An undertow and soft ground

drawing (flipped horizontally) done on paper for soft ground etching
The drawing on paper for a soft ground etching; it’s Ben in New Orleans.

I’m having trouble escaping my dreams. It’s as if all the unremembered or missed visitations are making up for lost time these days, arriving one upon the other, ceaselessly. It’s a haunting, an undertow from which I feel I can barely escape– hitting snooze or ignoring the alarm, regardless how early I went to sleep the night before; regardless that I sometimes wake before the alarm has sounded, and then return to sleep. Perhaps taking advantage of the very early wake-up is my only chance against such a tide. The dreams are only in the morning.

And now, enough about all such nonsense, and more info about that drawing up there.

Soft Ground technique:

This photo shows the drawing on the Rives lightweight paper, attached to the registration jig which holds the copper plate in place while working.

The plate is first coated with soft ground. The paper goes over the plate, and the image is drawn onto the paper, to which the ground from the plate beneath is transferred. Unlike the hard ground I’ve been working with, this emulsion is incredibly sensitive and even touching or leaning on the paper will create an impression. One must work with a wooden bridge over the whole jig in order to not make any unintentional marks.

Here is a close-up where you can see how the soft ground is picked up off the surface of the plate by the paper– thereby leaving those areas of the plate un-protected in the acid; and thus are they etched. They retain the quality of pencil on paper once etched.

I wish I’d scanned my initial drawing as well; there was almost no detail- the blue that shows through here and there was from that skeletal outline. All of the individual branches, leaves and texture came during the process. And once you put a line down, there’s no erasing, as it is a pressure-based process.

I worked this plate on Tuesday night, but it didn’t come out of the acid bath until nearly ten o’clock so I did not have time to pull a proof, more’s the pity! But I will head into the studio tomorrow to do so, as well as pulling a new proof of my last line etching (also with similar trees), to see how my burnishing went. Stay tuned. Here is more about this technique: vernis mou; soft ground etching.

You will notice that the image at the top of this post is reverse of what it is in the photos, and that is because the final print, like all etching, will be flopped compared to the image on the plate. I flopped it in Photoshop to be a more accurate sneak peek.


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