Printmaking Processes: Intaglio

a metal plate serves as the surface for intaglio prints the lines of the image are incised or cut into the plate this carving can be done with sharp tools and force as in engraving or with acid as in etching and aquatint the ink is applied and forced into these in sized areas below the surface of the plate the ink remaining on the surface is removed and the plate is ready for printing before he begins engraving the artist sharpens his tools on an oil stone because the tools will carve into the copper plate he repeatedly sharpens them during the engraving process and then test them on his thumbnail the artist has scratched his preliminary design into the copper plate with a light drive point line he inks the design and then begins his engraving to make his image the artist uses a v-shaped tool called a Burin to carve out an ink holding groove below the surface of the copper plate as he removes the metal from the plate a curl of copper called a burr forms at the end of the line this is removed with a scraper the sharp nub of metal that remains after scraping must be smoothed out with a burnisher the ink is then forced into these grooves below the surface of the plate to make a curved line the artist begins by placing a quarter under his copper plate he is able to use the same movement he uses for straight lines but instead of the Burin curving through the plate the plate curves while the Burin stays straight cross hatching where overlapping lines create darker areas is a feature of many engravings the artist may also engrave short specs into the plate to check the progress of his work the artist may ink the plate when ink is forced below the surface of the plate in the engraved areas the artist can determine the effectiveness of his marks the engraving technique is purely linear to make areas of tone or shade the artist may place his lines closer or farther apart use longer or shorter strokes or use cross hatching to form his image engravings are printed the same way other intaglio processes such as itching and aquatint are since the print will be a mirror image of the plate the artist must reverse both the image and the text of his original design to begin the etching process the artist covers a copper plate with an acid resistant coating called a ground acid will erode unprotected metal but can’t penetrate the ground the artist transfers the lines of his original design as a guide with an etching the plate isn’t actually cut the artist draws into the ground as freely as if using a pencil to expose the areas of the plate that will later be etched by acid the edges in any accidentally exposed areas are touched up with more ground to protect these areas before the plate is placed in the acid after the artist completes the drawing he places the plate in the acid bath the acid eats away those areas of the copper plate that the artist has exposed with his drawing forming a network of ink holding grooves the longer the plate remains in the acid the more deeply the lines will be etched deeper lines hold more ink and result in darker and more intense areas when printed after the acid bath the ground is removed from the plate the plate is also decreased with soap and water the artist may now choose to add other intaglio methods such as aquatint or dry point or he can ink and print the plate resulting in an impression of the simple edged outline to achieve areas of tone aquatint is added to this hedging the plate is evenly dusted with a powdered aquatint rosin when heated each separate grain of aquatint attaches to the surface and acts as an acid resistant ground by painting some of the areas with an acid resistant solution called stop out varnish the artist can isolate the Aqua tint in specific locations when the plate is eventually placed in the acid bath the acid will attack the unprotected portions of the plate not the stopped out areas or the tiny spots that are covered by the aquatint particles the tone of the aquatint can vary from delicate grays to dark blacks the artist may remove the plate and stop out more of the Aqua tint and then return it to the acid to make the still unprotected areas even darker after the plate is taken out of the acid bath for the last time the stop out varnish is removed and the plate is ready for additional handwork or printing if printed we would now see the original edged lines with distinct areas of tone introduced by the aquatint process the artist may choose to add handwork to the image after completing the etching and aquatint here he uses a burnisher and scraper to smooth down areas of the etching and aquatint so they can no longer hold ink this acts as a type of eraser and adds white highlights to the image the artist may also use sandpaper or an emery board to add texture and tone to the plate by inking the plate the artist can decide if he’s finished or if he wants to add more handwork or drypoint another way to make marks on the entire plate is to scratch directly on the copper with a dry point needle no acid is used with this method and dry point is often added to etchings and aqua tints as the sharpened needle cuts through the plate it throws up a burr rather like the earth around a furrow in a plowed field the burr usually catches more ink than the line itself the dry point line is rich in velvety which distinguishes it from the crisp hard line of an engraving or etchings by inking the plate the artist can decide if he’s finished and ready for printing the printed impression in this case would show the etched lines aquatint and additional handwork the inking and printing process for all intaglio methods is the same in this case an etched plate is being used the artist applies ink to the entire plate with cardboard squeegees forcing it into the carved lines the ink remaining on the surface of the plate must be removed the artist wipes it with tarlatan a type of cheesecloth and does the finishing touches with the palm of his hand the inked plate is placed in the press bed and a damp sheet of paper is carefully positioned over it next some newsprint and the press blanket are put in position when this is rolled through the press the intense pressure forces the damp paper into the grooves of the etching to pull out the ink because of this pressure the plate makes an indentation in the paper all around its edges this plate mark is one of the clues that a print is an intaglio here the artist reveals his completed etching tones and shades can be seen in the print with aquatint added to the etching finally the artist reveals the finished print with a Qing aquatint burnishing scraping and dry point

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