I have recently begun to hand wipe my intaglio plates.

For those not familiar with the intaglio processes, in an intaglio print, the image areas are recessed below the surface of the plate. This can be done with acid (or electricity, more on that another time) for an etching or aquatint, by scratching mechanically (drypoint), or by carving yielding an engraving (see my post from 20 November, In the zone). The ink is then applied all over the plate and the excess ink is wiped off of the surface, leaving the ink in the recesses.

Up to now, I have been doing most of my wiping with tarlatan. (Tarlatan is a heavily starched, open weave material, similar to cheesecloth). I would start with a fairly dirty one, folded into a ball and begin to remove ink by wiping in a sweeping fashion. Then as the ink came off, I would switch to a somewhat cleaner one and continue to work with an increasingly light touch until the plate looked clean enough. If there was an area that I wanted to bring somewhat brighter, I would use some newsprint held flat to remove the plate tone in those areas.

Not long ago I had a chance to read a discussion of printing by Kathan Brown, founder of Crown Point Press in San Francisco. She advocates removing the initial pass of ink with a tarlatan, and then using your bare hand to wipe off the remainder of the ink. I tried it, and I am sold.

I do most of the wiping with the fleshy pad on the heel of my hand, opposite the thumb. I make a couple of light passes over the plate and then wipe my hand on a rag that I hold in the same hand as the plate. As the plate gets cleaner, the touch gets lighter. The whole process goes very quickly.

I find that there are a number of advantages to this method.

  • I think it goes quicker.
  • I get a more consistent wipe, with less tendency to over wipe.
  • I can use various parts of my hand, fingers, etc. to work in small areas.
  • I can use a finger in the rag to pull areas really bright and then soften the edges of this area with my hand so that they are less noticable
  • Having done several plates this way, I do not think that I would go back. I love the sensitivity and control.