Engraving & Drypoint

John Cage engraving a plate.John Cage engraving a plate. Engraving can be used as a general word meaning the plate has been incised directly, without use of acid. It can also be used specifically to mean that the plate was incised using a tool called a burin which has a v-shaped blade designed to remove burr and make a clean sharp line. Notice in this picture of John Cage engraving that the artist pushes the tool when drawing, instead of the more natural pulling motion.

An engraved line looks wiry and has ends that taper. Cage made the engraved lines in his CHANGES AND DISAPPEARANCES, shown below, by engraving over marks left when he dropped pieces of string on the plates. The engraved lines are the curvy ones in this print.
John Cage ,CHANGES AND DISAPPEARANCES, 1979-82: #31 from 35 related color etchings with photoetching, engraving and drypoint in two impressions each, 11 x 22”
Drypoint is the form of engraving that contemporary artists use the most. Drypoint lines are simply scratched into a plate with a sharp point. The straight lines in John Cage's CHANGES AND DISAPPEARANCES were made with drypoint. In this photo, you can see how he held the tool.

John Cage working on a plate.John Cage working on a plate.


Wayne Thiebaud, BREAKFAST, 1995:
Color drypoint, 28-3/4 x 33-3/4”, edition 50

The scratching doesn't remove the metal but throws it up as a burr and makes a ridge similar to the ridge of earth thrown up when a plow goes through a field. A drypoint print like Wayne Thiebaud's BREAKFAST, shown here, has lines that are irregular, with a velvet quality. In a description of a print's media, the word "drypoint" is usually used alone, but may also be expressed as "drypoint engraving." It should not be called "drypoint etching," because this implies acid was used and acid is never used in making a drypoint print.

Etching