Scraping and Burnishing

scraping and burnishing a copper etching plate
The plate I’m currently scraping and burnishing. The copper is beautiful, isn’t it?

Every time I work on a plate that needs scraping and burnishing, I tell myself that I’m never going to do it again.  Since most of what I’m working on now involves using the backs of old plates, telling myself anything of the sort is folly. Scraping and burnishing, for you non-printmakers, is pretty much what it sounds like: an etcher can “erase” or lighten lines and tone by scraping away some of the copper, and/or using the burnisher (the curved tool in the photo above) to push the copper flat.  It takes patience and elbow grease, and the process of correcting an ear on one of my thesis plates gave me tendonitis.

The offending ear from the plate for “She Wore Her Father’s Teeth“. (2010)

I enjoy the unexpected surprises that arise with reusing copper, and it’s good for me to give up a little control from time to time.  There are few things as pleasurable as working on a shiny new piece, though.  Polishing and beveling the edges of new copper can seem tedious, but I usually enjoy it.  (As I mentioned at the end of my Back to School post.)

I wasn’t sure how much scraping and burnishing this plate needed until I pulled a proof.  The aquatint texture didn’t come from me; I “found” this plate in the scrap bin.  I sanded it down a bit before grounding, drawing, and etching.  Knowing that my lines need to stand out against that texture, I chose to etch it far longer than usual.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t as careful as I am with new plates, and there is a mantle of foul-biting around the skull.  When I first pulled the plate out of the ferric chloride, I feared the worst.  Scraping all that away is probably impossible because I bit the plate so deeply.

Luckily, when I pulled the proof, I liked the dark messiness of the accidentally etched area.  Once I think I’m done with scraping and burnishing, I’ll pull another proof to check my progress.  I have a week to finish, mat and frame this puppy.

First proof, Tangent No. 1. It seems very different from the drawing, doesn’t it?

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