Intaglio / Etching

Gravure printing can be done in the printmaking studio from drypoint etching to etching techniques/aquatinta to copperplate engraving. Available are mainly zinc as well as plastic plates up to a size of approx. 65 × 80 cm and copperplate handmade paper at a favorable price. Printing is done on two etching presses with a printing table format of 82 × 120 cm and 40 × 85 cm respectively.

Etching workstations at the large copperplate printing press, Vhs course, 1/2006Inking workstations, hands wiping out platessmall copperplate printing press

Etching workstations …, at the large copperplate printing press (Vhs course 1/2006), dyeing workstations and hands wiping out the printing plate, and the small copperplate printing press.

Etching – the intaglio art of the old masters

The great engraver Albrecht Dürer already produced some masterpieces of etching. With the development of a suitable etching ground, the line etching technique was perfected. No less a figure than Rembrandt, the “magician of etching”, brought this discipline to perfection. New techniques developed, such as aquatint etching, which reached its peak with Goya. To this day, these processes of the great masters have lost none of their fascination. Once you have conquered the high art of the various techniques of etching, you will remain addicted to them. “Art is in nature, and he who can tear it out has it,” said Albrecht Dürer in his “Proportion Theory” of 1528. “Tearing out,” in Dürer’s time, meant not only drawing but also scratching. Latin “radere” means “to scrape, scrape, scrape out, clean”. Etching has since been synonymous with scratching a drawing (laterally reversed!) into a plastic or metal plate, as well as into the primer of a polished copper or zinc plate that is to be etched. Thus, a distinction is made between the ‘dry (‘cold’ – without acid) and the ‘wet’ processes:

Copperplate engraving – the black art, 18th century, from Racueil de Planches, vol. 5, Paris 1767. The illustration shows the tools as well as schematic work samples of mezzotint work. Photo: Munich, Deutsches MuseumEtching: varnishing of the plate, mid-18th century, copperplate engraving. The illustration shows etching tools, plate holder, tampon, wax torch and heat plate. Photo: Munich, German Museum

Engraving – the black art, 18th century, from Racueil de Planches, vol. 5, Paris 1767. The figure shows the tools as well as schematic working samples of mezzotint work. Photo: Munich, German Museum

Etching: firing of the plate, mid-18th century, copperplate engraving. The image shows etching tools, plate holder, tampon, wax torch and heat plate. Photo: Munich, German Museum

Dry (mechanical) processes

Copper and steel engraving

It is the oldest European artistic intaglio printing process, the earliest work “Flagellation of Christ” dated 1446 is anonymous from the Upper Rhine region. The ‘cutting out’ (actually cutting) of the drawing with and without intersecting hatchings with the graver into the smooth, polished surface of the copper plate (approx. 1-3 mm thick; high strength and at the same time elasticity = high edition stability), which is carried out with high precision and skill, is called copper engraving. For this purpose, a magnifying glass (goggles) is used, as well as a leather pad for the safe posture and rotation (for curves) of the plate. Typical print image feature is the pointed groove start, parallel (with masters also swinging = with waist) edges and a slightly tapering, then sharp metal lift in the line. No bleeding (ink shadows) is visible.

Drypoint (etching / Dry-point / Pointe sèche)

It is the most common technique nowadays, since it can be performed with the fewest prerequisites. The steel etching needle rips the plate surface; depending on the depth and slant of the needle, the lines have one or two ridges which, in addition to the indentation, hold the ink and release it onto the paper. When wiping out (cleaning the plate surface of adhering ink before printing), they give rise to the bleeding (edge shading) of the lines that is typical of drypoint etching.

Scraping technique (Mezzotint)

Mezzotint was first used by Ludwig von Siegen in 1642 for a portrait. In this process, the plate is roughened by a sharp quarter-circle-shaped weighing iron or knife (also granulating steel) vertically and evenly deep in all directions, so that it would print completely black. Now the bright image is modeled in with different tonal values by differentiated smoothing with three-edge hollow scraper and polishing steel. These operations are relatively tiring and lengthy, which is why the mezzotint is not too common in the past and present. Nowadays, the roughening is also carried out with lubricating gel paper printing, aquatint grain or sandblasting. However, the optical appearance is flatter and more uneven here.

Crayon manner (Crayon)

Technique from the first half of the 18th century/France, developed for drawings in solid etching ground. The surface of the printing plate is roughened in different ways using various roulettes, moles or matteur, so that the printed image gives the impression of a chalk (or pencil) drawing.

Hallmark and dotting stitch

A method, used in the past and rarely, in which the two-dimensional, tonal pattern formed by countless small dots of varying depths is struck into the plate surface with a needle, punching iron, and/or dotting hammer. First used probably by J. Billeart as a complement to linear engraving, perfected as an independent technique by F. Bartolozzi (1764-1802).

Work with milling needle and engraver, etc.

Since etching involves damaging the plate surface to pick up and release (to the paper) the ink, the above-mentioned devices are also suitable for this purpose, as well as lubricating gel paper, steel brushes, hatchets, etc. All the means used have their own expressive effects.

Wet (chemical) processes

Line etching (Etching / Gravure à l’eau-forte)

The first dated line etching is from 1513 by Urs Graf (iron etching). Here, the acid-resistant etching primer is removed linearly with the etching needle. An unheated needle can cause flaking of the base, which is the reason for frayed lines. The acid etches the printing depressions into the plate. After initial etching, etching and etching can be done again – this achieves different depths and thus line tone values. In addition to the needle, other means can also be used to remove the etching primer, either selectively or linearly.

Aquatint / clay surface etching (also scraped aquat.), carborundum and marbling processes, heliogravure/photographic etching/removal processes

Since its invention in 1768 by Jean Baptiste Le Prince, clay surface etching has remained alive and evolving to this day. In order to etch and print surfaces, raised areas must remain in them. This is achieved by dusting on acid-resistant grain (e.g. rosin or asphalt) and melting. Then the white parts of the image are covered and etched after drying. Then the next brightest tone value is masked and etched. This is repeated until the blackest areas are etched deeper. This has created a plate with different depths, which absorbs the paint around the stopped grain and holds it in place during the wiping out process. The deeper areas absorb more color and thus become darker. Corrections, as in all etching techniques, are possible here by scraping and polishing, as well as reworking with etching needles, roulettes, etc. In the Carborundum process, electrocorundum is mixed with titanium or zinc white and applied to the prepared metal plate with a bristle brush or painting spatula. The areas that remain free must be covered. When etching in an acid bath (without a brush!), the corundum sinks and “grains” the printing areas.

Photo etching (developed in 1879) uses full-size side-inverted half-tone film, which is copied onto gelatin paper that is adhered to the plate. It is then developed and cured, covered with asphalt varnish and etched in stages, resulting in a printable plate. Likewise, even with a photographic resist plate, a positive (for halftones, rastering) can be directly exposed, cured, developed, dusted and etched.

Blasting out technique (Reservage)

From the 18th century The plate is provided with a dust grain in the same way as for the aquatint. Now you can draw on it with a saturated sugar solution with added watercolor (also gum arabic with glycerin or tempera). As it dries, this solution can bead and contract in a variety of ways, creating painterly effects.

Softground etching (Vernis mou / Softground etching)

On the plate coated with soft ground (sticky asphalt) under heat, a sheet of thin paper is placed and drawn, there the ground adheres to the paper. The sections thus exposed are etched in depth and printed. Such a work has the character of a pencil drawing.

Brush etching (open etching)

This process involves “drawing” directly on the plate using the most highly concentrated acid possible and a brush. This procedure should be done several times. This creates painterly effects with halftones. Since the vapors produced are highly hazardous to health, work must be carried out with a gas mask and protective gloves!

Prepare and print the etching plates

To achieve a successful print run without cut printing paper or felt, the edges and corners are faceted/beveled (worked) with a fine file (slightly rounded) to an approx. 45° slanted plate edge and then smoothed with a three-edge hollow scraper, grinding stone or paper or polishing steel so that they cannot hold and transfer ink. In most cases (for metal plates) the surface must still be smoothed/polished with steel wool, polishing steel and polishing agent. For etching, the plate is now degreased and – except for brush etching – the back must always be protected / covered from acid exposure!

File plate chamfer Etching with cold needle in plastic Burning the rosin dust stepwise partial covering with asphalt Covering the back of the plate with asphalt varnish Brushing the plate in an acid bath Etching control with the thread counter Smoothing the plate edges after etching

After the final etching of the plate, the asphalt varnish and the melted grain must be removed from both sides, e.g. with turpentine or nitro thinner. Now the plate is inked with copper ink using roller and/or pad or wiping gauze or brushes or leather or rubber strips. Metal plates are best dyed and printed warm, as the ink is then more pliable. Wiped out (remove the unnecessary paint from the surface) panels are cold with wiping gauze, and then by hand. The plate tone can ultimately still be removed with a little chalk. Now the plate is placed on the printing table (carriage or slide), the moistened and well-swollen copperplate printing paper is positioned on it, the printing felts are carefully placed over it and pulled through the press under high pressure by means of the top roller. It is carefully peeled off and dried in moisture-absorbing cardboard for about 3-4 days.

Inking workstationInking the etching plate by means of ink padColor-separated wiping out of the aquatintPositioning the plate and printing paperPrinting the etching on large copperplate printing pressSheet removal by means of frogsThree-color printing next to plate on the printing tablePrinting in cardboard dryer

Signing print

According to Lothar Lang, art historian, in “Der Graphiksammler”:

On the left under the graphic, prints before the edition are marked with Roman numerals, possibly also as a proof print = E.E., or as a voucher print for the artist (number = maximum 10% of the edition size) = e.a./E.A. = Épreuves d’artiste = A.P., or outside the sale = h.c. = hors commerce, and/or the edition with Arabic numerals, if the printing sequence is known, as a fraction, in the numerator the consecutive number and in the denominator the edition size. (Otherwise always 1-pad height.)

On the right is the signature and the date of creation, in the middle a possible title and/or cycle. It is sometimes noted here the technique.