Discover the long history of the art of engraving

Discover the long history of the art of engraving


Image: tete_escape – depositphotos

Thanks to lithography, artists were able to reproduce their work in many copies, thereby also reaching a larger audience.

So what is etching? Engraving is the art of using ink-coated molds onto a material – usually paper, to create copies of an original image. Print molds are made from a variety of materials, be it wood, metal, linoleum, aluminum, or fabric. Although there are quite a few different printing techniques (each with their own characteristics), one thing they all have in common is the ability to mass produce.

Nowadays, printing is often applied when mass production is required. And there is a requirement for the number of copies allowed, although some artists are usually quite open about this. Once the copies have been completed, the printing plate will be destroyed and thus each copy will be treated as an original. Typically, prints are included in illustrated books or sold in limited collections.

For a deeper understanding of this art, let’s explore with some of the oldest and most popular printing techniques in addition to their far-reaching influence on art in general. Woodcarving, engraving, and acid etching are the oldest printing techniques, dating back to the 5th century BC. Some of the most popular techniques at the present time are lithography and silkscreen printing.

Woodcut (Woodcut)


“Plum Garden at Kameido” – Hiroshige, 1857. (Photo: Wikipedia)

As the oldest form of printing, woodblock printing has a long and interesting history. It is widely used in Asia. Woodblock printing originated in China, serving the main purpose of printing textures on textiles.

This type of relief print is created by carving the design into a thick block of wood. Designs can be drawn directly on the block of wood or sketched on a piece of paper then glued or transferred onto the wood. The artist will then use a knife and chisel to cut according to the drawing. For large prints, one will need many wooden blocks, which are put together to form the complete picture. The ink is rolled over the entire block, with raised protrusions that trap the ink and then transfer the image to the paper.

Woodblock printing has special significance in Japan, and the ukiyo-e style was born from there. It allows Japanese artisans to breathe new life into the work. Ukiyo-e dates from around the 17th to 19th centuries, drawing a cultural narrative through depictions of landscapes, sumo wrestlers, beautiful women, and scenes from folklore. time. Great artists such as Hiroshige and Hokusai, creators of the masterpiece The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, emerged during this period. Ukiyo-e changed the way the West viewed Japanese art and had a profound impact on artists such as Van Gogh and Monet.



“Melencolia I” – Albrecht Dürer, 1511. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Engraving is an engraving technique in which an image is etched into a metal plate using a tool called an engraver. It became popular in Europe in the 15th century and was originally seen as an improved technique for goldsmiths’ methods of decorating silver objects.

Copper and zinc are the two most common materials used for printing plates. They are polished and then the artist will use an engraving knife to carve the image onto the surface. The burin is a sharp, angled steel shaft attached to a wooden handle. They come in a variety of sizes allowing the artist to create engravings of different sizes. Skilled artists can also create curves and use dashes and dots to sizing and shading the work.

Once the station engraving is complete, it is covered with ink and a cloth ball is used to gently press the ink into the grooves. The excess ink is then cleaned so that when the print runs under a heavy printer, the pressure causes the ink in the lines to transfer to the paper.

German artist Albrecht Dürer is one of the masters of the art of carving. He produced many prints for his drawings between the 15th and 16th centuries. Dürer’s fine prints prove that printing was capable of handling detailed and intricate drawings.

Acid etching


“Self-portrait leaning on a Sill” by Rembrandt, 1639. (Image: Wikipedia)

However, there is still another embossing technique that dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, applied in the design on jewelry. It was popular around the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, even surpassing engraving.

With the acid etching technique, the craftsman has plates made of copper, iron or zinc. When the plate has been polished and is free of defects, a layer of acid resistant wax is applied to the surface. Then, artisans use a tool called an engraving needle/pen to engrave onto the wax coated printing plate according to the available design. After completing the drawing, the artist dips the whole thing in acid or directly pours the acid over the entire surface.

Acid corrodes the contact lines, creating grooves. Printers control the depth of these notches based on how long the acid remains on the print. To create different depths – creating lighter or darker lines – sections of the etching plate can be soaked in acid for different times. This gives the engraving an interesting tonal quality.

Once the acid has done its job, the wax is removed and the plate is coated with ink in the same way as the engraving. When run through the press the image is printed onto the paper. The etching method is more and more popular than engraving because in addition to having to use chemicals, it is much easier and more convenient. Using the engraving knife requires quite a bit of skill, while even novice artists can work with the stylus to create a satisfactory design.

Dutch painter and engraver – Rembrandt is especially famous for his engravings. He was instrumental in elevating the technique of etching, which was not widely known at that time, into an art. He successfully used his prints to make a name for himself on the international stage at a time when most of his paintings had never left the Netherlands. It can be said that Rembrandt is one of the greatest engraving artists in history.



“Ambassadeurs – Aristide Bruant” – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892. (Photo: Wikipedia)

At the end of the 18th century, a new printing technique was developed. The lithography technique is based on the fact that oil and water are insoluble and was created by a German actor to produce cheap theatrical supplies.

To create a lithographic plate, the artist uses a slab of stone known as lithographic limestone or a metal plate usually made of zinc or aluminum. First, the artist draws their image on the slate with colored pencils or oil-based ink. Once finished, the whole thing is covered in a mixture of arabic and acid, which helps to fix the drawing on the surface. It also penetrates parts of the rock not covered in the drawing, creating a layer that will absorb water and drift ink.

Once the solution is drained from the slab, the drawing is also erased. Then it is treated with water, which is absorbed into the empty areas. This ensures that when ink is placed on the plate, it will only adhere to the lines of the original drawing. At this point, a damp piece of paper is placed on the slate, which is then covered with a board and padded with some sheets of newsprint. The flat press applies equal pressure on the slab and prints the image. For multicolor lithographs, the same piece of paper is run on different slabs, and the printer aligns the images.

Toulouse-Lautrec is a prime example of an artist who has taken full advantage of this new technology. His colorful lithographs of Parisian nightlife offer a fascinating glimpse into the late 19th-century French capital.

Silkscreen printing

Screen printing technique was born in the early 20th century. The reason is called silkscreen because silk is used in the printing process. The printmaking process requires a mesh to be used to transfer the ink to the surface except where it is blocked by a layer of stencils containing the design. Silkscreen printing first appeared in China during the Song Dynasty and then spread to Europe.

Screen printing is very versatile because stencils can be made from many different materials. The stencil is then fixed to the flat screen and then its entire surface is coated with a photosensitive chemical. This helps to fix the design to the mesh when it is exposed to UV light. Then the stencils are removed and the flat screen is cleaned.

A piece of paper is placed under the grid on a special screen printing table to keep everything in place. Artists use rubber brushes to spread a thick layer of ink on the net. After the flat screen is raised, you can see the direct imprint of the stencils on the paper. To create a multicolored silkscreen print, different types of stencils are made, and the printer must carefully align the paper each time a new color is passed through the screen.

Screen printing is culturally popular because, at its core, it is a fairly simple and affordable printing technique that can be used to produce everything from magazines to album covers to t-shirts. Pop artist Andy Warhol was credited with elevating the aesthetic of screen printing in the 1960s with Marilyn Monroe silks alongside a number of other famous faces.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *