Sunday 3 January 2021

Experimenting with Sugar Lift Etching

Some years ago I came across the sugar lift etching technique and had a go (fairly unsuccessfully), so it was great to have the chance to return to it at one of Alan Birch's workshops at the back end of last year.

What is sugar lift etching, you may ask? 

If you are already familiar with etching and aquatint techniques, the key difference is that you can avoid line drawing altogether and rely on tones alone, by adding a few extra steps. It is essential to plan the tones in your image before starting.

Extra step 1 - based on Alan's advice, I started from the darkest tone first and 'painted' a sugar lift solution (sugary 'Camp' coffee) onto the etching plate, which I had already prepared with an aquatint resin layer. The areas I painted would later become exposed to the acid.

Extra step 2 was to cover the whole plate with 'soft ground' to create a waxy protective layer, allow it to cool, then immerse it in a shallow bath of warm water. After the water has had a chance to soften the sugary layer under the soft ground, I poured hot water from a kettle to agitate the water and plate, which lifted the soft ground in the areas coated by the sugar solution underneath. I then put the plate into the acid to etch it.

Extra step 3 - after each tone, you need to clean the plate fully and re-apply an aquatint layer, ready for the next tone. You then paint the sugar lift solution on the new areas - and repeat as above. 

OK, it sounds complicated here, but let me share some images, so you can see the effects.

Second proof of my boat scene sugar lift etching

The plate inked ready to print

I had some issues, which I'm planning to resolve yet, by burnishing areas of the sky to soften this. On a second print, I had problems getting the palest tone to print. It may just need another few seconds in the acid, but I am yet to experiment further before resorting to this. Below are the prints, then the plate. 

First proof of a Scottish landscape - losing too much!

Second proof - still losing the far landscape

The plate looks as if it has enough definition...

I'm certainly planning to return to this technique again in 2021, as I love its focus on tones. Like any new practice, it's going to take a bit of controlling and I'm looking forward to developing these and other plates.

To learn more about my work, please check out my website where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

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