints run from the same plate. The complete series, or the total number run from a plate is called an edition and can be anywhere from 1 to 200 or more. Once the total edition is completed, the plate is destroyed or marked to indicate the edition is complete. The prints then are dried, titled, signed and numbered. Each Backroads Press etching is produced by the time-intensive, creative process described above, by the artist, one print at a time, and as such, is considered an original print.

It is said that an etcher is part artist, part craftsman and part chemist. You can see from the description of the etching process above that it takes some of all of those characteristics to produce the fine art original prints that are called etchings.

The Backroads Press etchings are hand-inked and printed manually on our Takach Etching Press. The paper generally used is Arches Cover, 100% rag, acid-free etching paper. The edition sizes vary from 10 or 12, up to 40 or 50. I choose to keep the editions small and create more of a variety of images. You can be assured that the Backroads Press prints will appreciate with time. All framing and matting is done with archival quality materials. I have started using Akua water-based etching inks to avoid the use of paint thinners for clean-up. I am pleased to say that 90% of the processes at Backroads Press are considered non-toxic and I am working toward that 100%, not only for my own health, but for the health of the planet. In addition, I make every effort to limit the material that goes to the landfill and recycle what I can.