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"Etching" for fourth-graders.

"Etching' for fourth-graders

Nail-point holiday cards bring the sophisticated art form of dry-point etching down to a child's level. In the traditional version, an artist uses a fine steel point or needle to etch a drawing on a thin plate of highly polished copper. In our simplified version, ordinary nails replace the steel point, and an inch-thick rectangle of plaster replaces the metal plate.

Fast, fun, and only a little messy, plaster etching takes about 3 hours (including an hour to dry the plaster) from the time you pour the plaster mix until you pull the first card. Make the plates ahead to cut down on the mess and speed the etching and printing time.

To test the process, we took our supplies to an elementary school and had a class of fourth-graders produce the cards at far right. For uniformity, plaster plates were all made the same size so they would produce 5- by 6 1/2-inch finished cards. You could make them larger, but finding oversize envelopes adds to the cost of supplies and postage.

Supplies and preparation

From a home supply store, you'll need 2 feet of 1-by-1 wood (enough for one 4- by 5 1/2-inch frame); masking tape; 1 yard of nylon insect screening; a 5-pound bag of plaster of Paris (enough for about 20 plates); a bucket to mix plaster; an 8- by 10-inch sheet of glass, acrylic, plastic laminate, or other smooth-surfaced material; several different-size nails; a broad, soft, and clean paintbrush; and clear acrylic sealer spray.

From an art supply store, you'll need crafts glue; carbon paper (for transferring design); tubes of water-soluble ink for block printing; a brayer; engraving paper or heavy paper; newsprint or blotting paper. You'll also need a cloth towel.

To make a frame for a 5- by 6 1/2-inch card, cut two 7 1/2-inch and two 4-inch pieces from the length of wood. Join the pieces with masking tape and a drop of glue. (Don't adhere too tightly; you may need to break the joints to unmold plaster without cracking it.) Make two identical L shapes, then butt them together to form a rectangular frame.

Measure the frame opening and cut a piece of screening 1/4 inch smaller. The screening will reinforce each plate.

Mix plaster as directed on package, about 2 cups plaster to 1 cup water per plate; it should be the consistency of very thick cream. Plaster sets fast, so don't make too much at one time.

Position the frame on the glass; fill as shown above. Wait at least 20 minutes, then unmold the plate. (Use the smooth side that faced the glass for etching.) Reuse the glass for additional plates; wipe off plaster residue before each pour.

Etching with nails

Ahead of time, have your young artists make designs to fit plaster plates. If a design includes writing, letters must be etched in reverse. Have children write on tracing paper, then turn it over to use as a guide for copying onto plaster.

With a soft pencil, transfer the design with carbon paper (or copy it freehand) onto the plate. Use the nails to etch the lines--bigger nails make wider lines. Sweep away plaster bits with the paint-brush and check the design. Lines should be about 1/8 inch deep.

To prevent ink from soaking into the plaster, seal the plate with clear acrylic spray.

Making the ink print

Cut and fold the paper so its finished size will be about 1/2 inch bigger all around than the plaster. If you use engraving paper, soak it in water first, then blot dry. You can print directly on other stock.

Squeeze a small amount of ink onto the glass, roll it evenly with the brayer, then roll ink onto plaster. Center paper over the design and rub evenly. Lift off print, dry, then press between newsprint weighted by a brick or heavy board.

If you experiment with different colors, clean the plate each time you change inks. To clean, spray the plate with water and wipe off ink with a paper towel.

Photo: Pour the plaster into frame made of taped-together pieces of wood set on a glass or acrylic sheet (left). When frame is half-full, lay on piece of nylon screening (right), then continue to add plaster to brim

Photo: Remove frame once plaster hardens--at least 20 minutes after pouring. You can etch after an hour

Photo: Etch a pattern, drawn onto plaster's smoothest surface, using a nail. Thicker nails make broader lines

Photo: Roll out ink on glass or acrylic sheet with a brayer, then transfer an even coat onto etched plaster plate. Center and lower blank card onto plate and, with even pressure, rub back side with hand or brayer. Starting on one corner, carefully lift off card

Photo: Cards for all seasons were made by elementary-school children. Try different ink colors on separate cards, or experiment by adding different colors to finished cards with a pain brush or crayons
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1987
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