The background to personal research into electrolytic etching and non-toxic printmaking and ecologically safe alternative methods for etching without acids, featuring the techniques of Galv-etch, Galv-on, Bordeaux etch, and Fractint Extracted from GREEN PRINTS by Cedric Green published by Ecotech Design, Sheffield, UK. - a handbook on new methods intaglio etching and metal plate printmaking, featuring the technique of Galv-Etch, a modern development of the 19th century electrolytic technique of Electro-Etching, and introducing Fractint and other alternative methods avoiding the use of solvents and chemicals harmful to health and to the environment.
After years of working with traditional methods for making and proofing intaglio plates, and suffering all kinds of ill effects - sore eyes, eczema, asthma, sore throat, depression - I began to worry about the long term effects of the chemicals and processes on my health. Finally I was provoked by reading Tim Challis' "Print Safe" in 1991, to try replacing every toxic, unpleasant chemical or process, to make the whole physical process of making prints less of a tedious chore and more of an enjoyable creative process to match the pleasure of seeing the results coming off the press.
In particular, I'd been seriously inhibited about using the techniques that produced the results I liked best - deep etch with large areas of open bite, embossing, combinations of intaglio and relief - because of the prodigious quantities of acid used, and hours spent over zinc plates in ferric chloride brushing away chlorine bubbles and removing the iron crust produced .
In short, over a period from 1991, thanks to articles in Printmaking Today(2), contacts with other printmakers, advice from chemists and learning about some of the older methods of commercial printing works, I gradually reformed all my practices and found safe substitutes for the methods which were clearly the most objectionable. The research which yielded the richest results was into the early 19th century discovery of electrolytic processes, and in particular "Galvanography" and "Electro-etching".(see Appendix)
An important personal objective was to use inexpensive generic materials that are locally made or easily obtainable, and to avoid expensive, patented, registered or commercialised processes and products, and to look into the basis of some of these to find the generic or public domain process or chemical on which they are based. The overriding motive for publishing all my findings and experience freely on the internet and in my articles and booklet is to make this information widely available to printmakers, and to prevent it from being exploited for commercial gain.
The alternative methods are not simply straight replacements that are cleaner and safer, but some of them can produce results and effects not possible with the original traditional methods, and the creative exploration of these is what makes them exciting to use. Also there is a kind of interdependence between them, for instance, electrolytic galv-etching processes make possible grounding materials that cannot be used successfully with acids, which themselves allow the galv-etch to produce effects not possible with traditional grounds. Galv-on can produce textures and effects that are unique and very attractive.
The results to date of this empirical research is summarised in the table on the next page, and some are described in detail later.