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- Etching Guide and Tutorial : Applying Hard and Soft Ground -
tool list prep plate apply ground transfer art hard ground soft ground aquatint acid bath ink and print etching tips

Ground is the substance in the etching process that resists the acid. I am going to talk about liquid ground and ball ground. Later on in the tutorial you'll find a section on hard ground, soft ground, and aquatint with some examples of how I use them. More etching techniques, unfamiliar to me, including the use of white ground, sugar lift ground, and others can be found in Ruth Leaf's book. (And other books too I imagine.)

Liquid Ground: Liquid ground is easy to use and doesn't require cleaning a brayer. Just brush it on. Some grounds may require heating the plate (Put the wet plate, with paper underneath, on the griddle or hotplate. Heat the plate on low until it starts to smoke a little. Remove and let fully dry.). It is also good for stopping out areas you no longer wish to bitten by the acid when using the acid bath especially when working with soft ground or aquatint for targeted effects.

For the most part I just use liquid ground as a stop-out and to repair mistakes. I have problems with getting the liquid ground even and often it flakes. If your ground does flake - I say go with it. I've gotten some nice effects from flaking, like the skin on my elephant print.

Ball Ground: I have gotten the best results with hard and soft ball ground. The hard ball ground allows for finer lines and detail. WIth the soft ball ground I seem to getter better results too. I actually have an easier time getting the ball ground more even on the plate. In order to get consistent good results with the ball ground you have to keep trying and experimenting. Here is a technique I came up in the dark recesses of my basement. The hotplate temperature is in fahrenheit.

My best results have come from Charbonnel brand...both hard and soft. I also prefer using a soft brayer. I am not a spokes-wretch for Charbonnel

ball etching ground

1. Wipe the plates clean with a little piece of paper towel and a few drops of solvent. Cover the hotplate with a big piece of blotter, put the plates on individual smaller sheets.

etching ground 1

2. My hotplate goes from warm to 200d - I set it middle of those two. Pick a plate (the smallest) for your palette. Melt a nice puddle of the ball ground on the chosen plate.

etching ground 2

3. With a soft brayer work the melted ground on the palette. Your goal is to cover the brayer with the ground. Worry about getting the brayer covered more than the plate.

etching ground 3

4. Keep working that brayer. The surface of it has to get warm or else the ground just solidifies on the roller. Again this is the "palette" plate.

etching ground 4

5. On one of the other clean plates that have been warming on hot plate, apply the ground using the juiced up brayer.

etching ground 5

6. Cover the plate as thoroughly and evenly as possible; don't worry about getting it even so much - try though. At this point thinner is better - no thick blobs.

etching ground 6

7. Remove the plate from the heat by grabbing the blotter paper under the plate. Add more ground to the "palette" plate and juice up that brayer again! (steps 2 - 4)

etching ground 7

8. As the removed plate cools, it will pick up more of the ground from the brayer. Work the juiced up brayer on the cooling plate until the ground gets tacky like paint. You will hear it!

etching ground 8

9. Cover the plate with the ground as evenly as you can. Pay attention to the areas that are noticeably thin. The ground may look rough, like when too much paint is applied to a wall by a roller, but this okay.

etching ground 9

10. Put the plate back on the hotplate and watch it closely. As it heats up again, the rough texture will start to smooth out. When smooth, quickly remove from the hotplate and let the plate fully cool. That's it!

etching ground 10

11. Repeat the process on more plates! I save the "palette" plate for last. Juice up the brayer again. Remove the palette plate from the heat and work the brayer on it as it cools, The brayer may cool first so be quick. Put it back on the hotplate until it is smooth. The ground may be thick. I say go with it!

12. For cleaning the brayer I keep a stack of used junk blotter and paper. I squirt the solvent on the brayer over the cleaning box then roll the brayer over my stack of junk paper. Roll the brayer on a dry piece from time to time to get more of the ground off. Go side to side with brayer (so the roller doesn't roll) to get spots and tougher areas off. I'm pretty generous with the solvent. Ventilation is essential!

*Note about Soft Ball Ground: With soft ground you don't want the ground to get too thick - thinner is better with soft ground. More on soft ground later in the program.

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