Intaglio printing , more commonly known as engraving , is a printing technique dating back to 1450 AD, when the Florentine goldsmith Maso Da Finiguerra first used it to create the designs for the second door of the baptistery in Piazza del Duomo in Florence. The term chalcography is closely linked to the gesture and the materials used in this technique: from chalckos (copper) and grapheim (to engrave, write), the term chalcography in fact means "the art of engraving a copper plate".
Those used are mainly copper plates, appreciated above all for their ductility and their preciousness, useful for guaranteeing a good resolution of the sign. Nowadays we can easily make engravings even on zinc plates, a less precious and durable material, but still capable of offering excellent results.
ENGRAVING THE SLAB: DIRECT AND INDIRECT TECHNIQUE
Depending on the method used to engrave, we can divide the chalcographic techniques into two main groups:
Direct engraving , where the plate is engraved by means of a sharp object and the sign is modulated directly by the engraver's hand obtaining more or less deep signs depending on the pressure. Direct techniques are drypoint, bulino (these two techniques take their name directly from the object used to engrave) and the black way.
Drypoints used for drypoint and etching techniques.
Indirect engraving when the signs are no longer engraved by direct contact with the pressure of the hand, but by the action of acids with what is called "biting", i.e. the immersion of the plate in tanks of more or less strong acid. These techniques are etching, aquatint and soft wax.
Lavinia Fagiuoli, for her engravings "Facciamo quadrato, inizio di un discorso sull'amicizia femminile", used the indirect techniques of etching and aquatint. In the case of aquatint, the process of covering the plate takes place through the application of a blue alcohol paint. The parts left exposed will be those where, during the etching phase, the acid will act and therefore affect the slab.
The slab remains in the etching phase for a period of time determined by the artist according to the desired depth of the mark.
Once the acid has been removed and the varnish has been removed, the etched plate is ready to be inked.
Once the plate has been engraved directly, indirectly or with both methods, the inking takes place using intaglio ink. The plate will be inked on hot plates in such a way as to make the ink more fluid and make it penetrate more easily into the signs obtained. We then proceed with the cleaning of the excess ink using tarlatana (a particular fabric similar to gauze) and tissue paper. In this phase, care must be taken not to "unload" the marks, i.e. not to remove too much ink. Leaving areas of the plate more, less, or totally clean is a decision that falls to the artist who can make use of this step to support the poetics of the work.
The inked plate is ready for printing, we can clearly distinguish the two techniques used by Lavinia: aquatint, ideal for fieldings, and etching, useful for rendering decisive signs.
THE PRINTING PHASE
Once the inking and cleaning of the plate have been completed, we proceed with the printing which will take place using a chalcographic press. Usually a registration is made in such a way that the plate is centered in the point of the sheet that we prefer. The sheets are previously soaked and then dabbed with a sponge so that they absorb the ink well but at the same time are not too wet; in this case there would be the risk of obtaining areas where the ink is not absorbed correctly, causing sign gaps in the printing phase. Once you have checked that you have placed the plate and sheet in register and that the sheet is not too wet, you proceed with printing the work.
An example of a chalcographic press
The print just obtained: we notice the presence of the register in the background, i.e. a checked sheet with guide marks, useful for correctly positioning the plate and sheet.
Once the prints have been obtained, we proceed with the numbering by edition, or by the number of copies produced with the same matrix. In fact, since engraving is a reproduction technique, it allows you to print a series of works which will later be signed and numbered by the artist. The artistic relevance of this reproduction technique is very strong as it allows you to obtain prints that will never be identical to each other, thus making them live as sister works.