The electro forming of sculpture has a number of advantages over the lost wax process, the major one being that the sculptor can do it in a home studio.
This piece is 30 cm. high.
The whole process took less than twenty four hours.
In the 1860’s Charles Walker’s book “Electrotype Manipulation” ran into thirty editions. In 1868 Alexander Watt reported that;
‘Everyone has his set of electrotyping apparatus and his bath of copper sulphate. Even among the fair sex will be found many skilful manipulators and in such hands, how could the art fail to give beautiful results.’
Some earlier posts describe the processes of electro forming and electrotyping and the differences between them.
Examples of apples and pears that I have electroformed.
Managed to take thirty five prints from these electro-etched collaged (4 pieces) aluminium plates. I only needed twenty five for the 20 x 20 print exchange but the extras were needed to mitigate against producing twenty five mono-prints from the same plate. It didn’t work but it’s near enough! Not sure that I’m allowed ten artists proofs.
20 x 20 untitled
The copper plates that these prints were taken from have been both electro-etched and plated. The top of the plate for the first print was roughly plated with steel around the etched copper circle. By combining etching and plating processes the plates are sculpted and are more like collagraphs than traditional etched plates. The initial focus of my research into electro-etching was based on it being safer than traditional acid etching and it undoubtably is but the real attraction is the wider range of the mark making potential of electro-etch.
It is well known that each metal responds colouring media in different ways but probably less well known that the each metal has its own signature response to electrolysis. The next phase of the research is to explore this through the making process.
Electro-etching has been around since 1840 when Spencer and Wilson were granted a patent for it. Gottfried Wilson Osann recommended the process to his fellow scientists to illustrate their own books claiming that it was so easy done on their own desks. Despite the ease of use, the lack of toxic fumes and that the process bites fine precise lines it has not so far been widely accepted within the printmaking community.
My research into electro-etching is based on the following testable assumptions that:
The objectives are to:
The aim is to:
In earlier scoping research for this project research saline sulphate was identified as a possible alternative mordant to nitric acid for etching. It is widely used and recommended as a safe mordant for etching zinc and aluminium (Wray). Ferric chloride was also considered, but rejected in the early part of the programme, owing to the difficulty of using it in a domestic environment. The benchmark that had been set for assessing an alternative mordent was that it should be inexpensive, safe and convenient for use in a home-based studio.
The conclusion of the research project was that saline sulphate could be considered as an alternative to, but not necessarily a replacement for acid etching or ferric chloride etching.
The major advantage saline sulphate has over nitric acid is that it does not require as many safety precautions. It does however share some of the disadvantages of both nitric acid and ferric chloride:
In 1991, Nik Semenoff at a conference, at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, both described and encouraged artists to use electro-etching as a safe process to etch intaglio plates. It is a matter of surprise, that despite the fact that Nik made this claim twenty-five years ago, and the work of Marion and Omri Behr, Cedric Green, Alfonso Crujera, Bob Perkin and others have shown that his claims are valid, electro-etching is not in mainstream practice.
Current writing on electro-etching
Marion and Omri Behr (1993) published their research into the etching and tone creation in copper and zinc by means of a low voltage electrolytic process using the salts of the same metal as the electrolyte.
Cedric Green, working in France on an electrolytic process for etching copper and zinc he published his paper on galvanic etching in 1998, he has an active web site on which he publishes his and others artwork and researches into electro-etching and electrotyping. Cedric has recently added papers to his web site describing his concerns about the use of sodium chloride as an electrolyte because of its potential to release chlorine gas.
Alfonso Crujera an internationally respected Spanish painter, sculptor and printmaker began electro-etching in 2001 and opened the first electro-etching workshop in Spain in 2002. He published his ‘Electro-Etching Handbook’ in Spanish that has now been translated and published in English. Alfonso has an active website and runs residential workshops. He also has an easy to read, accessible paper on electro-etching on the non-toxic print website. Most recently Alfonso, in collaboration with Bob Perkin a U.K. based scientist, has been writing of their research into the science of electro-etching.
In 2010 Francisco Hernandez-Chevarria and Alberto Murillo published their paper “Metal Sacrifice: The use of saline (sodium chloride or table salt) to etch aluminium, steel and iron/mild steel.
Where am I at with this Project?
I guess the flip answer to that question is I wish I knew. I’ve probably learned more about myself than I have about the subject matter so far.
I am surrounded by a load of data; notes on experiments and ideas to explore further, but at a time in the PhD. Programme where I need to start pulling it all together into a coherent form and making some work. The making of work has been somewhat on hold over the past two years, so that is beginning to look like a priority. Using the making of art as a research tool.
 Howard, K. (1993). ‘Safe Etching and Photo Etching: The next generation’. Print Making Today, Vol. 2 No 3. pp. 19-21
 Same metal same metal salt describes the use of the same metal for both the anode electrode and cathode and the electrolyte being an aqueous solution of the metal salt i.e. an electrolyte of copper sulphate for copper electrodes and zinc sulphate for zinc electrodes.
 Wray, P. (2007) ‘Etching Made Easy’, Printmaking Today Vol 16, No 1 Spring, pp 25-25
 Semenoff, N and Christos, C. (1991) Using Dry Copier Toners and Electro-Etching on Intaglio Plates Leonardo, Vol. 24, No. 4 (1991), pp. 389-394.
 Electro-etching handbook: Alfonso Crujera: 9788493510091
 Printmaking Revolution – Amazon.com