Welcome to part 4 of our series explaining about printmaking techniques. This week we are discussing drypoint.
What is Drypoint?
Drypoint is a form of intaglio printmaking, (from the Italian word intaglione meaning to engrave or cut). It is the opposite to relief printing in that the marks that you draw are the areas that will print, making it a positive not a negative process. Intaglio printing also includes etching, engraving, mezzotint and aquatint and generally involves the use of a metal plate that is cut into in some way using various tools or acids, is then inked up and printed from, traditionally using an etching press.
Drypoint is the simplest of these intaglio methods and involves scratching directly into a plate using a strong, sharp metal point. There are no acids or other chemicals involved in creating your printing plate involved. Drypoint is usually a technique that involves a certain level of drawing and generally produces quite linear images. However with a little practice it is easy to build up areas of tone by crosshatching as you would with a line drawing. In addition, by clever use of the printing ink, it is also possible to build up intense flat coloured areas within a print too.
At Magenta Sky we teach a simplified version of drypoint using a perspex plate, oil based inks and hand-burnishing! Perspex is used because it is a cheaper alternative to traditional metal plates such as copper and zinc that are usually associated with intaglio processes. It also allows for the tracing of a design from an image placed underneath the plate. Perspex can usually be bought from most DIY stores in large sheets that can then be cut down to size using a Stanley knife or from some art shops and specialist printmaking suppliers. (Another cheap way of sourcing thin 3mm perspex is to buy cheap clip frames or picture frames that use plastic instead of glass and simply discard the frame). However, the perspex drypoint plates do have a limited life for the purposes of printing editions before the plate begins to wear and the image either needs to be re-scratched or abandoned.
Oil-based inks are required for drypoint and are used in conjunction with damp printing paper to pick up the often very fine detail that is scratched into the plate. The damp paper will be soft enough to work itself into the scratched areas of the plate that are filled with the oil-based ink when burnished firmly from the back. Dry paper and water-based inks would not work for this method. When choosing a printing paper, this will need to be of high enough quality that it will not disintegrate when soaked in water (i.e. cartridge paper is no use in this method). Somerset, Fabriano, Arches, Heritage and many Japanese printing papers are all popular printmaking papers for this method.
Here are some handy links to learn more about drypoint:
An online resource from the Tate:
A beginners guide from Artists and illustrators:
A free factsheet from Magenta Sky on how to do drypoint from home:
Some recent examples of drypoint from our classes and courses:
If you are interested in learning more about drypoint, why not come along to one of our regular workshops or courses? Bespoke classes are also available for anyone wanting individual tuition.
Thanks for reading!