Sunday, January 22, 2006

Etching the book covers for 7 Extinction Events

Tonight I’m etching the copper covers for 7 Extinction Events. I decided on nitric acid because I like the finished look so much. I use beeswax as a resist. It is gradually dissolved by the etchant along the edges of the book cover and the overall look is one of a very crudy piece of metal. If I leave the copper in the etch bath long enough all kinds of rough edges appear. To a jeweler this is a really bad thing, you want a smooth, clean bite, no undercuts and no blurring of the lines you have drawn in the wax. But for me, the rougher, the better.

I have to say here, I don’t use nitric acid with my students and don't really recommend it. It gives off fumes as it works, and it’s very caustic. I keep big boxes of baking soda around in case of a spill. Tiny splashes can make holes in your clothes, and of course, damage your skin and eyes. When I think the etching is done, I’ll soak it in a solution of water and baking soda to make sure the acid is neutralized. If you want to try etching, do some research on ferric chloride, a slightly safer option. But be sure to read all instructions and the MSDS (manufacturer's safety data sheets) before starting.

Etching the book covers for 7 Extinction Events

You can see the fish fossil I drew in the beeswax here. The nitric is very dark because it’s getting old. The black dots on the copper cover are little drops of the acid. You can also see the 20 gauge wire I use to suspend the copper in the etching bath. They make great handles. What you can’t see is the fan just above, pulling air out of my studio.

I also spent a lot of time today doing my volunteer work for Silicon Valley Open Studios. They needed some data plugged into a spreadsheet. It’s mindless, clerical work, the kind of thing I used to do as a job, and I am pretty good at it. Now my obligation is almost over. I won’t have to put the time in right before the Open Studios event, when I’m likely to be pretty crazy.

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