London-based printmaker Victoria Achache uses a technique called Chine-Collé to bring blocks of colour to her characterful etchings. Her works, such as Woman in Blue, are characterised by her minimalist style, using only a few colours such as the vivid blue for the subject’s dress against a simple pink and green backdrop.
Guy Allen’s limited edition animal etchings retain the art form’s traditional density. In Hares II, Allen’s etching captures the glossy coats and flexing muscles of his two fighting hares. The pair, however, could be dancing and their regal elegance is exacerbated by the strip of gold that has been woven into the cloudless landscape behind them.
The artist first draws on a copper or zinc “plate” that has been prepared with a special wax-like liquid called “ground” before immersing the plate in acid or a copper-sulphate solution which marks the lines into the metal. The plate is then cleaned, dried and the ground is removed with a solvent, revealing the drawn lines underneath. Ink is then forced into the etched lines and finally the plate is passed through a press, with the pressure transferring the leftover ink onto paper to create the etching. The plate can be re-inked in order to create as many etchings as the artist requires.
Although etching was used in the 14th century for decorating metal, historians believe it was not used for printmaking until much later. It’s thought the technique had only been around for twenty years by the time Albrecht Dürer discovered the technology in the sixteenth century. The German artist turned out to be skilled at the process, creating dense and powerful prints such as his dark and detailed Knight, Death, and the Devil. His work became an advert for the technique and it is thought Dürer largely contributed to etching’s popularity which continues today.
Four centuries later, another German-born painter became a champion of etching prints. Lucien Freud used the technique to subject the human form to new scrutiny. Although he did not act like a conventional printmaker, instead standing the plate upright on an easel while etching, as if he was working on canvas. His portraits and nudes in this style are set against empty backgrounds in order to provide uninterrupted focus on his figures which were composed from a meticulous web of carefully etched lines and patches of shadow.