First of all the artist takes a metal plate that the drawing will be done on (usually of about 16 gauge copper or zinc) and coats the front side with a thin layer of wax. The back of the plate is coated with a more permanent enamel. The wax is impervious to the acid. Then the artist takes a steel scribe and draws the lines for the picture by scraping through the wax to expose the metal. The plate is then placed in acid to etch away the lines of the picture. The steps of coating with wax, drawing, and etching may need to be repeated numerous times to get the plate ready for printing. To print, the plate is coated with a specially prepared etching ink - thick ink about the consistency of artist's oil paint - and then the ink is carefully wiped off the surface - hopefully leaving just the right amount ink only in the etched lines. The plate is then placed on the bed of the press with a sheet of dampened printing paper above it and special wool blankets above all. The artist then turns the handle of the press to run the plate, paper, and blankets through the rollers of the press and the great pressure pushes the paper down into the etched lines picking up the ink and one print is produced. To make another print the steps of inking and wiping the plate, and running it through the press must be done again.
If the print is to be colored the artist has the choice of either using multiple plates (and running the print through the press again for each different color) or using watercolors to apply the colors. Wm. Gamradt prefers to use watercolors to color his prints as it is quite precise while still allowing for much variation.
What is an original print? The question is often asked and it is an important concept to understand.
First of all original art (such as an oil painting, watercolor, or drawing) is a unique, one of a kind creation. Prints are reproductions of original art. These are typically made by having a large format photograph taken of the original art, color separations made from the photograph, and the printing done at a commercial print shop. The artist's involvement is primarily limited to creating the original art, then approving, signing, and numbering the prints. The limited edition prints seen most commonly at many galleries across the country are done in such a manner.
Original prints are not a reproduction of an existing work of art. An original print is created when the artist draws directly on a plate (for an etching, or a stone for a lithograph, or a woodblock for a wood cut, etc.) and then makes a print from the plate (or stone, or woodcut). The only image -- the only art -- is the print or prints made from the plate. The prints are known as originals since the image exists only in the edition of "prints" made from the plate -- they are not reproductions of any existing art.