Wood Etching

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I wanted to make a wood etching of a photo I took in the mountains for my dad for Christmas. The photo had a lot of detail in the snow and rocks of the mountain face so I thought it would look good as a two-tone print. The first thing I discovered is that the contrast between the laser-etched parts of the wood and the untouched wood was not very high. So I began experimenting with painting the wood and then etching it, just little patches of the image that I could make quickly and use to experiment with different laser cutter settings.

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I really liked the contrast the paint produced. I started working on separating out the different parts of the mountain based on distance. My concept was to paint each part of the mountain a different color. The further into the distance it was the darker it would get to reflect how the atmosphere made the more distance peaks bluer except I would use four distinct sections to make the vector theme of the etching and to highlight the lines in the mountain which I thought were not obvious with all of their texture. I lightly etched the outline of each section into wood, then painted it.

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Then I selected unique black-white thresholds for each section to create the kind of detail I wanted and etched it through the paint and into the wood. I was not happy with the result. The details of the mountains did not grab me with the various shades of blue. The change in color did not add to the effect I wanted. The dark blue of the sky was overwhelming when I wanted the mountain to be the focus. And technically I hadn’t been able to line everything up properly again so the etching was slightly shifted from the painted sections.

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I thought about it and showed it to various people. I decided to go back to a single color of paint like I had done with my patch experiments. I accidentally etched into patches of paint with wood remaining as a border and fell in love with that effect because I ended up with three tones: the etched wood, the paint, and the virgin wood around the edge. I experimented with a lot of different colors.

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I went back to the ‘darker in the distance’ concept, but this time blended the colors as I moved upwards over the image and made the difference between the lightest color (white) and the darkest (light blue) very minimal. This allowed for an interesting interaction between the two-tone etching and the blended paint, kept the high contrast of a very light paint color, and still added to the sense that the color changed in the distance, since the more distance peaks were behind and therefore above the closer ones.

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I was really happy with the result. It felt rustic, subtle, and beautiful. The water in the paint must be absorbed partially into the wood because even on the etched sections I could see the texture of the brush strokes. I glued a slim frame of 1/2 inch plywood behind the wood I had etched into to give it structure and something to hang from. Below are the various prototypes, experiments, and failures I created in the process.

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Something I still wasn’t 100% happy with at the end was the thresholds of the laser cutter itself. Its raster function has a black and white threshold, so even though I was sending the software pure black and white images, the outlines were not fixed. In addition, the power of the laser as it etches effects the edges of the image as well. It required fine tuning and though I tried to be very careful with my notes whenever I made slight changes to the image everything was slightly different. I think the solution is more testing!

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One thought on “Wood Etching

  1. Fascinating the amount of experimentation needed and the role of accident or serendipity so that prediction is not possible.

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