Hard Ground Recipe (etching)

The ‘Practical Guide to Etching and Other Intaglio Printmaking Techniques’ by Manly Banister is a great book packed with practical instructions and guidance for printmakers. New it is quite expensive, but you can pick up second hand copies on Amazon or Ebay for €10 or €15. Well worth it. Google books also have a few pages you can view online here.


I used the recipe in the book (somewhat simplified) to make my own hard ground for etching and it worked perfectly. All the ingredients were available from art supply shops and online.

You will need (ingredients measured by volume):

  • 1 Part Rosin (powdered or lumps ground down to a fine grain)
  • 2 Parts Beeswax (Yellow is OK but white is better as it has no impurities )
  • 3 Parts Asphalt (Asphaltum or Bitumen as it is also called, powdered or lumps ground down)
  • An old mug or ceramic bowl
  • An old bucket filled with cold water
  • Several pieces of cheesecloth and string to cover the bucket
  • An old saucepan for boiling water
  • An old spoon or spatula

Prepare the bucket with cold water and tie several layers of cheesecloth (4 or 5) over the top, secured with string or rubber bands, to create a hollow sieve for the mixture. The cheesecloth should be secured to the bucket as you will be rubbing the mixture through the cheesecloth.

Heat up some water in the saucepan to a simmer, place the mug in the middle and slowly add the beeswax, stir with a stick until its melted, then add the asphalt slowly, again stirring until it is melted, then add the rosin slowly and stir.

Once its all melted (and a nice big mess) slowly pour the hot mixture onto the cheesecloth (a little at a time) and rub it through with a spoon or spatula. This sieves the mixture and removes any lumps or impurities. As it drips into the water below it will harden into a ball (or funny shaped worms) which you can remove as soon as its cool enough and shape as you wish. I made a 1″ (3cm) diameter sausage shape and cut this into disks. And that’s it. Now wrap each piece in cling wrap or store in a sealed container to keep it clean and use in the same way as your regular store bought hard ground.

Aquatint Box

Late last year (2011) I finished a little project that I had planned for a good while – I built my own aquatint box (rosin box). My first attempt was in a pampers nappy box, sealed with duct tape… it worked OK, but leaked quite a bit which is not so good in a home studio.

I’ve been looking for plans or diagrams but found very little online, so I just designed it myself. Having used a large Polymetaal Aquatint box in the studio where I did a few courses, I had a good idea how it worked and drew a 3D design in sketchup.

I then made it using 9mm exterior plywood, some dowels, hardboard and brushes (door draught seals), sealed all the joints with silicon, sealed the door edges with silicon bath seals and made a crank from wood. All the materials cost me less than €60/$80 and it took about 2 days including varnishing.

The box works perfectly, and I get a really even dusting of rosin on my plates. The only issue I had so far is that much of the rosin collects on the two little ledges either side of the box and I have to dust this off with a long handled paintbrush every time before use.

(This was originally posted on wetcanvas.com printmaking forum in October 2011 which led to some related discussions which you can read here)