Experiments in Copper
and Zinc

Nancy C. Bryant

Student Projects, Print Making

 

Young Girl in Cafe with Street View. Lesser Ury (1861-1931). Etching.

 

Introduction

The purpose of this project was to experiment with Copper and Zinc plates to see the effects of different printmaking techniques on the two metals. Proof. Fitz initiated the idea and helped me research the different techniques. The project quickly turned to a long process of mastering the individual techniques so that I was able to even produce a working plate. I tested for correct acids, dilutions, time,ground, and used the techniques of crosshatching, drypoint, aquatint, and studied line over a gradually increased amount of time in the acid.

Background

The use of Copper dates back at least to China in 5000 B.C. The metal is very versatile and alloyed as Bronze will give rise to the Bronze age itself. In printmaking, Copper Plates were used by most of the earlier engravers as well as the famous Albrecht Durer himself. Copper is softer and more malleable than Zinc. The stylus itself can make impressions on the plate that appear like etching through the ground.

Zinc is dated back the 1300 BCE near modern Israel and India. The chemical buildup of the metal along with its high reactivity and low boiling point kept Zinc from much common use. By 30 BC, however, the alloy Brass is discovered. Once pure Zinc was found in the 1500's, scientists were able to examine the metal more closely as the problems of high reactivity lessen in its pure form.

The technique of engraving dates back as far as gave art. The Japanese will turn the technique to woodblock engraving and thus begin making successful prints beyond the above primitive technique as early as the 8th century AD. It is not until the 16th century that artists such as Durer and later Rembrandt begin utilizing the etching technique with acid. Goya will lend huge influence in the 18th century, The 19th century Impressionists will achieve greater from Japanese Influence and then Picasso and others will take up the task again in the 20th. The attempt to produce art from creations of line by different techniques for printmaking is an ongoing experiment.

Procedure

 

Part A: Zinc Plate

1. Clean the Plate with the Pomade and Mineral Spirits. Use the Isopropyl Alcohol to wash the entire plate clean.

2. Cover the Plate with Hard Ground and allow it to dry.

3. Experiment One: Etch a single line into the right side of the plate and label it I in 3M Nitric Acid. Place the plate into a solution of 3M Nitric Acid for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes remove the plate and add a second line marked II. Continue this process, adding a line every three minutes until you have 5 lines, with the first line etched for a total of 15 minutes. Take the plate and remove the ground to observe results.

4. Experiment Two: Re-cover the plate with hard ground and allow it to dry. Etch a crosshatching pattern into the next quarter of the plate and allow to etch in a 3M nitric acid bath for 5 minutes. After five minutes, wash the plate clean.

 

5. Experiment Three: Drypoint. Take the stylus and create two lines in the Zinc Plate

6. Experiment Four: Aquatint. Cover the entire plate with ground and allow to dry. Etch a design suitable for aquatint in the bottom quarter of the plate. Etch in a 3M Nitric Acid bath for 6 minutes. Wash the plate clean. Then, apply the enamel to the surface of the plate from a distance great enough to not give a complete cover but rather a thin, dotted layer of enamel. Put in 3M bath for 6 minutes.

Part B: Copper Plate

1. Clean the plate with the pomade. Plate will require steel wool instead of a paper towel. Rinse with Mineral Spirits. Wash entire plate with isopropyl alcohol.

2. Spray back of plate and completely cover with enamel. Cover front of plate in hard ground and allow it to dry.

3. Experiment One: Etch a single line into the right side of the plate and label it I in 3M Nitric Acid. Place the plate into a solution of 3M Nitric Acid for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes remove the plate and add a second line marked II. Continue this process, adding a line every three minutes until you have 5 lines, with the first line etched for a total of 15 minutes. Take the plate and remove the ground to observe results.

4. Results from Experiment One show no etching except that achieved with the stylus through the ground. Repeat the above procedure using 6M Nitric Acid. Increase the time to five minutes a line. Mark 6M on the plate.

5. Results from the 6M experiment still show little etching. Use ferric acid for five minutes. In this set of lines, also include a crosshatching patter. Hard Ground Used.

6. Experiment Two: Cover the plate in Hard Ground. Aquatint. Etch a design suitable for aquatint in the bottom quarter of the plate. Etch in a Ferric Acid for 5 minutes. Wash the plate clean. Then, apply the enamel to the surface of the plate from a distance great enough to not give a complete cover but rather a thin, dotted layer of enamel. Put in Ferric Acid for 5 minutes.

Observations and Data

Comparisons and Observations:

Cleaning the Zinc plate was relatively easier than cleaning a Copper Plate. The Zinc took the pomade alone while the Copper required steel wool and much more elbow grease. Also, after the Copper was cleaned with the steel wool a solution was used to remove the scratches left on the plate. The initial Zinc plate had some patches of line that were covered in stop-out before being etched. The Copper Plate was relatively smooth.

The experiment with line went very well with the Zinc. From previous labs, the 3M solution was the obvious choice. The bath produced some bubbling, but the paintbrush kept it minimal. The five lines etched accordingly. The bottom half of the plate was still bit by the acid despite the ground. It had to be recovered with stop out.

The Copper plate gave a little more difficulty. The 3M solution of Nitric Acid failed to etch the plate. It appeared to be etched, but after close examination was only the stylus' marks through the ground. After trying a 6M solution, the first line was barely etched while the others were not etched at all despite the higher concentration and longer time in the bath. After more research, the Ferric Solution seems the probable next step. The second day of experimentation, the copper plate was re-covered accidentally in an old ground that made for a number of bite marks and scratches on the plate. After being in the bath of 6M Nitric Acid, however, the bath turned a light blue shade as seen below.

The Dry Point technique proved interesting for both plates. The Zinc required more strength, but the burr it left was remarkable. The Copper plate gave easily under the stylus, but the burrs were smaller and tended towards the sides of the lines instead of just where the stylus lifted off.

Because of the problems discovering the right acid, the Zinc aquatint turned out better as more ink was able to be retained. The Copper never seemed to fully etch.

 

Conclusions

The Copper plate proved much harder to etch than hypothesized. It seemed being the 'softer' metal, it would etch more deeply and thus retain ink well. While this may be the case, the correct solution of acid proved difficult to find. The Hard Ground was preferable to the Soft Ground as the plates were in the baths for longer periods at a time. The Drypoint provided the most observable difference between the two metals, though the aquatint, if the correct acid had been achieved seemed a promising contrast.

Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engraving

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper

http://www.the-artists.org/search/prints-h.com

Acknowledgements

Professor Fitz for the idea and for the technical help

Dr. Bordley

Dr. Mansfield