What is etching? Engraving and etching are processes used to make intaglio prints. An intaglio print is made from a plate, usually a metal one, which has been had lines drawn into its surface. These lines trap ink when the ink is rolled across the surface of the plate. When the surface of the plate is wiped with a cloth, the lines retain their ink. A piece of damp paper is placed on the plate, and the two are run through a press, which forces them together. This process transfers the ink from the plate to the paper. In an etching, acids are used to draw into the plate. In an engraving, sharp tools are used to draw directly into the metal. Engraving and etching have been used in printing for hundreds of years. Before the invention of modern, photographic-based techniques, they were the most commonly used method for reproducing images. Newspapers and printed advertisements formerly used engravings. Stamps and paper money are still printed using the engraving process because of its ability to reproduce fine lines and sharp details
The techniques of etching and engraving are believed to have originated in Medieval times as a means of decorating armor and metal. The incised lines would have often been filled to darken them and from this it would have been a short step to transferring the image to cloth or paper. One suggestion is knights falling on soft ground would have left an impression of the patterns on their armor.
Engraving first became popular in Europe during the fifteenth century, when paper became available far more widely than it had been previously. From the beginning, intaglio printing was used for both the sacred and the profane. Artists made engravings of religious scenes, while craftsmen used the new technique to make copies of famous paintings or decks of playing cards. In an age when the printing press and movable type were first being invented, this was the equivalent of today's mass-produced posters. Propelled by the genius of artists like Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), intaglio techniques quickly grew. Artists learned to create various kinds of shading through the use of dots, called stippling, and groups of parallel lines at various angles to each other, called cross-hatching.
Stipple (the dots): Creating value with many small dots.
Dry Point Etching: Dry point etching is the most direct method of etching: the copper, zinc or plexi glass plate is etched directly using a sharp steel point, and held in the same way as a pencil. The depth and the characteristics of the drawing depend directly on the pressure exerted, and the angle on the dry point. The grooves are bordered by a thin metal/plastic strip (the beard) which retains the ink around the drawing and gives the print a softness and irregularity. This beard fades gradually after a few prints.
The following are a few examples well know etching artists though out history: Albrecht Durer Rembrandt William Blake William Hogarth
Albrecht Dürer Albrecht Dürer (May 21, 1471 – April 6, 1528) was a German painter, printmaker and theorist from Nuremberg. His still-famous works include the Apocalypse woodcuts , Knight, Death , and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium. Dürer's introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, have secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatise which involve principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Renaissance in Northern Europe ever since. Contents
In Italy, he went to Venice to study its more advanced artistic world. Through Wolgemut's teachings, Dürer had learned how to make prints in drypoint and design woodcuts in the German style. Melencolia I Albrecht Dürer, 1514 The Holy Family with Saint John, the Magdalene, and Nicodemus, ca. 1512
Rembrandt Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age. Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardship. Yet his drawings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high and for twenty years he taught nearly every important Dutch painter.Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. The self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. Self Portrait -Vienna c. 1655, oil on walnut
As a consummate draftsman whose extant drawings number in the thousands, Rembrandt was naturally attracted to this spontaneous approach to printmaking. His first etching dates to 1625, the year of his earliest known painting; his last was created in 1665, four years before his death. Rembrandt's genius as an etcher lies in his recognition that this medium responds best to the light touch of a draftsman, not the heavy hand of a professional printmaker. Using the etching needle like a paintbrush or pen, Rembrandt created lines which spontaneously flowed in varying thicknesses across his plates. Rembrandt explored the effects of dry point. Dry point lines, which are scratched directly into the surface of the soft copper plate, hold more ink and print more darkly and richly than their etched counterparts. His judicious use of dry point created the velvety black textures and impenetrable shadows he sought. Because of Rembrandt's combination of etching and dry point on a single plate, the number of quality sheets obtainable from each plate was limited. While an etched plate could yield about 100 prints before unavoidable signs of wear set in, the number of first-rate sheets obtainable from a plate containing drypoint could be as few as 15.
Landscape With a Cow , Etching, with Dry point, ca. 1650
Christ and the Woman of Samaria, Among Ruins 1634
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. During his lifetime, and for half a century afterwards, his work was largely disregarded or even derided as the work of a madman. Today Blake's work is considered seminal in the history of both poetry and the visual arts of the Romantic Age. Blake's prophetic poetry is often considered to be the writings of extraordinary originality and genius.
In 1788, at the age of 31, Blake began to experiment with relief etching, a method he would use to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and, of course, his poems, including his longer 'prophecies' and his masterpiece the "Bible." The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the name). This is a reversal of the normal method of etching, where the lines of the design are exposed to the acid, and the plate printed by the intaglio method. Relief etching, which Blake invented, later became an important commercial printing method. The pages printed from these plates then had to be hand-coloured in water colours and stitched together to make up a volume. Blake used illuminated printing for most of his well-known works, including Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.
Gay’s Fables - The Goat Without a Beard (1793)
To the Accuser who is the God of this world C. 1820, printed 1824
William Hogarth William Hogarth (10 November, 1697 – 26 October, 1764) was a major English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art (like comics). His work ranged from excellent realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects". Much of his work, though at times vicious, poked fun at contemporary politics and customs. Illustrations in such style are often referred to as "Hogarthian".
Harlot's and Rake's Progresses A Rake's Progress, Plate 8, 1735 In 1731, he completed the earliest of the series of moral works which first gave him recognition as a great and original genius. This was A Harlot's Progress, first as paintings, (now lost), and then published as engravings. In its six scenes, the miserable fate of a country girl who began a prostitution career in town is traced out remorselessly from its starting point, the meeting of a bawd, to its shameful and degraded end, the whore's death of venereal disease and the following merciless funeral ceremony.
The harlot's progress begins when a young woman, Mary (or Moll) Hackabout, arrives in London from the country. Presumably she has come to look for work as a servant, but a procuress praises her beauty and suggests a more profitable occupation. In the background an old lecher watches with anticipation. Hogarth's images are stuffed with visual clues and comments illuminating his story. Here, for example, a clergyman on horseback fails to see either the damage his horse is doing -- upsetting a stack of pots -- or the corruption of Moll's innocence happening right beside him.
In this image, Moll appears as the mistress of a wealthy Jewish merchant. He has just returned home as Moll overturns the table in an attempt to divert his attention while her clandestine lover makes his way out. Hogarth had a great distaste for the mercantile class and their extravagant life style. Here the merchant's corrupted state is symbolized by his exotic possessions: the tea, the mahogany table, the monkey, and the black houseboy -- all derived from colonial trade.
Plate three, an illustration of the prostitute Moll Hackabout’s humble levée, or morning toilette, in a Drury Lane garret, was the first image of A Harlot’s Progress conceived by Hogarth. It was painted prior to the conception of the narrative series.
This image depicts Moll beating hemp at Bridewell Prison with other inmates after having been arrested by a magistrate. The inscription on the wall behind her reads, "Better to Work than Stand thus." The presence of a black woman (almost invisible in the background) suggests a parallel between Moll's present situation and slavery.
Out of prison but infected with syphilis and reduced to poverty, Moll is dying. Her servant tries to get the attention of the two doctors, who are more interested in disputing the merits of their prescriptions than in attending to the patient. The servant's deformed nose is a sign that she has suffered from the same disease as Moll.
The plate on Moll's coffin tells us that she was only 23. The funeral, a gathering of her professional colleagues, is a grotesque mixture of grief (fueled by gin) and indifference. The clergyman's female companion has distracted him from his duties and even from his glass of liquor: just where is his other hand? At the right a woman trying on gloves picks the pocket of the man showing them to her.