Etching the plates for the Harmonograph tabletop
Paul Dewis is a master printmaker, and technician at the Byam Shaw Print Centre, part of Central Saint Martin’s college of Art & Design. He has taught me how to etch, and how to make frames and mounts for the prints. The first thing he did when he saw the wooden prototype harmonograph in May 2012, was to attach an etching stylus to the machine, and fix a small zinc plate to the drawing table. The weight of the stylus inhibited the movement of the harmonograph a little, but it still created beautiful spirals.
However, in order to capture the true rhythm of the harmonograph drawings on an etching plate, I had to scan them into Photoshop, manipulate them, and use photo-etching techniques to expose the images onto the plates. Below is an example of how I used an original drawing to create a kaleidoscopic image for a circular plate.
Historically it is thought that etching was used as a method of incising decorative patterns onto metalwork long before it was used to create plates for printing. So it seemed logical to me to use etched plates to enhance the design of the metalwork harmonograph, referencing the kind of designs that it can produce.
As my chief fascination with this machine is that it creates visualizations of elemental designs created by the natural phenomena of oscillating frequencies, I also wanted to point to other elemental designs, such as those created by fractal algorithms, and those found in plant formations. So with the help of Paul Dewis, I created these three circular zinc plates to clad the table top of the harmonograph. You can see them installed in the structure in my previous post. The shiny zinc complements the blackened steel, and the whole is brought together with the brass detailing.
I had a lot of fun creating the plate with the designs of plant forms. I used real ferns and fronds of cypress, which I pressed into a soft-ground on the plate in order to make faithful impressions which could then be etched into the plate in the acid bath.
A sheet of acetate on top of the leaves protects the blankets when it goes through the press.
Before installing the zinc plates in the fabric of the sculpture, I took a few prints from them – not exactly an edition, as I only had the time to make four from each plate. I used Prussian Blue ink by Charbonnel and allowed plenty of plate-tone , invoking the traditional blueprints used by engineers and architects – these designs are from nature’s blueprints as it were, incorporating forms that are hardwired into our aesthetic sensibilities. The prints are intended to be displayed as part of the harmonograph installation, along with the original technical drawings, thus producing a rich narrative and interactive experience.