A Timeless, Yet Time-Consuming, Art Form

Mary Campbell is an Art major at the University of Oregon, with a focus in Intaglio printmaking. The complexity behind the art both requires much of Campbell’s time and creativity.

Once used by goldsmiths to decorate metalwork in the 1400’s, artists today use Intaglio Printmaking to print unique images onto paper.

“A drawing may finish quickly, but the art of printmaking allows you to keep building and I am drawn to that,” Campbell says.

Intaglio printmaking is the practice of carving an image into a metal plate and pressing the image onto a piece of paper to produce a piece of art.

The entire practice often takes 3 to 4 weeks, but does not limit the artist to just one piece. “The unique thing about it is that people go through lots of trouble to create an image on a plate, but they can recreate the image on paper any number of times,” Campbell says.

Campbell creates her pieces in the Lawrence printmaking studio on campus. She was first introduced to the art two years ago after enrolling in a printmaking class for fun. Campbell feels incredibly lucky to attend a University that offers courses on such a costly art practice. “If I couldn’t do it at school, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Campbell says.

The Intaglio printmaking process includes an elaborate amount of steps and materials. On a recent evening, Campbell makes herself comfortable sitting on a stool in the printmaking studio; she carefully grabs a drawing tool and begins carving an image onto square looking piece of metal. “You begin by etching into a copper plate using a drawing tool that resembles a needle,” says Campbell. “Etching,” which is frequently mentioned in the printmaking studio, refers to the method of putting grooves into the plate. For Campbell, creating the image is the most crucial part of the process. “You have to think about the image you want to make weeks before, so that you can practice etching it before putting it onto the plate,” Campbell says. Because of the long process involved in putting the image onto the plate, Campbell stresses how important it is to be happy with the image.

After Campbell finishes the etching process, she carefully picks up the copper plate and relocates into the room next to the studio, where she vertically slides the plate into an acid tub. “Before sliding the plate into the tub, you must brush a paint thinner type liquid over the entire plate, allowing the acid to only touch the etched parts,” Campbell says. The etched plate then sits in the tub for an hour, allowing the acid to soak into the image. Campbell says that she often gets impatient while waiting, but because she enjoys her time in the studio, time tends to pass by quickly. As she waits, Campbell walks over to a group of fellow printmakers and makes conversation. “I like to go in the evenings because there are usually a lot of people in there,” Campbell says.

After an hour has passed, Campbell removes the plate from the tub and places it on a nearby hotplate. She then grabs a small card dipped in ink and carefully wipes it over the etched lines. “During the inking step, you place the copper plate onto a hot plate that resembles a pancake griddle,” Campbell says. She then scrunches a small rag into her fist and wipes away excess ink from the grooves. “After this, the plate is ready to go into the final part of the process, the printing press,” Campbell says. Campbell brings the plate over to the printing press table, placing a damp piece of paper over the plate for protection. “You wet the paper, which is similar to water color paper, heavy with a large thread count, and set it over the copper plate and turn the wheel,” Campbell says.

As she turns the wheel, the image that she has been designing for weeks slowly comes to life.

“There is always a mystery and a luck to it,” Campbell says.



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