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Engraving - Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings Art Dictionary

Unlike etching the ink-retaining grooves in engraving are made by hand, being forced out of the metal by special steel tools called burins. Different burins give different widths of line. Also, and this distinguishes the engraved from the etched line, by differing the pressure on the burin. The width of the line can vary along its length. The engraved line, because the burin is being pushed against resistant metal, has not the easy freedom of the etched line. Engraved lines are difficult to build up in cross hatching.

If the burin is pushed throug the plate at a sideways angle, it throws up side metal rather as a plough throws up ridges of earth. This burr of metal retains ink and creates a rich dark margin to the actual line made by the burin. This specific etching technique is called dry point. It has the disadvantage that the burr wears down rapidly under the pressure of the press thus reducing the number of viable prints off a dry point.

Mezzotint can be seen as a subdivision of engraving. The whole surface of the plate is covered with fine engraved dots using a tool called the rocker. At this stage it will print uniformly dark. Lights are scraped or abraded out of this dark to form the image. It is rarely used today but was much in favour in the 18th century.

As in etching any hard metal that will withstand pressure from a press may be used in engraving. But in practice, because a very hard metal increases the manual difficulties, copper is the most commonly used metal. Recently, plastics such as perspex have been successfully engraved.

In antiquity, the only engraving that could be carried out is evident in the shallow grooves found in some jewellery after the beginning of the 1st Millennium B.C. In the European Middle Ages goldsmiths used engraving to decorate and inscribe metalwork. From this grew the engraving of copper printing plates to produce artistic images on paper, known as old master prints in Germany in the 1430s. The first and greatest period of the engraving was from about 1470 to 1530, with such masters as Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, and Lucas van Leiden.

Before the advent of photography, engraving was used to reproduce other forms of art, for example paintings. Engravings continued to be common in newspapers and many books into the early 20th century, as they were long cheaper to use in printing than photographic images.

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