An afternoon spent in the print workshop devoted to the study and meaning of the edges of etchings.

I mainly like etchings, as much as I like them at all, because they are the remnant of a natural process of acid acting on metal, resisted by some sort of ground. If one wants to get all alchemical about it all then it is possible to be with all the talk of Dutch mordant and tree resin and bitumen and so on. I don’t find that particularly attractive myself, mainly due to the health threatening nature of many of the ingredients. However, the interest lies on the making of an image through the control of a natural chemical process of acids acting on metals. For me the nature of this process needs to be seen in the image so for me the edges of the plate are left as they are after the dipping and biting. This leaves them with a nice raggedy edge. I file them down before I start the process so I don’t cut myself on the metal but once it comes out of the acid I leave them as they are. I wipe them off when I print but the prints end up with a bit of a rough frame of ink from this bitten edge. This partly arises because of the way we back the plates with parcel tape rather than painting on a backing and using an edging paint to protect the edge which we could do. Apparently the real way to finish an etching is to ground down the edge to a 45 degree angle and then polish it with 600 grade wet and dry paper.

Nobody has looked at my beautifully framed etchings and said OMG, look at the edges on that and, as I say, I have reasons for leaving them. What I don’t like about etching is that some of it is about an etiquette of making and selling prints and less about the process as a way of making an art work. I enjoy the Chapman brothers playful attitude to the making of etchings using this fairly quaint process because it is a quaint process. I realised, however that, if I am to be able to say that I have learnt to etch then I need to be able to have the choice of making a well groomed print so I asked Ernst to show me how.

The filing and sanding is tedious but my first prints were disappointingly similar to my previous efforts. I had only done half of the process it would appear and Ernst showed me how to wipe off the edges properly and use the French chalk to seal the edge. This resulted in a more conventional and acceptable result though, to my eye, not necessarily better.

I know it drives Ernst up the pole that I don’t really want to be a fine printer and seem happy to bumble about at a level of relative lack of refinement. I seem happiest for the prints to be a form of drawing more than anything else and I am interested in them at that level. In some ways though, the prints have become less of an expanded form than my work before. I used to be happiest mono-printing  and using that sort of mark making in paintings and with other media. Now these prints have shrunk to tiny eight by ten inch squares of intense combat with the process.

Well, I can do an edge properly now anyway. Whether I will or not I am not sure.


My usual edge showing the acid bitten inked edge of the plate.


The edge of the plate after clipping, filing down and then sanding. Edge wiped with a cloth and French chalk to seal the edge.