I made a silicon mold from one of my old plates, coated the inner surface with conductive paint and placed it as a cathode in an electrolytic cell using copper sulphate as an electrolyte. Copper formed on the inside of the mold making an exact copy of the original plate.
I took four prints from each plate. The textures achieved with electro-etch respond best to being treated the same way as collagraph matrix. I’ve also been using a technique that Andrew Baldwin describes as ‘double drop’, a plate is first printed in one colour then over printed in a second colour from the same plate.
The plates that these prints are made from started life as electro-etch test pieces. They are all made from electro-etched aluminium. It is a soft metal that etches deeply and in the areas of open bite provides a tooth that holds ink really well. Peter Wray, in his article on saline sulphate etching in Print Making Today, describes it as a natural aquatint. Although aluminium is soft the depth and quality of the etch achieved with electro-etch appears to hold out really well against the pressure of the press. I have plates that have been through the press thirty times with little effect on the quality of print obtained.
This zinc plate has been allowed to corrode all the way through in places. The original batteries made to produce electricity in the 1830s were made by hanging a plate of copper and one of zinc in a solution of copper sulphate. Thomas Spencer observed that copper was deposited on the copper plate (the cathode, negative pole) and that the zinc (anode, positive pole) was etched.He and John Wilson patented this process in 1840.
This plate was made by shorting out such a battery.
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 programme is moving into territory that is more satisfying and familiar to me. At last I’m beginning to make work again. Having explored and become familiar with the technology of electro-etching I can now play with its mark making potential. It is possible to etch plates in the traditional manner by replacing acid with electrolysis but that would be limiting its potential. The major difference between it and acid etching is that metal can be added to the plates with electro-etch.The plate making process is more akin to building a collagraph.
This copper plate was produced by both plating and etching so it can be both intaglio and relief inked. The plate is also a piece of art in its own right.
Steel facing a copper plate was used in the past to protect a soft copper plate so that more prints could be taken from it. Although the number of editions are not large enough to require steel plating I thought it would be fun to see if it could be done at low voltage. I’m sure it can but I didn’t manage it at first try but I did get some interesting marks. The colours were also amazing as the mild steel started to rust on the copper.
The first image is of the plate as it came out of the tank, the second and third are as it was cleaned up.The third image shows some of the bare areas where the mild steel has not adhered properly. Although the lack of adherence is a significant failure, due to inadequate degreasing, the marks it makes are hypnotic. If I can achieve these colours in a print I’m going to be well pleased.