Anja Percival

 Printmaker

Printmaking techniques


For the purposes of Printfest 2010 (see the 'News' section of the website), I produced a short video to demonstrate the techniques that I most commonly use. This is available to view online:

view on Artplayer.tv; Printfest

view on vimeo.com

The artworks I create are fine art prints, or more specifically, etchings. Although the term 'print' implies that a photographic process is involved, this is not the case here... the majority of my etchings are hand-drawn images, created by working directly onto the copper etching plate with a wax pencil. The techniques outlined below describe processes used by printmakers, not printers; this distinction is important, as etchings are not necessarily 'carbon copies' as many people mistakenly believe.

My work normally incorporates a combination of etching and collagraph techniques.
The traditional etching process produces imagery using acid erosion on metal. Areas of metal that are exposed to and thus corroded by acid are roughened, and so during subsequent printing, these etched areas can grip printing ink more than areas which were shielded from the acid (and so remain smooth), and this ink is then later transferred to paper by the application of extreme pressure in an etching press.

There are many different grounds (coatings to protect the metal), mark-making techniques and plate preparations that can create different qualities of line, tone and texture on the metal's surface.
For example, one way to produce sharp lines is to use hard ground; the surface of the metal (usually zinc, copper or steel) is first coated with a waxy layer ('resist' or 'ground') and then the image is scratched by hand into this surface. The 'drawing' process removes the ground to expose the metal below. So when the plate is immersed in acid, the drawing is permanently 'etched' or eaten into the exposed flat metal surface to produce roughened areas, or grooves, which later hold on to the ink during the printing stage.
I also combine using hard ground with the sugar lift technique. This technique uses a sugary solution that is painted onto the plate before coating it with the waxy resist. This solution later dissolves and lifts off when the plate is immersed in hot water, taking its waxy coating with it, thus exposing the metal underneath for etching. This method is often used for producing more spontaneous, smoother lines, but as with many etching techniques, can also be combined and adapted with other processes to create a variety of effects.

An alternative approach is to start from the opposite end; to focus on the white areas of an image, rather than on the black lines. If just the highlights of an image are marked/protected onto a plate using small areas of ground, then when the plate is immersed in acid, the rest of the surface is etched, except these protected polished points. Successive applications of ground covering more and more of the plate, interspersed with more etching, create different grades of roughness to the plate… as the more times exposed metal is dipped into the acid, the rougher it goes, and so the more ink it will hold, to produce darker areas within the resulting image. I frequently work with wax pencils for this technique, to block off areas of the plate. A sequence of photographs that I took whilst working on a large image (Interior Light VII, 2011) demonstrate this; click here to view the sequence.

Hard ground is very durable, and so creates well defined areas of tone on a plate. Wax pencils are intermediate in their resistance to acid, therefore work best when accompanied by hard ground, to reinforce protection on large areas that are to be etched for a long time. On the other hand, white ground is relatively soft, and offers only a temporary protection against the acid, eventually disintegrating to let the acid completely break through. The extent of this will depend on length of exposure to the acid and how thickly the white ground is applied. So, because of it’s nature, white ground creates softer but more unpredictable marks than hard ground.

A collagraph plate differs from an etching plate as texture is built up on the surface of the plate to form a relief, rather than extending below the surface level of the plate like the grooves on an etching plate. So, no acid is involved here, and any waterproof surface will do; I normally use varnished card or thick acetate, and create the image using materials that solidify to form durable 'edges' or texture on the base plate, such as thick acrylic paint, waterproof PVA or moulding paste. Once dry and sealed with varnish, the edges of the relief capture the ink as metal grooves would, which is again transferred onto paper via an etching press.

The colour prints that I produce are all slightly different, as I apply ink to the plate in much the same way as one would paint a canvas. So printmaking in this selective way allows for much variation in colour and distribution of ink across the paper; for this reason no two colour prints are the same. Even black and white prints are by no means simple copies; each print is individually hand produced, and there are a finite number of prints taken from each plate. This is partly restricted by the perishability of the metal plate's surface caused by successive runs though the printing press, but also by my wish to keep each image relatively original, and precious.


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