Multi-plate color in Etching

It’s always best to keep the number of plates for any particular image as small as possible, but often the proximity of the colors or a requirement for greater definition or the need to have one color overlaying another, one or more additional plates are necessary. The main problem here is getting the image in each plate to register properly.

I’ve used a couple of techniques to get proper registration on multi plate jobs.

The easiest is to put some (or all) of the material onto film and do photo etching. It’s easy to get very precise registration when you’re drawing (or using some other technique) on film by simply overlaying the film for each plate. In the example of the etching “Black Flowers,” I did a basic line drawing for each plate, burned the film onto the plate (I’ll talk more about photo etching in a later blog entry) then etched the plates lightly – sometimes just enough to see the etched line, sometimes when the line will become part of the final piece more deeply. This way, so long as I’ve centered the films correctly onto each plate, the registration can be very tight. Black Flowers is seven colors on two 24×36 inch plates.

A two-plate color etching

Black Flowers - A two-plate color etching

Another technique is to transfer the drawing to the top of hard ground by doing a cartoon of the image using pastel pencil and pressing that directly into the well-set hard ground. This can be done by hand but the transfer will work better using a very light pressure in the press. One pastel cartoon will transfer two or sometimes three times and still be visible.

Registration for a soft ground etching isn’t particularly difficult because you can use either the same drawing, or more usually make a careful tracing (or photo copy) of the drawing and using it to draw over the soft ground. This technique was used for “The Lift.” This is a three-plate 5-color etching. I did one sketch, traced it twice and used the resulting three sheets to execute the drawing on the plate. I worked on all three plates simultaneously rather than one at a time. It was easier for me to keep track of where various colors would go this way. The piece is 23×18 inches.

A three plate 5-color soft ground etching

The Lift - A three plate 5-color soft ground etching

More on color later.