Since Tiger Lily Press
will be moving towards being a more “green”
printmaking studio once our move is finalized, it was finally
time to start experimenting with some alternative & safer
So a small group of us met at
the studio today to experiment with
the saline-sulfate method for
etching zinc plates.
Being an “old-school” printmaker, I was mildly
suspicious of using anything but
nitric acid to etch zinc!
To begin with, equal parts of common table salt
and copper-sulfate are mixed together. Since I was
only mixing enough for a small tray,
I used 3.5 oz. of each.
Added to that is 2 cups
of hot water, stirring until
the mixture has dissolved.
(the solution begins as a murky
blue-green, and turns a clear green
as the crystals dissolve)
This was added to the etching tray and
an additional four cups of hot water
were added to further dilute it.
This made for a somewhat “hot” bath.
In the future I may try diluting with an extra
one or two cups of water and experiment again.
A weaker solution will probably work
more effectively with delicate
processes such as aquatint.
Immediately upon placing a coated plate into the solution,
the exposed zinc turns black and begins to
throw off a lot of copper colored sediment.
It was quickly apparent that the plate and/or
tray would need to be agitated to keep
the sediment from effecting the etching process.
Below are my two printed test plates. The first is a
hard-ground coated plate with line work
etched in increments. Beginning at 5 minutes,
ending with a 20 minute etch. Since the acid
was stronger than I expected, I wish that I had started
with a one minute etch.
The second print is aquatint, etched in 15 second increments.
The darkest square, on the right, was etched for 1.5 minutes.
Elaine’s test plate being printed by Brian. She used hard
ground, scratched off the plate, and then
coated with a spray paint aquatint. It was
etched for approximately 25 minutes.
(her plate can be seen in the tray in photo #4)
Brian tried several test plates with aquatint. Notice how
much crud is on his plate in this first photo! This plate was
etched up to seven minutes for the darkest tone.
For this plate, the rosin was applied by
using a rosin dust bag for a grainy effect.
Sections were blocked out with
stop-out varnish and (if I remember correctly), the plate
was etched in several increments for
up to five minutes.
The last experiment of the day was an open bite, etched
just for a minute or two. At this point the acid
has become a mess!
The 2nd photo shows how the plate turns
black when exposed to the acid.
I don’t have a photo of this plate printed,
but there was enough “tooth” to the etched area
to print a pale grey tone.
We carefully poured the remaining solution
into a plastic jug to save, leaving the sediment
in the tray.
So in conclusion, this “old-school” printmaker
is most likely a convert to this technique. It definitely
worked better than I expected!
For a downloadable PDF file on the technique, click here
Visit the nontoxicprint website for
more info on safer printmaking options.