Soft Ground:  


A ground is a coating applied to a plates to protect it from the action of the mordant used in etching. Soft ground, is an acid resistant coating made of asphaltum, rosin, beeswax, and tallow. The addition of tallow keeps the ground from drying to a hard surface. A soft ground line has the character of a pencil or crayon drawing. Anything pressed into the soft, waxy ground--with a texture such as lace or fingerprints--will cause the ground to yield under pressure, removing the ground and revealing the plate for etching. The longer the soft ground plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper and wider the line becomes. rule soft ground etching magnified
1.  Turn the hot-plate on with the temperature set at 135 degrees. If the ground and roller slide creating pinholes and and uneven application, the plate is overheated.
2 Place a piece of newspaper on the hot-plate to keep soft ground off the surface of the hot-plate, and to facilitate your ability to remove your copper plate easily. Place the filed plate on the hot-plate. In the event that you don't have access to a hot-plate, you can warm the copper using a propane torch. Take a piece of card and scoop a bit of soft ground from the soft ground tin.
   3.  Once the plate is warmed, use the brayer dedicated for soft ground to spread the ground over the warmed plate. Rolling the brayer/ground in one direction initially to spread. Avoid hitting the newspaper as you approach and leave the plate to prevent loosing ground of the roller and creating streaks in the ground on the plate.
4.  Continue to spread the ground with the brayer with goal of achieving an even coat--sans pinholes.
5.  Gradually lightening pressure on the brayer will spread the ground, reducing roller marks and pinholes.
6.  Once the ground is even, set the brayer with the roller facing up back in the drawer. Grasp the newspaper on diagonal corners and lift the copper plate from the hot plate. Temporarily set the plate on the concrete floor to facilitate cooling prior to working on the surface.
NOTE Store the soft ground tools so as to keep them clean. Brayers with the roller surface up and the lid on the tin of soft ground will prevent debris from attaching to the soft ground and creating marks when applying the ground to your plate.
Drawing on the Soft Ground Plate:    
  Soft pencil or crayon-like lines can be created by placing paper over the surface of the soft-ground plate, then drawing on the paper.    
1.  The quality of paper used between the plate and the drawing tool when has a definite impact on the soft ground image. Using a fine grained paper gives fine lines. Using a rough textured paper creates coarse lines.
2.  Hinge the paper to the plate by initially folding a crease an inch or so from the long edge of the paper. Apply masking tape tabs to the bottom edge of the paper fold. Supporting the large portion of the folded paper, slide the plate into the crease. Gently lift the plate and paper and burnish the tape to the back of the plate. Affixing the paper to the plate permits you to lift the paper to examine the soft ground drawing progress.
3.  The pressure of your drawing tool, or anything thing that comes in contact with the paper will offset the ground on the paper, exposing the plate. Experiment with different densities of pencils, etc. to see the quality of line you achieve. Varying the pressure on your drawing instrument will change the amount of ground that attaches to the plate and the weight of the line.
4.  The use of a drawing bridge, a strip of wood supported by blocks on each end, can be used for a more pristine approach to the soft ground. The bridge supports the hand so nothing but the pencil tip will press against the paper.
Transferring a Texture into the Soft ground:    
  To imprint textures into the surface of the soft ground you can use any thin, flat material (gauze, dry foliage, lace, fabric). Textures can be imprinted into the soft ground by hand burnishing, by disturbing the soft ground with fingertips, brushes, etc., or by impressing a texture across the surface of the plate using the printing press. If using the press to transfer a texture into the soft ground, prepare your material then use the following steps:
1.  Lighten pressure on the press about 1/2 - 1 turn less (counter clockwise) than for normal printing.
2.  Set up the press as for printing.
3.  Place the cooled soft ground on the press bed
4.  Arrange the material you wish to imprint in the soft ground on the surface of the plate.
5.  Cover the material and plate with a piece of plastic or wax paper larger than the plate.
6.  Cover the above with the rubber printing blanket instead of the usual set of felts.
7.  Run the plate etc. through the press. The pressure should be relatively light.
8.  Remove everything and return the pressure back to normal.
9.  Stop out areas of the plate which you do not wish to carry the soft ground texture with hard ground, or an alcohol based shellac stop out. Allow the stop out to dry.
TIP:  Soft ground areas stopped out prior to any etching need to be carefully considered for their shape and edge quality as they will be brighter than the etched soft ground areas of the plate.
Tonal areas can be achieved by etching the plate in stages. Immerse the plate in ferric chloride and expose for the lightest etch. Remove the plate from the etching solution and rinse. Once the plate is dry block out the areas you wish to preserve as etched. Immerse the plate in the ferric chloride again and continue to etch then progressives block out areas until the entire etching process is complete.
Etching the Plate in a Mordant     {next}    
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Intaglio - a Studio Manual, was created with support from the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence - Small Grant Program.
This electronic intaglio studio manual was authored by Holly Morrison for the students at the VCU School of the Arts.

©Holly Morrison, all rights reserved