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Drypoint Etching without a Press

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This is a post from Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.

Printing a Drypoint Engraving without a Press

In this series of artsy printmaking projects using stuff from around the house during the Pandemic, we’ve explored drypoint etching (also called drypoint engraving):

A small, 6oz box of blueberries has just enough plastic on the lid to make a teeny drypoint

Recycling Plastic in the Art Studio

Once you start clipping and cutting plastic to make art from your produce and nut and baked goods containers, you may never stop. I’m speaking from experience. As you can tell. Since this is my forth recycled plastic printmaking project. And there’s more to come. Do I need a meeting?

When my husband noticed me standing at the sink, examining the lid from a plastic container of tomatoes, he said “No! Put that in the recycling bin!” I did.

Later, I tried to explain. “Here’s the deal with the plastic containers….” He eyed me doubtfully. I forged on: “When you buy plates to make drypoints, whether it’s copper or plexiglass, you’ve pay money for that little rectangle of material. There’s a subtle pressure to ‘get it right’ to justify the cost.”

He was still listening, so: “When you’re snipping plastic from a lettuce box, it’s no additional cost, and you just rescued the material from the dump! There’s a freedom in that. A whole pantry to experiment in.”

(The next day, he left a plastic deli lid near the sink for me.)

After cutting the plastic free, and sanding the corners off

Using a twisted scribe, I traced a photo of a little boy in a scuba mask, standing in an inflatable pool

Inked and wiped with Akua intaglio printmaking ink

Transferring the drypoint without a press by rubbing it with a cereal spoon

The drypoint, the plastic drypoint plate and the spoon used to transfer the print

Four little drypoints hanging to dry in the studio. The printmaking paper is BFK Rives light weight.

About Engraving Scribes

Choosing an etching scribe can be confusing if you’ve never used one. The process to scratch, cut grooves or engrave logos, designs or words into a hard flat surface has been around for hundreds of years. Think of the word inscription – the word scribe is tucked into it.

I have three different scribes for drypoint in my tool box. My favorite is the twisted scribe (below) and a cork handled scribe. There are printmakers who swear by the carbide tipped scribe, or the diamond tip scribe, and still others who prefer an electric engraver.

I’d recommend that you start with the twisted scribe, because it works well, its inexpensive, and one will last you a lifetime. If you wish it was the cork handled version (which can be hard to find) you can wrap the middle of the tool with rubber pencil grips, layers of cloth, yarn or yoga mat rubber for a softer grip.

This twisted scribe – or Whistler’s needle – is all you need to make a drypoint on a sheet of plastic. (Get one here.)

Etching vs Drypoint vs Engraving

You’ll hear the words engraving and etching used interchangeably, even though printmaking nomenclature assigns them to different methods.

Engraving is usually referring to a dry process. Engraving with a sharp scribe into a hard surface. There is no acid involved. The resulting print is called a drypoint engraving.

Etching is done by coating a metal plate with a waxy sealer, and then using a scribe to draw an image into the wax, clearing it to expose the metal. The plate is submerged into acid for a period of time, and the acid bites into the metal all along the drawn lines. When the plate is removed from the acid, and cleaned. When it has been inked, wiped and printed, it’s called an etching.

Engraving Terms

Engraving – to the rest of the hand crafts out there – is done on leather, marble, whale bones, glass and rock. Tools like scribes, awls, hammer and chisels and hydraulic water cutters are used. Etching is done with acidic gels on glass, laser cutters on wood, and rust-eating baths on large machinery. The words engraving and etching mean the same thing to the general public. Most people refer to the method in this post as a drypoint etching, so we’ll just go with that, because we aren’t Dictionary Police.

However, this term-mix matters to you if you’re interested in learning more about drypoint engraving, because searching google for examples about drypoint engraving works best when you expand your search terms to include:

drypoint, engraving, etching, intaglio, a la poupee, scribing, scrimshaw and grabando, etc. Capiche? Think about all the ways other artists, even in other languages, refer to this printmaking method. Use those search terms to see the widest variety of examples.

After the ink was dry the next day, I painted one of the drypoint prints with watercolors.

Drypoint Printing FAQ

We are all staying inside a lot more than usual. A few art projects may be just the thing to lighten moods, busy fretful hands, and swoop a little satisfaction into your day.

My intent with these posts is to encourage you to look for items around the house that you can make art with. After the last few drypoint printmaking posts, a river of emails arrived with common questions, so I’ll answer a few of them here.

  • Can you make drypoint etchings with oil paints? I’ve never tried it, but I’d say give it a go, and see if it works. You *can* use water soluble crayons on your incised lines, and print them to the same BFK Rives printmaking paper I used. Be sure to dunk and blot the paper in cool water first, or spitz and blot it. And if you make drypoints with water soluble crayons, be aware that painting them with watercolor will re-wet the crayon, so keep additional media dry – like colored pencil.

  • What if the plastic in my grocery stores is super thin? That will work too. I’ve made drypoint wetchings on sheer sheets of mylar drafting film, which is .005 inches thick. (Akin to a sheet of printer paper.) You can still make a drypoint very successfully. Be careful not to press so hard you go through the plastic. Consider the pressure with your scribe to be just a skosh harder than a scratch.

  • I have a printmaking baren. Can I use that to transfer a drypoint etching? You can, but I’d recommend using a metal spoon, especially for a nice small print. If your printmaking baren is the speedball teflon version, the pressure is distributed across a broad surface, so it won’t be firm enough to get a transfer. With a spoon, all your pressure is concentrated in an area the size of a pea. Keep the paper steady (see this video for an example of paper that got away from me during the transfer), and peek often to see that your lines are coming across nice and clean.

Traditional drypoint etching on a tiny sheet of copper

Printmaking Married Recycling and Made a Drypoint Etching

I hope you’ll give drypoint printmaking a try. You could make a small set of cards, or a series of petite comic strip stories about your family from old photo albums. Just cut your plastic the same size as the photos, and then trace the photos onto the plastic. Then, ink and print the images! No drawing skills required.

If you plan to paint your drypoint prints, be sure you’re using a printmaking ink that dries permanently. (Akua intaglio ink and Cranfield Caligo Safewash Etching Ink will work, but Speedball water based ink will re-wet.) If you are using ink that will re-wet, use colored pencils or pastels to color your drypoints.

Have a ton of fun, and come back to share links where we can see your new work.

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post -


Art Quote

I have touched with a sense of art some people – they felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist?

Mary Cassatt

The post Drypoint Etching without a Press appeared first on Belinda Del Pesco’s Art Blog Belinda Del Pesco.


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