The Dark Side of Printmaking 11.02.2010

As an art discipline, intaglio printmaking is one of the more mysterious ways of making art. Intaglio simply means, “to carve into.” This refers to any process that digs, cuts, or etches beneath the surface of the plate. The plates more commonly consist of copper, zinc, and sometimes steel.

Intaglio printmaking is usually not as popular to the general public, as are the disciplines of painting or drawing. The printmaker works with exotic processes, caustic chemicals, heavy equipment, and a host of specialized tools. Although not in every case, traditional printmakers have been known for their high level of precision and time consuming patience. Creating an intaglio may take months of proofing and editing, before the final image is accepted.

The most common tools of the trade include: an etching needle, for scribing lines; a burin, for engraving lines; a scraper, which removes or edits areas of the plate; the roulette, which rolls out textures on the plate; and the burnisher, for smoothing or polishing irregularities in the metal.

The three most common divisions of intaglio are etching, engraving, and drypoint. For etching, the plate is covered with a tar-like material called, Asphaltum. When dry, it makes a beautiful drawing surface that will accept the scribed lines of the etching needle. The lines will expose the metal, allowing the drawn areas to be susceptible to acid. These exposed areas are etched in acid, allowing the acid to bite, creating permanent lines. Acid is only used with the etching process, and is usually not basic to the process of either engraving or dry point. For engraving, lines are cut directly into the metal with a sharp tool, called a burin. Its lines are typically mechanical, and has much definition.  Unlike etching or engraving, dry point uses the needle to scratch directly into the metal. This will cause burrs or raised areas in the metal, creating rich, thick lines.

In the process of printing, the plate is inked and wiped with a mesh cloth called, a tarlatan. As the surface is wiped, only surface ink is removed, leaving the ink imbedded within the incised lines. The plate is wiped in a swirling motion and the image is brought up evenly as the ink film is removed. This is done in stages, beginning with heavier wipes and gradually refining to a gentler, swifter movement. The very final wipe is critical and many beginners over-wipe their images at this point. Some experienced printmakers end with a hand wipe, named after the French phrase, “ coup de main,” or stroke of the hand. The “coup de main,” gives maximum control for adjusting ink tones, without over-wiping the plate.

After the plate is wiped, it is then ready for the printing press. The press bed is prepared by protecting it with a sheet of news print. The plate is centered on the news print. Moist paper is placed on the plate, followed by wool blankets. These are pulled through a press, as tons of pressure de-boss the plate image onto the paper. The resulting impression is a mirror image of our original plate drawing.

Now that I have described printmaking and it's process, let me discuss why I have chosen it for my own imagery. I usually work with ideas that are pertinent to contemporary or post modern artists. My influences are probably considered fantasy gothic, an often dark view of fable, humor, and lore. I love the written works of Lewis Carol and Ray Bradbury, famous for their sometimes bizarre nostalgia. People who view my work often respond with opposite reactions. Some experience humorous animals, while others see sinister ones. This often occurs in the art of ancient cultures, where humorous icons carry serious content. For example the cute, plump, dogs found in Pre-Columbian art would at first glance appear whimsical. On the darker side, the dogs are supposedly eaten by their masters, during their journey to the underworld. Printmaking is a natural medium for expressing the raw qualities of this darker imagery. Stray marks and dark tonal passages allow the plate to convey a raw ritualistic feel. Pressure is the other trait that is common to all prints. This trait is of great importance to my kinds of imagery. It gives my narratives a strength of character, a presence that nothing can duplicate. Visually, it brings a crispness and clarity conceived in one single, powerful stroke. The plate shouts its birth, a primitive cry, a necessity to exist.

Important!Simple but not Obvious

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.
Pablo Picasso

Art is the most beautiful of all lies.
Claude Debussy

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