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Graphic Content: Engraving

Last week on Graphic Content, we introduced printmaking and the intaglio method. This week we discuss engraving, a type of intaglio, used by William Hogarth for his print series in Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. CrumbWant to learn more? Study the effects of this method with a visit to SAM and get more tips on printmaking by working with local artists during Press & Print: Drop-In Studio.

Check back weekly through the run of Graphic Masters for more information on different types of printmaking and get creative in and out of the museum.

Engraving

Engraving

To make an engraving, the artist incises a design into the plate using a burin, a tool with a sharp diamond-shaped tip that creates smooth lines with crisp edges. Significant pressure and a steady hand are needed to force the burin into the plate and cleanly remove the excess copper from the surface. Because of the immense skill involved, some artists employed professional engravers to execute their designs.

The Harlot Finds a Protector" (detail) by William Hogarth, 1732

Whether calligraphic curves or stippled dots, engraved lines are clean and precise. Hogarth employed cross-hatching, the angled intersection of hatched lines, to achieve a great range of textures and tones.

IMAGES: The Harlot Finds a Protector, 1732, William Hogarth, English, 1697–1764, engraving, 12 3/8 x 15 1/16 in., Seattle Art Museum. Gift of Lloyd Spencer, 44.298. Photo: Elizabeth Mann. Illustrations: Tim Marsden. The Harlot Finds a Protector (detail), 1732, William Hogarth.

Graphic Content: What is a Print?

Get a primer on the printmaking techniques of the masters in Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb. Try making your own prints at home after you’ve been inspired by your visit to SAM, or check out our Press & Print: Drop-In Studio sessions while at you’re at the museum and put these tips into practice with the guidance of local artists.

Let’s start simple!

What is a print?
At its most basic, a print is a work of art on paper that’s produced in multiples from an inked surface. While various types of printmaking exist, the basic components are the same—an inked wood block or plate, a sheet of paper, and a press that transfers the ink to the paper. The process is repeated many times, resulting in multiple impressions of the same image. Voila, a print edition!

How to make a Potato Print!

The development of printmaking
Following the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, printmaking gained popularity as an inexpensive way to disseminate visual information to a mass audience. Early prints—typically illustrations in books or reproductions of famous paintings—tended to be relatively small, affordable, and easily transportable. While fine paintings by important artists were too expensive for most people, prints were within reach.

The Development of Printmaking

Prints did not remain purely illustrative for long. Printmaking came to be seen as a distinct mode of expression capable of producing works of fine art. Artists like Albrecht Dürer established a tradition of virtuoso printmaking. His episodic handling of narrative through print series, like The Large Passion, laid the groundwork for later generations of graphic artists from William Hogarth to R. Crumb.

The technical innovations of artists like Rembrandt van Rijn and Francisco Goya pushed the boundaries of the medium and further elevated printmaking as an art form. Connoisseurs began to build collections of particularly fine impressions. Rembrandt’s Christ Healing the Sick was so sought after that it fetched prices usually associated with oil paintings, earning it the nickname “The Hundred Guilder Print.” But in general, prints remained accessible works of art meant to be viewed and appreciated up close.

Intaglio

Tools of the Trade

Intaglio (Italian for “carving”) is the opposite of relief. A linear design is carved into the surface of a polished metal plate, usually copper. Ink is worked into the entire plate and then the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink only in the recessed grooves and pits. As the printing process wears down the plate, the artist can rework the design to pull more impressions. Altering the plate surface results in a new version, or state. Some artists, Rembrandt in particular, used this opportunity to make dramatic changes to their compositions.

Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print) by Rembrandt van Rijn

There are several types of intaglio printing: engraving, drypoint, etching, and aquatint. Artists may use just one technique at a time or a combination of several in a single print. We’ll cover each type of intaglio printing in the weeks to come, stay tuned!

IMAGES: Illustrations: Tim Marsden. Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 1643, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669, etching and drypoint, 11 1/8 × 15 1/4 in., Private Collection.