I was invited to shoot a small print series by Bay Area artist & designer, Emilio Domingo. I documented the collaboration between him and Master Printer, Ben Engle, in which they translate one of Domingo’s latest designs into a limited batch of grayscale prints using a traditional process known as etching. This form of print making involves chemically staining plates of metal (copper in this instance) and doing a relief of a monochromatic image.
Olympus OM-1 / 50mm
Ilford HP5 Plus (400 ISO)
Ben started this process in the days before our arrival by preparing the etching plates. This step involves cleaning and then coating a large copper plate, allowing for the transfer of artwork onto the surface. Once the image is applied, it can be dipped into an etching solution, cured, and prepped for the final stage: inking.
The inking process begins with taking the etching plates and coating them with a layer of pigment. The ink settles into the etched areas, and excess ink is wiped away, leaving only the recessed portions filled.
Both the etching plates as well as the press surfaces must be sufficiently cleaned to remove all debris that could impact the inking process. Solvents also ensure the rollers do not retain any pigment from previous prints, which could contaminate future runs with unwanted dark tones.
Helping the ink retain a good surface tension will also result in more consistent prints. While the effect of some artists may be to have variance among their editions, the goal of the printer is often perfection. All of these steps can be purposely ignored for artistic interpretation, but consistency is the foundation.
The large print studio at Kala houses a 24/7 art-making facility which hosts over 150+ artists annually. This large space means a lot of work. Here, Ben puts Emilio to work by having him run test prints to the drying racks. The paper must also be pre-wet in a water bath for a period of time then patted dry with a towel. Plenty to do.
The first prints are done on cheap paper to test pigmentation quality, alignment, and any other defects which may have become present during the initial press. Once the test prints are confirmed, the final run will begin.
Finally the proofing is done, and the full production continues until the batch is complete. Prints can take up to a week to dry, after which it can either be framed for final sale, or processed even further. Watercolor can be used to further stylize the print, or an entirely new etching plate can be printed on top to combine works. In addition, hand-painting details can be done as a form of final correction or artistic alteration.