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Wiping Intaglio

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.

    About the Author:

    Dean Russell Thompson is an Artist and Printmaker working in Loveland, CO.


    1. Amie Roman January 23, 2009 at 6:03 am

      Thanks for explaining the difference – I wouldn’t mind seeing a comparison print done both ways, if you’re so inclined at any point!

    2. liverpoolfan February 23, 2009 at 12:08 pm

      Hi Dean

      Tamarind has a hand operated offset litho press in the back used not only for litho but for monotypes and monoprints. Every once in a while they print monotypes and monoprints for the grad students from UNM across the street and for visiting artists. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen. They also have an exposure unit in the back to expose photolitho plates. In that case the artist draws the image (or creates it with software) on a mylar/acetate. I understood the spirit of what you were trying to convey. Tamarind is having to change as the techniques for artists change. Nicola Lopez showed up a few years ago with all of her imagery drawn up on mylars. Most of the imagery that is drawn directly onto the matrix is drawn aluminum litho plates vs. stones.

      Regarding wiping techniques.
      Have you tried using calcium carbonate aka whiting with intaglio? Some other techniques such as warming the plate (allows the ink to travel farther and faster into the intaglio and wipes up easier), using ink modifiers such as varnishes and easy wipe, using a combination of varying stiffnesses of tarlatan/actual cheesecloth/white t shirts, and using an eraser and newsprint to surface wipe can be useful. A lot of it is dependent on the size and type of image.

      I’ve been to Crown Point Press to check out the studio. Nice and roomy. They have a really interesting etching area. I would recommend you visit it if you have the opportunity.


    3. Scott Barnes May 4, 2010 at 4:25 am

      this is how I was taught in school. Seems that people tend to get over aggressive with multiple tarlatans or phone book pages. The side of you hand is sensitive so you can better know how aggressive/gentle to be.

      I’ve recently been experimenting with photopolymer plates and the hand wiping doesn’t really work there since the surface is not as smooth. It requires a little bit of the abrasion that the phonebook or newsprint has.

      But, for copper or zinc, the hand wipe is the best for sure.

      Nice blog. I’ve liked reading it since I got back into printing.

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