How to Make Artwork With Line Engraving

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Did she have to show this one???

What is quite lovely about engravings, or etchings (tee hee) is the way the lines seem to bleed, softening the image, while yet they remain clear and precise. The effects can be so dramatic! No wonder I have sat before the ‘gravers in my twelve petticoats and and starched ruff while he chiseled out every little pleat, embrioderie, and …wrinkle.
The lesson I shall give you is how to do it the ‘old way’, for in Faery we have no electricity, nor any computers ( though we do have portals) and still live very much as in Elizabethan times when I learned about this art.


Difficulty: Challenging Things You’ll Need:

  • burins and chisels
  • graver, or needle for dry point
  • mallet or small hammer
  • wax coated copper, steel, or zinc plates in the size you want you image to be.
  • hydrochloric acid
  • a piece of glass for the ink
  • ink
  • fine rag paper
  • a detailed drawing in pencil or ink

Step 1


What is this?
First you must have a drawing. The more lines in it the better and the more detail even better. In the name of accuracy, it helps to place a grid over the drawing it so that small areas…or creatures… can be isolated and copied one at a time.

Step 2

copper plate
Take your metal plate. Your studio slave should have covered it with wax. Pick up your burin or chisel and begin to draw the lines onto the metal sheet. You will have to make many tiny cuts of various widths, lengths and depths and be able to visualize how each should be placed to have a good result.Be prepared to concentrate deeply.

Step 3

This is how you hold your hand when using the sharp tool. Using a magnifying glass can help you to achieve more detail. For shading use lots of fine straight lines, called crosshatching, to achieve the wonderful shadows that engravings are so admired for.

Step 4

drawing on copper in acid bath
When you are thoroughly pleased with your drawing, it is time to give it a bath. Much as I was forced at times to do with my enemies, you must place the copper plate in an acid bath long enough for the lines to be ‘bitten’ through. The acid will not pass through the wax, only your little little lines will succumb. It takes practice to know when the cuts are deep enough. Two hours is good for the first round. Then you may re-wax the plate and put it in again, maybe a few times more to get layers of textures and things.

Step 5

messy job, that.. .
When your plate is ready, fish it out with a TOOL, and wipe the acid and wax off with a soft cloth until it is bright and shiny and you can see your drawing in the metal. If you are satisfied, it is time for the ink! The goal is to rub as much ink into the lines as you can. Don’t miss any of them. Rub-a-dub-dub, I say! After you’ve rubbed, then wipe off the excess ink and you will see it in the lines ready to print. This is very messy and I advise wiping ALL of the ink off of the negative space on the plate unless you want smudges and fingerprints to appear on the finished work. Heaven forbid you have committed a crime with that evidence! To that end, I also command you to flatter the sitter.
Step 6

etching press
Now you are ready to print. Place a sheet of fine damp paper – DAMP I say, not sopping wet, on top of the inked plate and set it under the printing press. This must be a very tight pressing job, much as they used to do to our friends the Salem witches by piling rocks on top of them. Only that way can the ink be evenly transferred from the grooves in the plate to the paper.

Step 7

You have done your self proud!

Step 8
QEIMemPort_Thumb.jpgI wish she would have used this engraving of me. I much prefer it. Oh, how I tire being at the mercy of mortals!

Tips & Warnings

  • Like any serious artistic pursuit, it takes a great deal of time and effort to master. You must be patient and willing to experiment.
  • The good part is that you can make multiple copies of your drawing. If it is popular, it saves having to re-draw it again.
  • Etching can be very satisfying as the strokes and shadows have a variety and richness that drawings alone often can’t achieve.
  • It is craft as well as an art and requires an initial investment in tools. Sometimes presses can be rented or borrowed. Don’t pay the expense of buying one until you are sure printing is a serious form for you.
  • Impatience and lack of concentration, rushing and sloppiness can ruin a project and make you discouraged. Just accept that this art form can take a long time to master. It did even for the greats.

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