Rosalind Whitman

The Alchemy of Etching

The Alchemy of Etching

The Alchemy of Etching

The film illustrates how the unfolding of a work created in the etching medium, in many ways resembles the alchemical process. The artist’s voice is heard describing some simple alchemical concepts which seemingly have a parallel in the etching process. In the beginning there exists the prima materia (suggesting the unworked ‘ground’, in etching).

Alchemists ascribe to their process four stages, calling these: the nigredo, (blackening) the albedo (whitening), the citrinitas (yellowing) and the rubedo (reddening). To exemplify these phases, verses from the medieval alchemical treatise known as the Ripley Scrowle, are quoted.

Visual imagery shows the artist in her studio:

  • Preparing the copper plate, by filing its edges, degreasing the surface; applying  a bitumen ground, and smoking the ground with tapers


  • Creating an image: selecting a drawing from her sketchbook; transferring the outline of the image to a plate; developing the image by needling the plate; stopping out areas of the plate by painting on varnish; submerging the plate in acid and rinsing it off; and, cleaning off the ground


  • Developing the image further by re-grounding and redrawing by needling the plate; stopping out; applying and melting resin to create tone in the form of aquatint


  • Printing the image: Mixing ink on a palette; inking the etched plate so that the bitten lines hold the ink; wiping its surface clean with scrim, tissue and the palm of the hand; laying the plate onto the bed of the press; blotting pre-dampened paper which is then laid over the plate; straightening the etching blankets and taking a proof by running it through the press – thereby taking an impression from the still unfinished plate.