Technique description


In its broadest sense is the art of cutting lines in metal, wood, or other material either for decoration or for reproduction through printing. In its narrowest sense, it is an intaglio printing process in which the lines are cut in a metal plate with a graver, or burin. Furrows are cleanly cut out, raising no burr, and then filled with ink which is transferred under high pressure to the printing surface of the press. The earliest known engravings printed on paper date from about the middle of the 15th cent. Among the early master engravers were Dürer, Schongauer, and Lucas van Leyden. Wood engraving differs from true engraving in that it is a relief process. During the 19th cent., steel engraving enjoyed a short popularity as a reproduction process because it made possible a large number of proofs, but it was superseded by photomechanical processes (photoengraving).


It’s the art of engraving with acid on metal; also the print itself taken from the metal plate so engraved is called etching. In hard-ground etching the plate, usually of copper or zinc, is given a thin coating or ground of acid-resistant resin. This is sometimes smoked so that lines scratched through the resin will be clearly visible. A needle exposes the metal without penetrating it. When the design is completed, the plate is submerged in an acid solution that attacks the exposed lines. During the bath the plate is frequently removed, and such lines as are bitten to sufficient depth are coated with stopping-out varnish. The lines receiving the longest exposure to the acid will be the heaviest and darkest in the print. It is also possible to apply the acid locally to the plate. In printing, all varnish is removed, the plate is warmed, coated with etcher’s ink, and then carefully wiped so that the ink remains in the depressions but is largely or wholly removed from the surface. It is then covered with a soft, moist paper and run through an etching press. There are many variations in the technique of etching. Etchers often remove undesired lines by burnishing and otherwise change the first state of the plate from which they make their trial print. Certain etchings appear in many and widely differing states. Only a limited number of first-rate proofs can be made from a plate, and some etchers destroy their plates after making a given number of prints. Soft-ground etching gives effects similar to those obtained in pencil or crayon drawing, while aquatint approximates the effects of a wash drawing. Aquatint is often combined with hard-ground etching, as is also drypoint. This latter technique is not true etching, as no acid is employed; drypoint produces a finer line than does aquatint. Pictorial etching evolved gradually from the earlier burin engraving. Both seem to have originated in Germany, where Dürer’s etchings on iron, made between 1510 and 1520, were probably the earliest important examples of an art that in the following centuries was practiced by many of the greatest draftsmen and painters. Among the foremost in the history of etching are the works of Dürer, Callot, Rembrandt, the Tiepoli, the Piranesi, Goya, and Whistler.


It is an etching technique. The plate is covered with a porous ground, or resist, through which acid bites many tiny pockmarks in the metal. If an area is to be completely white, that part of the plate is coated with varnish. The plate, when inked, becomes a printing template. The tones produced resemble those of a wash drawing. The technique is said to have been invented in the 1760s by J. B. Le Prince (1734–84). It is often used in combination with other types of etching. Goya’s series of mixed aquatint etchings, Los Caprichos, Desastres de la Guerra, Tauromaquia, and Proverbios, is considered a supreme example of this technique.

Mezzotint (halftint)

Method of copper or steel engraving in tone. A Dutch officer, Ludwig von Siegen, is given credit for the invention of mezzotint c.1640. The process then came into prominence in England early in the 18th cent. Mezzotint involves uniform burring with a curved, sawtoothed tool by cradling it back and forth until the surface of the plate presents an all-over, even grain. This yields a soft effect in the print. The picture is developed in chiaroscuro with a scraper and a burnisher, every degree of light and shade from black to white being attainable. In pure mezzotint, no line drawing is employed, the result being soft without the sharp lines of an etching. Mezzotint was often used for the reproduction of paintings, particularly, in England, for landscapes and portraits. The process is essentially extinct today.


An intaglio printing process in which the lines are scratched directly into a metal plate with a needle; also, the print made from such a plate. Although it is often used in combination with etching, no acid is used for the drypoint. It differs from engraving in the type of tool employed and the consequent shallowness of the line. In drypoint the burr raised by the needle is usually left on the plate, producing a rich, velvety effect. It is characteristically a sketchy medium suitable for improvisation, but it can also be used to render fine detail. Unless the plate is steel faced, the burr deteriorates rapidly, allowing relatively few good prints to be pulled. Dürer, Rembrandt, Whistler, and Picasso are considered the greatest masters of the technique.

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