Learning Floral Illustration & Etching

on Illustration, Printmaking, Workshops  

Have you ever tried etching? I’ve been interested in this very old print-making technique for a long time, but with specialised techniques and equipment required I never had a chance to try it out. So when Beau Est Mien ran a joint florals and etching workshop with Ashleigh Perella of The Wild Stem, I knew what to buy as my birthday present to myself.

We started by creating our own posies, from a beautifully curated and prepared selection of flowers from Ashleigh. I loved the intense colours of the king protea and wanted to include some yellow tulips, so based my posy around those elements. I felt a bit lost at first, especially as as a designer I felt I should be good at arranging flowers (it’s just balancing colours, shapes and textures right?) but with some help I think it turned out pretty alright.

From there we sketched our designs inspired by the flowers – obviously I took the opportunity to incorporate lettering into my design. Etching has to be done in mirror image, so I kept it a very simple ‘OK’ surrounded by flowers and leaves.

Protip! To transfer a pencil sketch, go over it heavily in pencil so the lines are nice and dark, then place it face down over another piece of paper and scribble over the back, wherever the lines are. The graphite will transfer faintly onto the surface, enough to then go over properly.

In the afternoon we had Alina from Beau Est Mien take us through the process of etching, which is actually quite scientific and involved! An etching plate is usually made of metal, with the design being tiny grooves made in the surface which hold ink. When run through a press, which puts enough pressure on the plate to push the ink out onto paper, a print is formed!

But before that we had to make our plates, which involved first polishing up a piece of aluminium, covering it in something called ‘hard ground’ and then using a pointed etching tool to scratch the design onto the surface. This is a tricky process because every line and mark you make counts, with no sketching and no going back.

Protip! I knew I’d never get the letters looking correct freehand and in reverse, so I cut them out of paper and used that as a guide. So glad I went for a 2 letter word.

The plate is then placed in an acid solution (sulphuric, in this case – no it’s not dangerous), which then ‘bites’ the parts where the design has been etched and the hard ground scratched off. Wipe off the remaining hard ground and the plate is ready for printing!

Inking up the plate involves a lot of cleaning to make sure that the only ink is in the grooves, but the result is very beautiful and delicate. We had just enough time to add some quick watercolours to one of the final prints before the end of the workshop.

It was a long day but so much fun! It’s nice getting to participate in a workshop instead of running one, and seeing how others do things. I’m having fun with this botanical illustration and lettering combination, so you might see more of that around soon. Also looking forward to more print making in my future!

P.S. Lettering and calligraphy translates even better to screen printing – you can see a joint workshop I held with Beau Est Mien over here.

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