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Intaglio process

Intaglio processes in printmaking involve creating images below the plate's surface. Techniques like dry point and etching manipulate the plate to hold ink, creating unique textures and tones. Dry point scratches the plate, moving metal to form a burr, while etching uses acid to create ink-holding troughs. The final print showcases the artist's sculptural manipulation of the metal surface. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

Phil: Intaglio processes are any print making process where the image area is below the flat surface of your printing matrix or plate. Within intaglio, there are several different types of processes. One of those is the dry point. What dry point is is a direct scratching or moving of the material on the plate. If I were to take one of our etching tools, in this case a steel scribe, and scratch the surface of this plate, that scratch will raise a burr, where the metal was then moved from side to side. In dry point, we're typically not removing metal, we're actually moving it and the burr that is raised from moving that metal holds ink. Where that ink is held creates a fuzzy line, which is the characteristic line for a dry point. In working with a roulette, now that I have my composition laid out with basic lines, I'm going to use the roulette to start to add some tone in. This roulette is offset dots. The purpose of all of the different types of marks that I'm using is to create different textures and varying tones, so that the composition that I'm working with doesn't feel flat by something being made from all of the same type of mark. Steel facing increases the strength of the surface of the plate, which is extremely important for things like dry point where you have a delicate and fragile burr that's raised up above the plate. This will help the plate remain strong so that none of the burrs break during printing. Many of the same tools that we use for dry point are also used for etching. Etching involves several steps. The first step is to prepare the plate, which involves polishing and cleaning, so that there are no marks or scratches on the surface that could interfere with the artist's drawing. The second step would be applying a ground to the plate. Hard ground is typically made from asphaltum, wax, and rosin. It acts as an acid resist, protecting the white or non-image areas of the etching plate. Preparing that ground so that it is dark enough to see the copper showing through wherever the ground has been scratched away. To smoke the plate, the plate is held upside down, so that the ground can be heated and absorb the soot. Once a plate has been prepared with a ground, the surface is a jet black. Drawing a plate involves scratching away the ground so that copper is revealed. This is different than dry point. Dry point's scratching of the plate is to create a burr or to move metal. In this case, we're actually only barely scratching the surface, just to remove the ground. Wherever copper is showing through that black ground, it will be etched or eaten away to create a trough for ink to sit in. The copper lines become the image that will be printed onto paper. The third step in etching is etching the plate. This is a process of eating away all of the bare copper areas showing on the plate, deep into recesses that will hold ink. The plate is etched for 15 minutes, then it is pulled out and rinsed and replaced back in the bath for an additional 15 minutes to create a fine, even, black line. Once the plate has been etched, the ground has been removed, and the plate has been cleaned, it is now prepared for printing. All intaglio processes are printed in the same format. Printing involves wiping the plate with ink to force ink into the recesses of the plate, utilizing tarlatan to remove excess ink from the raised surface or upper surfaces of the plate, and finally, a small amount of hand wiping and cleaning of the edges so that all of the white areas of the plate remain white. A small amount of chalk on the fingers will remove any residue ink from the edges and non-image areas of the plate. Once the plate has been wiped, it is set on the press. A dampened sheet of paper is laid on top and it is run through the press with felts at high pressure. Artists like intaglio processes because it's a very sculptural way of working. That sculptural process of manipulating a metal surface is evident in the final print with raised ink and embossed edges.