Etching and its varieties

Etching (Dutch etsen, from German atzen to etch, corrode, from Old High German azzen) is an engraving technique in which the chemical treatment of the plate by acid replaces the mechanical treatment with different engraving tools. The method gained currency in the late 16th century.

Etching emerged a little later than xylography in the early 16th century; it owes its origin to jewellery making and gun making, where acid was used to etch a design on metal. Etching is a variety of intaglio printing the technique of filling out the incisions along the lines of the pattern with ink and running the plate with a paper secured thereon through a printing press to produce an impression. Whereas burin engraving, dry-point and mezzotint are purely mechanical methods, etching (as well as soft ground etching, aquatint, crayon manner and stippling) are chemical methods, or methods involving the use of acids.

The metal plate (copper, zinc, and starting from the early 19th century steel or copper with a galvanized steel coating) is heated and coated with a special acid-proof varnish, and then smoked slightly. Next the engraver uses a sharp etching needle to scratch a design into the ground, exposing the metal. Then the engraver puts the plate in a bath with acid, which eats into the metal only in those areas where the ground was scraped away, in other words, along the lines of the pattern. Next the plate is washed with water and the varnish is removed with turpentine or spirits. The result is the plate with the lines of the pattern bitten into the surface of the metal with acid.

Then the etcher applies to the plate an ink, which fills out the grooves, after which the ink is sponged away from the non-printing areas of the plate with a wiper. Allowing for a most intricate design and for most diverse strokes, etching as a technique is suitable for conveying impetuous motion as well as fanciful patterns. Areas of dense cross-hatching convey tonal gradations and chiaroscuro effects of different solidity. Repeated treatment by acid (Jacques Callot was the first to employ this method, in the 17th century) helps to achieve a bigger density of tone in a certain area and softer transitions from one tone to another. Serial exposure to acid enables the engraver to secure every stage in a tentative print and then, applying a new coating, to introduce changes into the design, to add details. Finally, the etched plate becomes ready for printing, and the engraver pulls impressions from it. When an etched matrix becomes overused, the fine lines, barbs, dots and little scratches, which lend so much charm to an etched piece, gradually fray. Not surprisingly, prints from frayed matrices are valued less.

First experiments in etching date to the early 16th century, and already in 1515-1518 Albrecht D?rer undertook attempts to treat metal plates with acid. The Italian Mannerist painter Parmigianino in the late 16th century lifted etching to the level of true art, and in the 17th century etching reigned supreme. Rembrandt achieved in his etchings the most sophisticated light and depth effects, printing on different kinds of paper and applying the method of serial exposure to acid. Also, he was the first artist to turn etching into a form of graphic art, using this technique to produce quick small sketches.

The varieties of etching include so-called soft ground etching, a technically quite simple method invented perhaps in the 17th century. The ordinary etching ground is softened and made easily removable with the addition of tallow. The plate is covered with coarse paper on which the etcher traces a design with a hard blunt pencil, varying the pressure on the drawing tool. The lines cut through the paper and into the ground. When the paper is removed, the bits of the varnish become removed as well. The acid bath brings out an image with rich grainy texture resembling a pencilled drawing.

Aquatint (invented by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Le Prince in 1765) is a more complicated technique, used to achieve soft half-tones similar to those found in water-colour paintings. As a first step, the etcher applies a pattern puncturing it through a tracing paper, then the lines are etched by slight exposure to acid, then a new ground is applied and the areas that must come out black on the print are washed with a solution and coated with powdered asphalt or resin. When the plate is heated, the powder melts and the surface becomes rough and grainy. Areas that must come out light in tone are protected against biting with a varnish. Artists often used the aquatint technique in combination with etching or burin engraving, and sometimes in combination with colour printing, as did Francisco Goya, one of the best etchers in history.

Experiments in combining the techniques of burin engraving and etching brought about, in the 18th century, crayon manner (a design is incised into an etching ground, then the grooves are treated with roulettes and a mattoir, and after the biting, deepened by dry-point, so that the print on paper features wide thick and grainy lines similar to those produced by a black carbon pencil or sanguine this explains why crayon manner was mostly used for reproduction of drawings) and stippling, or dotting (clusters of dots blending into a single-tone area are impressed in the etching ground with various needles, rollers and roulettes, after which the plate is treated with acid; dots on faces and naked bodies are punched directly into the plate with a burin or a needle), which was used for reproduction purposes alone.

The process of creating rosin etchings starts with coating the plate with powdered resin and melting the resin. Then the etcher traces a pattern in the ground with an ordinary brush or a special fibreglass brush soaked in a mixture of acid, binder and gouache, after which the mixture is wiped away. When necessary, this process can be repeated several times. The technique of sugar aquatint involves the tracing of a drawing, by a brush (or a pen) and a special ink or gouache, straight on the plate, and the application of a layer of varnish over the drawing. Then the plate is put into a bath with water, which exposes the sections earmarked for treatment by acid.

Quite naturally, artists attempted to produce coloured etchings. Hercules Seghers came up with the easiest method, which was also most unsuited for mass reproduction: he coated different sections of the plate with differently coloured inks and sometimes printed them on tinted paper. Jacob Christoph Le Blon in the 18th century already employed four plates, three of which were of primary colours, and the fourth carried black for printing dark shades. They were overprinted, yielding impressions with blended colours (according to the principle that the marriage of yellow and blue produces green, etc.). To ensure that the colour is applied exactly to the area reserved for it, the rim of the paper is secured on the press, and the position of the paper is fixed while the etcher takes the matrix from the press and applies a new ink to it. Colour can be managed by varying pressure on the tool and the depth of the cut. For instance, in black areas, a wide and deep stroke yields black, and a fine and shallow stroke yields light tones of grey.

Another way to achieve colour effects is to paint the etching by hand as a monotype. Yet another method involves covering the surface with black ink and then painting over the black in the manner of monotyping this will yield a one-colour image against a painted background. So, there is a large variety of colouring methods and different masters improve them to their liking. For reproduction purposes, sometimes finished prints were touched up with water-colour.

In Russia, the earliest known etchings were created by the acclaimed icon painter Simon Ushakov in the 17th century. In the 18th century etchings were made by such artists as Alexey Zubov, Mikhail Makhaev and others. In later times, many artists made forays into etching in fact, all graphic artists and painters who tried their hand in engraving, including Orest Kiprensky and Fyodor Bruni. In 1871, a rising interest in etching among painters led to the creation of a society of etchers in St. Petersburg, with Nikolai Ghe, Ivan Kramskoi, Ivan Shishkin, Ilya Repin, Vassily Polenov and others among the members. The technique of reproduction etching, whose most notable practitioner was Vasily Math? (Mate), was in wide use until the late 19th century. Even though Math? did not create a tradition (because the age of reproduction etchings was short-lived), he educated many graphic artists of the 20th century. Searching for new methods of reproducing paintings in print, Vasily Math? elevated etching and xylography to a very high level. Valentin Serov, who introduced into etching light strokes, steep lines, limpid colours, made a significant contribution to the art of etching, although he left behind but a few prints. The best etchers of the early 20th century were Yelizaveta Kruglikova, Georgy Vereisky, Ignaty Nivinsky; the artists who made forays into etching included L?on Bakst, Alexey Kravchenko, Pavel Shillingovsky, Ivan Fomin, Vadim Falileev, Dmitry Mitrokhin, Alexander Samokhvalov, Vladimir Favorsky. With several exceptions, all of these artists stayed and continued to work in Soviet Russia.

In the Soviet era, the engraving and etching techniques were taught at the schools of art and architecture VHUTEIN-VHUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Institute - Higher Art and Technical Studios), at the Moscow Institute of Printing Arts, at art colleges in Moscow and Leningrad. Original etching traditions were formed in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Armenia. In the 1960s-1970s etching experienced a true revival when it became the focus of interest of the unofficial artists from most diverse artistic backgrounds, including Vladimir Yankilevsky, Oleg Tselkov, Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, Lev (Leo) Kropivnitsky, Ernst Neizvestny, Dmitry Plavinsky, Garif Basyrov. And today, as before, many graphic artists use etching methods, boldly experimenting with this flexible and in many respects astonishing technique.

 


Prints

All prints in this technique
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • N. Gogol, N. Gogol, 'Dead sou…
    Chagall M. Z.
  • In the gardenIn the garden
    Vereisky G. S.
  • Gardens through the TreesGardens through the…
    Vereisky G. S.
  • On the riverOn the river
    Voinov V. V.
  • On the wooden platformOn the wooden platf…
    Voinov V. V.
  • EmbankmentEmbankment
    Voinov V. V.
  • The entry to the Summer GardenThe entry to the Su…
    Voinov V. V.
  • Picking potatoPicking potato
    Voinov V. V.
  • SkiingSkiing
    Voinov V. V.
  • Anger. HusbandAnger. Husband
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Laziness. LandlordLaziness. Landlord
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Laziness. Lady LandlordLaziness. Lady Land…
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Gluttony. MarketGluttony. Market
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Avarice. Sermon.Avarice. Sermon.
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Avarice. - Five! - Two!Avarice. - Five! - …
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Envy. The Old man.Envy. The Old man.
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Envy. The Old womanEnvy. The Old woman
    Masiutin V. N.
  • ConscienceConscience
    Masiutin V. N.
  • In Bukovina. Jews in Tura-Gumor.In Bukovina. Jews i…
    Masiutin V. N.
  • MercyMercy
    Masiutin V. N.
  • The endThe end
    Masiutin V. N.
  • Vladimir Stasov (after portrait by Ilya Repin)Vladimir Stasov (af…
    Mathe V. V.
  • Pavel Tretyakov (after portrait by Ivan Kramskoi) Pavel Tretyakov (af…
    Mathe V. V.
  • Portrait of the Princess Eugenia von OldenburgPortrait of the Pri…
    Mathe V. V.
  • Portrait of Sergei ShubinskyPortrait of Sergei …
    Mathe V. V.
  • Portrait of Fyodor SokolovPortrait of Fyodor …
    Mathe V. V.
  • Portrait of the engraver Vasily MathePortrait of the eng…
    Serov V. A.
  • The Wolf and the ShepherdsThe Wolf and the Sh…
    Serov V. A.