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Favorite Recipes:
updated Jan. 6, 2011

4 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup Titanium White dry pigment
1 teaspoon Zinc White dry pigment
5 1/3 Tablespoons Ivory Soap granules softened with 6 Tablespoons water. (grate a bar of Ivory soap, place 5 1/3 Tbsp. granules in closed container overnight with 6 Tbsp. water)

(For copper and ferric chloride)  Mix ingredients thoroughly. It's worth the effort to blend it and remove lumps by pressing it through a fine-screen food strainer with a rubber scraper.  Mulling is good. Makes about 6 oz.
This makes a fantastic stopout for soft (cloud, feathers, fur) effects.  Similar to traditional White Ground, but infinitely easier to use.  Spread it on to an aquatinted plate for a stopout, or bare plate for textures, etc.  For cloud effects on an aquatinted plate spread it on sparingly. Good tools are bristle brush, fingers, Q-tips, paper towel or rag, etc.  Thin with water or mineral sprirts to desired brushable consistency.

Copper Oxidizer

A copper oxidizing agent can be useful for fixing visible reference imagery on a (copper, obviously) plate so you can see where to etch tones, lines, etc. but not have the reference imagery show up in the print. Typically this is used when doing an image with more than one plate and the imagery from the key plate needs to be transferred to the subsequent plate/plates in a way that is visible, accurate and detailed but will not show up in the imagery printed from the subsequent plates.  It is also useful as a visual indicator of where and how readily etching will occur on a plate where there may be trace substances on the plate that are not visible but may block etching.  Oxidizers are commonly available from jewelry supply places or chemists, but if you want to mix your own this is one way to do it.

Hydrogen Peroxide (the 3% stuff, as commonly available at drug and grocery stores)  1 cup.
Ferric Chloride (the 40 degree Baume strength) 3 drops.

It only works when it's bubbling.  Ferric Chloride acts as a catalyst when added to Hydrogen Peroxide causing it to release its extra oxygen as bubbles, so when you mix the two it looks like a bottle of ginger ale, with fine bubbles streaming upward.  A small amount of heat is released.  Theoretically, when the bubbles stop (after usually an hour or several hours, depending on the quantity and freshness) you are left with a bottle of water with a small amount of Ferric Chloride in it.  

The copper has to be clean or the bubbling solution won't oxidize it.  Brasso it, then scrub it lightly with scouring powder  and rinse until it holds a film of water. Dry it, preferably with compressed air.  More Discussion:

Ingredients: 1 Tablespoon of Petroleum Jelly; 1 Tablespoon of Titanium White Dry Pigment;
1/2 teaspoon Zinc White Dry Pigment; 4 Tablespoons of Senefelder's Asphaltum; 2 Tablespoons of fine Powdered Rosin; 6 Tablespoons softened Ivory Soap granules (grate a bar of Ivory soap, and soften by adding 4 Tablespoons of water to 6 Tablespoons of granules and let sit overnight in a closed container).

For copper and ferric chloride. Mix ingredients. (Screening and mulling is good for smooth consistency.) For transfer paper, spread a thin even layer on piece of tissue paper. A good way to do this is to tape the piece of tissue paper to a piece of plexiglass and then hold the piece of plexiglass up in front of a light source and using a plastic bondo spreader spread the compound on and carefully scrape it off, until you have scraped off all the excess. This makes it easy to see how thickly you're painting it on and if there are any uneven spots, as you work.  The tissue paper that's covered with medium should be translucent, not opaque when backlit. If it's too thick, the transferred lines will be blobby.  Lay face down on aquatinted (or bare) plate and cover with an overlay of tracing paper. Draw with pencil, using light to medium pressure to transfer the medium to the plate. Use hard, medium or soft pencil.  Use a bridge. Makes light lines on dark background. Sort of a "soft ground with paper overlay" in reverse. Good for making  thin white lines in an aquatint.

Applied to the plate with a brush, it makes a good alternative to asphaltum when you want feathered, scumbled or slightly softer edge effects. Can be used with or without an aquatint for tonal or textural effects.  Good as a general-purpose stopout (doesn't lift asphaltum or bleed in aquatints) or for re-enforcing or blocking thin spots in asphaltum or a blockout for semi-permeable grounds to prevent further etching.

Thins with water.

Hard Ground
Senefelder's Asphaltum thinned with turpentine. Start with some of the thick asphaltum in a jar. Add small quantities of turpentine and mix each increment until smooth before adding the next, until you reach a consistency you like, probably around 2 parts turpentine to 1 part asphaltum. This is easy to apply with a foam brush and forms a very even coating. Allow to air dry, and then warm the plate to harden it.

You can also thin with paint thinner* or a combination of turpentine and paint thinner.  To transfer graphite lines to a coated plate, you need a hard ground so the paper won't stick in it.  If you're using other techniques that don't require a hard ground, you can soften it by adding some Vaseline, as described in the next "Soft Ground" recipe. A softer ground is of course easier to needle lines in, and a softer ground is also easier to lift (when doing sugar-lift) than a hard ground.  For pressing things into a soft ground you usually want a very thin layer of ground, whereas you can use a somewhat thicker layer for doing lifts; though in both cases you want as thin a layer as you can use and not get foul-biting.  These ingredients (turpentine, paint thinner, Vaseline, and asphaltum) are mutually compatible and won't harm rosin aquatints.

Soft Ground
Senefelder's Asphaltum (thick)-1 moderately heaping tablespoon, Vaseline (petroleum jelly)-1 level teaspoon, turpentine-3 teaspoons, and paint thinner*-1/2 cup (see note below). Mix the ingredients as follows: in a small jar (the one you will use for storing the mixed ground), mix the 1/2 cup of paint thinner and the 3 teaspoons of turpentine.   For mixing the rest of the ingredients use a wide mouthed, shallow, flat-bottomed container (the "mixing container").  Put the 1 level teaspoon of petroleum jelly in the mixing container and add about 4 ml (one eyedropper full) of the paint thinner/turpentine mixture to it.  Mix this with a bristle brush or cheap brush with plastic bristles until it is thoroughly mixed, with no lumps whatsoever.  Add another eyedropper full of the paint thinner mixture to it, and repeat mixing until completely smooth.  After doing this about 4 times, the mixture will be "loose" enough that you can add the contents of the mixing container to the jar with the remaining paint thinner/turpentine and mix.  Now place the heaping tablespoon of asphaltum in the mixing container and repeat the process used to mix the petroleum jelly; this time adding small increments of the Vaseline & thinner mix to the asphaltum and mixing until completely smooth.  When the asphaltum in the mixing container is loose enough, add it to the remaining thinners in the jar and mix. Apply a thin coat with a foam brush.  Turns dull when air-dry.  This soft ground will stay soft indefinitely, and will remain responsive to tracing-paper overlay techniques and textural pressings.  A soft-line/tone effect can be achieved by lightly dusting the dried coating of soft ground with powdered sugar, as when applying a hand aquatint, before laying tissue or tracing paper over it (don't let it scoot, and use a bridge) and drawing with various pencils (hard or soft).  Rinse off the powdered sugar with water before etching. The standard soft ground overlay technique (without the powdered sugar) results in a line and tone that looks very much like a pencil drawing. (Note: drying to a smooth, dull finish is normal. If it is an old jar of mixture and dries on the plate to a grainy, reticulated looking film, get rid of it and mix up a fresh batch. It will foul-bite.)

Sugar Lift
This was posted on the MTSU Bulletin Board ( some time ago.  Sweetened Condensed Milk.  I got a can (Borden, "Eagle Brand" fat free sweetened condensed milk) and experimented with it, and it does make an excellent lift medium.  Thin some with water to a brushable consistency and use for standard lift-ground technique. Prepare small quantities - it gets moldy. Refrigerate. Add watercolor or dry pigment if visibility is an issue.

Transfer Paper
If you want to transfer visual reference lines to an aquatint on a plate and not have them show up in the etched image, an excellent transfer paper (used like carbon paper) can be made from rubbing dry Titanium White Pigment on one side of a piece of tissue paper.  Tape down a piece of tissue paper on a flat surface, and using a bristle brush, foam brush, or your fingers or a paper towel rub dry Titanium White Pigment all over the paper. A light, even coating is best.  A heavy coating of pigment in a light aquatint may create a visible line in the etched tone.  Other dry pigments that work well for this are Chromium Green Oxide, Prussian Blue, Indian Red, and Lampblack.  The colors work better if mixed with some Titanium White.

*Important note about Paint Thinner
Not all paint thinners are equal.  In the US what I'm talking about is generically referred to as "mineral spirits".  The most commonly available type is "Odorless Mineral Spirits", and the less commonly available (but still available) type is labeled "Paint Thinner". I use "Klean-Strip" Product #GKPT94002, made by WM Barr & Co. Inc., Help Line 1-800-398-3892.  The Odorless Mineral Spirits is less toxic and works fine for many applications but does not work as a solvent for asphaltum-based grounds which are to be mixed and stored for future use. "Paint Thinner" is noticeably more stinky, but works as a solvent for quantities of asphaltum based grounds. When using either of these, use only as necessary and ensure good ventilation and disposal of wastes.