Sugarlift Using Ball Hardground:
Ball hardground, because it’s thin and delicate, works very well
for a process known as sugarlift. Sugarlift is a means of controlling
value through aquatint while controlling shape through brush marks.
Picasso’s Satyr Unveiling Sleeping Woman (1936) is a superb example
of sugarlift etchings. The image has one scraped and burnished correction,
but the majority of the tones are controlled by exuberant use of the
brush. Other artists who have produced notable work in sugarlift include:
George Roualt and Misch Kohn.
Like other etching processes, the first step in sugarlift is degreasing
the plate. You immediately have 2 choices. You can aquatint the plate
first or you can aquatint the plate last. For purposes of simplicity,
we will aquatint last.
After the plate has been degreased, the artist paints on it with a solution
of simple sugar and India ink. Depending on the consistency, this solution
might tend to pull apart itself creating bubbles, or it might be more
faithful to the brush stroke. The material may pull back on itself changing
the shape after the brush has passed or, if it’s thicker, it will
register a repair of the brush. The drawing can be manipulated with
rags and water.
Nothing has happened to the late in terms of texture or printing at
this point. When a satisfactory drawing has been completed, the plate
is allowed to dry or is moved to a hotplate set at 250 degrees.
(The plate on which the image is being formed is sometimes well served
by having a second plate next to it. The second plate allows the printer
to warm the braer, or small roller, with which he’s going to coat
the plate with ball hardground.)
Within a short time the sugarlift is sure to be dry and ball hardground
needs to be rolled over it. The ball hardground acts as a lubricant
when the roller passes over the sugarlift. To start applying ball hardground,
one may draw on the plate with the melting hardground or draw on the
extra plate which has been added next to the first. Ideally, the roller
is warm and the ground is highly liquid due to heat. The intention is
to cover the plate with that thin amber ball hardground layer that is
used for needling. Once again the plate needs to be smoked. The layer
of soot will turn the plate black and make it more acid resistant. The
coated plate is removed from the hotplate and placed in a tray of cold
Patience at this point will reward the artist with greater detail. The
artist should allow the sugarlift to sit in water and gradually soften.
The sugar lift technique described above, in spite of its complexity,
appears spontaneous when printed.
After soaking for a minimum of ten minutes, the artist may hurry the
process by lightly stroking the surface with his or her fingers or a
The plate is then aquatinted and etched.
Variations on lift grounds:
Solvent and Talc Lift
Another lift technique can be executed with asphaltum. After the asphaltum
has been baked, it is laid on a flat surface. The artist mixes a creamy
solution of talcum powder and mineral spirits. This creamy material
is laid on the asphaltum with a brush and allowed to sit for 2 or 3
At that point a cotton ball or other very soft absorbent material is
soaked in alcohol and lightly passed over the asphaltum lifting the
brush marks. Open areas created through this technique sometimes retain
a thin film of resist which can be cleaned from the plate by a minute
or two in the acid. Like other liftgrounds, the plate is aquatinted
at this point and the tone created.
The processes described above can be applied after an aquatint resulting
in a softness and irregularity which may be desirable.
We’ve all had the experience of rubbing rubber cement off of a
smooth surface. You can draw with rubber cement. The drawn plate can
then be sprayed with enamel or lacquer. Once that’s dry, one can
rub the rubber cement from the plate.
Object Lift - Stencil Lift
If the acid resist is sprayed onto the plate, all sorts of variations
can be created. Objects can be placed on the plate. The spray simply
doesn’t reach the plate and the area covered is able to bite.
Lithographic crayons or other soaplike products one can be used to draw
an image. The litho crayons melt at a lower temperature than ball hardground.
By using one pass of the roller to apply ball hardground a transfer
will occur. The crayon sticks to the roller and lifts, creating a crude
crayon like passage that will etch.
Still another interesting way to create an image is the use of powdered
sugar. The melting temperature of sugar is far higher than asphaltum
or ball hardground. So whether one uses a bag to sprinkle it on the
plate or simply throws it on the plate, the sugar must be melted using
the hot ring. Once melted, the plate can be coated with ball hardground,
placed in the tray, and the sugar will be dissolved in water. The resulting
tone is, in fact, a negative aquatint; that is, there are thousands
of holes in the ground rather than beads of resist. This ground can
be developed slowly through multiple repetitions to create a dark area.
A process with a similar appearance is called saltground. Saltground
employs ball hardground and salt. Any material that has weight and can
be dissolved in water will function for this process. The artist first
lays a ball hardground and while the plate is still hot – so hot
that the ground is liquid – the artist proceeds to sprinkle the
plate with salt or some other water soluble powder. Because the ground
is extremely soft, the particulate material will drop through the liquid
ground to the surface. The plate is then submerged in water and the
particulate is dissolved. Again, the result is thousands upon thousands
of holes which etch rather than valleys of between dots of resist. The
resulting darks from either powdered sugar or salt require multiple
applications but they have a great deal of depth to them.