Kevin Cummins
Etchinginsights.com

Technical Detail for
SOUTH CHESTER SPRINGS ROAD

Etching
Completed 2008
11.5 x 20 inches

The idea for this etching is based on this photograph:


I took this photograph a few years back on a clear, crisp fall morning. It’s a very powerful image for me. The overall patterns are simple: a strong vertical (the middle tree) flanked by two circular shapes (the trees on the left and right). Within this simple pattern is a complex pattern of textures and shapes, such as the intricate weaving of light in the trees and cornfield. There is a flow from left to right (the direction of the cornfield, the fence and the road) which gives direction and flow to the image. It contains the most basic elements in our lives: the food staple of corn, the trees that surround us and the roads that we go from place to place.

My sense of the image is the quiet strength of nature. The man-made road is abruptly stopped by the tree as though this is the end and we cannot go on; the middle tree is injured and scarred yet continues to flourish as many branches sprout out; the fence, used to divide nature, seems small and inconsequential.

This will be a big print. I have a 12 x 20 inch zinc plate that is a good fit for the image. The image is commanding enough to fill a big plate. A small-sized plate would not do justice to it.

Materials used for South Chester Springs Road:


Drawing:

  • Frosted Mylar
  • #2 pencil
  • Masking tape

Etching:

  • 12 x 20 inch 16 gauge zinc plate with acid resist backing
  • Stop-out (or liquid asphaltum) and paint brush
  • Flat black Krylon spray paint for aquatinting
  • Lithographic crayon
  • Moderate strength nitric acid
  • Burnisher
  • Very fine steel wool
  • Turpentine and alcohol

Printing

  • white BFK Rives paper
  • black Charbonnel ink
  • Grumbacher watercolors: cobalt blue, burnt umber, yellow ochre and chrome green
  • Kodak Photo Flo
  • large quantities of paper towels and old newspapers!

For those who are unfamiliar with etching techniques, please refer first to the Etching Process and Essays sections of this website for an overview of the process. The Technical Detail that follows is meant to give specific examples of how the techniques are used.

Process Summary


Drawing
First State
Second State
Third and Final State

DRAWING

When I do a drawing for an etching, I’m not trying to do a finished, ready-to-exhibit drawing. I’m instead looking for the overall light and dark contrasts because this gives the structure to what the etching will look like. I use pencil to completely fill in the small dark areas, such as the dark textures of the leaves and corn stalks.

Once the drawing is done, I trace it on Mylar with a #2 graphite pencil so that it can be transferred to the plate.

Drawing on Mylar

I did not include the telephone poles that were in the original photo. I thought they detracted from the direction and force of the image. I also moved the tree on the right further to the right so that it is not centered in the middle of the road.

Mylar Drawing Transferred to Plate:


With a flat file, I bevel the edges of the zinc plate so that when it is printed, it will not cut the paper or the press blanket, and then I clean the plate with whiting and water.

I paint a thin layer of stop-out on the plate which must thoroughly dry. The plate is put on the press bed. I place the Mylar drawing image-side down on it and tape in place. The drawing and plate are run through the press, which transfers the drawing onto the stop-out. The image is in reverse and negative.

Mylar Drawing on Plate

I realize that the image is slightly smaller than the plate size. I will cut the plate later in the process.

Estimated time to complete the drawing and transfer: 10 hours over 7 days

WORK ON THE FIRST STATE

First Etch

The transferred image on the plate shows the areas in graphite that are to be etched. Using the tip of a burnisher, I scrape off only the graphite areas. These are the areas of the plate that are to be exposed for etching in acid and will be the grays and blacks of the print. By scraping off all the graphite areas on the plate, I’m able to achieve a fine level of design which forms the structure of the etching. Scraping is the most tedious part of my Etching Process and, depending on the size and complexity of the plate, can take many hours.

Once the scraping is done, I use very fine steel wool to rub off any excess stop-out. Some areas may have been scraped accidently; I stop out these areas so they are not etched.

Below is the plate with the completed scraping prior to etching.


First State Etch

I aquatint the plate and etch in nitric acid for about 2 minutes. This is a short etch and will print as light gray. Remember the length of the etch depends on the strength of the acid. The weaker the acid, the longer the etch needs to be to get the desired effect.

Second Etch

I remove the plate from the acid and stop-out the areas that I want to remain light gray, such as parts of the branches and cornfield. I re-etch for another 2 minutes, which etches the remaining open areas deeper and gives a medium gray when printed


First State - Second Etch

I repeat this process for a third etch, which etches the remaining open areas even deeper and gives a dark gray when printed.


First State - Third Etch

After the third etch, I need to see where I am on the plate before I go further. I clean the plate and print, giving me the first state.

Proof of the First State



The first state is very well done. I am happy with it. The splotchy color of the sky is because I did not thoroughly ink the plate, as I will do when the plate is finished.

I know from experience that only a few more etches will be needed to develop the tones within the image, and that the print will be very strong.

Estimated time to complete the First State: 30 hours over 30 days

WORK ON THE SECOND STATE:

The first state has successfully established the structure and flow of the picture. In the second state, I will fill in the light grays of the trees, grass and road.

Before I start the second state, I cut off half an inch off the top of the plate with a plexiglass cutter, so that the image will match the size of the original drawing.

First Etch

I stop-out the sky, the cornfield, the tree trunk, the grass and the road – in other words, everything except the tree leaves. I spray an aquatint and etch in the acid for about 30 seconds. This will give the leaves a very light gray tone when printed. The tone will be just enough to show the difference between the leaves and the sky, and it will bring the shadows of the trees together. After the first etch I clean the plate.

Second State - First Etch

Second Etch

I need to develop the grass and brush, plus I decide to put darker shadows on the tree on the right to give it more shape. I stop-out accordingly and spray a light aquatint. I etch the plate for about 45 seconds which will give a gray tone to the grass when printed. I stop-out the grass and I etch the remaining areas an additional 45 seconds, which makes the brush and the tree shadows a deeper gray when printed. I remove the stop-out to do a third etch.

Second State - Second Etch

Third Etch

The third etch will darken the tree trunk of the middle tree and give a darker gray value to the road. I stop-out everything except the trunk and the road and I lightly aquatint. After the initial aquatint, I cover up the tree trunk with cardboard (so it cannot be further aquatinted) and give the road a heavier aquatint. This will give the road a more grainy feel, which I like for road textures. I etch for about 45 seconds and stop out the tree trunk. When the stop-out is dry, I further etch the road for 45 seconds, which gives it a darker, grainy texture. I remove the stop-out to do a fourth etch.

Second State - Third Etch

Fourth Etch

I use a fourth etch to give highlights to the brush along the road (not shown). I clean the plate and print to see where I am.

PROOF OF THE SECOND STATE:

Proof of Second State

The proof is a good one. The leaves are a little darker than the first proof and stand out from the sky. The trees and cornfield are well developed. A few of the darker areas have to be darkened further, such as the road and the shadows of the tree on the right. Overall, everything is progressing very well and I may be able to complete it with one more etch.

Estimated time to complete the Second State: 5 hours over 7 days

WORK ON THE THIRD & FINAL STATE:

I decide the open areas of sky will remain white. I will not use an aquatint to give tone to the sky because this will reduce the contrast between the sky and the trees, which I do not want to do.

The only remaining issues are the road has to be a bit darker and several shadows in the trees have to be deepened. I stop-out the plate accordingly, spray a heavy aquatint and etch in acid for about a minute. I anticipate the plate is done so I clean the plate and re-bevel the edges to make them smooth and I print.

Final Proof

The final state is a very strong, well-executed print. The simple shapes seem slightly different from the original photograph -- I now see three circular shapes forming a triangle with the middle tree as the apex coming towards you and the flanking trees as the receding base.

This is an unusual print in that it was almost finished after the first state. I’m not that lucky with most prints. I’ve done everything that I set out to do and I am happy with the result.

Estimated time to complete the Third State: 2 hours over 2 days

Estimated time to complete from start to finish: 47 hours over 46 days

ADDENDUM:

I want to see how the print will look hand-colored with watercolors. Most prints that I do are too complicated to hand-color. I find only a few prints look good hand-colored as color works against the strengths of a black and white etching. However, in looking at South Chester Springs Road, the design is simple enough that color may add to the image.

Final Proof - Hand Colored

I use cobalt blue, green and umber. I mix a few drops of Kodak Photo-Flo in the water. This decreases the water surface tension. Without it, the watercolor would bead on the print and not flow evenly.

Green is often a tough color to use as it can overwhelm a picture, but the textures of the trees help to keep the green vibrant without being too consuming. The fact that I did not aquatint the sky gives the blue watercolor a sharp clarity that contrasts with the textures of the trees and cornfield. I like the hand-colored print, but I like the black and white print even better.

Black and White
Hand Colored