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The Progress of a Print

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The Progress of a Print



Although it is possible to create an entirely "pure" engraving, where every line is cut into the plate by hand, in practice, commercial engravings like Boydell's typically began with an underlying etching, as seen in this early proof state (upper image), printed before even all the etching was finished. Etching is considerably faster than engraving: instead of cutting lines into the copper by hand, corrosive acid does the work. Using an etching needle on a copper plate covered with varnish, the printmaker scratches the design into the varnish, exposing the copper. When placed in an acid bath, the varnished parts remain pristine, but the exposed copper is eaten away, creating grooves to hold the ink.

 

After verifying the basic outlines of the design by taking proof impressions from the etched state, the printmaker would continue to work on the plate, adding engraved lines and taking progressive proofs as necessary to check on the work in progress. Compare this finished print (lower image) to the early proof shown above it. Etched lines, with their rounded ends and somewhat shaky feel, are still clearly visible, par­ticularly in the background. Stronger engraved lines, characteristically swelling in the middle before reaching a sharp point at the end, make up the bulk of the figures.

 

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William Charles Wilson after Richard Westall. King Henry VIII, Act 3, scene 2. Engraving, London, 1796



William Charles Wilson after Richard Westall. King Henry VIII, Act 3, scene 2. Engraving, London, 1796



Exhibition Highlights


The Progress of a Print




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