I worked with master printmaker Alfonso Crujera during a residency in his studio in the Canary Islands in April 2016. I received the equivalent of a university course in electro-etching which expanded my knowledge, understanding and confidence in working with the electro etching process.
Alfonso Crujera has written and published an informative Electro-etching Handbook. Available on Amazon.
In spite of early childhood warnings not to mix electricity and water I have become a pioneer in electro-etching, venturing into and exploring this new territory.
Electro-etching was developed by Thomas Spencer in the 19th century. We can only speculate as to why electro-etching wasn’t adopted as an intaglio option by the printmaking community. It is possible that there was a hesitancy to mix water and electricity and without the concerns about health and safety there was little incentive to learn a new way of working.
I think the time is now right for the adoption of electro-etching as an option for printmakers working with intaglio. It has a major role to play in contemporary printmaking as it replicates the quality of traditional etching, is safe, has no toxic fumes, and produces little residue requiring disposal. I am part of a movement in printmaking circles that encourages more environmentally responsible and safer methods of etching without sacrificing high quality results. This exploration has brought me to electro-etching.
I was first introduced to electro-etching when I was in the High Arctic, while I was conducting printmaking workshops with the local Inuit printmakers. We discovered an electro-etching system in the storage area, which we cleaned up and successfully used to etched several zinc plates.
Initially my exploration of electro-etching was focused on replicating traditional etched lines and aquatint on copper, zinc and iron. After applying a resist to one plate, I submerse two plates of the same metal in parallel 6-10 cm apart in an electrolyte. I connect the two plates to a direct current power supply and applied a very low voltage of electricity.
The electrolyte in which the plates are immersed contains positive metal ions and negative sulfate ions. When the current flows, positive metal ions adhere to the cathode plate and negative sulfate ions are attracted to the bare areas of the anode plate reacting with the metal surface oxidizing and eroding it. The result is a bite that is comparable with that of acid etching, albeit with some useful differences, one of which is a gratuitous electrotint.