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What is an engraving?

An engraving is a method of printmaking in which a sharp steel tool called a burin is used to cut slivers out of a metal plate (usually copper) to create an image.  The plate will be inked and then the ink will be wiped off of the plate but left in the grooves.  A damp piece of paper is laid over the inked plate and a press squeezes the paper hard onto the plate, pressing the paper fibers into the grooves.  This both creates an image on the paper and also embosses the paper.  Engravings typically have a very pronounced three-dimensionality to them.

Some artists, like Bernard Childs, make deep cuts into the plate, with the result being deep wells of ink and a very significant shaping of the paper.  Childs was interesting for another reason:  Like many artists, Childs was a curious person, an innovator.  He came up with the idea of cutting into the plate using power tools.  He used those tools with great success—but also with great noise.  In fact, his widow, Judith Childs, told me that when she met Stanley Hayter in the 1970s, he immediately recognized her name and cursed at the noisiness of the machines that Bernard used when Bernard spent time in Hayter’s Atelier 17!

Categories: Printmaking Terms, Types of Prints