Picking up from the last post: I decided that the problem with the soft ground was not drying it thoroughly. To that end, I visited a local printmaking shop that I have access to, which has a hotplate. I rolled up a degreased copper plate with graphic chemical water-based relief ink, and drew into it via a piece of newsprint. This is what the drawing looked like:
I dried the plate completely on the hot plate, at 275 degrees F for 30 minutes. Before I etched it, I did some random dissolving of the resist around the drawing, using some of the water/soda ash stripping solution. And because the resists was now a hard ground, I picked up an etching needle and drew lots of fine lines into the image. I etched the plate in three stages: 15 minutes, then rinse in cold water, 10 minutes then rinse, 10 more minutes. When I proofed the plate, it looked like this:
Conclusion: the soft ground lines came out about 80% etched; the hard ground lines came out perfectly; and the variety of tones in the background is extremely satisfying. The only tweak I would make is to add some acrylic screenprinting medium to slow down the drying time, in order for the last softground drawing marks to register. Other than that, I feel confident that I can now take this ARE soft ground into the classroom.
I've been playing around with acrylic/non-toxic materials to produce a soft ground etching recently. It's the last remaining traditional technique that I have to find a non-toxic substitute for. After lots of research, I settled on the Graphic Chemical & Ink water-soluble relief ink. It is very thick and almost glue-like, and you can thin it with other acrylic gels, or roll it onto a plate straight from the can. The following print is from a 10" x 4" copper plate that I etched in three separate bands or areas:
In area 1 and area 3, I rolled on several thin layers of the ink, laid a piece of tarlatan on the plate (4) and a piece of crushed foil (5), and rolled it through the press using light pressure. I then placed a piece of newsprint over the plate and drew through the back of it using a sharp pencil. I dried the plate in my hotbox for 25 minutes.
After etching the plate for 30 minutes, I took proof prints. As you can see in areas 1 and 3, the soft-ground marks etched really nicely, but unfortunately the ground wasn't dried properly before I put it in the etching tank, so the whole plate around the drawings etched as well.
In area 2, I rolled on a slightly thicker layer of ink, drew into it in the same manner, and let it dry overnight. Before etching it, I drew into the ground with a needle to make some hard ground marks (6). I etched it for only 15 minutes, which wasn't enough to produce really dark blacks. But I didn't want to run the risk of foul-biting the whole plate again. I needn't have worried, though. The background is clearly much lighter than in areas 1 and 2, therefore it was sufficiently protected from the ferric. And the depth of the softground and hard ground marks indicates that if I had etched area 2 for 30+ minutes, the drawings would have been even darker, and the background still light enough to provide a contrast.
In other words: success!
This is my studio blog. I also have another blog, Praeterita, which contains more general art-related posts.