ETCHING: ITS TECHNIQUE AND GREAT MASTERS. An etching is the proof or picture an artist obtains by printing from a prepared plate of copper or zinc on which the lines and forms of a subject had been scratched by him and then bitten-in by the action of an acid. It is evident that to produce satisfactory work, the etcher must be a good draughtsman, must have an active imagination, and m keen knowledge of the technique of etching and print ing. He must, moreover, be acquainted with the works of the masters of the art. In this article, therefore, the various processes used in producing an etching will first be described, and then the works of the master-etchers will be reviewed.
The Processes of Etching.—The several steps taken in the production of an etching em brace: grounding and smoking the plate; mark ing the outline; biting-in by means of an acid; and printing.
Method of Grounding and Smoking the Plate.— After thoroughly cleaning the plate— first with turpentine and a soft clean rag, and then with a little whitening— a handvise is firmly screwed on to the middle of one of its long edges. To prevent the jaws of the vise from scratching the surface of the plate, a piece of thin cardboard is inserted between them and the plate.
The plate is then uniformly heated through out over the flame of a small gas jet or spirit lamp and is covered with what is known as etching-ground — a gummy preparation in the form of a ball, wrapped in a piece of silk, and composed of mastic gum 30 parts ; white wax 30 parts ; and asphaltum 15 parts.
As it is desirable that the ground he spread over the plate in an even and thin film, it is dabbed all over with the dabber. This tool con sists of a circular pad of horse-hair with card board backing, enveloped in two wrappers, an inner one of cotton-wool, and an outer one of silk fabric, the latter stretched tight, gathered and tied in the back to form a handle.
The next step is to smoke the ground. The plate is again evenly heated and then held over a flame of three or four wax tapers twisted together. Care must be taken to have only the
tip of the flame touch the ground, while the plate is kept constantly in motion, until tilt whole ground is blackened. The etcher must also see to it that the flame is not playing too long on the same spot of the ground or it will be burnt. When an area of the ground, no matter how small, does get scorched, the whole ground becomes useless. After the process of smoking is completed, the back of the plate is covered with some stopping-out varnish, to pro tect it against the action of the acid during the subsequent process of etching. When the plate has been prepared in the manner described, it is ready to receive the outline.
Method of Marking the Outline on the Ground.—A careful drawing of the subject, the size of the plate, is first made on ordinary paper, from which a tracing is made on tracing paper. After rubbing some lead on the back of this tracing, it is fastened, face upward, to the smoked ground of the plate; and with a hard pencil the outline is gone over, pressing lightly. Upon removing the paper from the plate, the lines will be found transferred to its surface. On this pencil impression as a guide, the etcher next freely redraws the subject with an etching needle, putting into it all the art at his command as regards beauty of line, form and composition generally.
The needles used to etch with are generally made for the purpose, and may be held in a handle specially contrived. A needle with a fine oval-shaped point is used for putting in the delicate lines, such as are required in the treat ment of skies or distances; and one with a blunt point for the deeper lines. The point is used with sufficient pressure to remove the ground, expose and faintly scratch the bare copper along its track. This faint outline, made by the needle, is then bitten-in to the required depth by immersing the plate in a porcelain tray con taining an acid solution, called a mordant.