Photograph of copper printing plate on table with images painted in whiteground. The black surround is a hardground block. The plate is seen before being placed in the acid bath.
New Print Project: Part 5
Renewing work on my Accordion Fold Print project at Center Street Studio, I resolved to use whiteground etching (also called soapground) as a way of adding tone to my plates. It’s a process I’ve had very little experience using and I imagined it would be a challenge. With only five full working days ahead, I would have to learn quickly. I also imagined the frothy look of this medium would add a nice contrast to the line etchings I had made on the plates this past spring.
Whiteground is painted on an aquatinted printing plate to protect it in an acid bath. The mixture consists of soap (Ivory flakes were used in this case), linseed oil, and water. I found that when mixed just right, applying the diluted paste with a brush in layers does feel a bit like watercolor, my favorite drawing medium. Areas of the plate that are left unpainted are corroded by the acid, which roughens the surface enough to catch ink and print black. Areas heavily covered with whiteground will not be affected by the acid and will print white. Thinner layers of whiteground are eaten away by the acid relative to the depth of the resist. They will print as grays.
To begin, I painted loosely on test plates, to see how the whiteground handled. The first mixture of the medium beaded up slightly on the metal plate, making smooth application of the whiteground difficult. Jim Stroud, my printer and advisor, added a bit more soap to the mixture and this time the adherence was perfect. Feathering the paint resulted in brushstrokes that allowed the acid to slip through, cultivating rough, irregular areas in the plate. By flooding a thin pool of well-mixed paste and wash into areas more even tones were encouraged.
Time was tight; with only 3 working days left I had to finish 13 images spread among the 3 plates. I worked from before sunup until dinner time each day painting the whiteground in order to complete the plates. We etched the plates and printed proofs as we progressed. Now the plates will be shipped to me so that I can scrape and burnish details in my studio. I don’t want to overdo the polishing and finishing of the images. I want them to be direct, economical, and expressive; equivalents of images I paint in my journal. When I finish the plates, Jim will print the final editions and tear and fold them into pages. Sections will then be adhered in an accordion format and the 12 page compilation will be fitted into a specially made cover that Janine Wong is designing.
(To be continued)
Printing plate 1 on press bed with a proof impression.