Discovering Drypoint

I’ve mentioned before that over recent years I’ve been learning printmaking techniques. My newest little adventure is to learn drypoint.

This is a process that appeals to me because it is very simple and direct. Basically, an image is scratched into a printing plate (metal, plastic or special card) with a sharp point.

The plate is printed in the same way as an etching plate but the drypoint print has a softer-looking line. (A result of the ink being held not just by the incised line but also by the raised burr pushed up by the sharp point.)

For my first attempt at drypoint, I’ve used a drawing based on this photograph:

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

This is the same image that I used for the intaglio print/photography combination that I wrote about here.

The plate I used for this print was clear plastic. (You can see it in the photo below.) This has a huge advantage over metal – you can just lay it over a drawing or photograph and use that as a guide for inscribing the lines of the image. To scratch the lines into the plate, I used an engineers’ scriber. (You can find these for around £5 in D.I.Y. stores.) Anything sharp enough to mark the plate is worth trying but there are specific drypoint needles with different sizes of tips available too. I’ve recently bought a couple of these – shown in the photo. (Above the engineers’ scriber.)

Drypoint plate and needles
Drypoint plate, scriber and needles

The printing plate is inked and wiped in the same way as an etching plate. (But treated more gently, to preserve the burr along the edges of the lines – this helps to give the characteristic fuzzy look to the printed lines.)

As you can see from this description, the drypoint process is very straightforward. It’s also pretty inexpensive to try out. Even better – there are no chemicals involved. (Hooray! Great!! I’m very happy to be able to avoid using the nastier printmaking chemicals – some are very toxic!)

Making the drypoint print was a process that I really enjoyed. I found something very satisfying about scratching the lines into the plastic plate. And it’s also very pleasing to be able to use my photographs as a starting point for a printed image that will look quite different. I’m planning to make more prints soon and (if you’re interested in printmaking) I hope that I may have encouraged you to give drypoint a try.

Drypoint print of a passionflower
My first attempt at drypoint printing

Combining Photography With Printmaking (An Experiment)

Photography has always been my main creative pursuit. However, when my husband and I moved from Scotland to Suffolk, I was delighted to discover that our new home was near a rather wonderful printmakers’ workshop.

The workshop is part of Gainsborough’s House, a museum and art gallery which celebrates the life of painter Thomas Gainsborough. It offers courses in all kinds of printmaking and there is a well-equipped studio for the use of its members. I’ve learned the basics of several printmaking techniques there and I’ve wondered about combining them with photography.

The picture at the top of this post is a digital mix of a photograph of a passionflower and an intaglio print of the same image.

For the intaglio print, I used ImagOn printmaking film, which allows a printmaking plate to be made from photo-generated imagery. In short, this film is adhered to a plate (which can be metal or plastic) before being exposed to UV light with the artwork/photopositive and then being developed.

This process is very similar to photographic darkroom work and has the same need for making test pieces to work out the correct exposure and development times. (If, like me, you’ve been through the ‘old’ days of film and black and white printing, you could feel quite at home with this.)

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

To create the image for the ”photopositive”, I used Photoshop. First, I converted the photograph to monochrome and then I adjusted the contrast so that the tones were either solid black or white. This image was printed on very thin paper, which was made more translucent by coating it thinly with vegetable oil. A slightly messy process! But it gave a good image to expose onto the printmaking plate.

The processed plate was a little tricky to print from because the lines of the image were quite wide and the depth of film on the plate was shallow. This meant that the ‘grooves’ on the plate didn’t retain ink well when the excess ink was wiped from the plate. Very frustrating! It took quite a few attempts before I managed to get enough ink to stay in the grooves to make the print.

Intaglio print of a passionflower
The intaglio print

The scanned intaglio print was combined with the original photograph by stacking the images together in Photoshop. A bit of work was needed to remove the background of the intaglio print and to make adjustments to exposure, colour and saturation to get the two images to blend well.

I enjoyed my experiment and I reckon that I’ll be trying more combinations like this. The results are quite different from either either photography or printmaking and it feels as if there are all sorts of possibilities.

You can find out more about ImagOn printmaking film here.

If you would like to read about Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop, you can find their site here.

Have you experimented with combining photography and printmaking? I’d love to hear about it in the comments…