Graham Clarke :: GC's Etching Process

GC's Etching Process

All my etchings are produced entirely by hand using techniques dating back several hundred years. 


 I use copper plates, which have to be shaped, bevelled and polished.



The plate is ‘grounded’ on a hotplate using a mixture of bitumen and beeswax, this acid-proof layer is smoked with tapers to darken it before drawing with the needle on the copper.


I prefer not to have too exact an idea of the completed image, but allow it to grow as I work from the drawings and notes in my sketchbooks and ideas in my head. Small blemishes and errors can be corrected with ‘stopping out varnish’. Everything, of course, must be drawn in reverse. 

To etch the initial ‘line’ stage of the image I use ‘Dutch Mordant’ hydrocholoric acid with additions, putting larger plates in three or four times and adding or subtracting areas and details as required between each stage – for richer effect.


The plate can then be cleaned off and inked up.


The first proof is then taken on a large copperplate press, the design of which has not essentially changed for two hundred years. ‘Aquatint’ is employed to achieve areas of tone and texture. Powdered resin is applied in an aquatint box, the plate gently heated, the resin particles melt and adhere to the copper. Each stage is ‘stopped out’ and etched in nitric acid – usually in about twelve different stages – sometimes going beyond the expiry of the minute resin particles back to the bare metal and so to ‘open bite’. On occasion, I use open bite in the more traditional way. 

The plate can then be cleaned off and proofed again. It is likely, and this is normally deliberate, that areas of the image will be far too dark and four or five stages of scraping, burnishing and proofing are normally required before the image is considered finished. Examples of all these techniques are to be seen in my latest etching, Fin des Vendanges. Half a dozen more proofs are printed and the plate is ‘steel faced’ to preserve its surface qualities. This in no way affects the image.


The edition can then be printed. This is expertly done by my son Jason, on a hand-driven copperplate press. Meanwhile, I plan and mix in large quantities, the dozen or so hand-applied colours that are used on each image or set of plates. When one example is ready my hand-colourist diligently works through the whole edition, taking the utmost care over a period of many months.


As soon as some of the work is ready, I check, title, number and sign each print, usually in batches of 20 or 30, until the edition is complete. The plate can then be ‘cancelled’ in such a way that further printing would be impossible, thus ensuring the limitation of the edition forever.


Graham Clarke

Photographs by Keith Waldegrave

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Graham Clarke