Etching is one of the oldest and most satisfying forms of printmaking and in the hands of a expert can deliver intricacies of line and tone unrivalled by any other fine art printing process.
Etchings are the prints produced by etching an image on a copper or zinc plate, using acid, filling the textures of the image with ink and then printing it on to paper by running it through a heavy etching press. please see my what is etching? page for a step by step description of the process.
The two etching techniques I employ are Hard Ground (the most basic form of etching) and Soft Ground. I rarely use aquatint. The techniques I describe here are traditional methods adapted and modified to a modern domestic environment. Virtually everything apart from the printing can be done at home with suitable care and little space. The modern table top press is now capable of printing etchings that match those done on heavy studio press (at least for small plates) and so there is now no reason why even the printing cannot be done at home!
I will be adding further information about etching shortly…. Meanwhile here is a small gallery of what I consider to be some of my best etchings, done over a span of 40 years; from Kings Cross to Rye and then Hastings.
The Neo-Gothic Clock tower of St Pancras station station rises above the courtyard of Midhope House: on the Hillview Estate, Kings Cross, in the 1980s St Pancras station Limited edition etching print by Colin Bailey
These 1890’s tenement blocks were “decanted” in the late 1970’s by Camden Council pending demolition. They were rapidly squatted by the survivors of the Tolmers Square and Huntley Street squats who fought a drawn out and often bitter battle with Camden council to save the buildings. Grudgingly granted “short-life” status in the 1980s they went on to taken over by a Housing Association the following decade and thoroughly restored.. The Hillview estate is still home to many of these original squatters who have raised families in the flats originally condemned by Camden council as unfit for families!
I moved into a squat on the Hillview estate in Kings Cross whilst I was at art school in the late 70s and after a year’s evening classes in the etching department at Working Men’s College in Camden, after I left College, I started what was to become my series of King’s Cross etchings and spent the next 6 years working on them.
With hindsight this was a ridiculously ambitious project, involving large 12 inch by 16 inch copper plates, Litres of Dutch Mordant and the use (if not yet ownership), of a heavy etching press. Luckily I become voluntary assistant to the etching tutor (Steve Gettler) and had access to the College press as well as one at the Architects Association where he also taught etching.
I learnt a lot from that etching class; watching students try things that should have worked but didn’t and things that shouldn’t have worked but did! I ended up teaching the class and together we worked our way through Lumsden’s The Art of Etching and wasted an awful lot of copper and Zinc! I carried on with the big copper plates producing a series of etchings of Demolitions ( of which there were quite a few in London in the 80’s)
I moved to Rye in 1994 and one of my first purchases was an etching press, which, 6 years later after buying my first PC (I don’t think my Atari 1040st counts!) and discovering the internet, decided my domain name for me!
In Britain, the southern half of the coastline is slowly sinking (on the east coast, at the rate of half a centimetre a year). This and the constant action of the wind and sea results in a rapidly eroding and moving coastline. The rocks that crumble from the cliffs at Fairlight are slowly ground down to shingle and sand which is moved along the coast through a process known as longshore drift to end up at Dungeness. The groynes that counter this movement are subject to a constant pounding and grinding down from the action of the waves and last around 50 years before being replaced.
By the Sea
The slow and inexorable deterioration of manmade objects over time have been a reoccurring theme in my work since I first started etching – from the demolitions I observed as London was extensively redeveloped in the 1980s to the crumbling, rust streaked groynes and dilapidated fishing and farming equipment of East Sussex. I have always been fascinated by the relentless and patient punishment that nature exacts on man’s constructions of metal, wood, cement and stone.
I think maybe it is time to explain more about what etchings are, and what they are not ; the techniques, the terminology and the distinctions between hard ground, soft ground, engraving , mezzotint, photogravure and indeed the whole process…
See what is etching? for further information