The Process of Print

Drypoint by Eric Miller SMU Peter LigonThe image of the sunset over the Design District in Dallas came from a moving car. It isn’t always the quality of the image that matters the most, but the fact that the image was captured. The atmosphere, the lines and the textural quality made it seem like it could make a great dry point image, if only I was versed in the technique.

The class at Southern Methodist University (SMU) had begun and, with most art projects, having an image in mind is a major first step. Perceived difficulty not withstanding, I decided to have a go at scribing some resemblance to the scene from the summer art gallery outing onto copper, and eventually print.

Printing techniques have been explained to me many times, but until they are experienced they remain somewhat of a mystery. Thanks to instructor Peter Ligon and the class, perfecting the technique may continue to allude, but the technique itself is a mystery no longer.

Drypoint by Eric Miller SMU Peter Ligon 2It’s a different experience scratching an image on copper than it is drawing on paper. The instrument doesn’t move nearly as freely. Taking advantage of that resistance may be part of the key to creating a satisfactory result. There are a number of tools that can be used, everything from those made for the purpose to sandpaper and mechanical devices The rising cost of copper has led some artists to use plexiglass, which apparently works quite well, though I didn’t see anyone in the class using it.

With most of my experience in painting, the line left me for want of tonality. This is something accomplished with leaving some of the ink on the plate and even adding additional. Using this technique means every print (you can use a plate around ten times) is unique and would then be numbered as one of one instead of one of ten. The drawing is perhaps more difficult than monochrome printing, but it would take me many more years to get the desired effect with line alone.

On the second try I decided to mimic a relatively well-known sailboat painting by Albert Pinkham Ryder. Here I had a lot more fun by not trying so hard to control the direction of the line precisely. While I was pleased with the result, I still felt the need to add monochrome in order to get the desired moody atmospheric print. Others in the class were better at producing pleasing prints with line alone.

In any case Ligon suggested its better the first print be free of monochrome so you can see what you have.

Lin Wang drypoint Peter Ligon SMUIf you are looking for a new medium to explore, dry point is relatively uncomplicated and fun to work with. The copper and tools are easy to carry around and you can wok almost anywhere. Despite the cost of copper, it can be a relatively affordable medium to work with. You can draw first on the copper with a marker, but Ligon suggests going directly at it with your tools. “You don’t need to see what you are doing,” was pretty close to his quote.

The downside is you need a press. From looking into home versions online, it appears they are not very good. Finding a facility in your area with a dry point press is probably necessary, and thus will involve some cost. If you are in Dallas, check out the continuing education at SMU. The course runs regularly.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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