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Would you like to come up and see my etchings?

In Wycherley’s Country Wife , 1675, the rake Horner invites other mens’ wives to his chambers to inspect his fine collection of china; all the wives understand the sexual reference, although their cuckolded husbands remain blissfully ignorant. In fact one of the scenes of the play is known to critics as ‘the China scene’. It was one of the most popular plays of its period and has retained its popularity ever since. A possible inspiration for the etchings phrase?

French: litote. Something where it’s connotation means more than it says. Although, it’s denotation is an “ironic understatement in which it’s affirmative is expressed by the contrary of its negative (e.g. you won’t be sorry).”

It’s slated as one of the classic cliché pick up lines. “Would you like to come up and see my etchings?” Early publication has it around 1930. I’m teaching a Methods and Materials of Painting course online this winter semester at the Yellow Barn Studio, and I thought I would begin with the beginning... cave art and face/body painting, skipping over body modification but following a timeline from Paleolithic art materials to the present... post modern polyester canvas and metal panel supports.

Part of that journey will cover drawing, writing, the sharpened stick, clay and wax tablets, cuneiform (triangles), and the stylus, the pencil, colored pencils, pastels, and pen and ink, Chinese characters, then on to paper, and printing technologies like the etching, engraving, drypoint, silver point, woodcuts, stone and metal plates, linoleum carving (linocut), monotypes and monoprints, collagraphs (adding material to a printing plate), lithographs, screen printing (serigraphy), embossing, mezzotints and aquatints. Printing comes in roughly two forms, lithograph is printing the flat surface that remains (positive space) called raised printing, or etching/engraving which is printing the cuts or grooves called intaglio (the negative space) by pressing the paper into the inked grooves. Mezzotints and aquatints were the first engraving techniques to print tonal value ranges, halftones or grays instead of just crosshatch, dots and broken lines (US currency) or stippling. Today we have offset digital printing that uses rosettes to form the image (color separations on grids that when rotated and overlapped make a flower pattern) via a method called vectors or rasterization. Formerly, before color pictures in newspapers, halftones were created by series decreasing size dots with increasing spaces that appear from black to gray to white), ala Roy Lichtenstein.

I don’t plan on going into great depth on each of these, but when I get into color, I will talk about clays, ochres, umbers, and eventually red, green, blue vs. CMYK as it applies to painting. I’ll cover things like grisaille, verdaccio, giclée, transfers and the green art trends and materials.

I haven’t taught a class before, and get to come up with lesson plans, power point presentations and somehow make it interesting and fun, engaging not to mention upping my video studio game... lighting, sound. I’m going to be talking for 2 hour lectures and I want it to be a valuable and enjoyable learning experience for my students, so dear readers, you get to be the guinea pigs for me.

This blog post is a rambling writing on my phone, not well researched, and of the intention of giving the audience insight into who I am. A lecture is different.

I read that during the early 20th century, etching was popular among artists... black wax coated metal plates were scratched with a sharp object and that’s about all I know. I know that in lithographs... the black wax resists the effects of mild acid on stone and metal plates, that wax area was then inked, acid etched, and in turn the paper was pressed into the ink. There is a process where one plate is etched over and over again with repeated inkings onto the remainder of the unetched plate in a lost process that when complete... the original print block is gone forever. The process is based on water and oil not mixing. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder and the plate was wetted repelling the oil based ink which would stick to the wax drawing. Engraving was a skilled trade, often the artist would create the original and the engraver would reproduce it, Audobon, and Mucha would be examples as well as Hokusai (The Great Wave).

In woodblock lithography multiple blocks are carved as color separations, and in gravure (engraving) the plates are carved and the ink is pressed into the scars and crevices and the paper forced into the ink by pressure in what is called intaglio. Today most commercial lithograph printing is offset, where the image is color separated into reverse image and is transferred to rubber plates which then print the forward facing image to paper in multiple colors (long machines with multiple color plates). In linoleum block (Linocut) printing, the image (or more likely the negative space around the image) is carved into soft rubber with carving knives called burin and the reverse of the raised reverse is the printed result. The carved grooves are unprinted negative space. Multiple color separations can be carved and registered (aligned for printing). Those little black, cyan, yellow, magenta crosses on cereal box flaps are registration marks.

Etching is the use of acid to cut down areas of the plate not be printed and in engraving the plate is cut with tools where the removed lines are to be printed. The ink is pressed into the grooves or cuts, to be printed. Photo etching is used today to do things like print microchips. Photographs of very large circuit drawings are reduced in size and printed or silk screened onto a silicon chip as resist and the surface is etched, and then gold plated circuits using the solid state PNP junction capability of silicon switching and making transistors are created.

Monotypes were paintings directly onto plates and then pressing paper onto the image. No etching or resist was used and 3 or 4 prints could be made before loosing the image. loosing the burrs and this soft printed edges resulted in sharper lines and determined how many prints could be ‘pulled.’ I think the the quantities were around 200 to 400 prints depending on the type of technology. I’m guessing currency plates are photo etched after an original engraving. One of the artists I know is retired from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and now teaches print making and engraving. His last gig at BEP was the Harriette Tubman $20 bill.

Silver point is a direct method of depositing metal onto paper with a sharpened metal stylus (soft metals like

My son’s first linocut

lead, copper, silver, and gold), and scratch board is usually a white underlying clay coated surface covered with a layer of black surface that the artist scratches through with a sharpened metal stylus, similar to etching, but the resultant scratched board is the final product.

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