Process talk: Drypoint

Drypoint is an intaglio process, allowing for fine, precise lines through incised lines in a printing plate. Unlike etching, drypoint doesn’t involve any acid to produce the incisions: A drypoint involves scratching the surface of the plate with a pointed tool to create a “burr” that grabs ink. The inked line is then transferred to paper in the usual way (damp paper on plate, run the paper and plate through an etching press). 

The traditional way to ink a drypoint plate is to smear ink onto the plate with a card, then wipe off the excess ink with the same card, and wipe further with a cloth or tissue paper until the ink shows only in the lines themselves. With each wipe, the line becomes clearer. Any ink left outside the lines is called “plate tone”.

I once eschewed plate tone, seeking a clean, crisp line like a drawing. But after a class with Susan Rostow, I learned that plate tone can actually enhance the lines, and add depth to an image. She taught me how to wipe lightly, leaving ink on the plate with expressive marks left by the cloth. 

Playing with this, I tried brushing on the ink, and found I could apply and wipe at the same time. This allowed me to ink up the lines and create expressive, sweepy marks to enhance the drypoint lines, adding atmosphere to the image.

Here’s a comparison of the two processes – traditional inking vs. brushed inking.

The full image of the brush-inked print can be viewed here.

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