MARCIA SANDMEYER WILSON ETCHINGS
This is a 1977 photo of the first etching I ever made, done on brass using dutch mordant and both hard and soft grounds. My teacher was Roberto DeLaMonica at the Art School of Northern NJ, then located in Tenafly. Roberto did not praise me in any way, but I thought this plate was quite successful. I used honesty plants for the dress, and strings from an american flag for the hair.
Roberto and I did not get along because he demanded absolute obedience and I demanded absolute freedom to do as I pleased. My very first day of class I went out to the hallway and used a pay phone to call the Charles Brand Company in nyc and order my first etching press, a small "portable" (90 lbs) one, that I would pay for over time.
Here it is June 2009 and I have not written on this page for about ten years or more! It's been so long since I've done etchings that now I'm only answering questions from people who have bought them at yard sales or thrift shops! Here's a reply I just made to somebody who bought an etching and wanted to know how it was done.
That etching is made on a magnesium plate, a metal that was very inexpensive at the time I made the image, probably in the 1980's. Back in the 80's and early 90's printers used magnesium plates...and at that time i could ask if they had scraps of magnesium plates for sale. I'd pay them something like ten bucks for a stack of plates. After a while I asked them to cut them for me first, because their cutter could square the corners and sometimes make them all relatively the same size.
Magnesium dust is incredibly flammable they say....or at least if it burns it cant be put out by water; you have to smother it, so maybe that's why printers switched to polymer plates, and eventually I switched to copper and brass, before dropping etching altogether about 2010.
My magnesium plates were photosensitive. The photosensitive side had pink emulsion on one side and the bottom side was just green paint. I scratched pictures on both sides, using the emulsion and/or the paint as a resist, to resist acid.
I had to cover all sides of my metal plates before immersing them in acid.
The pink side of each magnesium plate gave a very FAT line, meaning the acid ate thru it quicker. The green paint side gave a thinner line, meaning the acid ate thru that side more slowly.
I used shellac as a resist on any exposed metal parts, such as the sides and to try and cover any flaws (scratches on the plate already; they were never perfect).
After I had scratched my pictures on both sides of a plate, I would go outside to my back yard OR used my stovetop with the vent fan roaring, and immerse the plate in nitric acid while holding my breath. This took a very short amount of time, only seconds, really, and I always had a pan of water nearby to plunge the plate into when it was "done."
i would watch carefully because it all depended on the strength of the acid which gets weaker over time, and i never thru my acid away, just kept using it over and over until it died.
i used a tupperware kind of plastic covered box to store the acid, and leave the top off the box or just cover it briefly while biting the plate.
i would wait til the acid kind of boiled around the edges of the plate, because magnesium makes the nitric go CRAZY...and kind of brown smoke would curl up from the open parts of metal. I never left it in long enuf to find out whether it exploded or burned or whatever if i had not removed the plate,
i'd reach in with a rubber gloved hand and pull out the smoking plate (feeling very warm) and plunge it into cold water. end of biting process.
the lines bitten would vary from one side of the plate to the other. odd, huh. the acid would be hotter on one side than the other.
nowadays it's just too much of a drag to find nitric acid..... and a real pain to store it.
i have a plastic trunk under my back deck where i keep all my old acid. i wonder how it is after 10 yrs or so.
So that's how i made my magnesium plates, which i printed on my etching press, after rubbing thick etching ink into the lines and wiping off the top surface. That's called intaglio printing.
Now for the design. I draw thru resist on BOTH sides of the plate, usually.
Btw, i do my best work while talking on the phone. (Oddly enough, if i'm not working on art, i hate to talk on the phone.)
I used to hand color my etchings with watercolors but as time went on I found that way too time consuming, and now in 2012 I've stopped doing etchings altogether.
By the way, most of the magnesium plates I have used to illustrate this technique are memories of rooms I remember. The rooms belong to my maternal grandparents. I loved their home in Clarks Summit, Pa, and the things I like best in my Leonia NJ house are parts that remind me of my grandparents' home a long time ago.
The little etchings below are done by me with a different technique, called "open bite." The material is copper or brass, but the acid is still nitric. In this case I dribbled a resist (asphalt and other things to make a black, tarry substance) on the plate (with the back side covered in contact paper) and dipped it in acid. The acid would bite everything not covered. I would take the plate out and add more resist, sometimes 3 times in all. On the final bite I scratched features and lines through the resist. The result is really very nice. I worked exceedingly small. These plates are between 1 and 3 inches in width.
Here are some of my most recent etchings, done in the fall of 2000.
The subjects of these etchings are "Sisters" (sometimes called "friends") on the left,
"Jumprope"next, and then "The Tooth Fairy," and "Punishment."
I came up with the idea of sisters while talking on the phone to my friend (a fine jeweler)
Ann Davis. I seem to do my best thinking in doodles while talking with her.
Jumprope is a "copy" of one of my oil painting subjects. It stems from a self portrait
of myself at age 5 with the two dogs I own now.. and represents my happy present state of
life, now that my hormones are gone.
The Tooth Fairy is another copy of an oil painting theme of mine...actually, I first made
the tooth fairy as an etching in 1977, but it is a very large etching... and now I prefer
to work small. It's so much easier to transport small work to shows and I don't have to
listen to people saying they don't have a place to hang it.
Punishment is a subject that occurred to me while leafing through a book on collage. I
passed a collage by that title and went on to make a painting of it at an art show later
in the day (without consulting the book). Of course my painting was very different from
the collage... I sold the painting so I made this little etching to remember it.
I usually watercolor my etchings when they are finished to give them a more irresistible
quality. When I used to make only black and white etchings for art shows,
another etcher told me, "put a little color
on them and watch them fly right out of the bins." He was right. Ever since then I have
watercolored my etchings, resisting the trend of other artists to sell reproductions,
which are so much easier to make! I never seem to paint an etching the same way twice.
Here are the same four etchings, with some watercolor added.
The photo of me watercoloring a larger etching was taken at the Roycroft craft show in East Aurora NY in 1999. I'll scan a few colored etchings onto this web page so you can see the difference between b/w and watercolored ones.
I love to work small, (which is silly, considering the fact that my eyesight is getting less sharp every year) so I had my boyfriend cut up some copper into little pieces. I have etched these plates in the "open bite" method, which I learned about 11 years ago from a Russian printmaker named Sergi at Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking in NJ.
The technique consists of blocking out my main images with a "resist" which means painting a black tarry substance called "hard ground" onto the plate with a brush in the most generalized terms. Then I put the plate into a type of "acid" (actually it's a "salt") called ferric chloride, and the mordant (which means anything that bites) bites away the part of the plate that is not protected by resist.
I do this about seven times, each time blocking out more and more of the plate..... often
removing all of the previous resist and starting all over again.
Sometimes I draw lines through the resist, and get the little features or dress patterns.
Sometimes I make patterns such as the rug with blots of resist...
Here are some more of my new etchings, some colored, some still black and white. Two are very tiny indeed, only one inch wide. they are made on little pieces of copper. The smaller the plate, the more free I feel with my subject matter.
The left etching is called "Staying Together" and represents me and my boyfriend. I am guessing that the reason why he remains a bachelor is because he fears married life would make him feel like a dog on a leash.
The next etching is called "Bad Dog" and represents the many dogs I have had who soiled my living room rug.
After that comes "Home" showing my memory of the many fights I used to have with my ex husband when my children were young. (But if I had waited to grow up until I had children, I would have been in my 60's, so I guess there's no use regretting the past.)
The clothesline etching is called "Housewife" and is another version of one I made almost twenty years ago, of a woman hanging out to dry. That image just jumped into my subconscious one day and I grabbed it and turned into a popular etching.
The etching on the right is a woman on a swing over two cows in a pasture. I was talking
on the telephone
to my friend Ann when I started this etching, intending to place some clowns underneath
the woman in the swing. "I like cows instead," she said, so there they are.
Here are still more of my new little tiny etchings. I have a LOT of them, so I won't have time to show all of them.
On the left is a woman selling her soul to the devil. It is a copy of an oil painting that I have shown lower down on my web page. If you're wondering how I get such great colors in watercolor, it's because my friends recommended some fiercely expensive watercolors made by "Schmincke". They cost over $200 a box but I think they're worth it.
Next is an etching called "It's Over," showing a fat lady singing. Once again, I started this etching while talking on the phone to my friend Ann. "What should I do next?" I asked her, and she said, "Make an etching of a fat lady singing and call it, 'It's Over!'." Brilliant woman, my friend Ann.
After I finished that etching, I phoned Ann to tell her what a great success it was. "Did you etch her in her full regalia?" she asked. Whoops. Right away the image of one of those women dressed up like a valkyrie in a Wagner opera came to mind, so I made this second version of the same idea, "It's Over!"
Red Riding Hood is a favorite theme of mine, so I could not resist doing a little version on a tiny piece of copper.
"We Three" represents me (the youngest), my sister and my mother waiting for the bus to go
Christmas shopping at Altmans Department Store
in New York City during World War II. We would eat in the Charleston Gardens.
I was allowed to select a present for
myself for $10 and I always selected a beautiful doll.
The etching on the left depicts my friend Ann, the one who gives me such good ideas over the telephone. I copied a sketch from one of my sketchbooks. When I go out for breakfast with my friends I always sketch them and my friends find the results very disappointing.
The Annunciation is the last remnant of my course in Italian Painting in college. It used to be my favorite theme when I had hormones, but now that I am a grandmother, I'm much more interested in other subjects.
The Sunbather is my contribution to memories of summer, even though I have not dared
to put on a bathing suit for the past fifteen years.
My newest etchings are made with the "sugar lift" method. This cat [sorry, i am missing the illustration here. I'll try and find a print and take a photo. mw] was drawn on
a brass plate, using a mixture of sugar with a little water and a drop of detergent.
It was kind of like drawing with pancake syrup.
The idea is to draw with something that is water soluble, and the soap makes it "stick"
to the brass. When the sugar is dry, I paint the plate with hard ground, that is
not soluble in water. When the hard ground is dry, I soak
the plate in warm water and gently rub the sugar parts with my fingers until it lifts off, revealing
lines of metal that can be bitten in ferric chlorite solution.
This makes a nice velvety half tone when the plate is printed on paper. The background
is made with "soft ground" and real lace. The cat is my cat, Vincent, taking a nap on
the kitchen table while i sat and sketched her.
She was named for her broken ear, after Vincent van Gogh.
My other new etchings are about my grandparents and religion. I made these etchings after being invited to a surprise birthday party for a religious artist friend of mine. I thought she might like a home made book about religion. Since I am not at all religious myself, I used for inspiration my four grandparents who were all devout Methodists except for one Presbyterian (Granny). I never got the book finished in time for the birthday party but I enjoyed working on the images anyhow. My only "rule" was that I not refresh my memory with any photographs; I just concentrated on imagining myself back in the places I remembered.
This one is of my maternal grandmother nee Vena Gibson about 1949 in Clarks Summit Pa., listening to her favorite religious radio station. The Sunday morning program had theme music which was "Heavenly Sunshine." The picture on the wall is my memory of an engraving called "The Dying Stag," which I am told represented the crucifixion.
These are my first attempts at photo etching, using non toxic emulsion called Imagon
from Dupont that comes in 10 foot rolls.
I pressed it onto a copper plate in a darkroom and exposed the plate with a light box
vacuum-pump combination. This new technique means that now I can now make etchings from
pages in my sketch book.
I got enthusiastic about detailed drawings while reading the new R. Crumb Coffee Table art book. He said that he spends a lot of time cross hatching his images, and that was just the information I needed to give myself "permission" to take my time instead of trying to knock out things in ten minutes. Now I spend a week drawing an image if I like; what luxury!
I learned this photoetching technique at the Art Center of Northern NJ in New Milford from Sylvie Germain-Covey who also teaches at the Art Students League, the Manhattan Graphics Center in NYC, an the Newark Museum Arts Workshop. I like to take a printmaking class whenever I find a good teacher who lets me do my own thing because that way I know I am going to keep making new images, with new techniques.
The drawing of me as queen and the boyfriend as knight is for a photoetching that I did in 1999, with our two dogs and cat besides. The photoetching turned out very well, but as I said, this is the drawing for it.
I made up all the images in these photoetchings from my head. I did not copy from any photographs. That's why I knew how to make myself as goddess as queen. And It's always fun to draw the boyfriend looking subservient because it gets him so annoyed. :-)
Christmas 1942 is the name of this etching, which I made in December 1999. It shows my father leaving for the office (years later we realized he was really going to his second household in the city), and my mother looking depressed because all she got was a ball point pen from him for Christmas. I gave her a pair of plastic button earrings that cost me a nickle at Woolworths. I am thrilled to receive a new doll and my sister loves her new roller skates. My bull terrier Betsy is always happy to be near my mother.
This is a photo etching. I used a pen and ink drawing from my sketchbook, first xeroxing it 78% size onto a transparency (courtesy of Staples office supply store that has a nice xerox machine), then going into a darkroom to first press photosensitive emulsion onto a copper etching plate using Dupont's Imagon or Riston which is emulsion sandwiched between two sheets of clear plastic. Secondly, I expose the plate to light using a lightbox, and last I develop the emulsion with a solution of soda ash and water. Then I bite the plate with ferric chloride and print it intaglio (meaning ink in the lines as opposed to a top roll) with black etching ink.
I made this etching nice and dark because I was feeling a little cranky when I drew it. And I remembered that my mother had just come home from the hospital after having had a miscarriage that year. No wonder she was depressed.
There is a Santa Claus handkerchief hanging on the wall on the left side of the etching. This
came from my Grandfather who used to hang it on the wall every Thanksgiving and say "This is the
start of the Christmas season." The handkerchief had a date on it of about 1875 which I guess is
when that poem of the Night before Christmas was written.
Etchings of People on the Beach inspired by Reginald Marsh photos from the late 1930's, around the time I was born. I etched these on magnesium with nitric acid and printed them on paper. I will hand color them with watercolors. They are part of a series of beach scenes I made in March, 1997.
By the way, an explanation of how I made etching plates with magnesium and nitric acid is at the top of this page. This is a perfect example of a plate made that way, only this etching has been handcolored with watercolors. I colored each etching individually and used the best watercolors I could get. I did all my work at craft shows which meant I was very busy all day long. When I started devoting my time to oil paintings, I gave up etchings because (a) i worked on oils, not etchings at shows and (b) at least with oils I am doing something new. Watercoloring etchings is fun only the first few times; after that it gets repetitive.
I Love My Sister is the title of this little etching, made in 1983 on a
magnesium plate etched with nitric acid. It is based on a snapshot I took
of my granddaughters in Hawaii in 1988. It is handcolored with
watercolors. This is one of my most popular etchings.
My Mother as Queenis the title of this etching, made in January of 1990. I had made many images of Queen Elizabeth I before I realized I was really thinking of her as my mother, a person I looked up to but who had quite a temper and who had to be obeyed. The two pug dogs represent the kind of people my mother liked to have around her I guess. They could represent my sister and me, but one of the pugs is a male. I used to own a male and female pug so maybe that is it. When I do art work I don't always know what I am doing until after the image is finished. This etching plate is made of brass and it was etched with nitric acid.
Growing Up Neurotic is the way I remember my relationship to my family. My father was never home, I was often in trouble with my mother and my sister, and I comforted myself with stuffed dolls, later replaced by food.
Tying the Knot is one way to look upon marriage. Sometimes I try and imagine what my bachelor boyfriend thinks of the institution, and this leads to a lot of fictional etchings which I will scan in from time to time. This etching was made 6 years ago, after we'd been together only eight years.
There is still hope that the boyfriend will marry me-- as I recall,
he said he will do it as soon as he loses his hearing, his mind, or
when hell freezes over. So there are three opportunities for this
In Pursuit of the Elusive Bachelor is an etching I made of me chasing the boyfriend who has never yet "popped the question." He says three husbands are enough for any woman.
This etching was made using nitric acid on a magnesium plate, printed on rag paper and watercolored.
When I make "mistakes" on magnesium I have no way of correcting them, so there is usually quite a bit of "falsebite" or little scratches in the etching. Still, I like that metal for etching because it's quick and easy to work with. I generally scratch a drawing on both sides of the plate so the acid bites them both at once and usually I get at least one decent image out of it.
Going Down for the Last Time is an etching I made in memory of my mother. Her last wish was that I not be told of her illness or death so my sister and stepfather kept this secret from me for 31 days. I found out on November 12, 1991 when I called my sister in Kansas to wish her a happy birthday. I figure anyone who can carry a grudge to the grave deserves to have an etching in her honor.
Since I can only bite a magnesium plate once, I
added the texture in the sky using a little electric engraving tool-- the
kind you would use to write your kids' names on their bicycles.
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