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Bottle Etching Technique by Keith Brown

Being an artist oft times involves being fluent in many different mediums and techniques. We will often learn or devise a new technique out of necessity or whenever we get a new 'bright idea'. Most artists see this as a challenge or better yet as an enlightenment to get a desired effect for their work. One simple detail can make an average piece better and a good piece great. Who has ever walked into a gallery of great art to see it simply nailed to the wall? Framing art is an art in itself and can at times make or break a piece of work. Bottle folk art, ships in bottles, and bottle whimsies rely on the bottle as part, or all of their frame and therefore need the respect of importance when designing a piece. If one were able to design and make the bottle of their choice, finding the correct bottle would be of no consideration. Designing and making one’s own glass bottles would be wonderful but out of the question for most of us. With the advent of plastic and the disappearance of good cheap accessible glass bottles comes the need to sometimes modify those bottles we are able to get.  

There are times that I personally have to design my work to fit the bottles I can acquire. There are several ways to 'detail' glass, etching, grinding, staining, painting, beveling on and on. One technique that is fairly easy to master is 'blasting', done with air pressure like a paint gun but using some type of abrasive media such as aluminum oxide, sand or even baking soda. The following is one basic method to achieve this effect.  

Here are the parts to a badger hobby abrasive gun kit. Much like a paint airbrush, there is a sprayer, jar, abrasive, and air hose, the only other thing needed is some sort of air compressor or even compressed air canister.  

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This is one of the smaller hobby blasting booths that is similar to those that still may be purchased. A spray booth is not absolutely necessary, the blasting can be done outside but you will lose all of the abrasive.   A simple booth can be made from cardboard box, trash can, or other container using drop cloth plastic as a shield. You will lose some of the abrasive but save most. Be sure to finely sift abrasive before re-use as any small particles will clog the nozzle- a pair of panty hose works good for sifting fine abrasives.  


In this case paper tape is to be used for the 'mask'. Other types of tape or film can be used depending upon the depth of blasting needed, deeper etching requires sturdier mask. In this example, paper masking tape is placed on a piece of glass to do the lay-out design work and cutting. I used a double layer of tape to prevent blasting through and an overlap to keep the pieces of tape together.


A simple oval design with another outer ring design layout for the 'mask'.  


Showing the removal of outermost of mask that is not needed for the design. The outer ring will be cut while on the bottle to prevent movement of aligned mask pieces. The mask is easier to cut on flat surface but easier to keep in shape if on bottle and in place not to be moved.  


The mask placement on bottle. I used a guide line to center the mask onto the bottle.  


Now time to removed last part of mask, clean up lines and make sure mask is stuck well onto bottle.   NO GOING BACK ! Once the glass is etched it CANNOT BE ERASED!  


This is how the bottle looks right out of cabinet after blasting.  


The mask has been removed showing etched pattern achieved.  


This shows the 'fade' effect from blasting with no mask edges.   As with any new technique practice does help. Some very detailed work can be done using photo polymer masking which requires different equipment. For this example, any mask that can be cut by hand will work as long as the material sticks well to the glass. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination. Have fun, be creative.

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