Delving into Drypoint: The Art of Intricate Impact
Updated: Jun 17
From the moment I was introduced to Drypoint in my Art Foundation, I knew I loved it. It has so many beautiful qualities, from its delicacy and intricacy, to the variations it can capture in texture and mood. Despite its seeming light-touch, creating feathery soft lines which suggest movement and energy, it is a heavyweight in feeling, exploring deep shadows and emotions through its varied tonal values.
For ages I thought I would only be able to practise it while at college, because I was being taught to do it using a printing press. But no! It can be done at home! Sure, it’s not quite as precise as using a press, but it’s a great way of trying things out and pushing your creative ideas in fresh directions. Finding this out means I can play with drypoint whenever I want to, which makes me super happy.
What is drypoint?
Drypoint is an intaglio printmaking technique created by scratching a design onto a plate with a sharp, pointed needle. It often gets confused with Etching, but, while similar, Drypoint on its own does not involve the chemical processing that Etching does. But both can be combined together, along with engraving or aquatint, to create an artwork.
Ok, so, think of it this way… If you scratch a surface, you are creating a dent in that surface. It’s tiny, but it’s a little trench that you can feel with your finger. In drypoint, we make lots of scratches - in the form of a design - and then, (this is the good bit), we fill those scratches with ink. Once the scratches have ink inside them, we rub away the extra ink from the surface of the plate, so that, mostly, only the ink in the scratches is left. Then we place a piece of paper on top of the plate, apply pressure, and hurrah! A print is created!
Well yes, I wouldn’t leave you hanging. Artists have been having a jolly time with Drypoint for ages now, testing its possibilities and delving into its moody goodness. Here are just a few examples of what can be achieved…
Drypoint - Ocean Surface, 1983, Vija Celmins
It’s really very easy to stare at this print all day. Look at the detail in every wave tip. Filling the entire frame, we are pulled into an endless seascape, drifting from dark to light, hard to soft. With no skyline or horizon, there is no specific indication of location or weather - nothing to root this ocean to anywhere or anyone - and so it becomes an ocean belonging to everywhere and everyone. We are all adrift on it.
Two People. The Lonely Ones (To mennesker. De ensomme),1894, Edvard Munch
Drypoint can have a dusky, velvety texture in its lines and tones, and can thereby create moods very well. This drypoint print, of two people facing away from the the viewer, explores feelings of loneliness and isolation, not only through the composition but also through the medium. The smallness of the print inside the wider paper frame adds to the removedness - forcing the viewer to be even more distant. The scratchy drypoint itself gives the image an undercurrent of motion, a feeling of temporariness bubbling under the surface. Its dusty, fuzzy edges create a feeling of otherness, a step of two away from solid reality.
Flirtation, 1886-7, Albert Besnard
This is actually a combination of Drypoint, etching and aquatint, and shows so well how the mediums can be used to fully explore the force of mood. From the series La Femme, which delved into the bleaker side of feminine existence, this print takes advantage of using shadows to full effect. Here, the shadows are deep, heavy and so very looming - cloaking the room with a feeling of dangers being hidden away. The woman herself is in the light, but is being held by a man, right on the edge of the shadows. She is slumped, eyes cast down, and the scratched lines from her dress merge into the shadowy floor as if they are one and the same. The brightness of the window, where tiny birds fly far away, contrasts and adds to the feelings of her being held back from that other world.
Many drypoint prints utilise black inks because it works so well in creating story and mood, but it is absolutely possible to explore it with other colours too. With drypoint, some ink can be left on the surface of the plate to create a more shadowy, dirtier tone and experimenting with this balance is one of the satisfying aspects of the method.
Also, a drypoint plate can last for a long time, being able to be re-used again and again. This gives an artist the freedom to play, trying different inkings and different colourings until they find what works best. Exploration at its finest!
If you are interested in having a go at your own miniature Drypoint print at home, check out my Skillshare Class: Mindful Miniatures in Drypoint - pssst! By following my link new joiners also get a one-month free trial! 🎉
Thanks for reading!
Keep making to make happy!
Love Gem x