There are many alternatives to the traditional etching ground on the market, many of which advertise themselves as the safer alternative. This may be the case, but from my experience this is often to the detriment of quality and practicality.
This common problem has put many printmakers off from trying alternatives, preferring to stay with the reliable time honoured system. Did you know that a traditional etching ground contains arsenic, lead, mercury and many other toxic elements which you are not only breathing in, but also absorbed through your skin?
With ‘BIG’, I feel I have not only provided a non toxic alternative but also a ground which is far more versatile. The main constituent is an ink, which allows the printmaker to experiment with many different effects on their etching plate. Techniques ranging from soft and hard ground, photo etching, marbling, relief etching, sandpaper aquatints and coffee lift are some of the options which can be explored.
BIG has been used at the School of Art at the University of Aberystwyth since 2002 and has been adopted in many other private and educational print workshops around the world. Trefeglwys Print Studio provides courses covering all the techniques which can be achieved with Big. If you would like to know more about this exciting ground or would like to try it out, you can contact me through my email or give me a call.
HOW TO USE BIG
A STEP BY STEP GUIDE
Bevel the edge of the plate, not only for conventional reasons but also to preserve your roller.
Degrease the plate (using vinegar and a little whiting as this is a healthier option) making sure all deposits of whiting are removed from both sides of the plate when drying it. (Don’t dry with a hair dryer as some water systems have quite a lot of chlorine, which can be left on the surface of the plate, use newsprint or equivalent)
The secret to a successful application of the BIG ground is to roll the plate up evenly and not too heavily. Squeeze a small amount of the ground onto a glass pallet. Spread it out with a pallet knife and roll it up (a good quality roller helps). Pass the loaded roller over the plate in a fairly vigorous fashion. At first the plate will take on a sort of eggshell appearance. Occasionally spin the roller to give an even coverage of ground. *
At this stage you can treat the ground in the same way as you would a soft ground.** If however you wish to create a hard ground you must now bake the plate. (The ideal method is to do this in an oven, but a hot plate will do. It is also possible to use a cardboard box with a round hole cut out of the top to which a hairdryer can be inserted, blowing hot air onto the plate. This latter process is a simple one but can take a little longer to bake the plate. The timing for baking will be dependent on the size of your box and the strength of the hairdryer.)With each of these methods it is important to keep the dust levels low. It is equally important that the temperature and the length of baking time are correct relative to each other, as although the ground would perform well at the initial stages, problems may arise when removing the ground if the temperature has been set too high for too long. As a benchmark, a temperature of 135C for 6mins works well, but of course you can increase the temperature and reduce the time slightly if you wish. Just be aware that too high a temperature will burn the ground. This will be indicated when smoke rises from the plate and the colour of the ground changes. To assess whether the plate is dry or not, first let the plate cool down, as while the plate is still hot the ground remains tacky.
You should now have a perfect working ground. Unlike traditional grounds BIG will retain its quality indefinitely and will not dry out. It is also possible to draw preliminary sketches on the surface of the ground using a soft pencil; I personally use a litho pencil No. 1. If you accidentally scratch the plate you can use a permanent marker pen to cover the marks, or alternatively, apply BIG stopout. It is important to allow the ground to cure for at least half an hour after cooling before you bite the plate.
To remove the ground, simply give it a quick polish with Brasso or you could use a non toxic stripper, I would recommend Home Strip as it is very safe and will not harm the environment. For more info on this product go: HERE
Remember, if removing the ground proves difficult you have probably baked the plate for too long. The ground can also be removed with any washing powder and hot water if the plate was backed several days earlier.
*If at stage three you are covering an earlier etched plate, roll the plate up with a little more ground than you would for a bare unetched plate. Then with your finger work the ground down into the etched lines. When you are happy that this has been achieved you can then strip back some of the ground with a dry roller.
** If you want to use BIG as a soft ground to create impressions of leaves, feathers etc., tape a sheet of screen printing mesh larger than your plate to the bed of your press. After coating the plate with wet ground register the plate under the mesh and run it through the press (two etching blankets are usually sufficient). A small amount of ground will be removed onto the mesh. Re apply the ground to the plate, place items on top and run through the press making sure you have placed the plate in the same position with the mesh dropped on top. Then, by baking the plate you can combine soft and hard ground techniques, if you wish, on the same ground.
For more information on BIG’s versatility you can contact Andrew via firstname.lastname@example.org
AN INTRODUCTION TO BIG AND HOW TO PREPARE A HARD GROUND
To download film demonstrations on the many ways in which BIG can be used: Visit our Video Tutorials Page