Engraving on metal

The chisel

The chisel is a small square or diamond-shaped steel bar whose beak is cut in a bevel and forms the point of a cutting angle. It is with this point that the engraver digs the line in the chosen metal. The handle of the chisel forms a half pear of hardwood, called mushroom. The rounded part of this handle is lodged in the hollow of the hand at the time of engraving. The hand holding the chisel squeezes and gives pressure as the other hand pivots the board or block for the curves. The deeper, closer and tighter the sizes, the darker the pattern will be rendered on the print. As a musician has his notes, the engraver has the point, the point-line, the line, the crossings of line at multiple angles.

With this mode of expression at once simple and complex, it must render form, matter and light.


Etching was used early to engrave and decorate weapons. It is in the XVIth century that it will be applied to the engraving of the print. If chisel engraving requires a great craft of the hand, strong water is a much more affordable practice by drawing artists. The engraver using a steel tip will draw his pattern by scratching the layer of varnish covering his copper plate. The tip is held as one holds a pencil. The engraver has at his disposal different points, more or less fine.
By plunging the plate into a bath of nitric acid or perchloride of iron, the lines will widen more or less deeply according to the time of immersion. Using a tip, the engraver can see the depth of the sizes during the bite. When it appears to him sufficient, he will remove the board from the bath and wash it with water. Engravers often use several bite tests to obtain a test in accordance with their desire.

Soft varnish: This process consists of covering the copper with a varnish composed of different ingredients according to the epochs and the manufacturers. The success of the engraving depends on the quality of the varnish. It does not dry completely. A sheet of wetted paper is then applied to the board. Its edges are folded down and glued to the back of the board. Once dry, the paper stretches on the board. The engraver draws directly on the paper with a hard pencil, then removes the sheet to reveal a negative and dashed drawing simulating a sketch on paper. The engraver bites his board with acid, the line will then be dug.

The aquatint: on a copper where a line drawing was etched with very light etching, the artist sprinkles the resin with a box Resin or with a sieve. It heats the coated plate. The resin liquefies and adheres to the metal. The plate is then immersed in the acid. The latter bites the metal in unprotected parts. By successive prolonged bites, the engraver will gradually pass from the most delicate to the darkest? These are obtained by varnishing as and when the parts whose values ​​are reached. At the impression the rendering is rather soft, perfectly imitating the delicacy of drawings in the wash or in watercolor.

The dry point

The engraver, using a steel tip, claws his copper. It is a question of drawing on the copper by opening it more or less deeply, according to the intensity which it is desired to give to the line.
The metal is not removed but only repelled leaving “beards”. These beards, the engraver plays, they will give to the trial, its velvety black and its mysterious shadows.
The fragility of the dry point does not allow to draw states (in the process of their impression, the beards flatten) and the number of tests often does not exceed ten.
This tip is used for the burinist to gently trace the shape and direction of the sizes.

The black way

The black way also called mezzotinte or “mezzo-tinto” (1749 of the half-tone Italian):
Invented by Von Siegen who revealed his secret to Prince Ruprecht, Prince of the Palatinate and amateur engraver (1640).
This technique consists in graining the surface of the metal with a tool called “cradle”, the curved end of which is provided with small pointed teeth. By a reciprocating motion, a succession of lines of points is obtained which, by succession of random or strictly geometrical crossings (perpendicular, diagonal, etc.), gradually give a density of points such that the board inked and drawn at This moment would give a black as deep as a velvet.
Then comes the work of other tools: scraper and burnisher. By crushing the grain with the burnisher, or by scratching it with the scrapers, the grain density is reduced and a multitude of halves is obtained according to the skill.
The spirit of chiaroscuro is at its peak with this technique.

The pencil way

This technique was invented at the time of Watteau, to imitate the drawings with the sanguine or the three pencils (black, sanguine and brown), very popular at that time.
It uses direct-sized tools, such as variable-grain wheels, circular toothed wheels, small punches that are struck vertically, creating metal roughnesses of different depths and widths.
The “dotted line” removes the line and reigns over the entire surface of the board.
This method can also be used on a varnish to be etched, the traces of the casters and the wheels are then bitten with acid. Gilles Demarteau (1722-1776) was one of the principal masters of this technique, with Louis-Marin Bonnet (1736-1793).