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Etching techniques in modern graphics

The history of exlibris gives us an example of a surprising but fairly common metamorphosis. Born as an ordinary utilitarian owner’s signature, ex-libris has become an independent section of artistic printed graphics, as well as a collectible. Something similar happened with postcards, stamps, labels, and posters…

The first books were extremely expensive, their possession was comparable by today’s standards to owning a representative car, so it was absolutely natural to leave the owner’s signature in the book. Ordinary captions gradually evolved into font compositions and began to acquire various decorations. And since the owners of the books were mostly titled people, instead of the owner’s signature, his coat of arms appeared. To reproduce complex compositions, it became necessary to create printing forms, either in the form of seals and put them directly on the pages of the book, or to make an independent engraving, print it on a separate sheet and paste it into the book. Actually, this is how the classic ex-libris appeared. By the way, the tradition of putting owner’s seals was very common in China, where they were put not only on books, but also on calligraphic compositions and paintings, although I have not seen seals with images, usually it is a hieroglyph.

Books became cheaper, libraries grew, it was no longer possible to provide all books with ex-libris, and the book sign began to gradually turn into an independent prestigious toy of the bibliophile. And since the XIX century, leading graphic artists have started playing exlibris. The signs they created could already cost more than the books themselves, for which, theoretically, they were intended. In addition, the design of the book has changed a lot. Imagine a modern, smartly published photo album with an ex-libris pasted into it – it will look at least a little wild…

So ex-libris became an independent type of graphic art.

A little over a hundred years ago, they began to be collected as graphic miniatures, because the ex-libris of the work of Durer or Favorsky is not just a book sign, but a full-fledged work of art. There are books and catalogs on this topic. Now collecting book signs has become a mass hobby around the world. After all, the beauty of them is that it is a business card of both the artist and the customer, and at the same time takes up very little space.

A good collection of ex-libris can be a miniature Museum of graphics, where a variety of artists and artistic trends are represented, as well as be a full-fledged guide to graphic techniques and artistic manners. Experienced collectors get special cards on their book signs, where they indicate information about the owner, about the artist, the technique of execution, the year of creation, and the size of the ex-libris.

Historically, modern ex-libris has inherited several features that distinguish it as a separate type of graphic art. There are very few of them.:

1.circulation;

2. size up to 15 cm;

3. mandatory inscription “Ex Libris”(can be: “from books”, “ex biblioteka” or “collection of books”) and the name of the owner.

Everything else is on the artist’s conscience.

Old ex-libris, as a rule, represented coats of arms and monograms, and modern ones most often – plot ones. Subjects can be very diverse – from heroic and philosophical to comic and even abstract, while the image in a concentrated symbolic form should tell about the range of interests and tastes of the book owner.

The technique of execution of the ex-libris can also be different. These are: woodcut, face or longitudinal, on linoleum, on metal; lithography; etching; zincography; silk-screen printing, and recently at exhibitions began to appear ex-libris made in computer techniques and printed on a printer, and this is also allowed under international rules.

I am closer to etching techniques, and I want to tell you a little about how to make an ex-libris in the etching technique. In principle, working on an ex-libris does not differ from working on any other graphic composition. There are several main stages of it. It usually begins with an acquaintance with the future owner of the ex-libris, with finding out his interests, Hobbies, preferences and, of course, wishes. Thus, the theme of the future work is groped. The next stage is the search for an image, it is the most incomprehensible and unpredictable. Despite the fact that I have drawn countless compositions in my life, I do not understand and cannot explain how an image arises. In any case, trying to tell the story in words, that is, what you need to draw, and then do it, often leads to a dreary, Protocol result. A visual image is something completely different, it is not always a specific object, it may be a spot of a certain form of contrast, it may be a texture or some rhythm about the image object, or even without it at all. When the image appears, you need to determine the size of the image and choose the most appropriate technique for transmitting the image. Etching, unlike engraving, has a huge palette of different textures. The image can be made soft or contrasting, picturesque or dry, using various etching techniques. So a rare deep-set stroke will give a hard graphic grid, and the same stroke with a dry needle will give a soft watercolor blur of tone. You can imitate a pencil drawing in a soft varnish, and in aquatint – a brush drawing. There is a reserve or open etching that creates the most unexpected texture effects. Technique very often dictates the size of the image, since the most effective different textures look only at certain scales, and not falling into the scale is fraught with loss of artistic effect.

When we have decided on the image and technique of execution, you can start making sketches of the composition: first on paper, and then finally on tracing paper. On tracing paper, I usually draw only the main masses of the composition and, of course, the inscriptions. It should be noted that the font of inscriptions is the most important component of the composition. Everything is important in it: style, size, location.

From the tracing paper, the sketch of the composition is transferred directly to the metal plate for engraving. If this is a drypoint or mezzotint, the pattern is transferred using a conventional carbon paper, if etched dash, the blueprint, laying the pattern on the primed plate, just rolled on the machine, and graphite drawing goes to the ground plate. In relation to the sketch, a mirror image is engraved so that after printing it turns out as in the sketch. In addition, the drawing on the etching Board is not only mirror-like, but also negative, since the stroke, i.e. the exposed metal, is lighter than the black ground. At first glance, this seems to be a problem, but after a while the eye adapts so much that you can even safely write in a mirror. So it seems to me that Leonardo wrote his “Code” without the help of a mirror-a matter of habit.

The next stage is etching. All textbooks recommend making trial etchings, but it seems to me that if the etcher does not feel the etching process, no technical control actions will help him. Probably, this is from the category: given or not. Then, of course, there will be trial prints and various adjustments, perhaps even additional etchings. The plate after etching can be completed with a stichel, dry needle, roll, or you can clean off the bad parts with a scraper. This is more difficult than using an eraser on a pencil drawing, but it is also possible.

Finally, the last step is printing. Here, too, the creative approach is important: it is necessary to choose paper, paint by color and intensity, and, perhaps, to touch up the impression with watercolors. The whole process described is not so fast. Even if there is no failure at any stage of work and everything is easy to get, the work will take more than one day, and if something goes wrong…

A few words must be said about the circulation. Most often, exlibrises are printed in two ways. High printing is when the paint is rolled onto the surface of the cliche with a roller, and all the applied strokes and grooves remain white. This technique includes various types of prints. Engravings require very little pressure when printing, and their circulation can be almost unlimited, and they are printed quite quickly. Another method is deep printing, where, on the contrary, the surface of the cliche is left clean, and the paint is filled with scratches and grooves. This method of printing is usually, though not quite correctly, called etching. Etching is printed under more severe pressure. The printing process itself is much longer, and cliches wear out much faster. The most common technique in etching is an etched stroke (especially deeply etched), it can give several hundred impressions, the smallest one is a dry needle, it barely reaches a hundred.

Note to the collector: all prints, engravings, etchings or lithographs are originals. Their numbering by the author is just a way to raise their collection value. It is not a fact that the tenth or twentieth impression will be worse than the first or second. If we talk about the etching, it can be just the opposite, because the etching should be “printed”. However, there is still a natural limit to cliches, after which the quality of impressions begins to fall markedly.

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