Copper Engraving

Copper Engraving uses an Intaglio technique, first developed in the 15th century, whereby grooved lines of differing depth were engraved by hand in reverse, into the surface of a copper plate to create a toned image, using an instrument called a Burin. Analogous to a ploughshare moving through soil, the burin pushed copper shavings, or Burrs to either side of the furrowed line. The Burrs were removed prior to printing. A close inspection of the lines will show that they are thickest in the middle and taper slightly toward the ends, but retain a crisp or sharp appearance.

Drypont (where the burr was deliberately left on the plate and the ink retained thereupon imparted a softer tonal quality to the image) was frequently combined with Etching on a plate, in order to empathize particular detail. Once the plate had been cleaned, specially prepared printers ink was rolled into the lines of the design by means of a Dabber , and the excess removed.

The plate was then hand wiped to bring up the highlights. Chalk whitening was applied to the edges in order to remove traces of ink bloom and to ensure a clean margin beyond the image. The plate was put onto the bed or Plank of a hand printing press. Dampened paper was laid onto the plate and felt blankets inserted between the roller and the paper.

As the press was rolled over the bed the image was taken up by the paper the edges of the copper plate producing an impression called the Plate Mark. The delicate paper containing the image was removed and laid flat as it dried.

The plate was then thoroughly cleaned prior to the next impression being pulled. If coloured, this was added by hand using watercolours and a detailed colouring pattern.

The drawback of this technique was that due to the softness of the metal the plate began to wear out after a few hundred impressions. Despite a multitude of examples of intricate delicacy and considerable artistic merit, it now seems extraordinary that it was not until 1855 that the artistic skill of the engraver was officially recognised by Britain's Royal Academy.


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