soft-ground etching

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A method of etching that produces prints characterized by softness of line or a grainy texture. The waxy ground used to coat the plate is softer and stickier than in normal etching, so that it adheres to anything pressed into it. Over this ground is laid a sheet of paper on which the artist draws with a pencil. Under the pressure of the pencil strokes, the ground sticks to the back of the paper, so that when it is lifted the wax immediately underneath the lines comes away with it, while the rest remains in place. The plate is then immersed in acid, and printed in the normal way. Depending on the texture of the paper used for the drawing, the printed lines are granular, coarse, or fine: thus if the paper is smooth, the lines resemble pencil, but if rough, they are more like chalk. Soft-ground etchings bear a strong likeness to prints in the crayon manner, but are generally a little softer and less regular. The technique was invented in the mid-18th century and flourished until about 1830, when it was generally superseded by lithography. Although it was chiefly used for reproductive prints, a number of excellent original soft-ground etchings were produced by Gainsborough, Cotman, and Girtin. Interest in the technique has revived among some modern artists.

Subjects: Art.

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