February 15, 2006

Hello from Calvin College,

Here are a couple of prints from my Intaglio Printmaking winter session. This was certainly an interesting course; each day for three weeks I worked in the Calvin print shop from nine o’clock in the morning to four or five in the afternoon. I learned a lot about a variety of techniques and procedures involved with this form of printmaking, and I was also able to produce a good number of different projects.

A few words on the intaglio printing process:

Intaglio printing involves scratching or carving grooves into a flat metal plate (copper in this case). These scratches can be done manually with a sharp stylus, scraper, roller, etc. They can also be achieved by etching. This process involves covering the plate with a thin coating (called ground) and scratching through that to the metal surface. Then the entire plate is placed in an acid bath which reacts to the metal and eats into the surface of the plate.

Once the surface of the plate has been prepared the real fun begins. Each plate’s edges must be beveled by file so that it will not slice through the soft paper when it is pressed. Once the edges are filed the plate is inked over the entire surface and slowly burnished clean with stiff gauze called tarlatan. If wiped properly the unscratched surface of the plate retains only a very thin layer of ink (called plate-tone) while the grooves remain filled with ink. Now the plate is ready to be pressed.

Before the paper can be pressed it must be soaked in a water bath to soften the pulp a bit and allow it to conform to the small grooves in the plate and absorb as much ink as possible. The soaked sheet of paper is blotted or dried between large sheets and a rolling pin. Then the plate is placed face up on the press bed (similar to the one pictured) and the paper is laid on top of that. A layer of dense felt separates the paper/plate from the press’s roller. Once the image has run through the press once it is ready to be pulled or separated from the plate. Now the plate is ready to be re-inked and pressed.

That’s really just the basic overall process; there are a lot of variations and intricacies involved in other aspects of intaglio printmaking. For instance, the blue water in the “Little Glen” print enclosed was achieved by mixing blue ink and a bit of mineral spirits. That solution was then painted on the plate before each pressing in only that specific area after the rest of the plate had been inked in black and wiped clean.

Each of the plates for the prints included in this package was prepared mostly by etching with acid, but they both are augmented by manual scratching (called drypoint).

I hope you all enjoy the prints, even if that means just having them on the fridge with a couple of magnets for a week or two (“Eggs & Bacon” would seem to work well in the kitchen).

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