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What is a “softground” etching?

Softground etching is a form of etching in which tallow is added to the ground before it is spread on the plate.  The tallow prevents the ground from fully hardening.  A sheet of paper is laid over the ground.  The artist then draws on the paper and then lifts it up.  When the artist drew, the ground adheres to the paper and is pulled off the plate.  Unlike the lines created in the typical scratching away at the ground, the lines created with a softground etching are rough because the ground is not pulled away cleanly.  It leaves a crayon-like edge.

Artists using softground etching can vary the amount of pressure that they apply to the paper, affecting how much of the ground is removed, as well as the width of the pencil with which the image is drawn.

In the Twentieth Century, softground etching found a renaissance as artists realized that found objects, like leaves, could be pressed into the ground.

Categories: Printmaking Terms, Types of Prints