Posted on Jan 9, 2014 in Vancouver | 3 comments

The collaborative poetry book project between the poet Christopher Levenson, the master printer Peter Braune, and me is nearing completion. At least my part, the creation of 9 copper etchings, is pretty much done. The printer still has a lot of work to do, printing this 40-page book as an edition of 30 copies. That’s 1,200 pages of hand-printing! Well, not quite, as a few pages remain blank — but not many.

New Leaf Editions is pre-selling the hand-printed, limited edition (30 copies) poetry books, as well as a broadsheet consisting of one poem and one illustration, and etching lessons, on

I want to introduce some of the process of copper etching and show examples of the steps involved:

1. This is the very first etching I’ve ever done, on a 3.5″ x 11″ copper plate, of the Vancouver Public Library, using hard ground and aquatint. The burnishing tool on the right is used to smooth out the aquatint surface, creating brighter highlights the more the copper is burnished.

Copper etchings for a hand-printed poetry book

2. Below is the beginning of my second etching, again in the 3.5″ x 11″ format I have chosen for all the etchings in this book, of the BC Ferries Terminal in Tsawwassen (south of Vancouver), using hard ground and aquatint. The drawing needle on the left is used to draw lines into the hard ground surface which is brushed onto the copper plate first, then allowed to dry. Drawing on hard ground requires only a light touch, and is different from scratching directly into the bare copper plate; that is called drypoint.

Copper etchings for a hand-printed poetry book

3. This image below shows another copper plate etching in progress, with an image of the off-leash Dog Beach in Kitsilano, Vancouver, using hard ground and aquatint. You can see where I’ve gone back into the plate with more hard ground to paint over the woman’s leg that I had placed too far back, and then re-drew it with a needle. Drawing on hard ground with a light touch allows you to cover up mistakes and redraw them. You are not scratching into the plate, you are just removing hard ground. The etch comes later, and then the lines get etched into the plate and are not easily removable, except by vigorous burnishing.

Copper etchings for a hand-printed poetry book

4. The master printer, Peter Braune of New Leaf Editions, is pulling “state proofs” of three copper plates for me. These proofs allow me to review how the image looks at a certain state in the drawing process, and as a consequence adjust my technique, correct the image, or continue developing the plate. All my etchings for this project are done on 3.5″ x 11″ copper plates, using a mix of drawing techniques involving hard ground, soft ground, drypoint, and aquatint.

Copper etchings for a hand-printed poetry book

5. A look at “state proofs” of two of my etchings. These are usually done on newsprint which allows me to review fine detail on the plates and make corrections or continue drawing. All plates are worked on in reverse, of course, and it’s also often hard to predict how things will look when they are printed. This is why state proofs are an important stage in the copper plate drawing process.

Copper etchings for a hand-printed poetry book

6. When I have approved the last state proof and am happy with the copper plate, Peter etches the drawing into the plate using acid.

7. I can still work into the plate more after that point, additional etchings can be added such as more aquatints etc., I can burnish or do drypoint by scraping right into the plate, and review more state proofs.

8. At some point, there is a final state proof we’re all happy with, and we declare the plate done.

9. Then Peter electroplates the copper plates in steel to a) allow more copies to be printed from them due to steel being a harder metal, and b) to prevent the copper from reacting with the pigment in the ink and affecting the colour of the print.

10. Hand-printing on Arches Wove etching paper on a Takach Etching Press can begin. The book covers will be printed on custom designed paper made by local paper maker, Reg Lissel. The poems will be printed separately on a Vandercook Universal I, from polymer plates created at Blackstone Press.

11. The book will then be hand-assembled and the spine hand-sewn.