These are polished copper plates (measuring 6 x 9 cm and 0.8mm thick) with their protective plastic covering. The first thing that needs to happen is to round the edges off so that the plate doesn't damage the felt on the etching press.
Next the plates are rubbed down with fine wire wool so that the etching ground 'attaches' itself to the plate.
Now the plates need to be thoroughly cleaned, first with turpentine and then with methylated spirit, before the etching ground can be applied.
Once the plates are dry, the etching ground can be applied. The engraving will be made into this layer, not the copper itself. This layer will protect the plate when it's placed in the acid bath, so that the acid only bites into the copper where the line sketch has been made. In this case we are using a hard ground. Now they have to dry (overnight)...
The design is completed and the reverse of the plate is covered with a protective layer so that the acid doesn't bite into the back. The plate is carefully placed in the acid bath to prevent air bubbles forming and is propped up on a wooden block so it doesn't just lie flat on the bottom. In this case I left it in the acid for 1 1/2 hours because the bath was quite cold. If it's warmer then the reaction is faster and it can be removed earlier. The plate is thoroughly rinsed under the tap.
Before the etching ground is removed, an etching needle is used to check that the engraving is deep enough in the copper. Then it can be removed with turpentine and this is how it looks:
Now we can print the etching. The whole plate is covered in etching ink, and then the excess is removed leaving the ink in the engraved lines. The plate is 'polished' with newspaper to remove more of the excess ink.
Once this is done the copper is bright and shiny again:
It can now be pegged up to dry. The paper will dry quickly but the ink will stay wet for a few days. Would you like to learn how to make etchings?
click here to see how an aquatint is made