In our third article introducing the major families of printmaking we turn our attention to the quintessential print form, intaglio. These articles are intended to help you broaden your appreciation of the artwork you look at, fill in gaps in your knowledge and to encourage you to develop your own practice further. You can jump back to our first post for an overall definition of printmaking, use the Draw navigator to refer back to these articles any time you need a little refresher and take a look at our accompanying Instagram posts for printmaking inspiration. If the idea of Intaglio printmaking appeals to you and you’d like to give it a go yourself, Scarlett will be teaching a printmaking from home workshop just the other side of Christmas (perhaps an extravagant Christmas present for somebody, if you’re trying to make a good impression…?).
Main Image: Loop - colour composition 2 by Heike Roesel (2018)
So what is Intaglio printmaking?
Derived from the Italian word intaglaire, meaning “to incise”, Intaglio is the form of printmaking in which ink is held in incised lines and caught in the rough marks of a plate. Dampened paper is then placed on top and both are passed through an etching press under incredible pressure. Intaglio engraving was developed simultaneously in Germany and Italy in the mid-15th century, with acid etching first used first as a method for creating printing plates in the 16th century Germany. Below you’ll find a breakdown of the common forms of intaglio printmaking.
A drypoint print being pulled
Drypoint is sometimes referred to as ‘scratchpoint’ and often mis-named ‘drypoint etching’ – it is an intaglio technique in which marks are incised directly into a metal or plastic plate using a tool with a sharp point known as a needle. These marks incise lines into the plate, displacing ridges of metal called burrs; ink is held in both the incision and the burr, resulting in the drypoint’s characteristic fuzzy line. Drypoint editions (series of identical prints taken from the same matrix) are often very limited as the plate burrs become worn down by the printing process. Very simple drypoint plates can be made using any surface that will hold an impression, from polystyrene pizza packing to opened Tertrapack cartons.
Waiting by Opal Ecker DeRuvo, Drypoint
Mezzotint is a subtractive intaglio technique in which a copper plate is given a uniformly rough surface using a rocker, creating a surface which will print a velvety black when inked up. Using a burnisher, light is brought out of the plate by smoothing the rough texture and giving the print characteristically soft gradations of tone. Here is a wonderful little 60 second video showing the making of printmaker Sarah Gillespie’s mezzotint ‘White Plume Moth’.
Eyed Hawk Moth by Sarah Gillespie, Mezzotint
Etching is a form of intaglio printmaking in which an acid is used to etch into the plate, giving the process its name. Rather than scratching into the plate itself, an etcher will coat a metal plate with a wax resit and scratch an image into that layer of wax without incising the plate itself. The plate is then placed in an acid bath so that the acid can corrode the metal to create the recess which will hold the ink – the strength of the acid, temperature and time left in the acid bath will all effect the depth and quality of the ‘bite’. Etching can encompass other processes including spit bite in which acid is selectively applied to the plate to create painterly effects and aquatint in which powered resin is applied to the plate in an aquatint box to create tonal areas. Acrylic resit etching provides an effective and less toxic alternative to the traditional process of etching using acid.
Silo VI by Jo Riddell, Acrylic resit etching on steel
Photogravure or Photoetching is form of etching in which the plate is coated with a light sensitive emulsion and a positive is exposed to the plate. Once developed the coating will act as an acid resist and can be etched in an acid bath to make a plate to print from.
Collagraph plates can be inked in different ways to create either relief or intaglio prints. In collagraph printing a block is created using a combination of found materials of varying thicknesses and textures, which are glued to a block and sealed. When printed in intaglio the ink will be held in the texture of the various materials that make up the plate.
Hut 1 RAF Tilstock by Karen Wicks, Card collagraph with drypoint and monotype
Metal Engraving is an intaglio technique in which lines are incised into a bare metal plate using a burin.
Printing on a press
Etching Presses are used for all intaglio processes. They vary in size and comprise a bed which travels underneath a metal roller, applying considerable of pressure. Blankets are used to push the dampened paper required for intaglio processes into the recesses of the plates (image from Handprinted).
Intaglio printing at home
While it a press is commonly used for all all forms of intaglio printmaking, it is possible to print an intaglio print by hand. Take a look at some examples here.
This blog post was written by Jake Spicer using technical notes by Scarlett Rebecca. It is part of the Draw Patreon learning resources and part of an ongoing series exploring printmaking.