This semester I did an etching class! :D Called "Custom Printing", it was one of the better electives that I've done while I've been at UNSW Art & Design. See the video above for some rambling about it, and a tour of work by my classmates. It goes for 30+ minutes though, so you may want to open it in YouTube and use the bookmarks in the video's description to skip to the points that you're interested in.

A Closer Look at My Process - Alter Ego

As I mentioned in the video, the first task was about the alter ego, one of my big obsessions, so I was pretty keen on it.

The brief:

"Alter Ego, Latin for 'the other I' is a second self traditionally believed to be separate from a person's normal personality and has a history within many forms of literature, as well as dissociative identity disorders that were first described in the early 19th century. Alter egos lie within us all, personalities brewing beneath the surface in a constant state of absorption and growth. We gather information from our environment, adventures, mistakes and loved ones. Disparate pieces of us interact and converse, tuning us as individuals and building up the scaffold of our identity. Students are to pull your otherselves out of hiding and celebrate them on paper. The resulting image will be worked onto a single etching plate, which when printed will form a page that will then be formatted into an editioned artists book, so all participants in the project will receive a complete set. The resultant book should be a diverse range of approaches and interpretations of the theme realised through one consistent format that investigates the range available within the intaglio medium."

If you're familiar with my long-term alter ego, "The Destroyer", it may or may not disappoint you to find out that this is less of a thing in my life at the moment... but that was definitely my starting point. It was only in the third of these initial sketches that I started to think of my little character more as a victim driven mad rather than an already evil nutjob.

After these sketches, I did do a few more based on the last one, but something I find a lot in my art is that the more I try to refine something beyond a certain point, the worse it gets. So I ended up coming back to this third sketch and tracing it into Photoshop almost exactly as it was scanned in, with only minor refinements. My Intuos graphics tablet helped a LOT for this. I also replaced my own handwriting with digital text.

The next step was to flip it - when you're etching, the plate presses into the paper, which means that anything you've drawn ends up coming out reversed. Fortunately, that's really easy in Photoshop ^_^ so I printed it out and taped it to my grounded plate. Usually you'd use this orangey stuff that acts like carbon copy paper, but I was too lazy to get any... so I just pushed the point of my etching scribe through the paper to scratch the ground beneath it!

It was difficult and time consuming and I really should've just got the orange stuff tbh! And the paper of course started to fall apart as I tore more holes into it... I had to use sticky tape to keep it together as I completed different sections.

But it worked! Below you can see what the zinc plate looks like with the brown "ground" applied. The ground protects the plate from acid, so that anywhere you draw through it is what gets etched out.

After this, I added details, including shading, motion lines, and a bunch of random chaos scratches in the background. I also managed to draw my Japanese signature in reverse without mucking it up! Then the plate went into the acid, for however long the teacher advised us, and I think I added some more scratches halfway through, which causes those lines to be a little thinner since they've had less contact with the acid than everything else. Once the acid part was done, I cleaned off the ground, and inked the plate up to print off my proof!

Next up is aquatinting... which I think I did a terrible job at explaining in my video x_x so it might be better to watch this guy's unenthusiastic but much more informative video to get an idea:

The main differences in how we did it at Cicada Press were:

  • our box has a handle that kicks up the dust rather than having to turn the entire thing, 
  • we used a heat gun rather than a flame, and
  • we used respirators for safety!!! That dust is sooo not good for your lungs, the guy in this video is crazy!!!

Anyway, let's skip to the result! First of all the plate... as you can see, it's kinda hard to look at it and just know how it's gonna be when printed. That's why proofs are so important! And it's especially true for aquatinting since you build it up progressively in the acid and won't really know how well it's eaten the metal until you clean the aquatint off and print it.


How the printing actually works is another thing I'm probably not so good at explaining, but you can see what the press looks like in this photo from the Cicada Press Facebook page:

Basically, you ink up the plates and clean off the excess ink, then put them on the bed of the press. Then you put the paper on top and roll it through under strong pressure. That causes the ink to transfer onto the paper. Then you ink the plates up again and keep going until you have however many you need. When you're doing your final run of prints (as opposed to just doing proofs to check your work), it's called editioning. Here's a snapshot of prints on the drying rack from an editioning session for our Alter Ego book!

After that, we put it together in the concertina fashion, as seen in the video. Use the bookmarks in the video description to skip to the book parts if you wanna see them.

A Closer Look at My Process - Drop Bear (An Australian Bestiary)

Right, so task two I was less into... the theme was Australian animals, which are pretty boring to me, I feel like we overdid Aussie stuff in school maybe. Buuuut on the bright side, it didn't have to be a real animal! :D

"Students are asked to choose a native, introduced, wild, domestic or mythical Australian animal as a starting point for an image."

So I chose the drop bear! If you're a foreigner reading this, then yes, I assure you that drop bears are real and if you want to come to Australia and go bush walking, you need to put vegemite behind your ears to ward them off, coz they won't pounce on you from above in a bloody flash of claws if they can smell that stuff. In reality though, you don't need to believe in drop bears, we've got plenty of other killer creatures here lol.

Here's my initial sketch. My very first one was the teddy, and then I did a thumbnail sketch showing a zoomed out version, but I decided right away that I just preferred the teddy, so I didn't do any other sketches after this one!

I did get started on a mockup of the thumbnail done larger though, but this is as far as I got before I decided it was boring:

So I stuck to the teddy, and this time instead of tracing it in photoshop, I just printed out a reversed version of it and actually used the orange stuff that we're meant to use lol. Ended up looking like this:

The orange stuff doesn't actually lift off the ground, it just gives you a guide to follow when you come in with the etching scribe. So the annoying thing is that you're basically tracing the same image twice, but it was still easier than punching holes through my paper! A better look at the orange stuff:

So after I got at it with the etching scribe, it was basically the same process as before with the acid, and then doing my proof:

The proof was extra handy this time. It was gonna be too hard for me to just wing the aquatinting this time, so I scanned my proof in and used Photoshop to plan out my shading. So glad I did!

Here's a look at the aquatinting process! The plate is covered in melted resin, and the black bits are the bitumen paint which blocks out the acid. This is about halfway through, so I've blocked out the whites and the lightest greys. Hopefully that helps give a better picture of how it works... I think after this went in the acid, I blocked out the last bits of the teddy, besides the eyes and nose which needed to be darker. And then back in the acid and more blocking out etc. Yeah.

The finished plate:

First proof with dodgy student ink:

Proof with fancy ink:

For the actual final one I did, you'll have to look at the video, I forgot to take a photo before I packed it away! It's basically the same as the brown one above, just with a bit more black mixed in.

What the rest of the class did:

So that's it for me and etching! It was a good class ^_^ I probably won't make a habit of printmaking though, once I leave UNSW I'll no longer have access to all the equipment. Maybe screen printing isn't so bad since you can get those little home kits, but I remember the screens being so hard to clean when I did it at UNSW back in 2008... Who knows though!

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