Thursday, June 17, 2010

Printmaking: Drypoint Crow

The Drypoint plate
My first ‘Drypoint’ print, ‘Crow’. The soft-edged nature of drypoint was, I thought, ideal for a broody, dark image of a crow. Drypoints are similar to engraving without quite as many stages and fortunately, without the need for chemicals. In a nutshell, they derive their soft pencil-effect nature from the burred egde that results from inscribing a metal plate. Imagine a ploughed field, the furrow is made from the spoil of the cut groove which is thrown up over the edge of the line. A much softer (than etching) effect results, depending on the plate material. Plastic sheet, coated/laminated card and other surfaces with an impermeable surface can also be used. This is an ideal printmaking method for experimenting and mixing with other methods. I used the reverse of a recycled printer's (zinc) plate. You can draw directly onto this surface with a soft pencil/trace or dive right in (which is how I like it). Using a standard needle with a wooden barrel, lines are etched into the plate and can be seen if the plate is angled to the light. It's not really possible unless you're an expert to see if the plate's ready until a first artist's proof is made. This I did and realised that I had been too tentative in my mark-making - the lines were too faint so weren't picking up the ink. So I washed off the (oil-based) ink with a citrus cleaner and went back to the 'scratching'. After further and bolder mark-making, I applied a new layer of ink. This is done by applying a small amount of ink with a piece of scap card directly to the plate and wiping it over the whole area untill it is covered. Taking a special type of cloth called 'scrim', which is a starchy net-like cloth, like an large open-weave linen, this is rolled up into a tight ball in the palm of the hand and wiped softly and repeatedly across the plate until the unwanted ink is removed and the ink inside the burred marks is more visible. As you can see from the background tone in 'Crow', some ink is left on the non-etched areas rather than have a stark white, (i.e completely wiped clean) area. This imbues the image with a richer texture. In a process similar to dark-tone Monoprints (see my previous 'Brown trout' post), the plate can also be wiped purely to achieve artistic effects, such as the clouds here and the crow's shoulder/beak/eye highlights. 'Whiteneing' is also useful here (basically a chalk dust) as it cuts through any greasy ink and is handy for bolder highlighting. At this point, remove inky protective gloves in readiness for clean paper-handling. 

Paper-soaking and pressing
Depending on the quality and weight of paper to be printed on, you will need to soak your substrate in order for the ink to be fully drawn into the grooves to pick up the ink that the drypoint needle has made. Heavy, thick papers need more time than an average-quality cartridge. My standard cartridge paper was soaked for just a few minutes. Once soaked, lift out the sheet until drips cease and place between some sheets of blotting paper until the surface sheen is gone. Laying the plate face-up on the printing press bed on a sheet of scrap newsprint, the 'receiving' sheet that you will print on is laid carefully (and once only) over the top. Cover with printing felt and press, depending on press type (roller/book-binding/nipping, etc). Drypoint plates will deliver up to a dozen prints before the burred edges wear down from the process. In this sense, they don't live up to the longevity of an etched plate, but what a fantastic printing medium without the need for chemicals (apart from oil, that is ;) Ideal then for short print runs, (limited editions) which'll add value and collectibilty to your prints, of course!


  1. Great information on Paper-soaking and pressing....

  2. I love that. I look forward to seeing it in the flesh...

    Rubber sheets?!