Copper drypoint

Sometimes you want to make a complicated, layered print, one that requires a great deal of planning and physical effort. Other times you want something more straightforward.

In my own printed work I alternate between the two modes. The dove print I've been working on is a physically challenging one because of its size and scale. Not only is it a larger work, about 8" x 10", but I have to ink it and run it through the press four times over every time I need to print it. Do that a few dozen times and you'll definitely start to feel it.

When I'm not printing that image, then, I've been changing gears by doing small copper drypoints. I've worked on zinc before, but I've had numerous artists tell me that copper is superior in terms of line quality and ink retention. Copper's more expensive, but I wanted to see what the hoopla was about and ordered a few 4" x 5" plates. The intaglio show I put on at the Museum in January also had me intrigued, since I was really able to study the RMAC's drypoint holdings in depth and see the fuzzy lines that distinguished them visually from etchings.

Basically I decided it was time to get my burr on.

For the first plate, I decided to keep it simple, and picked a sketch of a sycamore seed ball and yarn I'd done a few months ago. 

I've actually done quite a few of these, and explored their potential for other projects, but this was one of the more straightforward drawings. I also appreciated the ample negative space. I didn't want to go crazy with the first plate.

Here's the plate once I had drawn into it:

The main thing I noticed was that the copper was harder to cut into than the zinc. The reflective surface also made it hard to see what I was doing, but I'm used to this by now between my experience with zinc and Plexiglas, so it was just a matter of tilting the plate while I worked and taking advantage of raking light.

The most challenging part was changing my line quality, With Plexiglas I'm used to getting a clean, straightforward line without roughened edges, so I had to change my drawing technique somewhat to get those delicious burrs for which drypoints are so renowned. While I have created metal drypoints before, I don't remember paying much attention to burrs when I worked in zinc, so for this work I had to put in some thought and effort achieve that roughened quality, scraping deep into the copper to get those roughened edges. 

On a Saturday morning I went to the Museum and used their press to try out the print. Here's the plate once it was inked up, resting on the bed of the press:

After doing a couple of proofs and adding a few more lines, I ended up with this:

This was a good image for testing out different line qualities, as a I had a combination of rougher and more delicate lines. While the dainty lines did show up (as long as I didn't overwipe the plate, which I did do occasionally), it's really burred, blurry lines that steal the show visually.  The stem of the seed ball in particular is where I made some of the deepest grooves.

Following the spirit of the original drawing, I hand-colored the print using my monotype inks. I did hand-color the entire seed ball in one proof, but I didn't like how it turned out, so I kept the same color scheme as the sketch.

 It's not my best work, but it was a good opportunity to learn more about metal drypoint, a technique I really hadn't exploited all that much until now. Now that I'm more familiar with its characteristics from a practical standpoint, I'll definitely continue using it.